Friday, June 28, 2013

How the Christian church survives amidst adversity

Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

I begin today's post with a quote from late great Bible teacher, theologian and author Dr. John Walvoord, who writing on the above verse notes: "The exile of John to the Isle of Patmos is in itself a moving story of devotion to Christ crowned with suffering. This small island, rocky and forbidding in its terrain, about ten miles long and six miles wide, is located in the Agean Sea southwest of Ephesus just beyond the Island of Samos." Walvoord later on then writes: "It was in these bleak circumstances, shut off from friends and human fellowship, that John was given the most extensive revelation of future things shown to any writer of the New Testament.  Though men could circumscribe his human activities, they could not bind the Spirit of God nor the testimony of Jesus Christ."1

As you read and study the Book of Revelation, John the Apostle is given access by the Holy Spirit of God into two sets of realms and times: namely this present age and realm of men and the future time and the invisible realm.  In the Book of Revelation, both realms and times blend into one another.  At times you will be wisked far off to the end of history to witness of the Second coming of Jesus Christ, as described in Revelation 1:3-8 and other passages.  However you will also be brought back to here and now to understand how this present age and realm of men is directly affected by the ages to come and the invisible realm.  Revelation is as much a book about you and I today as Christians fighting the good fight of faith, as well as it is about the destinies of the saved, the lost, of history, of Christ's coming Kingdom and Eternity.

In today's post I want us to consider what John has to say to us about ways in which the Christian church will continue to survive.  Despite the many reports we here of Christianity's decline in our nation and the Western world in general, the Book of Revelation reminds us that faithfulness to Jesus Christ, not popularity in the culture, is the true measure of success.  Three terms are mentioned in Revelation 1:9 that detail for us the survival guide for the Christian Church today: tribulation, kingdom and perseverance. 

Christianity survives because of persecution
You read it correctly - the Christian individual and church survives because of persecution.  We know John is writing to the church at large because of the fact that the letter was to be circulated among the seven churches in Asia Minor. (Revelation 1:10-11; 2:1-3:22)  The word translated "tribulation" in Revelation 1:9 is not speaking of the future seven year period that John will write more about in Revelation 6:1-19:6 and what Jesus earlier termed "The Tribulation" or "The Great Tribulation" in Matthew 24:9,21,29.  Rather the idea of "tribulation" in Revelation 1:9 has to do with the persecutions that he and his readers were enduring under the tyrannical reign of Emporer Domitian at the end of the first century.  

Whether we speak of trials and tribulations endured under an hellish regime or the trials of health or normal everyday circumstance, scripture bears witness that Christianity can only survive when such persecution is present. Jesus notes in John 16:33 "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  Both James 1:3-4 and 1 Peter 1:6-7 explain that trials actually serve to purify and galvanize the Christian faith against weaknesses and the world.  2 Corinthians 4:18 reminds the reader that the "momentary and light afflictions" of this world, comparatively speaking, are working forth in us a true desire to strive toward our ultimate goal of being with Jesus for eternity.  Acts 14:22 states - "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  As one friend of mine once told me: growth never occurs on the mountain, but always in the valley.  So contrary to human reasoning, the Bible clearly states with that the church survives because of persecution.  As we already saw in Acts 14:22, persecution drives the Christian church to survive on striving to enter the Kingdom.  Therefore the Christian church survives negatively because of persecution and positively because of the Kingdom.

The Christian Church survives because of the Kingdom
John writes in Revelation 1:9 "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom ...".  The Kingdom of God is God's reign and realm expressed over and among His people.  Wherever God's reign and realm are, there is His Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God in one respect is general, eternal and everywhere, since there is not one square inch of creation that is not touched by His Sovereign reign. (Psalm 102; 145:13; 147:5; Matthew 6:9-13)  There is a second way that the Kingdom is described, namely by Jesus Himself as being the Mediator of it, in bring His Father's invisible Heavenly purposes to bear here on this earth. (Matthew 4:17) The church is not the entirety of the kingdom, but rather functions as the foyer of the Kingdom, the "front porch" into which true believers experience the wider blessings of Kingdom life.  The Kingdom of God is also that which is coming, meaning that what is mainly invisible and heavenly will soon be visible and earthly. (Titus 2:13; Revelation 19:7-21)  God's unlimited power exercised by the Son over His church ensures the church's continuing survival. (Matthew 16:18; 28:18-20) Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:33 "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." What things? Things you and I worry about or wonder whether or not God will come through and complete.  If you and I had an inkling of who we are and Whose we are in Christ, we would not worry near as much. (Philippians 4:6-9) We discover in Romans 14:17 "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."  This Kingdom element for Christian living is positive because of the Spirit's continual provision of power to live it. Consider these words from Colossians 3:2-3 "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is,seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." The church survives because of persecution - a negative, and it survives because of its kingdom relationship - a positive.  Just as a battery has positive and negative ends to produce electric current, God has ordained both the "positive" and "negatives" of persecution and the Kingdom to promote growth and life in His people.  But notice thirdly how the Christian church will continue to survive...

The Christian church survives because of endurance for the kingdom and under persecution
John writes in Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus."  I underlined that phrase "in Jesus" to remind the reader that no Christian persecution, positive kingdom blessing or effort to endure occurs outside of Jesus Christ.  As one sign I saw one time reads: "God's grace will never lead you where that same grace will not sustain you." When John wrote what he wrote, he identified himself as a "fellow partaker" in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance. The Greek word translated by "perseverance" could just be as easily translated "endurance".  The wonderful Greek Scholar W.E Vine writes concerning the meaning of this word: "it denotes to abide under, to bear up courageously (under suffering)." 2  John was not addressing his readers in pleasure but pain.  Not amidst delights but underneath extreme duress. Despite the uncertainty around John, within John was nothing but certainty.  We read in Philippians 3:13-14 that we are to "forget what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead", pressing onward to God's upward call in Christ Jesus.  Jude wrote his short little book and expressed in Jude 3 the reason: "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."  The Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 4:19 "Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right."

The Christian church as a whole and Christians in particular can expect to survive regardless of current circumstances because of three truths revealed in Revelation 1:9: Persecution, The Kingdom and Endurance. 

1. Dr. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Moody Press. Page 41

2. W.E. Vine. Expository Dictionary on New Testament Words. Fleming H. Revell Company. 1966. Page 29 in Volume 2.  

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