Christ’s Abiding Presence (vv. 9-11)
In Tribulation, Kingdom, and Endurance
“Eschatology” does not mean “end times.” It means the “study of the age.” Eschatology is one’s view of history, and Christian eschatology is the study of what Jesus Christ is doing in history, and, therefore, the flow of history from his ascension to the Father’s right hand 2,000 years ago to his bodily return at the end of history (Acts 1:9). Here we have a very direct statement of eschatology. John speaks of being their brother and companion in “the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.” Tribulation means affliction, especially those we suffer for the sake of Christ, because we are Christians. Kingdom means God’s righteous rule, which he now exercises through his enthroned Son and calls us to seek first in our lives and world. Patience means endurance, not giving up when there is opposition from the world, and keeping your eye upon the prize.
Taken together, this phrase proves false the notion that Christians will not suffer through tribulation and will be removed from history before tribulation occurs. Christians suffer hardship for the Lord Jesus Christ, and patient suffering for him is one important way his kingdom grows in us and in the world. This phrase also smashes all forms of triumphalism. Triumphalism is the idea that Christians and the church will always move forward without obstacle or downturn, that if we have enough faith, or money, or connections, or if we talk enough and are angry enough, nothing can touch us. The kingdom of Jesus Christ requires warfare, suffering for Christ, and self-denial. His kingdom is not a heaven on earth, a problem-free life, or Christians changing places with the wicked in positions of power and influence. Should such an exchange actually take place, Christians would be spoiled by worldly success. The world’s ideas of power and dominion are very antithetical to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. He smashes them by the sword of his mouth, and therefore we are not to aspire for them or equate them with his kingly reign.
Light Enjoyed while Suffering
The Lord wants us to take these three ideas together: tribulation, kingdom, and patient endurance. They are governed by one definite article. It is not that Christians are always suffering or should have a martyrdom wish. Nor do the combined ideas suggest historical defeat. When we enlisted under Christ’s banner, we signed up to fight – against sin, against the world, and against the prince of darkness. This entails tribulation. It is thus a very dangerous idea to teach Christians that when the “great tribulation” comes, which I believe has already happened (Matt. 24:21), Christians will be raptured to safety. This is not the message of Revelation. The saints are those who “love not their own lives unto death” (Rev. 12:11) and are “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God” (Rev. 20:4), not those who are suddenly snatched from this world before the suffering begins.
At the same time, while we are enduring tribulation for his name, we are reigning, standing with Christ, and overcoming, i.e., winning. To stand against the devil, to refuse to bow to the beast, to bear faithful witness to God’s truth are the actions of kings and queens, who are not afraid but who love and serve the true King. John was on Patmos for his stand for God’s word and the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was exiled there, tradition says, after attempts to end his life through plunging him into boiling oil proved unsuccessful. John warned the early believers that they were about to pass through great tribulation, but they were nonetheless a kingdom of priests. They were reigning. Their sufferings did not negate their dominion, for they were in union with Jesus Christ, the Lord of all. Believers reign in him as they master their fears, pray without ceasing, and obey the Lord while on the battlefield, with all Satan’s fiery missiles flying toward them. We are not very good kings and queens if we gripe and sulk about our sufferings or call fire down from heaven upon our oppressors. It is the mark of a co-heir with Christ that he “possesses his soul in patience.” He knows who he is and waits confidently for what he is promised yet to be. Men cannot take away our crown. We share in our Savior’s exaltation and reign as we patiently endure hardship for his name’s sake.
Celebrated on the Lord’s Day
Under the influence of satanic Americanism, the church has been wooed by kingdom views that downplay suffering, promise to make you rich and give you a good retirement, and focus upon political parties and maneuvering rather than gospelling, worship, and obedience to the King. When did John receive this revelation? On the Lord’s Day. Although exiled, John did not forget the day of the King’s resurrection. He was “in the Spirit,” which means that while his normal mental and emotional facilities remained intact, he was in a heightened sense of receptivity for the heavenly vision. His state parallels Ezekiel’s (2:2; 3:12,13,24; 11:1), and the phrase is roughly equivalent to “prophetic authority.” John did not imagine these visions in a state of ecstasy. The Spirit of truth revealed them to him. And so it is that while we are in our earthly warfare, the Lord’s Day remains the most important day of the week for us. It is the day we receive fresh communications from the Lord through his preached word, encouragement through the fellowship of the saints, and foretastes of heavenly glory.
