By the end of the first century, Christianity had spread throughout the Roman empire and throughout Asia Minor. But becoming a follower of Jesus was not a decision that was made lightly, as it came with a hefty price tag. Christianity was hated and seen as an enemy of the state for several reasons. The Romans viewed Christians as disloyal citizens to the government because they would not acknowledge Caesar as the supreme authority over their lives. They were labelled atheists because they didn’t submit and worship the Roman pantheon of gods. They were accused of being cannibals because they partook of the Lord’s Supper which symbolically identifies with the body and blood of Jesus. And economically, Christians were seen as a threat to society because they no longer purchased the idols of wood and gold in the marketplace which in turn angered the local merchants. From the top of the government all the way to the man on the corner selling his merchandise, Christians were hated. Their faith was considered illegal and many were tortured and put to death.
No one was immune from the suffering, not even the apostles. And as the last living apostle, John had been banished to a small volcanic Island called Patmos because of his testimony of Jesus. Like the other Christians, John was in a bad spot. He was an old man, probably around 90 years old and forced to perform hard manual labor in the quarries under the scourge of a whip. Yet, John lived a life sold out life for Christ because he understood that following Jesus meant tribulation, and pressure, and trouble, and affliction. He knew full well that suffering was not something that only a few of Jesus’ followers were meant to endure; but rather, was part of the normal Christian life. Suffering was a family affair.
Jesus told us that: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). But it is also important to know why we suffer. Peter puts it this way: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:15, 16).
You see, as a Christian, there is privilege in our suffering. There is purpose in suffering for name of Jesus. Not only do we identify with Christ in His earthly trials, but our pain produces endurance, and endurance builds godly character! Like the old saying goes… “A Christian is like a teabag – not much good until it has gone through hot water.” Now, John could have thrown in the towel. He could have quit. He could have walked away from the faith when the heat was turned up. But he didn’t. He fought the good fight and his painful circumstances only made him love his Lord that much more deeply.
But the question must be asked. What carried John going through his daily trials and tribulations? What kept this 90-year-old man going day after day? After all, the world around him was getting darker by the day. And from an earthly perspective, there was not much hope. So where did John go? He went upward. Yes, he lived on the island of Patmos, but he also lived in heaven. You see, though his earthly circumstances were dire, he had a living hope! Instead of focusing on his present conditions, he set his eyes on the heavenly reality of who is ultimately in control. He dismisses the chaos and chooses to worship (Rev. 1:10)! This is a good lesson for all true believers. Worship requires us to put all of life’s distractions and hurts out of our mind and focus solely on the One who is worthy of all glory honor and praise. For John, his joy wasn’t tied to his present situation, but in the reality of who he served! He didn’t let his emotions control him but trusted in the truth of who God is.
Beloved, who carries us through our trials and suffering? Who enables us to persevere when life gets difficult and we feel like we cannot go on? It’s knowing that Jesus is with those who love Him; and knowing that He is walking with us through it all (Romans 8:28). Like John, we need a fresh vision of who Jesus is!
“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 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. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev.1:12-16)
When we look at the growing hostility in this angry world, it’s easy to get discouraged. But John’s vision of the glorified Christ was given to us as the answer to the chaos. John was told to write these things down for us, not so we would have some head knowledge about who Jesus is, but that we would bask in awe of His glory and splendor and to confidently stand in His might in the midst of the storm (James 1:2-4).
Understand, the Lord Jesus Christ is not this little pathetic man that we see hanging on crosses around people’s necks and in certain churches. Neither is Jesus presently buried in a tomb somewhere in a distant land (Rev.1:18). No! We serve a Jesus who is presently seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and He is ruling over His creation (Heb. 1:3). We serve a Jesus who empowers us through His Spirit to make it through the difficult times. A Jesus who has felt our pain and sorrows (Heb. 4:15, 16). A Jesus who is praying for us and interceding in our lives and sanctifying us, making us more into His image (Heb. 7:25). We serve a Jesus who purifies His church with the power of His Spoken Word. A Jesus who is omniscient, and judges with absolute Holiness and righteousness (Heb. 4:12). We serve a Jesus who controls His church with His mighty right hand and protects those He loves (Col. 1:17, 18). And absolutely nothing happens outside of His perfect sovereign will. Friend, this is the Jesus of the Bible. He is awesome! My question to you is simply this. How Big is your Jesus? John was given this vision so that when things seem hopeless, we would come back to these truths. And, like John, it should create in us a heart to fall at His feet and worship; to not give up, but to stand strong in His strength. Amen! If you do not have a church family, we would love for you to come join us on Sunday mornings at 10AM as we continue on our verse by verse journey through the book of Revelation!