I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” – Revelation 1:9-11
Imagine this if you will. John, a main leader of the Church towards the end of the first century, has been arrested and exiled because of his faith. Yet he has some way of communicating the message he receives from Christ to the people in the churches of Asia Minor. He uses a literary style that would get past the Roman guards simply because they would see it as gibberish, meaningless, certainly not something that would be a threat to the great power of Rome. Yet, as we will see later on, the message is a subversive one, one that will eventually bring Rome to its knees. If the guards, or the political structure, or even Caesar himself, would have understood John’s meaning, the document would most likely have been destroyed. As it is, it survived.
Notice that John makes it clear who he is. The people in the churches addressed would automatically know that this is their beloved leader and fellow believer in Jesus talking. John’s use of the words suffering, kingdom, and patient endurance basically says, “hey, you know me, I’m a part of the group. I have gone through so much with you. So listen to this.” These three words/phrases also serve as a clue about the contents of this writing.
John identifies suffering as a key component of the message, but he also identifies it as a normal part of the life of a people under persecution. Could he be referring to physical aches and pains that is the lot of all people as they age? Maybe, but suffering means so much more in this context. John is suffering persecution because of his stance for the Messiah and, as the rest of the book shows, the people listening to his words are going to go through suffering too. Yet suffering because of the Name of Jesus is not a sign of defeat. Actually, as is so often the case with those who follow the Messiah, suffering paradoxically is a good thing. Remember Peter and John and the other apostles rejoiced because they were found worthy to suffer for proclaiming Jesus. Same thing here. If someone didn’t want to suffer all they had to do was denounce Jesus as Lord. Cased closed. But the door to eternity with God is also closed.
Yet suffering simply for the sake of suffering doesn’t bring hope, does it. Hope comes with the full realization that believers in the Christ are a part of His kingdom, not the kingdoms of this world, whether it be Rome or some other world power. The weapons of war are different for Christ’s Kingdom. His kingdom is marked by peace, not war. His kingdom is marked by His suffering, not brashness and arrogance which so often accompanies worldly rulers and authorities. And, guess what, the war has already been decided on the cross and through the resurrection of the King of the universe.
Because of all of this, John can ask his compatriots to endure whatever comes their way with patient endurance. Throughout his treatise John continues to call for patient endurance. “Is Caesar making a mess of life for you? Remember, you are Christ’s you are an overcomer, be patient because the final outcome is coming.” “Are people refusing to buy your goods? You don’t know how you are going to feed your family. You are losing heart. Remember this, Jesus said ‘I have overcome the world.” “Endure all these hardships with patience, with hope, with the realization that God wins and, if you remain faithful to Him until the end, you win too.”
The message is the same for us today, isn’t it? Many sisters and brothers in Christ are being persecuted around the world. They remain true. In this country the threat is more a cultural seduction than it is persecution, yet the three-fold call is the same for us, endure suffering, remember the kingdom you belong to, and have patient endurance.
Lord, keep me secure in the reality of Your truth so that I, too, may one day reign with You for eternity. May I live in such a way today and every day that shows the world that I belong to a different kingdom than anything ever established on earth. Amen.
Until next time,
TO THE GLORY OF GOD!