he old man was the last one—and he was all alone.
He was nearly 100 years of age, and all his colleagues had vanished. His brother James had been martyred; the first of the 12 to die for the faith. Paul had been beheaded. Peter had been crucified upside down. And Thomas had disappeared, perhaps as far off to the East as India. Who knew where all the others had gone?
Now, nearly 70 years after the Resurrection, John, the only apostle to remain alive, was exiled on the penal island of Patmos, a nasty outcropping of volcanic rocks situated a few miles offshore Asia Minor in the Aegean Sea.
Too old for a labor camp, he was simply there—even the harsh Romans didn’t expect much work from such an old man. They simply abandoned him to his memories and yearnings.
With keen recollection, John could remember well how he and Andrew had first listened to John the Baptist preach about the coming Redeemer; how he had initially aligned himself with Jesus’ ministry, and, subsequently, along with his brother James, Peter, and Andrew, accepted the invitation to full-time discipleship when the Savior called them to leave their nets and fish for souls.
With remorse, John could easily recall his early impatience at the tortoise-like advancement of the kingdom that he was so certain Jesus should speedily establish. He had been ready and eager to tear down any obstacle or vanquish any foe that stood in the way of the Lord’s rapid rise to power. John had displayed his impetuous disposition on more than one occasion, such as the time when he rebuked an individual who labored in Christ’s name without formally embracing discipleship (Luke 9:49). Or when he recommended calling fire down from heaven to destroy a town that had rejected Christ’s offer to stay in their presence (verses 52-56). And John did not hesitate to advance his own favorable position when he and his brother prompted their mother’s petition that Jesus earmark them for the highest rankings and most substantial honors in the kingdom they believed was so near.
But the kingdom had not arrived. Even the Lord’s own prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” remained perpetually unanswered. And no one need look any farther than across the desolate sea to recognize that God’s will on earth was also being thwarted. Otherwise, John wouldn’t be isolated to eke out his existence in exile when he could be preaching and teaching among the mainland churches where he had faithfully served.
John’s character had been softened, subdued, transformed. The ready warrior had become the willing pastor who loved Jesus supremely, and loved Jesus’ people thoroughly. In fact, that was what made exile on Patmos so galling—separation from the people of God. How he longed to preach, to teach, to encourage, to visit, to baptize, and to build up and strengthen the churches. But it was not to be. They were there, and he was here. He was all alone . . . and he was lonely.
Although his confidence never wavered, it was easy for John to sink toward questioning whether Jesus had forgotten His promises to return. John remembered strong, comforting assurances such as “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3),* and “You now have sorrow; but I will see you again” (John 16:22).
Reality remained, however. Jesus had not returned. Day after lonely day John remained alone. No one came; no one wrote; no one visited.
Then one day it happened: Jesus came. It was a Sabbath day, and John was communing deeply with the Holy Spirit, reflecting on the promised day of the Lord and the blessed hope when all good things would be restored. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches’” (Rev. 1:10, 11).
Jesus had kept His promise! He had returned! The cry of John’s lonely heart had been heard and answered. Jesus was there. The barren island prison was instantly transformed into a cathedral of paradise because of Jesus’ presence. The trials and tribulations that bound John’s body and bowed his spirit were forgotten in the presence of His Lord. The long, difficult years of toil were forgotten in the overwhelming joy of seeing Jesus once again! And Jesus brought good news; not just for John but for all God’s people everywhere. Jesus showed John marvelous truths and commissioned him to write and send it out to the churches. Good news. News of the gospel. News of His coming.
We do not know how long Jesus stayed with John that Sabbath on Patmos. We do not know whether the message came all in one vision or whether it was communicated over several occasions and several visits. We do know that John once again picked up his pen and began to transcribe God’s word for God’s people.
Writing from the vantage of having experienced some of the great controversy’s most dramatic history, John could easily recount how Satan had been thwarted and the demons vanquished by Jesus’ power. But writing of future dark ages, and of even darker deeds, may well have overwhelmed the old man as he contemplated the near triumph of evil over good, and of hatred over love. Beasts and demons would conspire with powers and principalities to place evil on the throne, and rip righteousness from the hearts of humanity. Yet through it all, God’s people, depending upon God’s Word and empowered by God’s Spirit, would be prepared for the return of God’s Son. Jesus would come again. King of kings! Lord of lords! Creator, Redeemer, Restorer, Friend!
Then one day, the vision ended. There was nothing more to write. Promises, predictions, prophecies, preparations. All that John had been commanded to communicate was completed, and ready to warn the churches even as it would warn the world.
Questions for Reflection
1. How has Jesus revealed hope to you in lonely or discouraging situations?
2. What can we share from John’s revelation to encourage each other when evil seems to be victorious?
3. Who in your life needs to hear the hope that was revealed through John in the book of Revelation?
The vision would culminate in a glorious triumph of God’s love. Evil’s attacks would be vanquished in Christ’s victory. Once again harmony would be restored to the universe. God and humanity would be reunited in unbroken relationship throughout eternity. Hope would shine through to happiness fully realized.
“And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3-5). Think of it: No more sin; no more sorrow; no more death, pain, tears, or parting. No more night!
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. . . . I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star” (verses 12-16).
Then the message ends. He who testifies to these things says, “‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (verse 20).
But notice carefully, there is one more verse. The book doesn’t end with the cry of the lonely heart—“even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!” The book ends with the vision that others beyond the present time—people in other ages and in other places—will also hear and embrace. And to those individuals in all subsequent years and in every location, the lonely apostle John—now encouraged and renewed by Jesus’ personal visit to his lonely exile—offers hope for the journey:
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (verse 21).
*All Scripture texts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Jim Cress is the General Conference Ministerial Association secretary.