The King and I: Exiled
to Patmos (Rev. 1:9)
One misconception regarding John’s
exile to Patmos which has appeared in the commentaries and popular prophetic
writings it is that Patmos was a sort of Alcatraz
(Swindoll 1986:3); or for the French, St. Helene where Napoleon was exiled
(Saffrey 1975:392). Part of this is due
to the 19th century travelers who described the island in terms such
as “barren, rocky, desolate-looking place” (Newton 1865:223) or as “a wild and barren
island” (Geil 1896:70). Unfortunately
these nineteenth century realities were imposed on the first century text and
island. Nothing could be further from
In the first century Roman world,
Patmos was a very strategic island on the sea-lanes from Ephesus
to Rome. The first stop on this line of communication
and commerce for the boat sailing from Ephesus
to Rome would have been Patmos,
because of its natural and protective harbor. The last stop for a boat traveling
from Rome would have been Patmos. This island had a large administrative
center, outlying villages, a hippodrome (for horse racing) and at least three
pagan temples. It was hardly an isolated
and desolate place!
Let us examine the archaeological
remains and the literary evidence in order to paint a more accurate picture of
first century Patmos.
This crescent-shaped island, 12.5
kilometers long, covers an area of some 34 square kilometers and has a jagged
coastline of some 65 kilometers. Pliny
the Elder (AD 23-79), in his
History, says Patmos is 30 miles in
circumference (4.12.69; 1989:169). In
the center, nearest the narrowest point is the Kastelli, the ancient
acropolis. This administrative center is
located behind the harbor, called Skela today.
Remains of the wall and three towers can still be seen today. The walls, up to 1.30 meters thick at points,
and three towers, still exist (Tozar 1889:194,5; Simpson and Lazenby
1970:47-52). This center has a
commanding view of the harbor and the sea-lanes to and from Patmos. I also might add, spectacular sunsets!
The literary sources mention
outlying villages, which probably engaged in fishing and agricultural
activities. Three temples are known from
the sources. There was an inscription
found mentioning a temple to Artemis (Diana), the goddess of the hunt. Her main temple was in Ephesus and it was one of the seven wonders
of the ancient world. Patmos
was called Artemis’ “most sacred island.”
The temple was probably located underneath the present day Monastery of
St. John near the village
of Chora. The threshold stones of the iconostasis in
the chapel of the Virgin are thought to be remains from this temple. There is literary evidence of a temple to
Apollo, the brother of Artemis. This
temple, most likely, was located near the harbor of Skela. One nineteenth century traveler mentioned,
“at the wharf I observed four or five beautiful white marble columns, cut and
carved in true Greek fashion, and once very likely standing in the portico of
some splendid temple to a heathen god, now used as mooring posts” (Geil
1897:73). Most likely this temple was
the one dedicated to Apollo. There is
also literary evidence of a temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and
beauty. This temple was probably built
on the Kalikatsou rock.
Another inscription mentions a
hippodrome on the island. This has not
been discovered archaeologically, but probably was located near modern day
Skela. Again, using my sanctified
imagination, I wonder if the Apostle John preached to the inhabitants of Patmos in this circus (hippodrome)?
Unfortunately, most tourists
visiting Patmos today, disembark at the port of Skela, hop on a bus, zip up to
the Cave of the Apocalypse, zing on up to the Monastery of St. John in Chora,
and then zag down to the harbor of Skela for shopping and eating before
embarking on their cruise ship to sail off to another destination, all in four
hours. Their thought? “Been there, done that!” There are more Biblically significant things
to see and experience on this island than the typical four-hour tour
wonder. Please do not
misunderstand. These are important
places to visit, but a serious student should spend a couple of days on the
Closely related to the first
misconception is another that describes Patmos
as a penal colony. Some commentators
Natural History 4.12.69
as proof, but all the passage gives is the circumference of the island! It says nothing about weather it was a penal
colony or not (Sanders 1962-63:76; Hemer 1986:221, footnote 1). My impression is that John was exiled to Patmos because of its Artemis/Ephesus connections. The proconsul of Asia Minor wanted to get
John away from the city of Ephesus so he sent
him to Patmos, which was within his
jurisdiction. Hemer suggests the island might
be connected with Miletus
some 70 kilometers to the Eastnortheast of Patmos (1986:28,222, footnote 8).
The length of John’s exile on Patmos differs from tradition to tradition. Most likely he was only exiled for about 18
months. Upon Domitian’s death, John was
free to return to Ephesus. Dio Cassius wrote, “[Emperor] Nerva also
released all who were on trial for
(high treason) and restored the exile” (
History 68:2; 1995:361). Eusebius
adds, “The sentences of Domitian were annulled, and the Roman Senate decreed
the return of those who had been unjustly banished and the restoration of their
property. … the Apostle John, after his
banishment to the island, took up his abode at Ephesus” (
“The Travels of St. John in Patmos”
According to church tradition, this
book entitled “The Travels of St. John in Patmos”
was written by Prochorus, the secretary to the Apostle John. This is the Prochorus mentioned in Acts
6:5. Critical scholarship, however,
suggests it was written in the 5th century AD. If this book is historically reliable, then
John was just banished to the island, but not imprisoned, so much for the Alcatraz view.
