When Jesus was preparing to ascend back to glory, to the right hand of the Father, he took Peter aside to tell him the kind of death he was going to die and to challenge him to follow him all the way. Jesus had just challenged Peter to declare his love for him three times and had given him his mission as an apostle. He was to shepherd the Lord’s sheep. But when Jesus was explaining to Peter that at a future date he would be tied and led to a place he didn’t want to go speaking of the kind of death he would die, Peter had looked around and seen John. He asked the Lord, “What about him?” Jesus said to Peter, “What does it matter what happens with him? If it is my will that he live until I come again, what is that to you?” A rumor spread that Jesus had said that John would live until the Lord returned but John writing almost 60 years later said that Jesus hadn’t said that he would live until the return of Christ. He merely asked Peter, What was it to him if it was the Lord’s will that John would live until the return?
All of the other apostles were now dead, when John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos for his teaching of the Word of God. Each of the other apostles had been executed for their faith in Jesus. Most had been dead almost 30 years when John was led to write the final book of the New Testament, that we know as the Book of Revelation. Somewhere in the mid-90’s A.D. John had seen the visions that led to his writing the book. Here is how John describes his place and time when he saw the visions: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the Island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
Much of the persecution against Christians had been started by Nero, but he is long gone now. Instead there is a ruler in Rome named Domitian. Like Nero he is a brutal ruler. He entertained himself on numerous occasions by either have Christians wrapped in the skin of some animal and then turning lions loose on them so that they are eaten and clawed to their death. At other times he turned the Christians into light post to light his way by tying them up and pouring some kind of inflamable liquid on them and setting them on fire to produce light for his walk. We really don’t know why he hated Christians so much. We just know of the persecutions that were going on at the time. God wanted the churches of Asia to know what was going to happen to them and for them to stand tall in their faith. He needed to get them a message of hope and faith that would allow them to know that God and His church were going to win the battle against Satan and his proud ruler on the throne of Rome.
He called on John for the mission. John the apostle had written the Gospel of John and the three letters that bear his name already. Now to prepare him to fulfill that mission God in his providence had him arrested and exiled to the Island of Patmos. Why would he send this old man, who at the very least had to be in his mid to high eighties by now, to Patmos and the tough conditions there to write this book. I wonder if the reason was that John was still serving churches as their preacher and teacher in that area to which he wrote the letters. I wonder if it wasn’t one of those churches where he served as an elder along with his preaching. Perhaps God knew that as long as he left John alone and in this work with the churches he would never find the time to focus on the project of writing the Book of Revelation. He needed time away from the regular routine. We would say that he needed a Sabbatical. That word hadn’t been invented at the time. So God arranged for his time away.
Picture him on this island. It was something like Alcatraz. It was a prison island. He was there far from the Christians he loved and longed to be with. But he was in the perfect place to receive revelations from God to deliver to the churches. He had time, focus and a ready mind. Perhaps he is 89 or 90. What an inspiration to those who are up in years that people are always asking when he is going to retire! There were things about this letter that God knew John was the only one ready to deliver. So on the Lord’s Day, while John was in the Spirit, God called him to write this letter to be delivered to these seven churches. It doesn’t mean that he wrote seven copies of the letter. He wrote one copy and it was delivered to each church in a circle as they would travel from one place to another sharing the contents of John’s letter.
Can you imagine what it would have been like to receive this letter from John. You’ve known him for years. You’ve heard him preach Jesus a hundred times at least. You have felt his tender care as he served as one of the Shepherds of the church. Now we have a letter penned by him. I think they would been anxious to Hear every word. Quickly they will learn it isn’t a personal letter but a revelation from God that John wrote down. Why John? Because his age and experience prepared him uniquely for the job. Put yourself in their place and read again his opening up of what was soon to happen in their lives. Instead of trying to figure out which symbol means what, see the message that Christians are going to overcome all trials and win the battle against Satan. Be encouraged! That is the point of the book.