Isle of Patmos

SYNOPSIS - John was exiled on Patmos for his testimony, therefore, he was a “fellow participant” in the Tribulation, Kingdom, and Perseverance “in Jesus” - Revelation 1:9

Patmos is a small island in the Aegean Sea approximately ninety kilometers west of the city of Ephesus - Eleven kilometers long by seven kilometers wide. It is one of the smaller islands of the Sporades, an archipelago off the west coast of Asia Minor. Roman literature from the imperial period identifies this island chain as a place for the exile of political offenders - (Tacitus, Ann. iii. 68; iv. 30; v. 71). - [Photo by Marek Okon on Unsplash].

The island was NOT a penal colony. It had a population large enough to support a gymnasium, acropolis, and shrines to the Greek gods Artemis and Apollo. However, its geographic isolation made it an excellent place to banish political undesirables and other troublemakers - It was accessible only by ship.

Political offenders could be exiled and deported under the regulation of in insulam. This included the confiscation of property and loss of civil rights. The purpose was banishment, not necessarily forced labor. Only the Emperor could impose this penalty.
  • (Revelation 1:9) – “I, John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus, came to be in the isle that is called Patmos, because of the word of God, and the witness of Jesus.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Later church tradition claimed John was forced to labor in the mines on Patmos, but this tradition is uncorroborated. There is no evidence that mines ever existed on the island during or prior to the Roman period - (William Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches).

Another regulation under which individuals were exiled was the sentence of relegatio in insulam. This ruling did not mean the loss of property or civil rights. It could be imposed by a provincial governor if he exiled the offender to a location within his jurisdiction - (Patmos belonged to the province of Asia). According to the church father Tertullian, John was exiled under this law - (De Praescript. Haer. 36). 

Probability supports this last option. It is unlikely the emperor would take a personal interest in the case of a minor provincial. After A.D. 64, Roman authorities began to view Christianity as an illegal religion and ceased to consider it a Jewish sect. Under Roman law, Judaism was a legal religion with defined rights that included exemption from participation in the imperial cult. Once Christianity became illegal, believers could be compelled to venerate the emperor, and refusal to do so was tantamount to treason.

A local magistrate was required to make inquiries and, if warranted, prosecute any Christian accused of refusing to acknowledge the divine dignity of the emperor. If anyone refused to do so the magistrate had little choice but to convict the accused and to mete out the required punishment.

The letter to Smyrna describes the “slander of them who say they are Jews and are not,” using the Greek noun blasphémia - (Strong’s - #G988). While it can mean “blasphemy,” the term was used also for “slander” - false accusations. At Smyrna, saints were accused by their opponents to local authorities for activities offensive to Roman sensibilities, accusations that were “slander” in the eyes of Jesus. Consequently, some saints faced imprisonment and even execution - (Revelation 2:9-10).

The emphasis on this church’s poverty suggests economic deprivation because of this “slander.” Other passages in Revelation demonstrate that Christian testimony meant economic loss for many believers - (Revelation 3:17-18, 13:15-18).

John was on Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” The preposition dia, or “on account of,” indicates either that he went to Patmos to proclaim the gospel or was banished there because of his activities elsewhere.

The second alternative is the more probable one. First, John was a “fellow participant” in the “tribulation.” Second, in Revelation, saints were persecuted for the “testimony of Jesus.” Third, an almost identical clause is found in the fifth seal opening where the martyrs were slain “on behalf of (dia) the word of God and their testimony (martyria).” And, fourth, the term “testimony” or martyria has judicial overtones - (Revelation 6:9, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 20:4).

Thus, John found himself banished on Patmos; therefore, he identified himself with the suffering churches of Asia as their “fellow-participant.” He did not call himself “apostle” or indicate his status or authority – He was simply “John.” This suggests he was a well-known figure among the churches of Asia. More importantly, he identified himself with the plight of his churches.

Therefore, John was a “brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus.” “Fellow-participant” or sugkoinōnos denotes joint participation - (Strong’s - #G4791). The term is related to the Greek noun used elsewhere for “fellowship” - (1 Corinthians 9:23, Romans 11:17, Philippians 1:7).

In the Greek sentence, a single definite article or “the” modifies all three nouns (tribulation, kingdom, endurance) - The three nouns are grammatically linked; each is part of a whole. To be “in Jesus” means tribulationkingdom, and endurance, all three terms characterize what it means to follow him.

Tribulation” translates the Greek noun thlipsis, a “pressing together,” hence “pressure, distress, trouble, tribulation, affliction” - (Strong’s - #G2347). This was something the church had experienced already at Smyrna and was about to endure again. Later, in his vision of the innumerable multitude, John saw a group “coming out of the great tribulation” - (Revelation 2:9-10, 7:9-14).

Thus, “tribulation” occurs “in Jesus.” In Revelation, it is not something God inflicts on the ungodly but what faithful Christians endure on account of their testimony. In contrast, the ungodly undergo “wrath” – (Revelation 6:16, 11:18, 19:15).

The churches participate in the “kingdom.” On some level, the kingdom or reign of Christ is a present reality and believers participate in it. The churches are members of a “kingdom and priests” - (Revelation 1:6, 5:10-12, 20:4-6).

The “endurance” also occurs “in Jesus.”  The call to endure in faithful witness during tribulation and persecution is a theme threaded throughout Revelation. For example, the assault against believers by the “Beast from the sea” is labeled the “endurance and the faith of the saints” - (Revelation 13:10, 14:12).
  • (Revelation 3:10) - “Because you kept my word of endurance, I also will keep you out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable earth to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Tribulationendurance, and kingdom all take place “in Jesus” - They typify church life because believers are identified with him, the “faithful witness.” He inaugurated the kingdom by his Death and Resurrection, and his disciples now reign with him as a “kingdom of priests.” However, they do so in and despite opposition and persecution.


Suffering Servant

The Living Word