by Roger McCay
14 March 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 1:5-6, 9
Link to Audio Version
You’ve heard it said that “misery loves company.” In one sense this refers to miserable people wanting others to also be unhappy. Perhaps you’ve seen this kind of selfish thing. Knowing a miserable person, you’ve seen the gleam in her eye, seen how she perks up, even changes in her posture from beaten down to alert and straight, almost giddy, when she hears of misfortune falling on others.
Yet, at the heart of the saying, “misery loves company,” is the general truth that when suffering, a togetherness helps to make it more bearable. In Christ-like denial of self, the concept is not wishing harm to feel better. It is unity in a common love, supporting one another so we might each make it through, making it through together. It’s often not the words said, or even a common suffering, although a time of suffering will come for all of us, but the very fact of your loving presence can help another along. And, I suppose, I’ll add, in the destruction after a storm, loaned generators and working chainsaws can help a lot too.
Isolation in suffering tribulation and trouble can lead to despair. But thankfully, as Christians, we have the blessing of Christ and of each other, community, to help us patiently endure.
Last week we looked at a (if not the) major theme in Revelation (described in v. 7), which was a prophetic reference to Jesus’ coming in judgment upon Jerusalem. Verses 4-8, however, indicate other major themes of Revelation, and not just v. 7. Therefore I summed up the theme for you as “The Exalted Christ’s Victorious Judgment and Blessings.” We’ve considered each part of this statement, with the exception of the last part (although we’ve touched on it), which is Christ’s blessings upon his people. John brings up several blessings to keep in mind right up front, polishing the lens of how they should view their troubles—as a blessed people united in Christ.
The churches were a persecuted church facing even more tribulation. John wrote them in order to encourage and exhort them to overcome, to patiently endure. John, too, was not somehow separate from this suffering; he was in the midst of hardship, like they were. Thus, he refers to himself, in v. 9, as “your brother and partner in tribulation.”
For what reason was John suffering? He tells us this straight up. He was suffering “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” He was suffering for his faithful apostolic witness to the gospel. He was suffering due to his faithful ministry of God’s Word, as one of the leaders of the faith.
John shares his location, also. He “was on the Island of Patmos” when he received the Apocalyptic vision, and from there he wrote the churches in Asia. Patmos was a small, desolate, volcanic island (about 10 miles long and 6 miles wide) in the Aegean Sea off the southwest coast of Asia Minor, not far west of the location of the seven churches. And it was used by the Roman Empire as a prison island, where prisoners and dissidents were banished and exiled.
So, how did John end up there? You may be familiar with the persecution of Christians that occurred after Rome burned in July AD 64. Nero, the Roman Emperor, was popularly blamed for the fire. So, in order to deflect blame from himself, he blamed the Christians. Christians were an easy target, as they were a hated minority in the Empire—“a class hated for their abominations,” according to the first-century, Roman historian, Tacitus.
Having condemned the innocent Christians, Nero then kicked off his brutal persecution, arresting, torturing, and executing “an immense multitude” of believers. This persecution would end up seeing both Peter and Paul martyred among the host of dead. Tacitus gives us a description of many of the horrors these Christian’s faced:
“Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle.”
Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, explains that for this horrible fate, “Christians were covered with inflammable material and burned as torches.” And it is thought that, during that horrible time of creative tortures and murders, Nero seized John, as John was a leader in the church. Church tradition then tells us, “the Apostle John was plunged into boiling oil, and suffered nothing, and was afterwards banished to an island.”
Nero’s persecution seems to have lasted until he died in AD 68 and extended into the provinces, like Asia (where the seven churches were located), by his command. Schaff further comments, “The example set by the emperor in the capital could hardly be without influence in the provinces, and would justify the outbreak of popular hatred.” As it was, the Romans were already causing trouble with Christians in the provinces (the Romans along with the Jews), with Peter writing First Peter right around the time Nero’s persecution began, addressing Christians suffering persecution in the regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia
Hence, John wrote the seven churches in Asia, calling himself, “your brother and partner in tribulation.” Christians were going through hard times everywhere, but they were in it together, united in Christ and his blessings.
Suffering tribulation is a real and present danger for all Christians. The suffering shared by John and the Christians in Asia Minor consisted of, as one person put it, “possible exile, imprisonment, social ostracism, slander, poverty, economic exploitation, violence, and the constant threat of judicial action.” The apostle Paul promised it, saying, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Peter further expands our understanding of tribulation from being only persecution, by calling it “various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6). Suffering is a reality for Christians just as a human condition
If you’re not suffering, there is a good chance someone else in our community is suffering (grief, personal trials of every sort, and struggles against the spiritual forces of evil). In the Christian community, no-one is an island. We’re all in this together. Let us not ignore suffering in the pursuit of the idol of “personal peace,” as Schaeffer puts it. Let us recognize tribulation when we see it and find peace together in Christ. Because Christians face suffering in Christ, we must patiently endure together.
