Suffering is all around us every day. Sin, temptation, evil, and calamity are so pervasive that we get jaded to them. The news will have on a terrible tragedy and we hardly bat an eye because eventually you realize that there is always a terrible tragedy every day on the news, and that if you responded to one you have to respond to them all, or else you are some kind of unfeeling monster.
Usually we feel bad things when they affect us directly. Someone close or you yourself have circumstances, temptations, calamity, and evil happening to you that you just cannot control. You cannot stop it. It just happens. Crises come and they go. Some have more than others. Some have more intense but fewer. Christian and non-christian alike, all suffer in this life.
Today, my topic is the reaction to tragedy. How does one approach it as a Christian? That’s the question our text raised from the lips of the saints, “How Long o Lord?” in Revelation 6:10. They cry out with esire for vindication, but mostly with a desire to know when the suffering will end, and God will finally put down all enemies for good.
1) Perseverance Through Suffering
Jesus opens the scroll. In Rev 5 he took the scroll. He opens its seven seals in Rev 6:1-:8:1. Opening the scroll means he is opening the last days. In Daniel 12, the last days are the are described in terms of a sealed and secret scroll. At the end of the age Jesus will open the scroll. When he opens it, the last days open, and the dead raise. The good rise to life. The evil rise to eternal damnation. But also remember that this scene in Heaven in chapter 5 was already past. Jesus ascended to heaven and opened the scroll two thousand years ago. This means the last days are open. They are here in some way.
This is what John means when he says in Rev 1:9. He says that he is “fellow-partaker in the tribulation, Kingdom, and perseverance which are in Jesus.” That verse is key to this whole book. It means that John interpreted the tribulation and kingdom as present realities for him, the churches to whom he wrote, and so to us.
In Rev 1:9 John stated three parallel realities: tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance. They exist side by side. They are reality today of Jesus. Jesus endured the tribulation by his death. He opened the final kingdom by his resurrection. When he rose and ascended to heaven, he officially opened the tribulation and kingdom. We have both today in Jesus. Our job is to persevere.
Why persevere? What’s the purpose? Why would Jesus leave us here with two simultaneous realities in which to endure? Does he have a plan? To put this more concretely, when you get ill, and you are blowing your nose, getting chemotherapy, taking pills, your kids disbelieve the faith, your marriage is falling apart: Does Jesus have a plan? Does Jesus have a purpose?
Rev 6:1-8 describes four horsemen. These are various kinds of kingdom and tribulation. The First horseman is Jesus, on his white horse, ridding out and conquering (Cf description in 19:10). The others are war, calamity, and physical death. Along with external persecution- sin tempts, calamity and circumstances hurt, persecution destroys, false teaching ravages the church and individuals.
Notice something else. In Rev 6:1 Jesus is opening the scroll! It is not the devil, not the antichrist, not the world, the flesh. None of those have the authority to open the scroll. Jesus opened the scroll. He brings the calamity. And ours is not to ask “why?”- since we cannot know God’s mind. But there is an answer to the question, “What must I do?”
What’s Jesus’ purpose for all this tribulation? Here is the answer: Jesus brings spiritual growth by tribulation. All of your trial is for the purpose of sanctification. Our task is perseverance and growth in the process. That’s the point of my text: Grow in suffering.
2) Perseverance Until Final Vindication
6:9-17 tells us suffering does not go away until Judgment day. When the saints cry out “how long” in 6:10 They are not just being hypothetical. They are in a struggle for their faith. We cry out, “How long until this will end?” when we see no end in sight, because suffering does not end for the church until Jesus returns.
This week I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Life is better with Jesus.” What a lie! Life does not get better with Jesus. He tells us that life will bring tribulation (John 16:33, Rev 1:9). Don’t come to Jesus to make your life better. Sure, your life may become more moral, stable, just, merciful, and profound. But the Christian life is a life of struggle. We struggle against sin, the devil, and our circumstances!
In Rev 6:12-17 finally it ends on the day of judgment. On that day, God puts down all of his and our enemies. Until then, tribulation continues.