The “Travels of St. John in Patmos” makes interesting reading. On the way over to Patmos, a violent storm arose and a passenger is swept
into the sea. John prays and a wave
deposited the young man back on the boat.
This miracle gave John the opportunity to preach the gospel. Once on Patmos,
the Roman governor, Laurentius, set John free.
“Laurentius’s father-in-law, Myron, offers the Apostle lodging in his
house, and soon Myron’s house became the first church on the island. Apollonides, Myron’s son, who was possessed
with the devil, was healed by St. John, and this miracle led to the conversion
of both Chrysippe, Myron’s daughter, and her husband, the Roman governor”
(Meinardus 1979:7). John has a spiritual
confrontation with Kynops, a famous magician on the island, in which John is
finally victorious. Kynops is drowned in
the harbor and today a church is dedicated to that event (1979:9). The result of this victorious confrontation
is the salvation of the rest of the island.
Before John left Patmos, the believers
asked John to write an account of the life of the Lord Jesus. According to one tradition, the gospel of
John was written on Patmos.
Whether these accounts are
believable is a matter of debate.
However, there are subtle hints in the book of Revelation that John had
freedom of movement while on the island.
What did John see?
While exiled on Patmos,
John experienced things that reflect life on the island. The weather phenomena recorded in Revelation
are common to the island. White clouds
(14:14); thunder and lightening (11:19; 14:2); great hail (8:7; 11:19; 16:21)
and rainbows (4:3; 10:1). From the peak
of what is called Mt. Elias today, sitting 883 feet above sea level, a
person has a spectacular view of the islands of the Aegean Sea and the
mountains of Asia Minor (western Turkey today) to the east. There are at least 22 references to the “sea”
in the book of Revelation (4:6; 5:13; 7:1,2,3; 8:8,9; 10:2,5,8; 12:12; 13:1;
14:2,7; 15:2; 16:3; 18:17,19,21; 19:6; 20:13; 21:1). J. C. Fitzpatrick visited the island in the
1880’s and observed: “The islands to the west stand out darkly against the
brightness of the horizon; and the others are lighted up with the glory of the
setting sun, whilst the track of its last rays is a ‘sea of glass, mingled with
fire’” (Rev. 15:2; 1887:16). In Revelation
6:14 and 16:20 John describes the islands of the Aegean and mountains Western Turkey disappearing. The last time I was on the island, I can
personally attest that they are still there awaiting future fulfillment.
Only one spring exists on the island
at a place called Sykamia on the road leading from Chora to Groikos. Tradition has it John baptized some of his
converts in the baptistery nearby. What
a contrast this small spring was to the “pure river of water of life, clear as
crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1) in the New
Heaven and New Earth (21:1). Yet John
recognized he was to worship the One who made heaven and earth and the sea and
springs of water (Rev. 14:7).
In Revelation 13:1, John wrote that
he “stood on the sand of the sea. And I
saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on
his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name” (NKJV). Awhile back, a friend asked me who I thought
the beast was in this verse. I
responded, “I haven’t the foggiest idea, but I can tell you exactly what beach
John stood on when he saw that vision.
It was the Psili Ammos beach.” In
Greek, the word means “fine sand”, and indeed this light, fine golden sand is
the only beach on the island which has no stones or pebbles (Stone
1981:83,84). In contrast, the colored
pebbles on the Lambi beach impress the visitor to the island. The other beaches have rocks and pebbles on
John had the opportunity to walk to
this isolated beach some 45 minutes to an hour walk from the harbor of Skela. He probably went to the Psili Ammos beach to
get away from the noise and the crowds at the harbor, or to meditate on the
Word of God and spend time in prayer.
The impression I am left with is that John had freedom of movement on
The Volcano at Thera (Santorini)
From this beach one could see an
eruption of the volcanic island
of Thera, also known as
Santorini. In 1888, an interesting but
highly imaginative article appeared the journal
The Nineteenth Century entitled “What St. John Saw on Patmos” by J. Theodore Bent. In it he proposed that the Apostle John saw a
volcanic eruption of Thera (Santorini) in AD 60. This eruption of Thera, as the Greek name
implies, was the “beast” of Rev. 13:1.
He suggested that “St. John
made use of [this] phenomena which he saw with his own eyes, to prophetically
depict a destruction of another kind” (1888:813). What that was, he does not say.
At the outset, there are several
major problems with this thesis. First,
Bent rejects the AD 95 date for the writing of Revelation and follows the
“consensus of modern opinion” (for 1888) that it was written between AD 60 and
69. Second, he assumes there was an
eruption of Thera in the year AD 60.
This, however, is based on a secondhand, and probably unreliable,
source. The authority, George of
Syngelos, probably confused it with the AD 46-47 eruption.
