Revelation Chapter 1 versus 9 to 20 sets out the broad context of what I am labelling the Patmos experience. Before examining this passage of Scripture allow me to sketch the historical background related to this Patmos experience.
- The apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos in AD 95 by Dormitian, Emperor of Rome.
- Domitian was Emperor of Rome from Ad 81 to 96. Between 93 and 96 he arrested, imprisoned, exiled and executed many of his perceived enemies, including Roman noblemen, Senators and even his wife. He also decreed that he be addressed as “Dominos et Deus”, Lord and God. In 96 he was assassinated by a freedman hired by his enemies.
- Although not as brutal as Nero, Domitian during his reign launched a period of persecution against Christians because they declared that Jesus was Lord and God.
- John the disciple, often referred to as the discipline that Jesus loved, was the longest liver of the disciples. He was living in Ephesus where he was an Elder in the Church at Ephesus during the reign of Domitian. John was very influential among the Christians at that time. Domitian therefore directed his anger against Christian defiance to acknowledge him as Lord and God, to John. First, Domitian had John thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil. But John escaped injury and was pulled out of the cauldron by the very men who threw him in. Not wanting to risk another failure to execute John, Domitian exiled him to Patmos to work in the mines there.
- Patmos is a small rocky, mountainous island in the Aegean Sea not too far from the coast line of modern Turkey. It is approximately 11 square miles. In pre-Roman times in had quite a reputation. However, in Roman times its popularity and population declined and it as used by the Romans as a place of exile.
- John wrote the Book of Revelations while exiled on the Island of Patmos. Dominitian was killed in 96. John was released from Patmos in 97 and lived many years after.
THE ESSENCE OF THE PATMOS EXPERIENCE
Given this historical background, Revelation Chapter 1 verses 9 to 20 contain the essence and the elements that constitute the Patmos Experience. In a nutshell Patmos represents:
- A Place of Punishment for Christ’s Sake
- A Point and Period of Spiritual Connection and Communion
- A Pinnacle of Personal Revelation
Christians whose lives bear testimony of Jesus the Christ can have at least one Patmos experience during their lifetime. Let us therefore look closely at the elements of the Patmos experience of John as told by John in the first Chapter of the Book of Revelations.
A Place of Punishment for Christ Sake
- John had done nothing against Domitian. John was one of Jesus’ disciples. He confessed Jesus to be Lord and God long before Domitian became Emperor of Rome. He had been making this confession for decades. He simply continued to make this declaration in circumstances where Domitian suddenly decided that he Domitian was Lord and God. Domitian took exception that John would not conform to his imperial decree. He, therefore, proceeded to persecute John.
- Patmos is not merely a place of punishment. Punishment for something that you have done that is wrong is not Patmos. That may be penance, or prison or purgatory but not Patmos. Patmos is where you have been persecuted and punished for Christ’s sake. It is punishment despite being innocent.
- The Patmos experience begins with punishment because you have stood by the teachings of God’s Word, where you had stood up for what is right, where you resist the dictates of the powerful, where such dictates are not consistent with Scripture. Patmos begins when your spouse who abandons you or start to treat you badly because you have become a Christian, or are attending church regularly, where your children abuse you for insisting that God’s moral laws will be observed in the household. Patmos begins when you are fired from the job because you would not go along with the corrupt practices at the workplace, when you are overlooked for promotion although your performance is the best but because you resist the advances of the boss. Patmos is when friends ridicule and laugh at you because you refuse to be one of them in the drinking, the drugs, the cursing and the lewd behaviour and when your fellow students at school or university laugh at you because you still hold to the old-fashioned ideas of the Bible, and for going to church on Sunday or carry the Bible on your way to church.
- The Patmos punishment is characterised by isolation and loneliness, separation from people that you care about, suspension of service that you are committed to giving and disruption and dislocation in the routines of your life.
- Patmos is the place at which your enemies seem to have finally achieved some success. They have been set out to get you for something some time. Patmos is where they have got you on some trumped up charge and you do not know what the outcome is going to be.
- The Place of Punishment for Christ sake is the beginning of the Patmos experience. However, it is by no means the entire Patmos experience. Domitian finally got John, where he wanted him, cut off from the Christians he led.
