The apostle John lived into his eighties, perhaps into his nineties, and in so doing easily outlived all the other apostles. And how did he spend his “senior citizen” years? Post-Biblical church history provides strong documentation that he lived and ministered in Ephesus for approximately the last quarter of his life. This explains why it is commonly believed that he wrote his three epistles — 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John — and his gospel of John while he was living in that city.
But he didn’t write The Revelation there, did he? That book was written while he was spending time as a prisoner on the island of Patmos. As he says in Revelation 1:9, he was there because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. To find out what he meant by that we again look to post-Biblical church history. There we learn that the Roman emperor Domition, as part of his persecution of Christians, sentenced the elderly John to the Roman penal colony located on that island. Putting it simply, old John was on Patmos because he preached Jesus.
What’s noteworthy about all this is that in God’s plan John couldn’t receive The Revelation while he was in Ephesus. If we are correct in assuming that John wrote his other four books in Ephesus, that obviously indicates that his situation in that city was conducive for writing those books. But when it came time for him to receive and write The Revelation, God said, “To get this one written, John will have to be in a much less comfortable circumstance and setting.” I don’t mean to imply that God caused John’s arrest and sentencing or that God was even pleased with Domitian’s actions, but I am saying that God used Domitian’s sinful treatment of John in His plan to get the book of The Revelation written.
Think about an orange that has all kinds of sweet-tasting juice inside it. How do you get all that juice out of that orange? You squeeze the orange. As you squeeze, you find that some of the juice comes out easily without much pressure being applied, but once you get most of the juice out you have to squeeze really hard to extract those last precious drops. Well, John was kind of like an orange. His gospel and his three epistles dripped out of him while he was living in Ephesus, but to get The Revelation out of him God had to allow him to be squeezed a whole lot harder by life.
The takeaway is that oftentimes God’s deepest spiritual insights are only found on one of life’s barren, rocky islands. I guess I would describe it like this: There are “gospel/epistle” stations in your life, and then there are “Revelation” stations, and those “Revelation” stations usually involve God either leading you to a tough spot or allowing you to be taken there. You see, it’s in those spots that you’ll get squeezed the hardest, and God will be able to pull stuff out of you that otherwise would remain locked deep inside you.
It’s often been said that we learn more from our bad experiences than we do our good ones, and that we grow more in the valley than we do on the mountaintop. With this in mind, if you currently find yourself in a very trying circumstance or setting, you should lean on Jesus all the more and allow Him to minister not only to you but through you while you are there. I realize that what I’m saying doesn’t make for easy application, but the question you need to be asking in your difficulty isn’t, “Lord, why is this happening to me?” (even though that might be a perfectly legitimate question). Instead, the better question is, “Lord, what new spiritual insights do you want to show me here and how do you want me to put them to use?” Trust me, you start asking that question and you’ll start getting some serious answers.