Endurance in Adversity

A Brief Word

When I started shakethegates.org several years ago, my intention was to help believers in Christ not only stand firm in the evil day, but forcefully advance the Kingdom of God despite the overwhelming opposition of society. I’ve been busy living in a developing nation, discipling believers, translating the New Testament, trying to stay afloat. My high aspirations for this website have fallen far short of what I’d hoped to do with it.

Lately, I’ve been feeling increasing urgency to prepare believers for a level of opposition that few have ever known. Intense opposition is the norm for many believers around the world. People in those contexts have endured the unspeakable, yet continue to stand. Not so much in the West.

The best way that I know to prepare believers for what lay ahead is to drill down into the Word of God and draw out the meaning, exhortation, nourishment, and hope found there. After all:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV

I covet your prayer as I step into a new season of study, writing, prayerful thinking, and preparation. I ask you to pray that the Father will grant me sharp focus, a heart tender toward Him, skillful word-smithing, and clear understanding of His word in order that I might serve Him and you well in this endeavor.


A few weeks ago I published an article entitled At Hand which you can read here. The urgency of the New Testament writers (in that case, Paul, Peter, and John) was unmistakable. The world of their time was pagan and poised against the subjects of the King of Kings. Their rulers were notorious for their extreme immorality and their violent reigns.

Imperial Persecution

Emperor Nero was representative of many of the Roman emperors. According to Henry Halley (Halley’s Bible Handbook), under Nero’s persecution “many Christians were crucified, or thrown to wild beasts, or wrapped in combustible garments and burned to death while Nero laughed at the pitiful shrieks of burning men and women. Paul and Peter suffered martyrdom in Nero’s persecution.”

Nero is most known today for his maniacal fiddling while Rome burned. There were a litany of emperors between Nero and Domitian, who exiled John. Nero committed suicide, leaving the throne to Galba who reigned a grand total of 7 months and 7 days at which time he was murdered by the Praetorian Guard. Then came Otho, appointed by the Praetorian Guard who reigned for 3 months and 1 day. He committed suicide after losing a battle. Vitellius followed, reigning 8 months and 3 days before being murdered by Vespasian’s troops. Vespasian replaced him and ruled nearly a decade before dying of natural causes. Then came Titus, Vespasian’s son, who ruled 2 years and 2 months before dying of fever. Finally came Domitian, who ruled 15 years and 4 days before being murdered by court officials.

During Domitian’s reign, John was exiled to the island of Patmos where he penned Revelation, having survived, according to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, being boiled in oil.

Modern Persecution

Though most of us have not suffered under this sort of rule, patterns and trends would point toward the possibility that, as our societies disintegrate and people attempt to cast off moral restraint, people will eventually demand some sort of powerful rule, whether a government system or a strong individual. What followed the October Revolution of 1917? Stalin’s reign of terror. What followed the Wiemar Republic and the stripping of Germany’s military might following WWI? The rise of national socialism and its leader, Adolf Hitler. Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, leaving a legacy of murder. What of Chairman Mao and the cultural revolution in China? Or Fidel Castro in Cuba?

In each of these situations, followers of Jesus have suffered persecution. Stalin instituted the Gulag. Chinese Christians have consistently suffered intense persecution and opposition since the cultural revolution. Hitler’s government not only exterminated 6 million Jews, it imprisoned and executed political opponents and Christians who did not hold with the party’s brutality and extreme evil.

It seems that humanity is once again attempting to set the stage for 20th-century-like upheaval. Creation groans. Humanity is drunk with rebellion and notions of revolution. This generation desires to cast off all restraint. Many of our information sources are merely propaganda machines, spreading dissension and hate toward all that is holy. As we drift along the flow of history (past and future), proponents and servants of the world system increasingly attempt to silence the voice of reason and holiness.

Reality Check

In this context we do well to think on the words of John as he prayed there on the Isle of Patmos, the words he wrote now called Revelation or The Apocalypse. In the early verses, he describes himself as follows:

“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are ours in Jesus . . .”

