Revelation & Patmos

Patmos: Grotto of Revelation – no pictures allowed inside the cave/church

Patmos is significant primarily because it was here on Patmos that John wrote the Book of Revelation also known as the Book of the Apocalypse which in the Christian Bible appears as the last book in the Bible

Now inquiring minds want to know who wrote Revelation. The tour guides on Patmos have all the answers, even although the church has debated the identity of “John of Patmos” since 200 AD. Then, as now, John was a pretty common name. Is this the same John as the Apostle John and John the Evangelist? Is this the same guy who wrote Gospel of John & three Epistles of John? Assuming that there may have been a lot of Johns running around the early church, the only thing we know for certain is that the man who wrote the Apocalypse was one called “John of Patmos”

One of the most important things I learned in four years of seminary was this: “History as a living fact consists not so much in what actually happened as in what people believe to have happened”. That helped me understand the Bible. It helps me understand all the stories in the US about George Washington . . . and Betsy Ross. And we know all the historic buildings and old inns across the Eastern US where George Washington supposedly slept, so the guy obviously slept around. But George and Betsy? Who knows? George may have been more of a player than Bill Clinton. But, whatever country you’re from, you have all of this history which is fact, because people believe it, maybe not because it actually happened. “History as a living fact . . .” That becomes VERY important when you visit the Holy Land where almost every religious tourist attraction is based on “tradition”. It’s even important in understanding the current political debates. It’s why we have spin doctors and talking heads on TV. You heard the candidate say one thing with your own ears, but then the spin doctors tell us what he really meant to say, hoping, if they repeat it often enough, that’s what you will come to believe.

Frescos in the Greek Orthodox Chapel in Monastery of St John

So the popular “TRADITION” is that the Apostle John “retired” to Ephesus and is buried there, and that he brought Mary the Mother of Jesus to Ephesus with him, but at some point came here to Patmos to have a vision and then either write Revelation here in Patmos or go back to Turkey to write it, depending on whether your guide is Greek or Turkish. The bottom line: whether it was the same “John” or a different “John” does not impact the power, beauty or truth of the words

So the author did not name the work – the name given later by the church and it was taken from the first word of the book which in Greek is “apokalupsis”, meaning “unveiling” or “revelation“. So apparently when they saved the book to their PC it just picked up on the first word of the document, automatically translated it into English, and called in “Revelation.”

The book of Revelation is typical of a style of writing that developed in Jewish and Christian writing representing “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling and it is called “Apocalyptic literature.” Typically it is a recounting of the authors’ visions as revealed by a heavenly messenger

There are different styles of Biblical interpretation. One is not “right”, and the others “wrong”, they are just different. Take the statement that the “Streets of heaven paved with gold”. If you take that literally it means that the streets of heaven are paved with 24 Karat gold. Now my first church was in the South Bronx of New York City, 146th Street and Third Avenue. And I worked with a lot of street kids who were on drugs, in gangs, etc. If that is literal, that the streets are paved with 24 K gold, my kids, many of whom died young, are up in heaven chipping up the streets to sell. Or is it figurative? Meaning that heaven is awesome beyond belief? Same thing is true of the meaning of “prophetic” – is it predictive intended to be a kind of divine crystal ball of the future, or is it interpetive?

The New Testament is of course a book springing out of a Hebrew tradition. The role of the Old Testament prophet is not necessarily predictive but interpretive. In Hebrew tradition the prophet has one foot in his culture and another foot with God and so he is able to interpret the word of the Lord to his culture and the predictive element is called upon to interpret the present

So the message of the prophet is, “This is the word of the Lord to this generation” and “If you fail to take head these are the predictable consequences”. And to the interpretive reader that message is as valid today as it was ages ago

So there are different ways of interpretation. There is no one “right” way or “wrong way” – You “pay your money, take your choice”. But for me the message of Revelation today is,” Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely”

The Grotto of Revelation is the Place where John supposedly received the visions resulting in the Book of Revelation and according to tradition John wrote the text of Revelations in this little cave, nestled beneath a monastic complex high on the mountain on Patmos. In Patmos we tender ashore to the little port town of Skala and most of our guests will take tours that include the Grotto as well as the Monastery of St. John.

Founded in 1088, the Monastery of St. John sits high on a hillside above Chora. Chora is the only other town on Patmos and the capital. It has narrow streets accessible only of our guests take the tour to see the Monastery. It is an hour-long climb up to the monastery from the tender port of Skala so for most of our guests, who take the elevator from Deck 4 to Deck 5, the tour is a better choice than spending an hour or more climbing up the mountain. There is a beautiful Greek Orthodox chapel with old frescos in the monastery, but even when you get to Chora it is a pretty demanding walk up to the monastery even if you take a bus or cab.

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