It is commonly accepted that the Apostle John outlived the other apostles and the general picture is that this occurred in the last years of the first century.

We are fortunate to have many details of the Apostle John’s life and activities for, apart from the five chapters of his first epistle, we have two small, personal letters to individuals: to “the elect lady and her children” (2 John:1); and the third epistle, “to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth” (3 John:1).

Yet there are two much larger works of John’s writings: the 21 chapters of John’s gospel being the fourth and last account of the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ; and then there are the 22 chapters of the Revelation. In this last and very special book of the Bible, the apostle is not the writer in the same sense as he was for the other four books that bear his name. The Revelation is attributed to Christ and given to him by God. The heading for the book in the Authorised Version is, “The Revelation of St John the Divine”—yet this is immediately corrected in the opening verse of chapter one: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him…”.

Then what was the Apostle John’s role in the production and promulgation of the Book of Revelation? He was a reporter and witness of the words and visions that Jesus received from his Father. The two verses that describe his role are: “John to the seven ecclesias…Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come” (1:4); and, “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation…I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying…” (1:9-11).

There are expressions throughout the Apocalypse that impress us with the intimacy that the Apostle John enjoyed in the assembly of the Book of Revelation: “What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven ecclesias which are in Asia” (1:11).

What was the Lord’s message to the ecclesial world?

Many of Christ’s words related specifically to the degradation of the Truth in their midst. In words direct from Christ to the ecclesia of Ephesus, we read:

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (2:2).

“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (2:5).

“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” (2:6).

To Smyrna he said:

“These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (2:8-9).

To Thyatira he said:

“…as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden” (2:24).

“But that which ye have already hold fast till I come” (2:25).

To Sardis he said:

“Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy” (3:4).

Such is the emphatic teaching of the Lord through John to various ecclesias in his last messages to them. There is warm encouragement to faithful activity in Christ yet in every letter there is mention of warning against false teaching. To every ecclesia there is a robust call to preserve the original faith they had been taught, to try those who claimed apostolic authority and refuse to hearken to their lies. These messages are a clear evidence of the mind of our Master, with whom there was obviously no room for contrary teaching or doctrine or carnal practice. There was to be no suffering of “that woman Jezebel” (2:20)! Rather, “that which ye have already hold fast till I come” (2:25)! This is emphatically the opposite to open ecclesial fellowship.

Doctrine in the Book of Revelation

Throughout the Book of Revelation there are numerous doctrinal passages that we hold dear to our faith, yet which have almost no relevance to the general teaching and practice of the churches of Christendom. Consider the following verses in that light:

“And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (5:10).

“Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (5:13).

“These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).

“…who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein” (10:6).

“And he said unto me [ John], Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” (10:11).

“The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (11:15).

“And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth” (11:18).

All these passages have no echo in the large historic churches of Christendom. Their doctrines and religious practices have no comparison to the repeated themes of the last book of Christ to his servant John. All of the above verses are part of the Truth that we have known and loved. John is being told, “Don’t let it be lost”, which is exactly what would happen if we met in an “open fellowship”, regardless of biblical Truth.

A special case

In chapter 12 there is special mention of the remnant of the woman’s seed. In a chapter on profound apostasy, there is a “remnant of her seed which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (v17). The obvious sense of this last verse of chapter 12 is that despite the general apostacy of the seed of the woman, there would be a faithful remnant which would stand true to the calling of Christ. The woman was already in “the wilderness” (v14) and the dragon still went to make war with the faithful remnant. Through the typical language we still see the fact that the true believers would be a small and persecuted remnant. The “woman”, the once faithful ecclesia, has been reduced to a few – yet still retaining the Testimony of Jesus Christ.