Revelation 1:9a, ESV

Tribulation

John’s description of himself flies in the face of much of today’s popular teaching. Notice that he does not write, “your brother and partner in success” or “wealth” or “fulfillment”. He doesn’t even promise that Jesus will solve all our problems. He describes himself as a partner first in tribulation. Tribulation (θλιψις) can be defined as “an oppressive state of physical, mental, social, or economic adversity.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes well the kinds of tribulation inflicted upon those under Stalin’s rule. He tells of surprise arrests in the middle of the night or at the post office or by a fellow Christian. He details brutal interrogation and torture, exile to remote labor camps where people endured starvation, deprivation, and death by the elements. Everyone was suspect. Trust was nonexistent. There was an overwhelming dread of the inevitability of being persecuted for anything or nothing.

In the last decade, at least in the U.S., we have seen a rise in the number of court cases intended to destroy the livelihood of Christian business owners, legal battles intended to criminalize Biblical principles, and movements meant to destroy the fabric of society–especially the parts influenced by or established upon Judaeo-Christian principles. How long will it be before Western society adopts Stalinist tactics to silence the conscience of society?

These kinds of things were happening to God’s people throughout history and we have no reason to doubt that they will visit us, too. Jesus said:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

John 15:18-20, NIV

Kingdom

John describes himself not only as a partaker with us of tribulation, but also of the kingdom. What can he possibly mean? Scholars speculate on what he meant. I think that in this context, John is emphasizing the fact that we are partners in ministry under the rule of the King of Kings. Immediately prior to this verse Jesus says of himself:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Revelation 1:8, ESV

There is great comfort and confidence to be drawn from the reality that He is “the Almighty”, which in modern English means “the All Powerful”. We gain insight into why God would allow us to face tribulation and suffering when we consider the words of Jesus spoken in the final week of his time in the flesh on the earth. He said things like, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:17-18, NIV, emphasis mine) He was not a victim of circumstance when he was put on trial, tortured, crucified, and killed. Neither did he remain in the grave. Just as Jesus was subject to the will of his Father in this matter, so are we. We walk and work under the rule of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit who works in and through us. We are partners in life lived under his rule, partakers of all that He has given us and asked of us.

Patient Endurance

In the context of Revelation 1:9, this can mean a few different things. One scholar believes this could mean a patient waiting upon the second coming of Jesus (Lightfoot takes this approach in his comments on the Apostolic Fathers.)

In this context, though, it refers to steadfastly standing up under pressure. It is likened to conquering the adversary (quite often death). Again and again Jesus commends the faithful for patiently enduring as he himself did throughout his ministry. For example, in Revelation 2:3 he says to the Ephesian church: “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” In Revelation 2:19 he says to the church at Thyatira, “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” In Revelation 3:10 he says to the church at Philadelphia, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” In Revelation 13:10, following a prophecy about captivity and martyrdom, John writes, “Here is a call for the endurance [the same word used here as elsewhere for patient endurance] and faith of the saints.

He Has Not Forgotten Us

History is replete with examples of God’s people enduring great suffering for his name. The West has been largely spared the ignominy of persecution in modern times, but times are changing. Lest you become anxious and fearful of things that are to come, consider Jesus’ promises to the ones who endure tribulation patiently while living under the rule of Jesus Christ.

  • To the one who conquers I will grant to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Revelation 2:7
  • The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Revelation 2:11
  • To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I wil give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Revelation 2:17
  • The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give him authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron . . . and I will give him the morning star. Revelation 2:26-27
  • The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Revelation 3:12-13
  • The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:21
  • And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 10:22

Final Thoughts

It would be all too easy to become anxious and fearful about what is ahead. Take heart! Repeatedly we are told in the Scriptures that these things must come. Repeatedly we are told in the Scriptures that this is not all there is, that on the other side of tribulation, persecution, and trouble there is life, a future, blessing, victory, and comfort. We are promised that all this groaning and decaying creation will be renewed.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:1-4, ESV
toddaowen

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