"Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near."
96 A.D. Patmos, off the coast of Greece.
"I am coming quickly." John stared at the rotting ceiling of the century old prison, his mouth still hanging open, and stood motionless. His savior's words echoed in his head. He blinked, and rushed over to his desk, a small, ancient looking table with a small stool. With his one pen and stacks of paper he had sat there countless hours during his lonely exile here on the forsaken isle of Patmos, since being sentenced to prison there.
He steadied his shaking hand to place his pen to the paper, and it scratched feverishly as he hurried to place in words the scenes that filled his mind. How many letters he had composed since being here, yet they all would pale in comparison to this one, he was certain. And as he rushed to compose what would become the last book in what future generations would call the Holy Bible, he could feel its urgency pressing on his heart.
He dipped his pen in the ink, and continued to write, his pace never slowing, his mind not failing to recall every event in such vivid detail. It amazed him unspeakably that he could remember so much. His mind was weary, as was the rest of him. He was late into his eighty-fifth year, and he had endured multiple times more in his days then most men his age. For over sixty years of his life he had lived with one mission, and it had brought him places he never would have imagined, and finally he sat in this place. He was at peace with the fact that he would die here, because he knew he would see his Lord once again. What he had not expected was to see Christ before he died.
He wiped perspiration from his wrinkled face and dipped his pen another time, the words flowing from his mind to the page so freely he knew it must be divine. He smiled to himself. Everything he had done in the past 60 years had the Lord in it, ever since the Lord Himself had stepped foot onto his little boat so many decades earlier. He had thought being a fisherman on the sea of Galilee had been grueling work. Little had he known of what his life would truly be, and of the tireless efforts that would ensue from the moment a certain mysterious man had sought he, his brother, and their close friends, and said simply, “Follow me.”
Those were the first words Jesus had spoken to him, and not a few minutes ago, he had heard his Lord's voice once more, sounding just as welcoming as He always had, despite the message He was delivering. Those final words would be the most important thing John would ever record, and the last. He was the last living apostle, the last man to have walked with God in the flesh, and he would soon be gone as well. His pen stopped scratching for the slightest second as he pondered what might be done with their writings. He, Peter, Paul, all of them had written scores of letters in the past decades, to the churches around the world. John knew that those churches treasured those letters as if they were sacred, but he wondered if they would ever go farther that their walls.
He shook his head, and his hand moved over the paper once more. If the words that their Lord had given them to write ever were brought together somehow, surely this would be the last one in line, and by far the most important. Just what was this message? He knew it would cause confusion for those who read, and he tried with all of his knowledge, and all of his experience in writing to somehow make sense of the cryptic message. By the tone of his Lord's voice, this was impending, and he tried also to stress that it should not be taken lightly.
This letter was both praise and admonishment for all the Christian churches that had been the seeds planted by the apostles soon after the ascension of Jesus. Never had a task been so clear, that he must warn these people of what was to come. And what was to come was the return of Christ, in a manner so unlike His first coming. The thought gave John a joy that revived his aged soul, but from what The Lord had just told him, not all of the believers would feel the same as he. This was a warning, that they must be ready for Christ when He returned. "But, when will it be?" John thought. “What does "quickly" mean?” It came to him instantly, and he felt the Lord's presence. "Tacheos" John whispered. The Greek word meant that when Jesus came, he would do it quickly. It did not mean imminent. "It could be today, it could be in thousands of years" John thought. After His first advent, the apostles had heeded the Lord's commission, to preach his gospel to the ends of the earth. Jews, gentiles, it did not matter. God was God to all. This had been proven time and time again. Miracles had been bestowed upon Romans, Greeks, and Pagans. God wanted all to repent and be saved. That was the message John and the others had given to the churches, and the believers had been so eager, so full of the spirit then. But what Christ had just told John had shocked him, and made him fear for their very souls. In the years since john had last seen them, even despite the constant letters of encouragement he had sent them, they had taken the simple message of redemption and literally destroyed it. The things the Lord had just described had been actions the pagans do, yet they were his own Brethren. He tried to write even quicker, as if every second counted. And it did. A feeling came over him once more, the spirit trying to tell him another truth, and this one astonished him. Not only was he writing to his beloved Christian brethren.He now realized that he was not only writing to seven literal churches in seven literal cities, but he was also writing to the seven types of "Christians" that would emerge in future generations from these planted