The Final Letter

Have you ever received a letter from someone that you knew would be their last? It may be that they were dying and had something important to say while they still could write.

Back in the days of the Civil War, among my wife’s relatives, was a man in the Union Army who was captured by the Confederate forces. In retaliation for the Union’s having killed one of their prominent soldiers, he was told that he would be executed. The date was set and the night before he was to be executed he was allowed to write one last letter to his family.

There are several letters in the Bible that were the last testament of the writers. The apostle John, while a prisoner, banished to the Island of Patmos, wrote the book of Revelation. He was totally separated, living with criminals and did not expect to ever be reunited with his family or his church again. While in his lonely state, the Lord gave him visions and dreams which he recorded as his last will and testament to be sent to the church he loved. Although it cannot be absolutely proven, it appears that John’s work was really the last book of the Bible that was written. It has been placed at the very end of the Bible and concludes the inspired record that God gave to man.

The Greek word for revelation is apocalypse, meaning something that is revealed. The Roman Catholic Bible as well as some other Bibles call the book The Apocalypse.

It has been said that the book of Revelation puts the finishing touches on a perfect book that reveals to man the eternal purpose of the Most High. It is the capstone of divine revelation and inspiration. Almost everything that you read in the Apocalypse can be traced to some other part of the Bible. The book of Revelation is a special book for people who are living in the last days and because we are living in that time period it is a book that requires us to give it special attention. The Lord is in the process of opening up to us more truth from this book than we have ever understood before, but new truth cannot be understood unless first there is an understanding of the old truth.

More than two-thirds of all the verses in the book of Revelation are either a paraphrase or direct quotation from the Old Testament. In fact, in the first five chapters of the book, the Old Testament is referred to or quoted 85 times. It is not only a conclusion, but it is a summary of what the Lord has already told us in both the Old and New Testaments.

Every subject from the word of God has a seed that can be found in the book of Genesis. Martin Luther made a special study of Genesis and preached on the book every day for a whole year. Genesis is like a prologue to the whole Bible. In the first two chapters there is a description of paradise and the third chapter describes how it was lost because of sin.

The book of Revelation is like an epilogue or conclusion to the whole Bible. The last two chapters reveal a picture of paradise restored. It would be well to read them often. Revelation 20 makes it clear that not everyone from this world will be in the paradise restored. Revelation chapters 21 and 22 describe a place where there is no sin and no sinners.

In The Acts of the Apostles, 585, it says, “In the Revelation, all the books of the Bible meet and end.” Throughout the book of Revelation we find all of the different symbols, types, shadows, figures, and fundamental principles of the Bible recapitulated. It embodies in itself, in a short space, the entire volume of the Scriptures. Revelation is a book that is written specifically for the last generation to prepare them for the second coming of Christ. If you are not ready for that event, you need to begin an intense study of the book, which is not only a revelation but words of prophecy. (See Revelation 1:3.) Revelation 22:18 and 19 also talk about “the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Prophecy is history that is written in advance. The book of Revelation has several singularities. It is the only book in the Bible that begins with a blessing to anyone who will read it. Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it.” Incidentally, as well as the blessing at the beginning of the book, there is a benediction at the end. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” Revelation 22:21.

Though it is true that Revelation is the only book with a blessing at the beginning and benediction at the end, it is very unfortunate that few know anything about.

We are living in the last days, and this book was especially written for today. Yet it is little understood. In fact, many Christians don’t understand anything at all about it. Many people believe it to be a sealed book and not able to be understood. For that reason they do not even read it. But how much has the church lost because of neglecting its study? In addition to a blessing that’s pronounced on those who read and keep what is written there, the most severe threatenings in all the Bible are also pronounced, of which we must be aware.

It is not the purpose of God to scare, curse, or hurt anyone, but the book of Revelation makes it very clear that we live in a moral universe and there are consequences for doing what is wrong. The book ends with a threat to anyone who tampers with its message. “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Revelation 22:18, 19. The original text reads that God would take away from him his part from the tree of life. Notice that we are warned not to add anything to this book.

