What do we know of the life of John the Apostle after the day of Pentecost? Why was he exiled to the Isle of Patmos?

Richard Lloyd Anderson, professor of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University. The Bible account contains very little about John’s life after the final ascension of the Lord.

John was, of course, involved with the other Apostles in the great outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. On that occasion, the Twelve Apostles were “all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues.” (Acts 2:1–4.) Peter then stood and delivered a powerful sermon to the many other people present.

In the third chapter of Acts, we read of Peter and John healing a man who had been lame from birth. For that act, and for preaching to the people, the two Apostles were arrested by the priests and the Sadducees. In response, Peter and John boldly testified of Christ, and the rulers let them go. (See Acts 3–4.)

On another occasion, they were again imprisoned, “but the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth,” telling them to again testify to the people. (See Acts 5:17–20.) This the Apostles did until the council took them again, beat them, and charged them not to preach anymore. But “daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (See Acts 5:40–42.)

The last reference to John in the book of Acts is in chapter 8, when Peter and John went to Samaria to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost on Philip’s converts there. (See Acts 8:14–17.) The remainder of the book of Acts is essentially the record of Paul, with a few experiences of Peter.

The next we read of John is in Galatians, where Paul mentions that Peter, James, and John had sent him and Barnabas to preach to the gentiles. (See Gal. 2:9.) We learn no more until the book of Revelation, which records the vision John had on the Isle of Patmos. In the opening lines of that account, John refers to himself as “your brother, and companion in tribulation” and says he was “in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Rev. 1:9.) Apparently John had been sent to the island because of his testimony. But why? And who sent him there?

The information about John’s exile to Patmos comes from Polycarp, an early second-century bishop who knew John personally. Polycarp was martyred about A.D. 155, after a lifetime of Christian service. Irenaeus, who had earlier heard Polycarp’s powerful testimony of John and his writings, preserved the story. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.20.4–7.)

Irenaeus wrote about A.D. 175. Of John’s Revelation he says, “That was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign.” (Against Heresies, 5.30.3.) Domitian, emperor of Rome, was assassinated in A.D. 96, after building an unenviable record of unmerited executions and banishments. Included among his victims were his near relatives, Flavius Clemens, whom he executed, and Flavius’s wife Domitilla, whom he banished to the island of Pandeteria, off the Naples coast. Their crime was religious belief—possibly Christianity. “The charge brought against them both was that of atheism, a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned.” (Dio Cassius, Roman History, 67.14.1–3, Loeb Classical Library.) This charge of atheism, of course, may simply refer to their turning from the Roman gods, perhaps to the Christian God.

Irenaeus, from Polycarp, dates the book of Revelation shortly before A.D. 96. Domitian’s predecessor deported “some to the most desolate of the islands” (Suetonius, Titus 8), and Domitian apparently followed that example. Patmos certainly qualifies as desolate. The island is butterfly shaped, some ten miles long and stretching to five miles wide on the upper and lower portions. It is barren, rocky, and steep. Wells are scarce, and until sea-conversion technology water was captured in basins through rainfall. The arid climate presently supports a mere 2,500 people, and the local guide book gives the “census” of a little over 11,000 trees. The experience of being on Patmos today is a reminder of the possibility of great spirituality under adverse conditions. If John was not imprisoned, he would have barely existed, working in the chill or hot seasons. There is no evidence that forced labor was required, for living in bleak isolation was considered punishment enough.

After Domitian’s assassination, Nerva became emperor. Nerva’s reign brought an unseen change, for he “restored the exiles.” (Dio Cassius, Roman History, 68.1.2.) After John’s release, according to Irenaeus, he labored in the Ephesian area “up to the times of Trajan.” (Against Heresies, 2.22.5.) Trajan began his rule in A.D. 98.

During that period, John apparently wrote his Gospel and letters. Ireneaus gives us the sequence of John’s writings as Revelation first, then the Gospel of John. Beyond that, many good scholars insist that John’s letters must have been written after his Gospel, since they refer back to the teachings “from the beginning” (1 Jn. 2:7), specifically the powerful Last Supper discourse, which is recorded in detail in the Gospel.