seeds. Throughout history, his words would be read by believers right up to the Lord's second coming, which was at a future date known only by God himself. As John continued to write tirelessly, the scope of his project became clearer, This message was no different then the original testament, to be the Lord's instrument for the redemption of all mankind. It also became clear that, although all seven churches would receive praise for their works and deeds, only five would receive criticism and admonishment for their evil deeds. These five were to receive the harsh warnings of what was to come for them if they did not repent of their evil ways, bad deeds, and overall sinful behavior. John could not believe what was happening at these churches, even as he wrote. They were taking for granted the priceless love Christ had given them. They had been through trials, just as John himself had, but they were faltering. He shook his head. He had not fully understood what Christ had meant when he had said 'follow me', but he had come to find out. It meant facing rulers, Sanhedrin's, unbelievers, who would scorn, beat, and even kill you. But John felt honored by it all. Following Jesus when He had lived, and even being right there, watching his Lord be tortured, and dying on a cross, and then, watching Him live again, no trial had ever been able to douse the flame that had been lit in John's heart by Christ himself. He thought of his fellow apostles, Peter, Paul, even his beloved kin brother, James, had been killed so horribly. He fought back the tears, knowing they saw Christ now, knowing that they were in paradise, just as Jesus had said to the thief that had been beside Him the day He died. But still, none of these new believers who had never once seen Jesus understood fully what it meant to follow Him. The gospel was clear, that the only way to heaven was through the redemption of sins, through the sacrifice of the Lord's death on the cross. Just simply believing was not enough, and they didn't realize that. The Devil believes, the haters believe, so simple belief would never be enough to earn true salvation. Living a good life was not enough either, and good works and deeds would never be enough. "Nobody can earn salvation", John thought, "that kind of easy grace will never work." Putting on The Lord Jesus, and letting him rule your life was the only solution. Picking up your cross and following him daily, all while denying yourself and your sinful desires was the price. Salvation is, was, and always would be a free gift of God, not based on good deeds, so nobody is able to brag or boast. This message had been forgotten by five of the seven churches, both now and evidently for all generations to come. "How many will come?", John thought, "How many will believe based on our teachings and history?" More chilling was his thought of how many thousands or millions would not believe, would deny Christ, and deny their own salvation. These were the very souls John was entrusted to reach through these writings. To penetrate their skepticism, and light the flame of love in their hearts. John continued onto yet another page as the stack of papers grew. He knew it was not his job to save anyone, that only God could do that. But, being God's messenger was becoming more and more his passion. Not a duty to shy away from or approach with half a heart. John was all in, and this was his calling. The same calling his brethren were rejecting. As these people formed their own doctrines, based on their own man made traditions and not the word of God, it was now John's task to let them know the error of their ways. He did not know how long they would have to think about it; all he could do was pray they would all, through history, repent and realize the scope of what was at stake. Before it was too late, and they died without Christ in their hearts. Eternity, after all, was a long, unfathomable stretch of time. There was no doubt in John's mind that they all would live forever. The question was, where would they spend eternity? The choice would be theirs. The first of seven letters was addressed to the church at Ephesus. A literal church, in a literal city, built by the apostles as the first fruits of Christianity, to spread the gospel throughout the world. He had been there, he had spoken to these people, and they were as close to him as if they were family. But it was much more than a literal city built in John's day, it also represented a learned and taught belief system on how the Gospel had been changed and watered down. In truth, Ephesus had a cold, calculating way of viewing the Gospel. They warped it into a belief system that suited their own feelings and desires, not the Lord's. This teaching would follow Ephesus for untold generations to come. As instructed, John praised them first for their good works. But then it came, how they fell short of the Lord's standard, as would all their descendants , unless true repentance came from them. What was their sin?, Forgetting the Lord's gospel, which should have been the center of their universe. Instead of spreading Christ's redemption with love and compassion, they had become a cold, mechanical people relying more on their intellect than on The Lord. They would have to repent or face the Lord's judgment. John's tears poured down his face as quickly as he formed the words on the page. How he wished he could convince them to change! " But the choice", John thought again, "is theirs, and will be until the end of the age." But how many would be affected and how long will the Lord tarry. Years, decades, centuries, and how many people, thousands or millions would be judged? As John pondered this his fear for his brethren, both present and future, was growing.