It was a Sunday morning in the first century AD, and the members of the
Ephesian church were gathering to worship in the spacious atrium in the
villa of Marcellus, a wealthy Roman convert who freely offered his home
as a meeting place.
As the members arrived, their faces were taut with uncertainty. Tension
filled the air, like a mooring line ready to snap. The meeting began as
usual, with a hymn, but today the church sang with little feeling. Their
minds were distracted by the ominous rumors coming out of Rome. After a
prayer and a reading from the prophet Isaiah, Tychicus, one of the
deacons, stood to address the congregation.
"Dear brothers and sisters, the church leaders have asked me to inform
you of evil tidings. A decree has just been posted in the forum telling
us that the Roman emperor Domitian has assumed the title 'master and
god.' He has demanded that everyone in the empire swear an oath to
worship him. He has already launched an aggressive campaign to enforce
the edict in every city under Rome's jurisdiction. What is worse, he has
especially singled out Jews and Christians because he suspects our
disloyalty to Rome."
A voice from the crowd called out, "Are the rumors true that the edict
has already been enforced in some of the other churches?"
The deacon nodded soberly. "A fortnight ago Roman soldiers invaded all
the Christian homes they could find in Pergamos and demanded that every
member immediately take the oath of worship to Domitian."
"Did they do it?" another tremulous voice asked.
A pained look crossed Tychicus's face. "It grieves me to report that
two-thirds of them gave in and took the oath."
A gasp rippled through the crowd. "What happened to those who would not
bow?" someone asked.
"I am sorry to tell you that they were brutally flogged and executed.
And we can be sure the same thing will soon happen here in Ephesus."
The room fell silent. Finally someone asked, "What can we do?"
At that moment, an aged man who had been sitting to the side stood
slowly, aided by the staff in his hand. Unlike the other faces in the
room, his showed no distress. In fact, he positively radiated joy. "It
was almost as if his face glowed," one member later observed.
The apostle John faced the group. "My dear brothers and sisters," he
began, "you ask what we can do. There is but one answer." At the age of
ninety, his voice still rang out clear and strong. But there was a
warmth in his delivery that dissolved much of the tension in the room.
"We can stand ready to give back to our Lord Jesus Christ what He has
given to us. He gave us life by giving up His life, and we must do no
less for Him."
"Perhaps we should stop meeting for a while," Marcellus said. "That
would keep us from being so visible and identifiable."
"No, that is exactly what we must not do," John replied. "We must look
at this trouble coming our way as a test of our faith. Will we love our
Lord enough to stand firm and suffer with Him? Or will we turn our backs
on the One who gave us the greatest gift of love in history? With such
trouble coming, we need more than ever to meet together in order to
support and encourage one another to stand strong. If we stop
assembling, we will isolate ourselves and lose the strength we draw from
each other. We must never stop meeting, no matter how severe the
"As long as this threat remains, we have decided that we should meet all
over the city in separate homes," Tychicus said. "The Romans will never
be able to find us all. Some of us may fall, but the church in Ephesus
"And, I hope, grow even stronger in the face of the persecution," John
added. "Sometimes I fear that we are becoming complacent and that the
love we originally had for our Lord and for each other is beginning to
cool. Persecution could rekindle that love by drawing us together as we
face a common danger."
"Why is God letting this happen?" a voice cried out from the back. "We
have been loyal and dedicated. We have done many good things in Christ's
name. Yet the more good we try to do, the more the world seems to hate
"Do not marvel, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you," John
replied. "Our Lord and Savior was perfect in every way, and yet the
world hated Him. People hate what they do not understand. We should look
on this coming trial as a great honor. We are being chosen to share His
cross and His sacrifice for us. Many who have already died for Christ
have received their suffering with joy. In the years since His death and
resurrection, all my fellow apostles, including that late-coming
firebrand Paul, have been called to suffer death for Him. I am the only
apostle remaining who has been denied that honor. And now that I see it
on the horizon, I welcome it with all my heart. I urge all of you, my
dear brothers and sisters, to remain steadfast and true to Christ, no
matter the cost. You will receive a reward in heaven that will make your
sacrifice seem as a mere trifle."
John resumed his seat, leaning heavily on his staff. After another hymn
and several prayers, the assembly dismissed.
As usual, the members clustered around John with questions or prayer
needs, or simply to bask in the man's magnetic presence. But today a
tense undercurrent ran through the conversations. It wasn't long before
Marcellus pushed his way through the group and stood facing the apostle.
His face was as red as wine, and his eyes blazed with anger.
"How can you ask us to do this?" he demanded. "I have a wife and five
young children. Do you expect me to just stand by while they are
tortured and slaughtered? I will not do it! The rest of you can meet
next Sunday like cattle waiting for these Roman butchers. But not I! You
must find another place to meet. There will be no worship here until
this crisis has passed. I am perfectly willing to live for Christ, but
it's too much to ask me to die for Him!"
