Dear righteous ones,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Run. Get out of here while you still can. Flee. It sounds like good advice when someone is after you. If there is an assassin who has you in his sights, who could be hiding in some dark corner behind that tree or that cabinet, there is very little else that you can do. You can take precautions, keep your head down, hire extra security, but if someone wants to get you there is little you can do to actually stop them.
You cannot be totally secure from a virus either. Cyber security hackers will eventually get you if they are targeting you. You can pay for some protection software to scan for and delete suspect files. You can keep a low on-line profile. And there are dangerous internet sites that you should avoid. Don’t give your information to people who call you on the telephone. They have you as a target. But you cannot disconnect yourself from telephone and internet completely in our day and age.
The royal family may have the best security system in the world. Most of it is only seen in a ceremonial exterior, but when a threat is perceived, then it all bursts out into view. The horsemen circle the carriage. The plain clothed secret servicemen jump out of hiding. The royalty duck down to the floor and the vehicle speeds off to some undisclosed location until the threat is over.
St. John the Apostle and the Evangelist who wrote the fourth Gospel, three epistles of the New Testament and the Book of Revelation, knew that he was targeted. He had seen all of the other apostles stoned, beheaded, crucified, skinned, beaten to death with clubs, impaled by spears. He himself had been arrested several times, questioned, imprisoned, and sent off to exile. He knew that he was targeted because he kept on talking and writing about Jesus.
Perhaps some of his friends and loving church members had advised him as King David was advised long ago, to “Flee like a bird” (Psalm 11:1). King David had a fortress of sorts to hide in on the mountains of Jerusalem. I don’t know that John had any place in particular that he could go. But both would give the same kind of answer to those who would lovingly advise them to flee. “How can you say [that]?”
They were both fully aware, more than most, of the enemies that lurked in waiting to “off” them. King David had enemies within his own family, his sons. John had lived long enough as the elder apostle of the Christian Church to know that enemies could be found among the Jews, the Romans, the merchants, and even within the church. He saw Judas betray Jesus and many other betrayals in the decades following, so that in his epistles he felt continually stirred to remind Christians to love one another.
I’m sure that when the threats were most tangible, many encouraged him to flee away, to go into hiding, to move to a different location, a different house, a different city. It wasn’t because of the inevitability of being found by his enemies that he would refuse, or that King David would refuse to run and hide in his mountain fortress. It wasn’t because they knew their enemies would eventually get to them. They didn’t doubt the lethal capabilities of the wicked. Rather, they refused to consider fleeing to a hiding place, because their God was not in hiding.
“The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of man” (Psalm 11:4). They knew where their Lord and Saviour God was to be found. He was not hiding up in the mountains. He was not turning a blind eye to the wicked enemies that lurked about. They knew that none would escape His notice, and that the LORD would meet out due punishment on any and all wicked who would attack them in any way. They were confident leaving it in His almighty hands, under His watchful care.
Remember that John had seen Jesus. He knew that the LORD was not afraid to leave His heavenly throne and come and walk among the wicked. He saw how Jesus could simply walk through a crowd that wanted to throw Him off a cliff; and calm a storm that threatened to take their lives. He saw Jesus tell everyone to put away their swords and stop fighting while He was arrested and dragged off for trial and condemnation. John was right there to see Jesus accept Judas’ kiss of betrayal. John was there in the courtyard of the high priest to hear Peter deny the Lord Jesus and go away to weep bitterly. John was at the foot of the cross while the chief priests mocked His Lord, while the soldiers ridiculed Him, while the two others crucified reviled Him, while those who passed by wagged their heads at Him, while Jesus spoke and committed His mother into John’s care.
But John was also at the empty tomb on Easter morning to see the grave cloths cast aside. He was in the room when Jesus appeared to them, showing them His hands and feet. And John walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee behind Jesus and Peter and heard Jesus speak of his future: “If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you. You follow Me.” (John 21:23). John saw Jesus ascend bodily into the heaven with the promise of the angels that He would come again. He knew that “the LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven” (Psalm 11:4).
That is why John would ask those who told him he should flee to the mountains to escape the wicked who were after him, “How can you say that? I know where the LORD is. He knows where they are at. He will give them what they deserve. He will rescue me and I will see His face again. “For the LORD is righteous; He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face” (Psalm 11:7).
John had looked upon the face of Jesus, the image of the invisible God, the exact imprint of His nature. That is why he would not consider fleeing away but would stay put and preach the precious Gospel of forgiveness for all who would hear it. “In the beginning was the Word... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life... that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (1 John 1:1, 3).
It is to this Jesus, who became flesh so that we could see the face of God, that John entrusted himself, even as he saw the other apostles killed for preaching the same gospel, even as he himself suffered persecutions and hardships. It was not that he knew he had nowhere to flee. It was because he knew he did not need to. It was his enemies who would want to flee but would have nowhere to go.
John saw the face of Jesus revealed in His glory. “The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters” (Revelation 1:14-15). When John saw Him, he fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on John, raised him up, and gave him such wonderful promises and assurances of his deliverance and the wrath of God to be visited upon the wicked, that the fearful face of Christ’s majestic glory, gave way to the gentle appearance of a lamb, and the kindly face of the bridegroom who has rescued His bride from every danger and taken her into His eternal keeping.
We fear. And we try to run away, even when it is pointless. We forget that we have a Saviour who has suffered all things, and risen victorious over all. “He is in His holy temple; His throne is in heaven.” His eyes see us all and at all times. He tests us to see if we will flee from the things we fear, or if we will stand firm with faith in His victory over the wicked. Time and again we give into fear and our faith falters. But His face is full of forgiving love and mercy. It is the face of Jesus, a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, a crucified man wrapped in a burial shroud, a resurrected Lord, a victorious lamb, a loving bridegroom.
He has promised that “the upright shall behold His face” (Psalm 11:7). We behold the face of Jesus when we remember that He has a face for us. He came into this world to save us from all that we fear. He died and rose again to deliver us from our wicked sins of wanting to run away rather than trust in His mercy and grace. He is in His holy temple for you, to bring to you in your fearful flight, His own body and blood which have defeated all wickedness and impart to you forgiveness and victory.
John didn’t have to run away because he knew the Lord was coming. “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him” (Revelation 1:7). But those who look to Him for grace and mercy will indeed see only that in His face. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Do not flee. You will see the face of Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.