“I must become less”: Journey from apostle to peer
In these lessons on Revelation 1 we have been speaking about John the Apostle. John had walked with Christ and then carried forward the gospel after the ascension of Christ. On the other side of Jesus’ earthly ministry was John the Baptist. He heralded the arrival of Jesus connecting Old Testament Judaism to New Testament relationship.
John the Baptist had been the God chosen forerunner of Christ. As the role of Jesus took on its God intended dimensions so did the role of John the Baptist. How was it to change? Jesus was to become more and John the Baptist to become less. Jesus was to increase and John to decrease. He accepted this changing capacity even speaking that to a Jewish ceremonialist (see John 3:22 and following).
John the son of Zebedee, the author of Revelation had been handpicked by Jesus from the shores of Galilee, probably from among John the Baptist’s disciples. He went on to be a witness of every major event in Jesus’ earthly era becoming an apostle at the ascension. He become a man of rapport in the fledgling church, and now was the last living apostle; the last man standing if you will. Now, again, he was handpicked for another task: to receive the prophecy of earth’s final days. So John the Apostle had great stature in the first century church, but look, though, at how he self-describes: brother and partner, brother and companion as some versions have it. He chose none of his higher or exalted roles for his self-description, but humbly chose to be numbered among the suffering, the enduring.1
~ Not going to be left as orphans ~
As the 1st century drew to a close the elderly John had remained as the final living witness to Jesus’ Galilean days. The Christians then on the earth might have felt as if they would be left as orphans, but that was not so. In John 14:18 Jesus said that he was not leaving his disciples as orphans. Jesus said that he would come to them. He had after the resurrection, briefly, and then after the ascension thoroughly. The apostles waited in Jerusalem and when the Holy Spirit came the eternal era began. So, the initial role of Jesus as parent to the disciples changed to Jesus as God.
Similarly, the initial role of John as parent/apostle also changed. His last words were not going to be as a dying parent to a child. The hand-offs of both Jesus and John the Apostle were to the Holy Spirit who could be all godly things to all men. John became a brother and companion. The apostolic era dimmed and the eternal era brightened. The apostolic role shifted to the peer role in the kingdom of God.
From apostle to peer: the evidence
He called himself brother and partner, but was he really? Yes, on the basis of his life. His real stature as apostle did not exempt him from the real events pressed upon members of the first century church. As the good news of Jesus spread the Roman empire was infected, so to speak, with his message. The tiny seed of Jesus’ birth had taken on dimensions far beyond Israel’s borders becoming a force to be reckoned with. The Roman empire was doing the reckoning in the form of persecution. John was being pinched in the same manner as other late first century Christians were being pinched. He had been pinched all the way into exile. He was there because of God’s word and Jesus’ testimony, not exempted from the wrath of Rome. That is what made him a companion and partner, a fellow-sufferer, a fellow who had to patiently endure.
~ Relationship and Common Cause ~
In the lead-up to this section John had mentioned many things:
- Grace and peace
- Trinity and atonement
- Worship was evoked by the recognition of God’s doings in our lives.
Those were foundational realities which he could have taught on, but instruction in doctrine was not the point of this letter. Rather, he lived with those strengths and with that backbone. That godly style of living led to suffering, kingdom and patient endurance…other realities. Those forged companionship. Those forged a common cause. He was a brother and a companion.
What’s up with this “in the Spirit” stuff?
Is John in some sort of a trance or state of altered consciousness? Is he floating around with an out of body experience, dreaming? Or is he just experiencing some manner of close connection with God?
While we are not given specifics, it does not seem that he was wrestling with God as Jacob did in Genesis 32. Neither does it seem like he is having a Daniel 9 moment pleading with prayer and petition, fasting in the setting of sackcloth and ashes. Nor does he seem to be praying with the intensity expressed by Luke of Jesus in Gethsemane2 sweating drops of blood. In those situations there were particularly poignant needs and situations at hand being brought before God Almighty.
In John’s case here it seems that he had just gone and met with God on a given Sunday. He was praying–volitionally engaged with God. He was not working in the garden or fixing the shelter he slept in. Those types of earthly cares were on the back burner, important, but set aside. The thing that he was focusing on was God. He was praying and engaging with God probably in things his mind was accustomed to bringing to the presence of God.
So being “in the Spirit” was not something magical nor hyped. It was a part of John’s spiritual breathing, living so to speak. Maybe it could be called “spiritual biology.” John was doing it; all Christians should be doing it.