Can you imagine yourself in the place of John at Patmos? It could have been very lonely. But why was he exiled in the first place?
In this article, we will tackle:
- The reasons for his exile
- How it turned out to be a blessing in disguise
- The lessons you can learn from his experience
But first, let’s get to know him personally.
Let’s get into it.
Who Was John?
Let’s meet his family.
“So also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon” (Luke 5:10, ESV).
Similarly, Mark 3:17 says, “James, the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James” (ESV).
As you read, Zebedee was John’s father, and James was his brother.
What about his mother?
Let’s go to Matthew 27:55-56 (ESV).
It says, “there were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee.” They were “Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”
But it doesn’t mention the name of the last woman.
Well, let’s read Mark 15:40-41 (NIV).
It reports the same scene where the three women were looking from a distance. But in this verse, we get their names.
They were “Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.”
Notice that Mary and Magdalene were mentioned the same between those verses. But Salome was only described in the first verse, while in the second one she was given a name. It makes sense that she was indeed John’s mother.
Now, let’s discover his hometown.
“In the town of Bethsaida, on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee.” Here “lived the fisherman, Zebedee, with his wife, Salome, and two sons, James and John” 1.
What was John’s livelihood?
“The two young men were partners with their father in his business” 1.
With this, they got used to the “toil and hardships of a fisherman’s life.”
But of course, he was still being challenged from time to time.
For instance, he had a contract with the tax collector, which anyone could find so unfair.
How and why?
John worked with Peter, James, and Andrew in the fishing business 2.
They would always try their best to catch fresh fish. Unfortunately, they couldn’t have a share of those. The tax collector would reserve them for the rich people.
So, what would these fishermen get in return? Sadly, only processed fish.
Could you stand this unfair treatment?
If this were your primary source of income, what could you possibly do to fight for your right?
Now, let’s recall a happy experience.
One night, John went fishing with some of his friends, such as Peter, Thomas, and Nathanael (John 21:1-2). But they caught nothing.
The following day, “Jesus stood on the shore” (verse 4, NIV). He asked them if they caught fish. They said no.
To help them, Jesus asked them to throw their net on the other side of the boat “and you will find some” (verse 6, NIV).
And yes, they caught fish! Verse 6 (NIV) continues, saying that they “were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”
What a miracle! Earlier, they caught nothing. Now, their nets were so heavy.
And did you know how many fish were caught? 153 (verse 11).
What about his experiences as one of Jesus’ followers?
As a disciple
You probably know John as one of Jesus’ disciples.
Remember we’ve learned earlier that John was a fisherman? And he was working with his brother and father.
This was the same situation Jesus saw James and John at the Sea of Galilee. He “called them.” And immediately, “they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21-22, NIV).
As Jesus’ disciple, John belonged to the “inner circle” 3. With this, he saw most of His personal moments and significant ministries.
For instance, he was there during His transfiguration (Luke 9:28) and prayer at Gethsemane (verses 39-46 of chapter 22). Also, he accompanied Him in His healing acts such as that of the demon-possessed man (Mark 5).
However, he had an embarrassing experience with Jesus, too.
When the Samaritan villagers didn’t accommodate Jesus for lodging, anger triggered John and James. They said, “Lord, do You want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54, ESV).
But Jesus gently rebuked them. He reminded them that He didn’t come to the world to condemn it. Instead, He came to save it (John 3:17).
If you were John or James, wouldn’t you feel ashamed of what you did?
Yet, John still proved to be a very dependable friend to Jesus in the end.
When Jesus was about to die on the cross, John was with His mother, Mary.
“He won his way into the heart of the family, as well as into the heart of Jesus.” Hence, He asked him to take care of her 4.
What a privilege! Such trust!
As an apostle and evangelist
After Jesus’ ascension, John began working with Peter. Together, they preached the gospel of Christ wherever they went.
For instance, they rendered a sermon at Jerusalem during the Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). He told the people about the fulfilled prophecies of Jesus in line with His earthly ministry, death, and resurrection.
Now that Jesus has gone back to heaven, they were to be witnesses of His great love. For this, John encouraged them to receive the Holy Spirit and get baptized.
John “remained in Jerusalem for a number of years” 5. Through his evangelistic efforts, he helped establish the early Christian church around 58 AD.
Through the coming years, John remained active in preaching. He “preached with great zeal and success.” He had a “testimony of power, wisdom, conviction, and sincerity” his enemies couldn’t contradict 6.
Also, John presented his faith clearly and convincingly. It was with “simplicity and candor that his words had a powerful effect.” As such, his listeners “were astonished at his wisdom and eloquence.”
You now have a glimpse of John’s apostolic life.
The question now is, how did his preaching bring about his exile at Patmos? What wrong had he done to be punished like that?