Look again at vv. 5b-6:
5b To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This doxology lays out three blessings in Christ that he has secured for us as Prophet, Priest, and King. Christians are blessed in Christ. It’s a fact. It is at the heart of who we are. These blessings are important realities towards our ability to patiently endure, to which we’re called in v. 9. In Christ, we, his people, are blessed by the Lord’s Word and work. We have the Scriptures that tell us who God is and who we are in relation to him. We come to know who we are in reality, and not through trial and error and guesswork. We learn what God’s plan is, in all of history, which is called redemptive history. Before the foundation of the world he knew us, he knew you, and he loved you and I in Christ. All through history our loving Lord worked patiently so that you and I and all his beloved people would have an eternal loving relationship with him, a relationship secured by Jesus on the cross.
To describe Christ’s love for us would fill many books, and indeed it has. As a picture says a thousand words, picture this: “Jesus on the cross.” On the cross we have a picture of what love is, and what Christ’s love is for us. As John tells us in 1 Jn. 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” In Christ’s blood we have redemption. His blood shed on the cross set us free from sin. In his blood we have forgiveness and are made pure. In his blood we have an eternal, secure inheritance. In his blood we are made a people, his people, united in Christ. United in Christ we are a community, family, and we are called to emulate his love for us towards one another. Like Christ loved us, we are to love one another—self-sacrificing love. And oh how that comes into play when you are travelling together in tribulation. Christ suffered so that we might fellowship with God Almighty, and as we fellowship in Christ, we fellowship with one another, community, unity, shared love, helping one another to patiently endure.
From the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we have the grace of God and peace with God extended to us—our salvation (vv. 4-5). God Almighty is our fortress and our strength. As we say together with the Psalmist and all God’s people,
“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Ps. 18:1-3).
Christ’s work is a reason to patiently endure, for we know Christ isn’t finished with us. It’s like someone said, “A Christian is like a tea bag—not much good until he has gone through hot water.” The Lord’s Word tells us that suffering is an important part of sanctification. Somewhere in that reality, we even find the reason why he allows the kingdom of evil to continue to exist, bringing us pain (Rom. 9:17-24). Paul puts it like this in Rom. 8:16-17:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Then in Acts 14:22, it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” And, as Peter says in 1 Pet.1:6-7,
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
In various trials we find blessing in Christ, as our faith is refined, strengthened, and made sure. Suffering for Christ, we participate in Christ’s suffering, which brings us closer to him and one another, serving as assurance that we are his.
Brothers and sisters, let us patiently endure the various trials and tribulations. In the midst of the fire we scream in pain; the pain is real. But we can make it together in Christ, in whom we find blessing. Because Christians are blessed in Christ, we must patiently endure together.
In v. 9 John speaks of unity, “in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.” This is a threefold way in which we, as God’s family, as partners, share (συγκοινωνὸς) what John refers to in 1 Jn. 1:3:
“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (κοινωνίαν) with us; and indeed our fellowship (κοινωνία) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
United in Christ, we are united in our identity, our realm of existence, our situation, and our call. As believers in Jesus, saved by faith, our identity is one in Christ, adopted into the family of God as his children; heirs with Christ; fellowshipping with one another, partnered in common realities, and rejoicing with one another in supernatural glories. Rev. 1:6 calls us “a kingdom.” As the royal household, “if we endure, we will reign” in some way with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26; 5:10). We are also priests to God the Father, where Christ is King and the great High Priest. The fate of the Kingdom (the realm of Christ) is the fate of the people of the Kingdom, and the King is victorious. As a Kingdom of priests, the mantle of God’s people—worship, witness, and faithful living—has been placed upon us (Ex. 19:6; Isa. 61:6; 1 Pet. 2:9). We labor together in the Lord and for the Lord with our bodies as living sacrifices, offering up a sacrifice of praise (Rom. 12:1, Heb. 13:15-16).
In Jesus, the Church shares in tribulation. As the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), this is our joint situation, thus spanning from the narrow sense of persecution to the wider trials of life. Partners include believers in our present congregation and Christians who suffer on the far side of the world; disciples of Christ in this day and age along with believers of all ages, including the Apostle John and the Christians of the seven churches in Asia. We are all partners in Christ, in tribulation. In the body of Christ’s affliction, the world comes to see and know the afflictions and love of Christ, and we experience it together to his glory (Col. 1:24).
In Jesus, too we find our call. Not only our call to salvation and vocation, but also our call to patiently endure the tribulation in which we partner with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. What does this mean? It’s like Grant Osborne explains, patient endurance “means both to wait upon God and to stand up against the temptations and evil of the world.” Like Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” And Phil. 2:13: “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Patient endurance is also a huge theme in the book of Revelation, mentioned (surprise!) seven times.