There have indeed been attempts to add to the books of the Bible. For instance, the history of Susanna, the song of the three holy children and the story of Bel and the dragon were all added to the book of Daniel. Scholars said they were not actually written by Daniel and were apocryphal, false books.

At one time, it was proposed to include in the New Testament a letter called the Epistle of Barnabas. Barnabas was an associate with the apostle Paul. There were some early church leaders that believed that the Epistle of Barnabas was a canonical book. But when studied very carefully it was found to be written by an unknown fictitious author and not the associate of the apostle Paul. This caused a huge problem for the church.

There were some letters that surfaced in New Testament times that afterward claimed to be written by the apostle Peter, but a careful study of those letters revealed that they were not written by him at all. All theologians, both Catholic and Protestant, agree that the apostle Peter wrote the books of first and second Peter that are recorded in the Bible and that the other letters claiming Peter’s authorship are called pseudepigrapha, which means false writings that claim to be from the apostles.

The early church had a problem with some who claimed to be apostles who wrote something and put an apostle’s name on it. Every letter the apostle Paul wrote was signed a certain way so that the people would know if it was from him. God knew that it would be imperative for future generations to know the doctrines. Therefore, right at the end of the Holy Scriptures is the admonition that if anyone adds or subtracts from the Word, He would deal with them in the most severe way. A curse would be added and blessing would be subtracted. This is not to be taken lightly.

The book of Revelation is one that should be looked at with reverence and awe. It does not need to have anything added to it; it does not need to have anything subtracted from it. A problem mankind has had down through the ages is wanting to add to what God has said, which is fanaticism, or wanting to subtract from what God has said, which is apostasy.

In Revelation 1:1 we are told where this book came from: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him.” God the Father is the source of this information. Because of sin the people of this world cannot communicate directly with God the Father. Jesus said in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus Christ is the spokes-person between God the Father and this world. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He (Jesus Christ) sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.” This is not just any angel. If you study the book of Daniel you know that in heaven there are millions and millions of angels around the throne of God. Daniel said in chapter seven there were ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, which would be one hundred million plus many other millions. Of all the millions of angels, there is a certain angel that is the angel of Jesus Christ. It is this angel that He sends to His servants the prophets. And we know this angel’s name, because this very same angel was sent to the prophet Daniel.

Daniel 9:21 says, “Yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, reached me about the time of the evening offering.” The angel is Gabriel. His name means the mighty one of God. Gabriel spoke to Daniel again in Daniel 10. And notice what he says to him in Daniel 10:21: “But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth. No one upholds me (stands with me) against these except Michael your prince.” Michael means the One who is like God. It is another name for Jesus Christ. Gabriel said the only other person that is with me in this affair is Jesus Christ. This one, Gabriel, is His angel. His name is also mentioned in the New Testament. In Luke 1:19 it says, “And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.’ ”

If you are saved, the time is coming soon when you will get to meet Gabriel, the mighty one of God. This is the angel that descended from heaven early Sunday morning on the day of the resurrection and said, “Son of God, Your Father calls You.” And when he said that, Jesus arose.

Gabriel was the one sent from heaven to give to the disciple John these visions and revelations that he wrote down in this book. At least four times the writer simply designates himself as John. In Revelation 1:9 he says, “I, John… .” He refers to himself that way also in the end of the book in Revelation 22:8 “I, John … .” John did not need to make any other reference, as the people knew who he was. There was no other John who was that well known. Similarly, the apostle Paul just needed to say, “I’m Paul,” and the people knew who he was. The early church did not question who was the author of this book. They agreed that it was John the apostle.

For many years there has been a disagreement as to when the book was written. Some have believed that it was written during the terrible time of the persecution of the Christians by Nero. However, that is not the opinion of the majority. There is the testimony of several early Christian church fathers who testify that the book was written during the 14th year of Domitian. Domitian was a Roman Emperor who ruled the Roman Empire from A.D. 81 to A.D. 96. The study of these Roman Emperors is a great help in understanding some of the things we find in the New Testament, which includes the book of Revelation.