A Point and Period of Spiritual Connection and Communion
It is important to note that the place of punishment for Christ’s sake does not automatically become a point of spiritual connection and a period of spiritual communion. This is because the great temptation of the place of punishment is to focus on the people you punished you and the injustice of the punishment. John could have said look at what Domitian has done this time. First, he tried to kill me now he has banished me to do hard labour in this backwater island in the midst of the Aegean Sea. It is not fair. Or to utter the modern cry, I want justice. Had John done so, Patmos would have remained only a place of punishment.
Another pitfall of the place of punishment is to engage in self-pity. John could have said I was a disciple, I have continued to serve God all these years and now I am an old man, I do not deserve this. John could have questioned God’s goodness. Had he engaged in self-pity and questioned God’s goodness, Patmos would have remained only a place of punishment.
The lesson is clear. If you focus on the people who punish you, the injustice of the punishment and engage is self-pity you will remain at the place of punishment. You will have the experience of the first element of the Patmos experience but miss out on the other two elements. What is it that turns the place of punishment into a point and period of spiritual connection and communion? Let us learn from John.
In verse 9 John does not even mention the name of Domitian. John ignores Domitian completely. It takes history and not the Book of Revelation to tell us who exiled John to Patmos. Further, Johns accepts the injustice of the punishment as a natural part of being obedient to the Word of God and giving testimony to the Lordship of Christ. He is by no means sorry for himself. John knew who was punishing him and why. He refused to be distracted by the perpetrator of the punishment or the punishment itself. Instead, John says that he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”.
Far from being full of self-pity and being distracted by the focusing on the people who put him there, the unfairness of the punishment and the isolation of the island, John made full use of what the place of punishment offered. Patmos gave John:
- Space to be alone. Patmos separated John from the busy activities of being the last surviving disciple of Jesus and from being the Elder at the Church at Ephesus. At Ephesus there were constant visits and interviews; weekly preaching; frequent problem solving etc, etc, etc. Patmos gave John the chance to catch up with himself. In this regard John was very much a modern man. The bane of modern life is continuous activity and the feeling of guilt for any moment not engaged in doing something. Not having something to do is interpreted as wasting time, and allowing life to slip away. Without things to do modern people are bored. But worse still is the fact many of us find it very depressing to find ourselves alone with ourselves. But when punishment cuts us off from the routines that we have practice it provides the space for us to come to terms with ourselves. Pardon this aside, but in Jamaica we recently had a change of Government. A few Ministers of the previous Government have been saying that for the first time in years they are reaching home in daylight hours, they do not have to rush out in the morning and they now have time to have lunch during the day. I take it that they are finding space to rediscover themselves and others around them. On Patmos John got the space to be alone with himself, to catch up with himself and to disengage from doing.
- Time to be still, that is, time to let go and let God. As the last surviving disciple of Jesus John was probably feeling that the responsibility for the continuation of the work of Jesus was left up to him. Sometimes pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, wives, husbands, principals, teachers, directors of business and heads of department have similar feelings. They begin to feel that the continuation of the work depends on them. Patmos separated John from the church of Ephesus, cut him off from the work of in Asia Minor and silenced his preaching. Patmos brought John to a standstill. This forced him to be reminded of Psalm 46 verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth.” In this verse the Psalmist is reminding us all that we are finite but God is infinite; God can and will prevail where we are utterly unable. It is God’s work that we are doing, not our work and that God is helping us to do. So although we may not know the outcome when the world is crumbling around us, the wicked seems to be triumphant, and mountains shake with evil, God’s people needs to have manifest calm and confidence in the fact that God will prevail. When man does his worse, God good wipes it out. God is the I am that I am, the Alpha and Omega, the author and the finisher, God is the same yesterday, today and forever, world without end. Patmos let John with no other option but to depend up God. John on the island of Patmos was powerless, but God remains all powerful.
- Opportunity to be reminded of and reflect upon the Resurrection. Space to be alone, time to come face-to-face with his mortality and faith to believe that God would prevail; John probably thought back and focused on the Resurrection. He was with Jesus during his ministry. He was at Calvary and watched the crucifixion. He witnessed the empty tomb and had heard the great commission from the resurrected Jesus.
Space to be alone, time to be still and focus on the resurrection transformed Patmos from being a place of punishment to being a point of spiritual connection and communion. John says in verse 10 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”. To John and the early church the first day of the week was not simply Sunday. It was the Lord’s Day. The greatest day in the history of the world, it was the day of the Resurrection of Jesus. This Lord’s Day was celebrated each week. The Resurrection made the first Day of the week the Lord’s Day. That day belonged to him. The early church met and worshiped on Lord’s Day. The practice of the early church and John’s circumstances on Patmos made the particular Lord’s Day of which John writes even more special. Alone on Patmos, with time to confront his mortality and focus on God’s greatest as manifested in the Resurrection combined to bring about a special state of being.