I’ll never forget when the Blackhawk pilots told my chaplain assistant, SFC Nelson, and I that the helicopter was having some mechanical difficulties, but they were going to try to get us back to the FOB. As two veterans of war we both turned and looked at each other and laughed, and SFC Nelson said, “Here we go.” The key word in his statement was “we.” We could laugh because it was just one more thing thrown our way. We could laugh because whatever came, there was “we.” I look back fondly on those times.
Paul Szoldra speaks to such things in a Task & Purpose article, with a quote:
Sebastian Junger argues in his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, [that] veterans often look upon hardship as a “great blessing” with war and disasters sometimes “remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations.”
“Humans don’t mind hardship,” Junger wrote. “In fact, they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
The last part is a sad statement on the times, “Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
Disciples of Christ don’t have that problem, my friends. We are all necessary as part of the body of Christ. Our identity in Christ is a reason to endure and a reason to rejoice. Christians are fellow soldiers in Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). Sometimes, from battle, we’re like the walking wounded, as we follow the Lord on the path of righteousness: limping, leaning on each other’s shoulders, moving forward, enduring together. Sometimes we’re incapacitated, being carried along on a stretcher. And yet, we’re told in the Scriptures to rejoice in our sufferings (Rom. 5:3; 1 Pet. 4:13). United with Christ and with each other we can rejoice and be glad for it.
Thus, John Piper can aptly declare:
I have never heard anyone say, “The deepest and rarest and most satisfying joys of my life have come in times of extended ease and earthly comfort.” Nobody says that. It isn’t true. What’s true is what Samuel Rutherford said when he was put in the cellars of affliction: “The Great King keeps his wine there” — not in the courtyard where the sun shines. What’s true is what Charles Spurgeon said: “They who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.”
It is through tribulation that we find the pearl of great price. It is in tribulation that we find the wine of the King (Acts 14:22; Matt. 13:46; Isa. 25:6; John 2:1-10).
Brethren, let us patiently endure whatever may come, together. Let us keep trials and tribulation in perspective, as we are united in Christ with all his blessings. Let us remember our brothers and sisters who suffer, and help them when and how we can, and also pray for them. Let us truly be partners “in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.” Because Christians are united in Christ, we must patiently endure together.
It’s an interesting thing I’ve observed. A cure for misery can, at times, be found in helping others, taking our mind off our own inner feelings in our struggle and putting our efforts into helping others deal with their own struggles.
Jesus has united his people in himself as a kingdom of priests. That is who we are, in Christ. Tribulation and trials will come. That’s the way of things. Let us persevere through whatever might come, together, with the dignity of God’s own beloved children, blessed in Christ. Because Christians live in Christ, we must patiently endure together.
 ἐγενόμην – translated “I was” in v. 9 seems to be an “epistolary aorist,” considering its context with the command to “write” in v. 11, etc. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 562, defines the epistolary aorist as “the use of the aorist indicative in the epistles in which the author self-consciously describes his letter from the time frame of the audience.” John was indicating his location when he saw the vision and wrote it down for the churches in Asia. It’s like my writing to you, as I sit here in my study in Monroeville, “I was in Monroeville and got a phone call, and the person on the line said write a footnote to your sermon and tell your readers of this conversation. So, I wrote you this footnote, which you are now reading.”
 Cf. Tacitus, Annals and Histories, trans. A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), 353; Annals, 15:44.
 Ibid., 354.
 Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 428. Cf. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation: An Exegetical and Historical Argument for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), 96.
 Tertullian, “The Prescription against Heretics,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 260.
 Cf. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, 255.
 Cf. Schaff, 384 fn1. Schaff, 389, also states that “Sulpicius Severus, Chron. II. 28, 29…. and Orosius (Hist. VII. 7) first clearly assert that Nero extended the persecution to the provinces. George Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1913), 143, translating from Latin, quotes Orosius, (Historiae adversus Paganos, VII.7, ca. AD 417): “The boldness of his [Nero’s] impiety towards God increased the mass of his crimes, for he was the first at Rome to visit the Christians with punishments and deaths, and through all the provinces he commanded that they should be tortured with a like persecution.”
 Schaff, 384.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 80, quoting Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World, Proclamation Commentaries (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 50.
 Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 5 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 211. Schaeffer, as he uses the term “personal peace,” defines it: “Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city—to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren.”
 Michael P. Green, ed., 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 363.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 80.
 Rev. 1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12.
 Paul Szoldra, “This one photo shows both the best and worst of life in the military … Embrace the suck,” Task & Purpose, pub. 10 March 2021, https://taskandpurpose.com/culture/military-unit-cohesion-embrace-the-suck/?mc_cid=eae62bca2c&mc_eid=3a41a9f34a.
 Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York, Hachette Book Group, 2016), xvii.
 John Piper, “Why We Can Rejoice In Suffering,” desiringGod, pub. 23 Oct. 1994, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-we-can-rejoice-in-suffering.