Before Domitian, there was a Roman Emperor in the late 30’s, early 40’s called Claudius. Before that time, the people believed that the Roman Emperor was a representative of God and when he died, he became divine. But Claudius asserted that no one needed to wait till he was dead to think that he was divine. He claimed to be divine while still living. And he therefore commanded the people to worship him.

At that time before A.D. 40, this command did not cause a lot of trouble for the Christians because the Christian church was still small. But Domitian, the second Roman Emperor who openly proclaimed to be divine, commanded the people to worship him, creating a big problem for the Christians who refused. They could give respect and honor to the Roman Emperor, but never kneel down and worship him as a god. Christians have one God. Paul says we have “One God and Father of all.” Ephesians 4:6. We have one Lord, Jesus Christ.

As a young man I heard a preacher speak about some things in the Roman Empire. He mentioned that many American cities are patterned after Roman cities. In the middle of the county seat there is a courthouse and a square around the courthouse. In the middle of these Roman cities an altar would be erected, a fire would be lit in it, and then everybody in town would be commanded to get in line and pass by the altar. All that was required as they passed the fire was to take a little pinch of incense and throw it on the fire and say, “Kaiser es Kuriors” which is Greek for “Caesar is lord.” In this way they were able to spot the Christians so that they could be killed. A Christian would say, “Christos es Kuriors” which means, Christ is Lord. They would then be shuffled off to one side and taken to be cast to the lions, have their head chopped off, be crucified, stretched on the rack, be burned or whatever the rulers decided to do to them at that time.

When John refused to worship the emperor it was decided to kill him. He was cast into a big caldron of boiling oil. His life should have ended quickly but, miraculously, he did not die. Finally, just as it was in Nebuchadnezzar’s time when he threw the three worthies into the fiery furnace, when John was pulled out of the oil pot there was no evidence of burning. Realizing that they could not kill this man of God, it was decided to banish him. It was very common among the Romans to banish their worst criminals to desolate islands where it was impossible for them to escape. Though the Romans thought to banish him, God had another purpose. Revelation 1:9 says he was “… on the island that was called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

The Isle of Patmos is in the Aegean Sea and is approximately 50 miles south-west of Ephesus, which is on the southwestern tip of what we call today Turkey. Even today the island is absolutely desolate. They say there are no trees on this island and it is like being in a desert. There is a cave or grotto at a high part on one side of the island and according to long-standing tradition it was in that cave where John had his visions and wrote the book of Revelation. A few thousand people still live on the island, mostly fishermen and miners. It is believed that John was banished to work in the marble mines on the island.

Speaking to the Jewish leaders just a few days before His crucifixion, Jesus predicted that His followers would be persecuted. He said, “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” Matthew 23:34, 35.

This prediction was literally fulfilled. For example, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist was beheaded. Jesus Christ Himself was scourged and crucified. But that was just the beginning. During the first century, prominent leaders in the Christian church were aggressively persecuted. Steven was stoned. James was beheaded. Philip was scourged, imprisoned and crucified. Matthew was killed with a halberd. James the less was stoned and his brains were dashed out with a fuller’s club. Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded. Andrew was crucified at Odessa. Mark was dragged to pieces by an infuriated mob on the streets of Alexandria. Peter was crucified head downward at his own request. Paul was beheaded. Jude, the brother of James, and who was also called Thaddeus, was crucified. Bartholomew was beaten and crucified. Thomas was thrust through with a spear. Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece. Simon Zelotes was crucified in Britain. They tried to kill John the beloved by casting him into a caldron of boiling oil, but he didn’t die. So they banished him on an island. He was the only one that died a natural death. However, remember that persecution for Christ’s sake has always been a blessing in disguise.