Some object to God’s existence because of the so called problem of evil. Their faith fails because God did not help in some situation. God ordained terrible calamity or crimes to fall on them. Then they read Romans 8:28 where it says, “God makes all things work out for the good of those who love him.” They fell let down, and thus refuse to believe. Here is the mistake- Rom 8:28 does not mean only good things will happen to you. It means that all things that do happen (good and evil) are for your good because your ultimate good is spiritual growth, sanctification! How do I know that? Because of the rest of the verse that no one quotes, “God works out all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose, for those he predestined, he called, and those he called he justified, and those he justified he glorified!” The point is, we persevere until the end through all trial because God brings them to you in order to bring about the most valuable thing in your life- growth in Jesus!
That’s the purpose to the whole existence of evil in the Christian life.
Purifying gold requires extreme heat. The heat removes impurities which float to the top of the gold since Gold is more dense. So, trial forces impurities out because you have to face the temptations they bring. The heat of tribulation forces the sins to the top where they may be removed by crapping them off.
Don’t waste your trial. Every bit of trial you have is for the same purpose, growth. It is an opportunity. When you get sick and you’re blowing your nose, Jesus is sanctifying you! When you get hurt by someone you love, Jesus is sanctifying you! When death hits your home, Jesus is sanctifying you! When you lose your job, Jesus is sanctifying you! That’s the purpose of trial.
3) Perseverance B/c of the Protective Seal 7:1-12
In Rev 7:1 the four angels stop the “Four winds” i.e. the world. (Zech 6:1-8). They’re parallel to the horsemen). While these are being restrained a fifth angel emerges and has the “Seal of the living God.” Basically a seal is a ring which marked out like your signature on wax to seal a letter. It would take that hot wax and seal two things together with a stamp of approval. Then there is the list of the 12thousand of each tribe of Israel and the “myriads” from every tongue and tribe and nation. This symbolizes the Israel of God from every age and tongue tribe and nation. So, the two things being sealed together are believers and the “living God!” The living God is Jesus, the living one, who rose from the dead. In verse 10 the song sang to the Lamb is “Salvation to …” which means God is the one who bring about salvation.
We endure tribulation, and it is good for us because Jesus is alive, we are in him, and the he conforms us to his image. Here is the motivation for growing in trial- because you are sealed to Jesus!
This is about how God chose you, sealed you to Jesus. That can never be taken away. Ephesians 4:30 says we have been “Sealed” to Jesus by the Holy Spirit “For the day of redemption.” That means he united us to Jesus. That sealing never goes away. It is “unto the day of redemption.” In other words it is effective until the final day and beyond.
That seal is should give you courage. Though man can kill the body, since you feared and trust in him who can kill the soul, there is not one thing they can do to ultimately cause you harm. Don’t waste your trial! You were sealed to persevere trial, not sealed from trial! He sealed the saints in order to protect you from the trial.
That is part of the irony of the Christian life. We have victory through suffering.
4) Perseverance is Ironic Victory 7:13-17
Here are some Christian ironies. Fearless Faith is because you are sealed to the Living God. You’re not afraid of death because Jesus died. In verse 14 it says you’re washed by blood and alive by death of the lamb! Who has ever gotten clean from blood? Ladies, have you ever heard an old wives tale that lambs’ blood will get your “whites white and leave your brights bright?” No! Because blood stains. But here the blood makes clothes white. That’s the irony!
Here is another Irony: life is not better with Jesus- Life is ironic with Jesus. Forget “Life is better” since death is better with Jesus! The best thing that ever happens to the Christian is death! We then pass into glory. When we die we pass into the new creation.
Here is another, we deny sin throughout this life and continue to trust in Jesus and thus we conquer because our enemy is sin and unbelief!
Christian growth in trial fits with these other ironies.
Here is the Christian approach to all tribulation. We also have the victory in Jesus, but also victory like Jesus. We should expect that, if we are sealed to him and will rise like him that we will also suffer like him. So, our victory is the biggest irony of all. We conquer by suffering. Jesus calls you the way of the cross. But remember that he does so because he went the way of the cross for you, passed into glory, and you are sealed to him unto the day of redemption.