In the next chapter we are shown a remarkable aspect of their doctrine and practice. Although still pursued by “war” (13:7) they
would not respond in kind. To them the Lord has a special message: “If any man have an ear, let him hear” (v9). What is he to “hear”? “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is
the patience and the faith of the saints.” (v10). Despite great pressure, they would not avenge themselves. They refused to take up the sword. They were conscientious objectors even to the point of death. It is in the express significance of these words that our brethren, in the darkest years of the apostasy, resolved to obey their Master rather than to join the ranks of military legions. This obedience precluded open fellowship with the armies of this present world. The remnant of the woman’s seed kept their Lord’s commandment (12:17).

Open fellowship was no part of their thinking!

The last verses of our Lord Jesus

In verses 16 and 17 of Revelation 22, there are three moving appeals for believers to come forward to the call of Jesus: the “bright and morning star”; “Come”, “Come”, “come”; and, “take the water of life freely”. How beautiful is this hearty appeal to his servants. Yet before the Revelation is completed there are two more very solemn statements: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (v18). In short, whoever dares to add to the words of this prophecy, God shall add unto him the plagues of this book.

Then follows the alternative: “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (v19). That is, if a man dares to remove any of the words of the Revelation, God shall remove his name from the book of life.

The Book of Revelation is given from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through the writing of the Apostle John. The Lord’s message is, “don’t dare to add to or detract from this book”. It’s almost his very last recorded words and given in the most solemn manner. We, living at the end, need to carefully note that the fellowship of the saints is still principled and involves faithfulness to his commands.

Some may be inclined to say that these two verses are a bit irrelevant for no-one has added to them. The tragedy is that in fact many Christian institutions, supposedly bearing the name of Christ, have loaded history with grand declarations and additional doctrinal statements. The Mormons wrote their own book! The Seventh Day Adventists have done much the same. Creeds and Councils have “taken away” and “added to” the Word of God. The prophet Daniel foretold of the mouth of the fourth Beast that would speak “very great things” (Dan 7:8,11,20). Surely Jesus has this picture in mind here. So many Papal laws and decrees have been uttered forth in 16 centuries such that the Bible has been all but buried by the Roman Church. The Pope has eclipsed the Bible – and its millions of patrons have hardly heard the simple exposition of the things of the kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ. Instead their members have been told that the Pope is God’s representative and mouthpiece and that in fact when he sits in Peter’s chair and makes grand announcements, those edicts have the authority of God. This is the most emphatic statement of Papal authority. It is a moving fact that Jesus’ words in the last verses of Revelation 22 are in total opposition to Papal assumption.

Here then is the mind of our Lord; here are his words, his last words. Here is our fellowship, here will we remain; “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (Rev 13:10)

Losing the way 

Two years ago a very interesting book was published by the CSSS with the title, Losing the Way, meaning, how was the truth of the apostles ever lost to the world in subsequent times? It has many key quotations which illustrate the course of events and personnel involved in the tragic decline of the Truth. The book only quotes primary references and every Christadelphian will find it most interesting and helpful.

One of the most illuminating considerations of this book is the fact that major departures from the truth of the gospel began very early. Ignatius is a prominent name in the church in Australia and in other countries. He lived into the early decades of the second century, almost certainly in some of the last years of the Apostle John. Here is a sample of his strange teaching: “Mary then did truly conceive a body which had God inhabiting it. And God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own. He who forms all men in the womb, was Himself really in the womb, and made for Himself a body of the seed of the Virgin, but without any intercourse of man”.

It was the Apostle John that wrote the famous words regarding antichrist in 1 John 2:18-22 and 4:1-4, specifically denoting this confusing error with respect to the nature of our Lord: “Beloved, beieve not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now al- ready is it in the world”. The apostle completes his section with “and even now is it in the world”.

And so it was, as the writings of Ignatius make clear! The Nicene Creed of AD325 would crown the heresy, but the apostle says it was on the march in his own years. The quotations from Ignatius literally confirm the apostle’s comments. So early and the fight had already begun!

Here is warning for us, indeed. Preserve the biblical fellowship practice we know.