Why Was He Exiled at Patmos?
1) John’s enemies wanted to stop him from preaching about Jesus.
John cared a lot for his new believers.
For instance, there were times “when the faith of the Christians would seem to waver.” The apostle would always remind them of Jesus’ words in 1 John 1:1-3 7:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
As you can see, John was doing well. He was modeling what a responsible and faithful evangelist should be doing.
Unfortunately, this “unwavering fidelity to the cause of Christ” caused the bitterest hatred from his enemies. Since John was the last survivor of Jesus’ disciples, his enemies decided to silence his testimony 8.
If they accomplished this plan, they thought that Christ’s doctrine would not spread anymore. Worse, “it might soon die out of the world” if they treated it severely.
So, how did they accomplish this plan?
2) They sent him to the Roman emperor for a trial.
Yes, unfortunately, John’s enemies did that.
But John was innocent, right?
Well, they misstated his doctrines and charged him with false witnesses 8.
They “accused him as a seditious person, publicly teaching theories which would subvert the nation.”
Through these accusations, John’s enemies hoped to bring about his death 9.
So, they sent him to Emperor Domitian in 81 AD 10. They took the opportunity since that time there was Christian persecution going on.
After hearing the charges against John, the emperor cast him into a cauldron of boiling oil 11. Also, he challenged him to drink poison.
Can you imagine that? Such torture!
What would you do if you were John?
But did you know what? God preserved John’s life as He saved Daniel and his friends from the fiery furnace.
True enough, John had no trace of burn on his skin. Neither he was poisoned by the drink.
With this, he claimed God’s promise in Mark 16:18 (ESV). That is, if people “drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them.”
3) John’s testimony made his enemies and the Roman emperor even angrier.
John’s survival and deliverance didn’t convince the emperor. It didn’t change his bad impression of Jesus.
He even said, “Thus perish all who believe in that deceiver, Jesus Christ of Nazareth” 11.
But John replied, “My Master patiently submitted to all that Satan…could devise to humiliate and torture Him. He gave His life to save the world.”
He continued, “I am honored in being permitted to suffer for His sake. I am a weak, sinful man. Christ was holy, harmless, [and] undefiled. He did no sin; neither was guile found in His mouth.”
Look at that humility! Such faith and perseverance, too!
Would you do the same if you were in John’s place?
But “the more convincing his testimony, the deeper the hatred of those who opposed” 12.
Also, “the emperor Domitian was filled with rage” 13.
“He could neither dispute the reasoning of Christ’s faithful advocate nor match the power that attended his utterance of truth.”
In other words, the emperor was amazed by John’s conviction. He couldn’t find anything wrong with it.
Yet, “he determined that he would silence his voice.”
How sad, wasn’t it?
Eventually, the emperor removed John from the caldron 14.
What do you think he was going to do next?
4) The Roman emperor finally declared John’s exile.
Still, the emperor didn’t change his mind. Hence, John felt the hand of persecution getting heavier upon him 15.
Then, the verdict finally came. “By the emperor’s decree, John was banished to the Isle of Patmos.”
What? Why? How come?
But wait, you may be wondering what Patmos was and where it was located.
Patmos was a “barren rocky island in the Aegean Sea” 16. It had been the Roman government’s chosen place of banishment for criminals.
Banishment for criminals? Was John a criminal too? What wrong has he done?
Well, the Bible says that he was condemned “for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9, ESV).
With this, his enemies thought they would no longer feel his influence. And he should finally die of hardship and distress 15.
If you were in John’s place, you would probably question God why.
How come you were suffering like this if you were doing nothing wrong?
You might even ask yourself, “Do I deserve this?”
How Did His Exile Turn Out to be a Blessing?
1) John read the essential lessons in the barren surroundings of the island.
True enough, it was lonely at the isle of Patmos. No one to talk to. No entertainment. Just the thought of being in this desolate place would be depressing, isn’t it?
“In his former years, his eyes had been greeted with the sight of wood-covered hills, green valleys, and fruitful plains.”
Now, surrounding him were scenes that “to many would appear gloomy and uninteresting” 16.
But to John, it wasn’t. “He could read the most important lessons in the wild, desolate rocks,” the “great deep,” and “firmament.”
Amid the barren surroundings, the blue heavens “bent above the apostle.” They were “as bright and beautiful as the skies above his own loved Jerusalem.”
Also, the mighty waves “spoke to John of an infinite power controlling the deep” 17.
Because of this, John realized how blind and foolish human pride can be. Just “one hour of God’s blessing in the sunshine and rain” can do wonders.
That is, they can “change the face of nature” more than man’s “boasted knowledge and persevering efforts can accomplish.”
But above all these, John was reminded of the most sanctified part of Creation—the Sabbath.