This understanding shows how much is behind John’s profound testimony in the opening of his first letter. There he spoke of the Lord, who “was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled.” (1 Jn. 1:1.)

At this point, John had not only heard Jesus’ personal teachings of eternity, but he had glimpsed eternity in the transfiguration and ascension. He had not only felt the wounds of the resurrected Lord, but on the Isle of Patmos he had seen the Lord and heard his voice. (Rev. 1:15.)

John outlived his exile under Domitian; he lived to bear his testimony, in writing, in a book that has gone to nearly all the world. He lived through the apostasy of the early Church, and he continues to live in a translated state today, for the Lord promised him, “Thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people. …

“I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.” (D&C 7:3, 6; see also John 21:20–24.)

What is the symbolic meaning of the term rock in the scriptures?

Robert J. Matthews, dean of Religious Education, Brigham Young University. Experienced builders know that a structure cannot endure unless its foundation is strong. The words rock and stone, referring to the prime elements in ancient foundations, are used in the scriptures as metaphors signifying strength, steadiness, and durability. The prophets used these metaphors in a variety of ways, conveying an impression of the unwavering character of God as well as the need for spiritual solidarity in the foundation and structure of our own lives.

By looking at the statements of the prophets, we can see how meaningful these symbols are.

Moses spoke of the God of Israel as a Rock: “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect, … a God of truth and without iniquity.” (Deut. 32:3–4.) David wrote, “the Lord is my rock, and my fortress, … my shield, … my high tower.” (2 Sam. 22:2–3.) Enoch heard the Lord say, “I am Messiah, the King of Zion, the Rock of Heaven.” (Moses 7:53.) Paul explained that the children of Israel under the leadership of Moses “drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:4.) Nephi praised the Lord as the “rock of my salvation” and the “rock of my righteousness.” (2 Ne. 4:30, 35.) The patriarch Jacob spoke of the Lord as “the shepherd, the stone of Israel.” (Gen. 49:24.) This stone is identified in latter-day revelation as Jesus Christ: “I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.” (D&C 50:44; see also “Jesus Christ, Rock,” in Topical Guide, LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible.)

Isaiah spoke particularly of the Lord as “a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.” (Isa. 28:16.) And Paul explained that the faithful Saints belong to the household of God “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Eph. 2:20.)

The prophets had revealed that Jesus would be rejected of the world, and they declared that even so, he is the only way to salvation. Therefore it is written that “the stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.” (Ps. 118:22.) Jesus told the rulers of the Jews that he was that stone, and added that “whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matt. 21:44.) And Peter, declaring to the people that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead, said that “this is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11–12.) Therefore Jesus is called a stumbling stone to those who reject him, “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient.” (1 Pet. 2:8.) The Nephite prophet Jacob explained that “by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation. But … this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build.” (Jacob 4:15–16.)

Not only is Jesus a Rock, but his gospel also is likened to a rock, a sure foundation. To Peter, who had obtained a testimony of Jesus by the revelation of the Holy Ghost, Jesus said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18.) The meaning of this statement is given in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved; and upon this rock I will build my church; yea, upon this rock ye are built, and if ye continue, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.” (D&C 33:12–13.) Likewise, “Build upon my rock, which is my gospel; Deny not the spirit of revelation, nor the spirit of prophecy.” (D&C 11:24–25.) “Behold, you have my gospel before you, and my rock, and my salvation.” (D&C 18:17.)

The faithful disciple will build his life upon the foundation rock of the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than upon the shifting sands of man’s wisdom. Such a disciple is “like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock; and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.” (Luke 6:48.)

As the true God is a living God, so true disciples are lively in serving him. Thus Peter has written that unto the faithful, the Lord is “a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious. Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ, … [and] unto you therefore which believe he is precious.” (1 Pet. 2:4–7.)

The power and strength of a stone is also illustrated in Daniel’s declaration that a stone which the Lord cut out of the mountains would roll forth and break in pieces the gold, silver, brass, iron, and clay of the world. Daniel explained that the stone, being the kingdom which the God of Heaven would set in the earth, would outlast all kingdoms organized by the wisdom and strength of men. (Dan. 2.)