St. John’s Credentials: A Right to Write

“I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience
of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the
testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9).

Here appear the credentials of the writer of Revelation, St. John. He addresses those who will read and hear his writings as their brother and companion in: a) Tribulation (thlipsis); b) Kingdom (vasilia); c) Patience, or steadfast endurance (ipomoni). He writes as a soul brother to those who share his life and values. Only they will have the necessary character to comprehend what he is about to convey. Only those who know the feeling of holding on with faith in the promised Kingdom despite the suffering they must endure, patiently persisting through the persecution from the government officials, can feel in their hearts the joy of the Lord’s promise. We recall St. Paul’s right to advise the Corinthians: “Are they ministers?...I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in death often” (II Corinthians 11:23). Or closer to our times, Solzhenitzyn’s Gulag Archipelago, writing as one Zek [prisoner] to other Zeks. Those who haven’t suffered can only imagine from the outside the meaning of such agony.

Consider the way information is passed to us via the contemporary media. A pretty-faced reporter “on the scene” poses before the camera with a symbol of the locale behind her, as though that were evidence of involvement with the ordeal at hand, offers a sound bite of what is obvious, then “back to you in the studio.” Back to the hair-sprayed talking heads at the desk. Up from mere journalism to the academics who pontificate on history from their writing desks as though from their remote vantage point they could “set the record straight.” And we poor creatures no longer even understand that truth and history are thereby trivialized.

St. John is stating even more than the fact that he and his readers are co-sufferers. For him and them the agony they have undergone for so long and which continues has been endured even more by Jesus Christ. Nothing human, no emotion or experience is foreign to Him. He doesn’t ask from His followers what He has not undergone Himself. When He pleads: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13), Jesus also is bearing patiently the suffering that those in His Body are feeling, and Who goes on experiencing until the time when the Father decides that indeed it is time to bring it to a close. Thus, between tribulation and patience comes the promised kingdom. St. John is not alone in stating that glorious promise: “For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (II Timothy 2:11). So affirms St. Paul as well.

He is on Patmos, a crescent-shaped island five miles by ten, rocky without much vegetation, one of the Sporades used at the times as a prison. He as a Christian was considered a political prisoner under the Emperor Diocletian, who died 96 AD. St. John tells us why he was banished to that island by the sea: “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” They could not otherwise prevent St. John from preaching the word of God. Perhaps because of his advanced age they did not put him to death; ironically, the only apostle to dare stand by Jesus at the foot of the Cross was the only one not to be executed. Think of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady saying: “Words, words, words; I’m so sick of words.” The one word she needed to hear was the Word of God. This is why St. John was on Patmos. More than a sound, a phrase, a thought, the Word of God comes with the testimony of Jesus Christ. He lived what He expressed in words. His life was a witness to the truth of God. He lives now in those who are dedicated to bringing truth and meaning into a world of deception, meaninglessness, and banality.