He Gave Us the Bible
The exalted Lord of heaven is with us on the Lord’s Day. In the worshipping assembly of his church, including here this morning, he proclaims the name of his Father to our hungry souls and sings praises in our midst (Ps. 22:22; 40:9-10; Heb. 2:12). He is not an absent Savior, and he is not a mute Savior. He gave us the Bible, his living Word, so that he may abide in us, and we in him (John 15:1-5; Col. 3:16; Heb. 4:12). Some wolves say that Jesus never commissioned any Scriptures and would never have limited himself or the Spirit to a written word. Let us forsake these liars and hear Jesus Christ. He commissioned John to write to seven actual churches in Asia Minor, whose names and histories we know. Christ’s word was their shield against Satan’s attacks and their manna through the difficult years ahead. This is the way Jesus Christ abides with us today – by his Scriptures. If you love him and want to know him and have his strength in you, abide in his word.
Christ’s Light-Giving Presence (vv. 12-13)
Christ’s Voice, John Turns, He Sees a Lampstand
John heard the voice of the “Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the Creator and the Consummator, the Author and the Finisher of our faith. Our Savior shares with his Father eternal glory. John had heard that voice many times on earth, but now he heard the Master’s voice in its fullest beauty and felt its cosmic power. The Lord Jesus commissioned him to write this book to the seven churches of Asia. Upon hearing Jesus’ voice, John turns to look, and what he sees is seven golden lampstands. We will soon be told that this is a symbol of the seven churches and of the whole church also, for seven is the number of fullness or completion. “Golden” expresses the church’s immeasurable value in the eyes of God – he purchased her with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Whatever her sufferings on earth and the world’s malice and mockery, the church is heavenly gold, “standing at his right hand in gold of Ophir,” (Ps. Ps. 45:9), and shining beautifully as she reflects his light. She is worth more than the entire universe.
The Church the Light of the World Because Christ In Us
The church is the light of the world (Matt. 5:16). This is because the risen Jesus Christ is in our midst. He is the light of the world, and we are children of light because he dwells with us (Eph. 5:8). To be the light of the world does not mean the church agitates about every social and political issue. Nor is light to be hidden under a basket, but to shine, and the church is commissioned to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). She must bring God’s word to bear upon the totality of her own life, witness, and work. She must shine God’s truth into this sin-darkened and dead world. But the light she shines does not come from her organizations, buildings, the charisma of her leaders, or her intellectual superiority. The church is the seven golden lampstands solely through union with Jesus Christ. He is the light who scatters the darkness of sin and Satan. The more we have the light of his truth in us, the more we are personally submissive to his word and walking in the light, the more light we shall shine. The more we live in Christ’s fellowship, see our lives as his living in us (Gal. 2:20), the more we shall be and shine gospel light.
Identity, Reverence, Joy, Anticipation
“Seven golden lampstands” is God’s view of the Bride of his Son – precious, valuable, necessary. The church is not an afterthought in the mind and heart of God but his chosen and beloved dwelling place (Eph. 2:20-22). The church has fallen upon hard times in our day, but this is her fault. She goes to the world rather than to Scripture for her marching orders. She tries to find common ground in the world’s wisdom rather than in her Lord’s word. Her inner life is not born of prayer and obedience but following gurus (Acts 20:30) and trying to find her heaven in this world (Phil. 2:21). The church’s sins and weakness must not be allowed to diminish the wonder of our identity in Christ. We are his lampstand; he is in our midst. There should be a certain reverence when we come together as the church, when we think of our church membership, that our names, if we believe upon the name of Jesus Christ, are written in his book. Our lives must reflect our identity as light: joy in his presence with us, confidence in the wisdom he shares, anticipation of what he will do in our midst. We should not listen to the world telling us what we should be doing or take its criticisms seriously. We must be concerned only with what Jesus Christ has called us to be and that is found in the light of his word and in communion with him as the light of the world.