During World War II many soldiers became casualties of a simple letter from home. They had endured unimaginable psychological trauma from the horrors of the battle field. They had survived physical hardships and deprivation, but found themselves permanently wounded by a letter from their wife or fiancé saying they no longer loved them. These letters became known as “Dear John” letters.
John the beloved writes a distinctly different type of letter when he penned the book of Revelation. Instead of the message of a jilted lover, spurned by the one he had given everything he had to win; the letter is notification to those God loves that righteous judgment is coming and he will provide them with safety and shelter. God reveals the depth of his love by describing the horrors of the judgment from which he will deliver them.
John, in his introduction, states that God is showing ‘his servants’ things which must shortly come to pass. The term servant is the Greek word doulois. The root is doulos commonly used in the New Testament to identify a bond slave. A bond slave was much different that the Roman slave. The Roman slave had been claimed as a spoil of battle. They had no rights and were strictly at the mercy of those who owned them. They were relegated to menial servitude and lives of hardship and poverty.
The bond slave was often an Israelite who had been taken into servitude by a wealthier Israelite due to bad debts. Their service was to be rendered for a set period of time. When that time had expired they were to be freed having worked off the unpaid debt, but they could choose to continue to serve their master. Many did so by becoming a bond slave. This choice was often made because they had married as a servant and their spouse, as well as any children born during this time, was still deemed the property of the master and was not set free. So out of love for their family they would surrender their freedom and become a bond slave. To verify this decision they would place their ear against the door post and it would be pierced with an awl. They would then run a ring through the hole in their ear symbolizing that they had forever relinquishing their freedom.
Those who are redeemed have become bond slaves to Christ. Because of his love and sacrifice for us we surrender our freedom, our rights and privileges in order to serve him. In Revelation John writes to these bond slaves, the doulois, and unveils a more complete picture of their master.
God wants all those in his kingdom to know about Christ. He wants them to know about his great work of redemption, his righteous judgment and his glorious kingdom. Robertson in his commentary New Testament Word Pictures indicates that these are the redeemed in general. God did not design the writings of the book of Revelation for a few special people, endowed with mystical powers, to interpret secret divine codes and discover some hidden ancient mystery. As Paul instructed his apprentice in the faith young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. Revelation is written for all to read and understand as they properly divide these words of truth.
Who are these servants? They are those who have received the gift of God, those who have been redeemed by the shed blood of the Lamb. They are those who have become heirs and joint heirs with this Jesus the Christ. This letter is not a letter of separation or divorcement, decreeing doom and damnation. This is a letter warning those who believe that judgment is coming, and that the one they love and serve will preserve them from the pending perils. This is not a divine Dear John letter, but John’s Letter to God’s dearly beloved, his servants.