Finally (22:20ff), the voice of his Lord and the voice of his seer merge in promise and expectation of His Coming, and in blessing.
The Seer himself
Who is this John, who was able to go into and to come out of those strong supersensible experiences with such clarity and consequence?
Is he one of the twelve apostles, who with his brother James, son of Zebedee (Mt 4:18), was called directly after Peter and Andrew to follow the Lord? Who was part of the circle of disciples, sent out (Mt 10:2) into the world and one of those present at the Ascension of Christ and at Whitsun (Acts 1:13 and 2:1)? The twelve apostles, who then went out into the world – whose words and deeds are mostly known through legends and apocryphal writings?
Or is he the witness who picks up the testimony of John the Baptist to “the beginning”, as recorded in the first part of the Gospel of John (1:7, 10:41), and testifies to the second part of that gospel (21:7, 20 and 24)? Then he would be the one known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, who “lies close to the breast of Jesus” (13:23), stands under the cross and testifies to his piercing (19:26 and 34-35), who reaches the empty tomb first (20:2-10): the one whom Jesus loved (11:3 and 5). This is Lazarus who in such a dramatic way is raised from death after four days (11:17) – the defining moment for the decision to put Jesus to death (11:53). The same who in his gospel so strongly records the words of Christ about “keeping his word” (8:51-55; see 14:15-24 and 15:10).
Around the turn of the century in Ephesus people were filled with veneration for John, that old, that very old presbyter whose message “children, love each other” had more impact than any long sermon. An early disciple of the apostles and their followers, Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia not that far from Laodicea (who lived in the first part of the second century), had as his own teachers some who had been taught by John the Presbyter. Writing of him, he evokes the image of one who himself already has grown “beyond time”, having a different relationship with death than others. Vincent van Gogh, in his painting “Raising of Lazarus”, may have touched on this mystery of John the Presbyter who was John the Evangelist. A few months before his own death, Van Gogh paints a scene where we, who look at the picture, are included within the space from which Lazarus is raised, looking as it were “from the inside” out to the sun which sends its rays on the one lying there, shining behind the person with outstretched arms who looks on with awe.2
“The Revelation – to John”3
John not only conscientiously, as we have seen, begins and ends his book. He is also increasingly engaged in the revelation which he witnesses, the “revelation to John”. And it may well be that his experiences as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” shape what he is able to say, for instance in that amazing and unique proclamation of His Coming: “and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (1:7). What he experienced when standing by the cross, seeing His side pierced with a spear (John 19:25-35) has opened his soul for the one whom he then sees as “a Lamb, standing, as though it had been sacrificed” (5:6).