Humility, or "the common touch," is a great asset for anyone aspiring to public life or a position of leadership, on two conditions. First, people must be convinced that the potential leader is not patronizing them by merely pretending to come down to their level. More is needed than empty phrases like "fellow citizens," or "my fellow taxpayers." Second, no one wants a leader who is actually, and in every respect, "just like the rest of us." The rhetoric of the common touch has its limitations.
John now provides the self-introduction he omitted at the opening of his letter. Here at the beginning of his series of visions (and once more at the end, 22:8) he refers to himself emphatically and by name as I, John. And he has the common touch. Instead of making a direct claim to personal authority comparable to Paul's (or Peter's) "apostle of Jesus Christ," he identifies himself to his readers simply as your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus (v. 9). Yet even Peter, who called himself "an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:1), could appeal in the same letter to church elders as their "fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed" (1 Pet 5:1). To him, the warm collegiality of "fellow elder" was by no means incompatible with the authority implied by the term apostle.
In a similar way, John is not presenting himself simply as his readers' equal. His stance is much like that of the angel at the end of his own series of visions who revealed so much to him. When John tried to worship the angel, the angel refused worship, identifying himself as a "fellow servant" with John and his brothers the prophets, and with all Christians (22:9; compare 19:10). The self-identification was necessary precisely because the angel was for John an authority figure, the reliable interpreter of everything John was shown. Similarly, John is an authority figure for his readers, one who needs no introduction (v. 4), but wants to reassure them that he is on their side and shares in their struggles. There is nothing to identify him as an apostle, but much to suggest that he is a Christian prophet. The prophets, after all, are his "brothers" (22:9), and what he writes is called a "prophecy" (1:3; 22:7, 10, 18-19).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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