John says he was in the Spirit. The text does not suggest that John was in a highly charged emotional state. Rather it would appear that he was very calm and collective. It does not suggest that he was shouting, running around or speaking in unknown tongues. Rather, John from his own account appeared to have been a spectator in awe and wonder of the greatness, glory, goodness, and grace of God. The Spirit was not only in John but it overflowed him to envelop him so that he was now in the Spirit. What is suggested is that John was now under the control of the Spirit. He had entered into a very special encounter with the presence of God. The Spirit of God enveloped Johan.
Many great theologians and preachers have pronounced on this verse. I am not capable of even condensing all the great expositions given on this subject. Let me, however, relate it to the Patmos experience that is the focus of our meditation today. What this says to me is that when we are persecuted and punished for the fact our actions give testimony to the Lordship of Jesus in our lives; when we are not distracted by those who executed the punishment; when we do not become preoccupied by the injustice done to us, when we do not become sorry for ourselves and question why God has allowed this to happen; when we accept the lowliness, the separation and the frustration of the punishment as part of the Christian life; when we use the circumstances of the punishment to get alone with God, acknowledge our mortality, come to the position of depending upon Him to sought things out anyway He chooses; when we worship, praise and adore Him for the wonderful work done by Jesus on the Cross and for raising Jesus from dead; we open the possibility for a special encounter with the presence of God.
It seems to me that C. Austin Miles was in the Spirit when he contemplated the Resurrection Morning as Mary came to the empty tomb and wrote:
I come to the Garden alone
While the drew was still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And he talks with me
And he tell me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
He speaks and the sound of his voice
Is so sweet that the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He brings to me
Within my heart is ringing
Let me say to anyone this morning being punished because you are living for Jesus: forget about who has persecuted and punished you. Forget about the injustice that has been done to you. Don’t engage in self-pity. Accept this as evidence that you are living according to God’s Word and that you are following in the steps of the Saviour who went before you. Make use of the circumstances created by situation. Take the time to catch up on yourself. Leave the situation to God he will work it out. Depend upon Him. Focus on the Resurrection. God, who brought Jesus from the dead, will likewise deliver you. On this Lord’s Day allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit and in the process to be in the Spirit.
The Pinnacle of Personal Revelation
It does not appear that John was in the Spirit in a just one moment on a particular Lord’s Day. What seems more likely is that as John came to deal with the circumstances of his exile, as he freed his mind of the injustice done to him by Dormitian, as he left it to the Lord to deal with the matters at Ephesus and other Churches of Asia Minor, as he shifted his focus to worshipping and praising God for his greatness, goodness, grace and glory he entered the state of being in the Spirit. John’s body was in Patmos, but his mind was engaged in worship even as he endured the hard work of mining. On this particular Lord’s Day during the period in which he was in the Spirit he experienced a spectacular encounter with the object of his worship. He heard a voice, verse 10, and when he turned to see who was talking to him he saw seven golden candlesticks, verse 12, and in the midst of them, he saw one like unto the Son of Man, verse 13.
Spiritual connection and communion led to the pinnacle of personal revelation. Yes, the Book of Revelation written by John out of this Patmos experience is prophetic and apocryphal. Yes, it speaks to all Christians about the end times. But on the day that it happened, it was Jesus dealing with John in a very personal way.
John was there with Jesus as one of his disciples. He was there in the Garden of Gethsemane and fell asleep during the hour that Jesus asked him to stay with him. He witnessed the horrors of the trial and the crucifixion. He was there with the mind blowing events of the resurrection. He was there when Jesus appeared to the disciples. He was there on the day of Jesus’ ascension. He and the other disciples had withstood and overcome the charge of stealing the body of Jesus and burying it in some hidden place. By the boldness and sacrifices of their lives they had testified to the resurrection of the crucified Saviour of the world. He was there in the upper room on the day of Pentecost when over three thousand souls were saved. He was there in days when evangelistic fervour abounded and churches were established left, right and centre.
Now all the other disciples had died, some had died horrible deaths. Paul had also past from the scene. Routine had crept into Christian living. Churches had developed an organisational structure which included bishops and deacons. New converts, Jews and Gentiles, had started to bring old ways into the Church. Heresy was on the doorstep of many churches. The Roman power had taken offence to Christian doctrine. Persecution was now common. More unsettling were the signs of human weaknesses manifesting themselves among the believers in the churches. These were part of the burden that John carried to Patmos and that prompted him to look to the Lord for answers.