There was a very catastrophic
eruption between 1520 – 1460 BC, which some geologists have suggested was the
largest eruption in historical times.
This destroyed the Minoan civilization and might be the basis for the
“Atlantis” legend. Strabo described an
eruption in 197 BC (
1989:213,215). Pliny mentions one in AD
19 and several Roman historians record the AD 46-47 eruption (Vougioukalakis
The student of Bible prophecy should
be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” on some of Bent’s
observations. In the article he compares
“passages in Revelation with extracts from medieval and modern accounts given
by eye-witnesses of the eruptions of Thera” and notes they make “many
remarkable parallels” (1888:813). Let us
examine three examples.
First, the sixth seal (Rev.
6:12-17). “There was a great earthquake;
and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like
blood. And the stars of heaven fell to
earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty
wind. … and every mountain and island
was moved out of its place.” All these
phenomenon; an earthquake, a dark sun and moon like blood, “stars” falling from
heaven and movement of land masses are associated with volcanic eruption. The volcanic cloud in the atmosphere would
darken the sun and make the moon appear blood red. The mention of late figs may give us a
chronological indicator as to when this eruption takes place, August or
September (Boronski 1987:37,38,115).
Second, the first trumpet (Rev. 8:7)
describes hail and fire mingled with blood that was thrown to earth. This destroyed one third of the trees and
burned up all the grass. Bent recounts
M. Delenda’s account of the eruption of 1707 where “flames … issued out of the
sea, and of the damage done to the vines and trees by the noxious vapours and
by the terrible crashing of the volcanic bombs” (1888:817).
Third, the second trumpet (Rev. 8:8,
9). “And something like a great mountain
burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood;
and a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships
were destroyed.” Father Richard,
observing the eruption of Thera (Santorini) in 1573 writes, “even when the
volcano is quiescent, the sea in the immediate vicinity of the cone is a
brilliant orange colour, from the action of oxide iron” (Bent 1888:817). M. Delenda observed after an eruption of
Thera in 1707 the sulphurous vapours mixed with the sea, turned it white and
the fish of the harbor died (Bent 1888:817).
The destruction of one third of the ships would be caused by a tsunami. Interestingly, geologists calculated the
tsunami (tidal wave) after the eruption of Thera between 1520-1460 BC, was
initially 42 meters high (Pararas-Carayannis 1992:122). That would surely wreck havoc on any navies
in the area!
Stothers and Rampino
(1983:6357-6371) did a detailed study of volcanic eruptions in the Mediterranean Sea before AD 630 from the written and
Earthquakes are always associated
with volcanoes. The book of Revelation
records at least five earthquakes during the seven years of the Tribulation. The first one during the sixth seal is called
a “great earthquake” (6:12). The second,
during the seventh seal (8:5). The third
is after the resurrection of the two witnesses and it is called a “great
earthquake” and seven thousand men were killed (11:13). The fourth earthquake is during the seventh
trumpet (11:19). The fifth and final one
is during the seventh bowl judgment. It
is described as “a great earthquake, such as a mighty and great earthquake as
had not occurred since men were on the earth” (16:18). This last statement would strike the minds of
the reader in Asia Minor of the recollection
of the stories that they heard from family and friends of the great earthquake
of AD 17. Pliny the Elder, who
ironically died studying the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius
in AD 79, penned these words concerning this earthquake. “The greatest earthquake in human memory
occurred when Tiberius Caesar was emperor, twelve Asiatic cities being
overthrown in one night” (2:86:200; 1979: 331).
John, writing less than twenty years after Pliny, reminds his readers
that there is still a greater earthquake to come. Tacitus, a Roman historian and a contemporary
of John, described the horrors of the AD 17 earthquake in very vivid and graphic
Annals 2:47; 1992: 459). A careful reading of the text of Revelation
seems to indicate that these are major earthquakes in which God directly
intervenes in the judgment on humanity.
As any good geologist knows, there
has actually been a
decrease in the
number of earthquakes. A bulletin, put
out by the National
Center and arm of the US
Geological Survey, asks the question “Are earthquakes really on the
increase?” They answer the question this
way. “Although it may seem that we are
having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained
fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have
actually seemed to decease in recent years.”
They go on to point out, “A partial explanation may lie in the fact that
in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of
earthquakes we have been able to
each year. This is because of the
tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the
many improvements in global communications”
This should not surprise the student
of Bible prophecy because no verse in the Bible says there will be an
increase in the number of earthquakes
before the Lord Jesus Christ returns!
(Austin and Strauss 1999).
More study needs to be done on the
seal, trumpet and bowl judgments in Revelation.
These are all natural phenomenon on a supernatural scale. The Lord is directly intervening in the
affairs of human history during the Tribulation. These are not humanly contrived events, be
they MX missiles, black helicopters, etc.
Nations can explain, warn and defend against missile attacks. On the other hand, these natural phenomenons:
volcanoes, earthquakes and weather patterns can not be predicted, nor prevented
by scientists. As a result of not having
control over them, they will cry out blasphemies toward God (Rev. 16:21).
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