For instance, he could recall God speaking the law to the Israelites at Mount Horeb. He said, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8, ESV).
As such, John observed it as he preached about it before 18.
2) He witnessed God’s majesty and power.
As John meditated upon God’s creation, he was overwhelmed by His greatness and majesty. He adored the power of the Divine Architect 19.
In fact, he couldn’t endure the “excellent glory of Christ’s presence” 20. He would fall to the earth “as one stricken dead.”
Well, no wonder.
Who “can be compared unto the Lord?” He is “greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints.” And He “had in reverence of all them that are about Him” 21.
As such, “the heavens shall praise Thy wonders, O Lord.” The millions of worlds above will “raise a song of [honor, praise, and glory] to their Creator.”
With this, how could John stand before God’s majesty?
But Jesus laid His hand upon him.
He said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One” (Revelation 1:17-18, ESV). And it strengthened John to live in God’s glorious presence.
Moving on, John saw “the wild, desolate rocks, the mysteries of the great deep, and the glories of the firmament.” These “bore the impress of God’s power and declared His glory” 16.
With this, let a man “look upon the glory of the heavens in the night season” and “mark the work of God’s power in the hosts thereof.”
From this, “he is taught a lesson of the greatness of the Creator in contrast with his own littleness.” It would “humble his proud spirit in the presence of the Infinite One.”
That must have been John’s realization, too, don’t you think?
Remember, he was once a high-tempered man like his brother (Luke 9:54). So, he must have learned a lot from this experience at Patmos.
3) He had a flashback of some significant happenings at the beginning of the earth’s history.
John saw the scenes of Horeb where God gave the law through Moses and sanctified the Sabbath day 22.
He also contemplated the sin of Adam in transgressing the divine law and witnessed the result of that transgression.
Then, John “beheld around him the witnesses of the Flood” in the time of Noah. He realized how much the inhabitants of the earth transgressed God’s law.
For such transgression, he witnessed God’s outpouring of wrath through the “breaking forth of the waters.”
4) He had a glimpse of what would happen in the future.
God revealed the prophecy to John 23.
For this, God used symbols like nature and animals to represent the end-time events which would be the signs of Jesus’ second coming.
Some of these events were the following, according to the Book of Revelation:
- Earthquakes, lightning, thunder, storms, and other natural disasters
- Diseases, famine, and drought
- Wars and turmoil among people and nations
- Rise of false prophets
- Darkening of the skies and falling of stars
What a privilege to see all of these!
Aside from these, “the glorious attractions of the heavenly home were made known to him. He was permitted to look upon the throne of God” 20.
Here, John saw “the white-robed throng of redeemed ones. He heard the music of heavenly angels.” Also, he enjoyed the “songs of triumph” from those who had overcome sin.
With all these, God wanted John to be a messenger 23. He would become the medium of communication between God and man, giving messages of warning and hope.
What a privilege, wasn’t it?
Come to think of it. John’s exile might have been his worst nightmare.
But, as you can see, it led him to an intimate bond with God. And he received an important mission to do for the world.
Indeed, his exile turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
What Does John’s Exile Story Teach Us?
From John’s persecution, “there is a lesson of wonderful strength and comfort for the Christian” 24.
That is, “God does not prevent the plottings of wicked men.” But “He causes their devices to work for good to those who…maintain their faith and loyalty.”
As such, let us remember that “the experience to be gained in the furnace of trial and affliction is worth all the pain it costs.”
With this, God brings us closer to Him. He shows us our weaknesses and His strength, teaching us to “lean on Him.”
He prepares us to meet emergencies so that we can “accomplish the great purpose” He has for us.
In John’s case, that purpose was to see what would lie ahead concerning the earth and heaven. And through that, God wanted him to be His messenger of hope for us living in this end time.
We Want to Hear From You
What can you say about John’s exile experience? What have you learned from it?
Do you have a similar experience? If so, what have you learned from that? And how has God helped you get through it?
Let us hear from you.
- Stephen Haskell, The Story of the Seer of Patmos, 15.1
- Oakman, in Deni Rene YouTube Channel, 2017
- Stephen Haskell, The Story of the Seer of Patmos, 16.1
- Stephen Haskell, The Story of the Seer of Patmos, 17.1
- Stephen Haskell, The Story of the Seer of Patmos, 22.1
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 70.1
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 70.2
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 70.3
- Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 569.3
- Wilson, 2020
- Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 570.1
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 71.1
- Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 569.4
- Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 570.2
- Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 570.3
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 72.1
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 73.2
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 74.2
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 72.1, 76.2
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 78.1
- Ellen White, The Sanctified Life, 76.2
- Stephen Haskell, The Story of the Seer of Patmos, 24.1
- Stephen Haskell, The Story of the Seer of Patmos, 17.3
- Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 574.2