Without another word, Marcellus turned on his heel and walked away. Soon
the remaining members dispersed to their homes. How would they react
when the Romans came? They weren't entirely sure. Would they face the
crisis with the courage of their apostle John or with the fear of
* * *
The following Sunday, a small group of families assembled in John's home
to worship. Five of the expected twenty-three members were not in
attendance. Nothing was said about those who were missing, but the
morning prayer included a petition that all would regain their courage
and stand fast. After a few hymns, a Scripture reading, and more
prayers, John stood to speak.
Suddenly the door burst open, and eight Roman soldiers barged in. They
were dressed in armor and carried swords. The startled Christians stared
wide eyed, and mothers drew their children close to them.
The commanding officer opened a small scroll and read the emperor's
demand. "You must cease to worship your God," he proclaimed. "It is
lawful to worship only Domitian."
After the reading, one of the soldiers held up a bronze statue. It was
over a foot tall and bore the precise image of the emperor's face.
The commander rolled up the scroll and said, "The emperor Domitian
requires that you show your compliance with his order this day by bowing
down before his image. If you refuse, you will be put to death."
Not one of the Christians moved. This was a fragile moment, and they all
knew it. If any of them broke and bowed to the image, others might lose
courage too and do the same. After a tense moment of silence, the
commander nodded to his men. They drew their swords.
A woman near the front shrieked and fell to the floor. She knelt before
the image and swore the oath. Her husband quickly followed, as did four
other members. But the rest of the assembly held firm, some of them
mouthing silent prayers.
"The six of you who yielded have saved your lives, for whatever they are
worth." The commander made no effort to hide his contempt.
As the six scrambled out the door, the officer strode toward John. "I
believe you must be the one your people call John the Apostle."
"I am he," John replied.
The commander turned to his soldiers. "We have finally found him,
men—the ringleader of all the churches in Asia Minor. This is the
chief rebel who has led thousands of citizens to deny the authority of
Rome and worship a man who was executed as a criminal."
The commander turned back to John. "Word of your disloyalty has reached
the ears of the emperor himself, and he has a special punishment
reserved for you. Instead of slaying you outright, he wants to make you
suffer until you wish you were dead. Your fate will show your followers
the futility of resisting Rome."
The commander seized John and shoved him out the door. The other
soldiers followed and bolted the door from the outside, trapping the
Christians who remained within. One soldier produced a torch, lit it
with his flint, and set fire to the house. As the soldiers led John
toward the Roman garrison, John could see the house begin to blaze.
They were fifty paces away when the commander stopped and turned toward
the now-flaming cottage. "What is that noise?"
"It is singing," John replied. "My faithful brothers and sisters are
singing a song of praise to their true Lord, Jesus the Christ, whom they
will meet face-to-face within this very hour."
John leaned heavily on his staff, struggling for breath, but they forced
him to march on. Upon arrival at the garrison, he was handed off to a
prison guard, who clamped chains on John's ankles and dragged him out to
the yard. The soldiers stripped him to the waist, chained his wrists to
a post, and flogged him with a metal-studded whip. Then they locked the
apostle inside a damp, reeking cell. For several days he lay there
suspended between life and death.
Yet in spite of his shredded back, the filthy conditions, and the meager
food portions, John never cursed his guard. The soldier, impressed by
John's perseverance, began to slip additional food to him. Over the next
few weeks, John's wounds healed, and eventually he was able to stand and
limp about his cell. One day the guard called for him to come close.
"I have learned what is to become of you," he whispered. "You are to be
taken to the Isle of Patmos, where you will be exiled for the rest of
"Patmos!" John repeated. He knew of the island—an infamous dumping
ground for Rome's convicted prisoners. "When will I be sent to exile?"
"In two days. You will not be fed well on the voyage—and not at
all on the island. I will bring you a small sack with bread and grapes
that you can slip under your robe and smuggle aboard the ship."
"Thank you, but if it's all the same to you, I would much prefer a roll
of parchment and a vial of ink."
"I will do what I can."
* * *
Two days later John boarded a ship leaving the Port of Ephesus for the
three-day voyage to Patmos. Beneath his robe he carried a flat leather
bag containing his parchment and ink.
The ship—a converted Roman merchant vessel—was propelled by
a single square sail and forty oars below deck. The departing exiles
were forced to man the oars—with the exception of John, who was
still wearing ankle chains, and three others, who were exempted because
of age or disability. They were kept on deck near the prow of the ship.
As the ship sailed into the port on Patmos, John looked out on a
landscape of barren hills, arid fields of sand and salt, and rocky crags
dotted with brambles and stunted trees. As the prisoners disembarked,
each was given a three-day ration of dried meat and fish. "That's all
you get," the quartermaster told them. "When it's gone, you're on your
John soon learned that the exiles were on their own in other ways as
well. They would not only have to gather their own food but also would
have to find shelter. While there were two or three crude settlements
that had been built on the ruins of ancient towns, these struggling
villages provided no protection from the island's population of exiled
criminals. The only law was self-preservation and survival.
