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.”