Although there are many other examples in Scripture of those who knew social distancing and isolation, the final individual to merit our attention is the Apostle John. Like some who are reading this (not all, of course), he was an aged person. He was on Patmos, a rock strew island off the coast of modern-day Turkey. It is only about 7 miles by 4 miles, so not a lot of hiking to do, and at age 90, not a lot of stamina to do it.
He was there because of being a Christian. No other accusation was leveled against him, but being a Christian was enough to get you banished and to experience some significant social distancing.
John, however, was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s day. I do not think that initially, this meant any ecstatic experience or some special level of spiritual attainment. Likely, it simply means that instead of engaging in a day of self-pity and despondency, he was determined to enjoy his spiritual blessings.
We are not told how long John was on Patmos before we are brought to the events of Revelation 1. He may well have spent many lonely and monotonous days on the island, watching the sunrise from one side of the island and then the setting sun on the western side. Days came and went with little to distinguish them apart from changes in the weather. His real interest, however, was not in the weather or the scenery (or lack of it). He was “in the Spirit,” communing with His Savior, even on Patmos.
And then, a day like no other occurred as suddenly he heard a voice behind him, and, as has been said, you know the rest of the story. The man who had known the closest physical and perhaps emotional relationship with the Lord, resting on His breast at the supper (John 13), now falls at His feet. To the exiled apostle is now granted a “revelation” of Christ which overwhelmed his soul, thrilled his heart, and filled his mind.
Exegetes may draw many wondrous truths from Revelation, theologians may argue over many points, prophetic teachers (and modern-day prophets) may opine on future events and the calendar of God, but the lessons we can draw are quite simple and on the surface.
Circumstances cannot hinder our enjoyment of Christ:
A barren island, harsh conditions, lack of social contact, and fellowship with other believers, even the advancing of age cannot hinder “being in the Spirit.” It is a choice I make. Do I want to bemoan my circumstances, wallow in my perceived deserved self-pity, rail against the events that have transpired? Or would I rather find enjoyment in fellowship with the Savior? You and I have a whole Savior to ourselves to enjoy.
Circumstances may afford a fresh revelation of Christ:
None of us will get the magnitude nor the majesty of the revelation which John received. God is not asking any of us to write a Revelation of future events. The circumstances in which John found himself, did lead to a knowledge of Christ he did not have prior to this. If you had asked any of the disciples which of them knew Christ the best, they might, in a moment of rare humility, have motioned to John. Yet, John had so much more to learn. Had we been able to interview John, it is likely would have said something to the effect of, “I never knew He was so majestic,” or, “I can’t believe that the One Who is so great allowed me so near.” Glory and grace would have cowed him in wonder and worship.
To my shame, I have to confess I have not had a fresh revelation of Christ through the pandemic. We might enjoy Christ, but have I learned anything new of His infinite person?
Circumstances cannot hinder usefulness for Christ:
When the Roman emperor banished John to Patmos, he did so with the certainty that he was limiting the influence of this aged patriarch on the upstart movement of Christianity which was seen as disloyal to the Caesar-cult. The island would serve as an effective end to John’s service.
God had other plans. Nothing and no one, including the Caesars of that day and of any day, can hinder God’s purposes and work. No one can limit the usefulness of a vessel for which God has purposes and plans. The form of John’s service may change, but his usefulness will only increase. He had written three epistles for believers; he had already penned a Gospel account for his generation of both unbelieving Jews and believers (still enjoyed by us today). Now God would entrust him with penning a volume, not only for seven assemblies in Asia, but for all believers down through the centuries. His usefulness was not only intact but expanded.
May we learn to be “in the Spirit,” look for fresh unfolding of His person, and seek for avenues of usefulness whatever circumstances the Lord may allow in our lives.