Incoming exiles either found their own shelters among the island's caves
or built huts from rocks and deadwood. When John was aboard the ship, he
had heard rumors that the far side of Patmos was the least populated. He
reasoned that food and shelter would be more readily available there, so
he headed out on a trek across the island.
The aged apostle was nearing exhaustion when he stumbled upon an
abandoned cave. It overlooked the sea, and a trickling stream flowed
Born and raised a fisherman, John gathered some tough vines and wove
together a serviceable net. He hobbled down to the shore and climbed
onto a promontory that was strewn with boulders. When he reached a ledge
overhanging the deeper water, he dropped the net, retaining his hold on
its long leaders, and waited. Two hours later he returned to the cave,
his makeshift net filled with three large crabs and two silver fish.
* * *
As the days wore on, each like the one before it, John began to feel
that his life had become meaningless—that he was doomed to live
out his remaining time on earth without purpose. He often wondered why
he hadn't been martyred like his fellow apostles.
One bright Sunday, after his morning worship and midday meal of fish and
berries, John hobbled off toward his favorite spot overlooking the sea.
He sat down on his usual rock, shaded by a towering boulder, and gazed
out on the gray-green water. Placing his parchment on his lap, he took
out a quill to write a letter.
That's when it happened.
A great voice boomed from just behind him. "I am the Alpha and the
Omega, the First and the Last." The mighty words reverberated through
the heavens like rolling thunder.
John dropped his quill and began to tremble. Nearly paralyzed with
terror, he could hardly bring himself to look toward the source of the
voice. But there was something so compelling about that voice that he
finally had no choice but to turn around.
Before him stood the most magnificent and majestic Man he'd ever seen.
His face shone with the brilliance of the sun. He was clothed in a
shimmering robe of pure white that was bound about His chest with a
golden band. His hair was white—not the lank, faded white of
advanced age, but the vibrant, glistening white of pure snow.
The Man's eyes burned into John's soul like piercing flames. In His
right hand He held seven brilliant stars. When He spoke, the words
rolled off His tongue like tidal waves. Everything about the Man exuded
such perfect beauty and glory that John's senses were overwhelmed. He
fell to the ground in a dead faint.
He was awakened by a gentle touch on his shoulder.
"Do not be afraid," the Man said, His voice so infused with love and
warmth that John's fear dissolved like wax in the sunlight.
"I am the First and the Last," the Man said again. "I am He who lives
and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I have the keys of
Hades and of Death."
John realized that he was once more in the presence of the Lord he
adored. He basked in waves of unforeseen joy.
The golden voice told John to take up his quill and record the wonders
about to be revealed to him—wonders concerning things existing and
things yet to come. John, now filled with expectation, sat again with
the quill in his hand and the scroll on his lap.
The voice spoke: "What you see, write in a book...."
Immediately the Lord began to dictate warnings, rebukes, and
commendations to the seven churches that had looked to John as their
patriarch. As John completed the final letter, the vision of Christ
vanished, and His voice called from somewhere above: "Come up here, and
I will show you things that must take place after this."
In that moment, the familiar landscape of Patmos faded, and John gazed
awestruck at what no earthly human being had ever seen—the very
throne room of heaven. Vision after vision followed—some
horrifying to behold and others majestic beyond imagination. As the last
vision faded, the apostle heard these final words: "I am coming
Suddenly John found himself sitting back on his rock in the shade of the
boulder. He had been given a vision of things to come—a message
that would assure the Lord's churches across the world that although
terrible persecution loomed in their future, their ultimate triumph in
Christ was certain.
"Yes, Lord, please come quickly," he said as he rolled up the scroll.
* * *
THE SCRIPTURE BEHIND THE STORY
The apostle John, in writing his great book from the Isle of Patmos,
joined an exclusive band of chosen servants who had received similar
instructions from the Lord and had done their work under adverse
circumstances. Moses wrote the Pentateuch in the wilderness. David wrote
many of the psalms while fleeing from the murderous King Saul. Isaiah
wrote while watching his nation degenerate, and according to tradition,
he died a martyr's death. Ezekiel wrote while he was in captivity in
Babylon. Jeremiah's life was one of trial and persecution. Peter wrote
his two letters just before he was martyred. Paul wrote his letters amid
being beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, and robbed, and while facing hunger,
thirst, cold, nakedness, slander, and just about every other kind of
tribulation known to humankind (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
Excerpted from "Agents of the Apocalypse: A Riveting Look at the Key Players of the End Times" by David Jeremiah. Copyright © 2013 by David Jeremiah. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.