Exiled to the isle of Patmos, John was a “fellow-participant” in the tribulation and endurance with the churches of Asia – Revelation 1:9.
At the start of the first vision, Revelation introduces John, who was exiled to the isle of Patmos for the “testimony of Jesus.” Rather than point to his apostolic credentials, he identified himself with the plight of the “seven churches of Asia.” Although isolated on the small island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, he was a “fellow-participant” with the “churches” in the “tribulation and endurance in Jesus.”
The island included a penal colony, but it also had a large enough population to support a gymnasium, an Acropolis, and several religious shrines dedicated to the Greek gods Artemis and Apollo. Its geographic isolation made it an excellent location to banish political undesirables; it was only accessible by ship.
- (Revelation 1:9) – “I, John, your brother and fellow-participant with you in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus, was on the isle that is called Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
John found himself on Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” This explains why he identified so readily with the suffering “churches of Asia.” He was their “fellow-participant” in the daily struggles of these marginalized congregations. With this term, he aligned himself with their sufferings. He was THEIR “brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus.”
“Fellow participant” or sugkoinōnos means joint participation, and it is related to the Greek term rendered “fellowship” elsewhere in the New Testament – (1 Corinthians 9:23, Romans 11:17, Philippians 1:7).
In the clause, the single Greek article or “the” modifies all three nouns, tribulation, kingdom, and endurance. That means they are grammatically linked, that each is a part of the single whole. To be “in Jesus” is to experience tribulation, kingdom, and endurance; it is what it means to follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.”
“Tribulation” translates the Greek noun thlipsis, “pressing together”; hence, it has the sense “pressure, distress, affliction.” It is something the “church at Smyrna” has already endured. In a subsequent vision, John will see an innumerable multitude “coming out of the great tribulation.” In Revelation, “tribulation” is what the “saints” endure on account of their “testimony in Jesus” – (Revelation 7:9-14).
The “seven churches” were participating in the “kingdom.” Believers reign with Jesus through their “testimony” and faithful “endurance” in persecutions and sufferings. By his death and resurrection, Jesus constituted his churches a “kingdom and priests” – (Revelation 1:6, 5:10, 20:4-6).
To be “in Jesus” includes the “endurance.” The call to endure is a theme threaded throughout the book. For example, Jesus promised the Philadelphians that “because you kept the word of my endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial.” The assault against the “saints” by the “beast” is part of the “endurance and the faith of the saints” – (Revelation 2:2-3, 2:19, 3:10, 13:10, 14:12).
In Revelation, John is an active participant in its visions and functions as a surrogate for his readers. He does not attempt to hide his occasional missteps. He also is the guide for the readers of the book, yet he remains a fellow believer who participates in the “tribulation, the kingdom, and the endurance” that characterize what it means to follow Jesus. As the “churches” suffer for Jesus, so does John.
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