Some people today are very troubled by this historical account. Some people say that if God is all powerful, and if He really loves us, why does He allow us to go through such terrible suffering? Some people have lost their faith in the Christian religion because of the suffering, not wanting a religion that involves suffering. Wanting a religion that is a little easier, they search and find that there are plenty of options available.

The book Foxes Book of Martyrs records the ten major pagan Roman Empire persecutions against the Christians. In spite of the fact that the Romans, as early as Nero, tried to destroy the Christians, it was during that period of time of terrible persecutions that the Christian church made its greatest growth. By the end of the first century it is estimated that there were at least 6 million Christians in the Roman Empire. That might become a little bit more meaningful if you remember that in the whole Roman Empire at that time there were only about 120 million people. Roughly 1 out of 20 people in the whole Roman Empire at that time were Christians.

When Christians were banished, they shared the lot of common prisoners. John says that he was their companion in tribulation. He had no hope of ever seeing his family, his church family, or his loved ones again. He was an elderly man by then and thought he would die on the island, never expecting that he would be given an opportunity to return home and that the book he wrote would be his last will and testament.

Suddenly, on September 18, A.D. 96, Domitian, the emperor who claimed that he was God, was assassinated. As soon as the new emperor, Nerva, came to power, he set all the prisoners who had refused to worship the emperor free. John was also set free. At a time when you think that everything is lost and your life is so dark and awful, when you commit your way to God, He can turn everything around, and sometimes it can happen quite suddenly.

The book of Revelation, written by God’s faithful servant while a prisoner on the lonely island, comes to us from heaven. It comes with a blessing on anybody who will read it and keep what it says. Much of the most wonderful literature and music written was during very trying times. The Bible has many examples of this.

While he was in exile, Jacob, in his extremity, finally found God. In fact, he was so transformed by the experience he had during that 20 year period that the Lord changed his name. He said, You will no longer be called Jacob. You are going to be called a prince of God.

Then there was Joseph, exiled from his family to be a slave, never to see his family again, he thought. During that time of exile, God so transformed his character that he became a saviour of his nation and of the whole world at that time. Ellen White says that Joseph is a type of Christ.

Moses was a fugitive after killing a man. After 40 years enduring poverty in a strange land, God used him to deliver his people from the mighty nation of Egypt and write the books of Genesis and Job.

David was a fugitive fleeing from cave to cave to escape the wrath of Saul. It was during the time that he was on the run and scared for his life that he produced some of his best and most spiritual psalms.

It was while he was fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel, in a mountain cave, that Elijah heard the still small voice of God giving him directions to finish his ministry on earth. Today he is alive in heaven.

Ezekiel and Daniel both wrote from their captivity. Daniel had been separated from his family as a young man and was never allowed to return.

It has happened that way since Bible times, too. The most popular Bible versions during the Protestant Reformation were the English translation by Tyndale and the German translation by Martin Luther. These men produced their translations while fugitives, fleeing from the wrath and power of the papal Roman Empire. Approximately ninety percent of the King James Version is directly from Tyndale’s translation.

The book Pilgrims Progress was written by John Bunyan while he was incarcerated in an English jail because of his professed Christianity. That book has led multitudes of young people to Jesus Christ and the Christian religion. Then there was a woman by the name of Ellen White, who just before the turn of the 20th century, while in Australia, suffered terribly for months, day and night, because of rheumatoid arthritis. By then she was already a widow and in her pain and suffering she produced one of the greatest masterpieces that has ever been written on the life of Jesus Christ, The Desire of Ages.

Don’t give up and lose your faith because of the suffering you are going through. Commit your life to God. Say, “Lord, what do you want me to learn from this? What do you want me to do as a result of this experience that would be a blessing to my fellow men?” The Lord wants to deliver you. The book of Revelation makes it very clear that the pain and suffering that we’re going through in this world is all temporary. For the Christian, there is coming a time when there will be no more pain. Soon the things that cause us grief will end and a wonderful new future will be opened up to those who are faithful.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at 316-788-5559.