The revelation that came to John on that Lord’s Day, while having implications for Christians of all ages and generation, was personal to John. God was revealing Himself to this his servant exiled on Patmos in a new way. John who had accepted his punishment as part of his Christian witness, ignored who punished him, disregarded how unjust the punishment was, was concerned about the churches in Asia Minor where he was working and looked to Jesus to deal with the situation now had a fresh encounter with the Living Lord.
The vision that John had on Patmos was personal to John in three specific ways.
- The Risen Lord appeared to him in person. This appearance of the Risen Lord confirmed what he and other Christians were declaring: Jesus was Lord. Domitian may be emperor of Rome but Jesus the Christ is Lord and God. He was being punished and exiled for the truth. Faith and confession were confirmed by revelation that was personal and specific. Verses 17 to 18: “Fear not, I am the first and the last. I am he that liveth, and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, Amen, and have the keys of death and hell. Who else but Jesus the Lord is alive but was dead, and is alive for evermore and holds the keys of death and hell? What more assurance could John desire? John new Jesus in the flesh. He saw him after the resurrection. Now, he was encountering his Lord in all his risen glory and power. Then tender touch followed by the words “Fear not” seems to suggest that John was indeed at least apprehensive and anxious. This encounter with the Lord he knew and loved was enough to calm and quiet all apprehensions, anxieties and fears. Jesus through this vision was ministering personally to John. Probably, as the years had past as his message and memory had been challenged, questioned and disputed John may have wondered if in advancing years his mind and selective memory had played tricks on him. This encounter with the risen Lord dispelled all doubts and confirmed the authenticity of his message and memory.
- The Risen Lord was among his churches and knew their works. The disciples seemed to have entertained some concern about the survival of the church after they were gone. This seems to have revolved around the difficulty they had in accepting and acting on the teachings of Jesus. If they who lived, walked and worked with Jesus had so much difficulty, how much more would people who never knew Jesus. John in his Gospel Chapter 20, verses 24 to 29, recorded the difficulty Thomas had in believing that Jesus was resurrected. John also the words of Jesus: Because you have seen Me you believe. Blessed are they who did not see, yet believed. Peter in 1 Peter Chapter 1 verse 8 recorded a similar sentiment: “whom having not seen ye love” If they the disciples who were so close to Jesus had so misunderstood his teaching, took so long to fully believe, how much more would believers who never knew the historical Jesus? This revelation that John had on the isle of Patmos taught him a couple of lessons. First, the survival of the Church would not depend on memory of the historical Jesus. Rather, it would be founded on the new believers’ personal encounter with the Risen Lord. Second, Jesus was at work among the churches. He knew what was going on. He would deal with whatever challenges arose. Jesus had promised to establish his Church and declared that the gates of Hell would not be able to prevail against it. The Risen Lord was keeping his word. The Risen Lord was saying to John “Fear not”, I know what is going on in the seven churches that you are working with. So write to them, what I am going to tell you.
- The Risen Lord gave John a peep at what would happen at the end of the age: the Lion of the Tribe of Judah would prevail. The irony is that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is the Lamb that was slain. Through this slain Lamb every innocent victim for the sake of Christ will be victorious. It’s just a matter of time. Evil is just for a time. Injustice is just for a time. When time turn into eternity Justice and Goodness will prevail.
Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount. Mathew Chapter 5 verses 11 and 12.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you
This Risen Lord was showing John in a special and personal way that in the end, He is triumphant over all of human history, over all human injustice and over all human evil. The Sermon on the Mount will materialize when the Lamb’s Book of Live is opened and when the Father makes His final judgment.
So this morning I want to say to anyone and everyone who is being victimised and punished because of Christian living: whether you are being abandoned, abused, mistreated, fired, passed over for promotion, ridiculed, laughed at or ostracised; ignore the perpetrators, overlook the injustice, don’t engage in self-pity; focus on the Risen Lord, realise He is Sovereign, give Him praise and glory, thank him for his Grace and Goodness. This will transform the place of punishment into a point of spiritual connection and communion and God in due course will reveal himself to you in a very personal way, sufficient to your circumstance.
Within a year of this vision, Domitian was dead. John was released from exile in Patmos. Today we rejoice in having the Book of Revelation. Thank God that John exiled on Patmos was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.