The Tribulation, Kingdom, and Perseverance in Revelation

Last week, we saw that Christ’s dominion underlies the whole book of Revelation. In this waltz, Christ the Lord is dancing with His church. The whole book shows us how God is dancing with His church through redemptive history and into the coming age. What is Christ’s basic relationship with His church?

Revelation 1:9-20

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

John’s third introduction (v. 9-11)

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

John introduces his revelation a third time. He introduces himself as a character in the unfolding drama and a partaker in the (1) tribulation, (2) kingdom, and (3) perseverence. Whatever the tribulation is, it is current with John as is Christ’s kingdom and perseverance. These are important details as we see John refer to the tribulation and reign of Christ throughout the Revelation. If the tribulation and visible kingdom of Christ are present in John’s time, they cannot be some far off future event. Further, it is confirmed that Christ’s kingdom is present during John’s time in the midst of tribulation and that Christ’s bondservants are persevering in Christ through their current tribulation.

John has been exiled to Patmos because of his dedication to Scripture and the testimony of Jesus, which supports the late date of composition (AD 98) instead of the early date (AD 68) because the imperial cult and formal laws against Christians were not established by the end of Nero’s reign but were established under Domitian. Whatever we have endured for the sake of the Gospel, we are in good company. There is, here, an entire book in the New Testament purposefully written to encourage us through the tribulations of this world.

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

When John claims to have been in the Spirit, he indicates that he is about to describe a vision. It is unclear if John’s visions are dreams, out of body experiences, or something like an imaginative daydream. John is intentional (v. 1-3); The book of Revelation is a book of symbols that John records after being caught up in the Spirit.

On the Lord’s day, Sunday, while in the Spirit, John hears Jesus’s voice like a trumpet instructing him to write to the seven churches—the whole church and seven particular local churches. John clues us in to the trumpet imagery he will use throughout the Revelation. Trumpets will not represent years of some formal seven-year tribulation. They indicate Christ’s declaration to and through His church. When trumpets blast, they signify Christ’s revelatory word.

Jesus (v. 12-18)

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

John turns to see who is speaking with this trumpeting voice. He sees a symbolic mural depicting one like a son of man, Jesus’s favorite phrase when He described Himself (Cf. Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5) and Daniel’s description of the coming Messiah (Daniel 7:13-14). Let’s consider the symbolic mural together as we waltz.

Symbols in v. 12-16

SymbolInterpretation
7 golden lampstands7 Churches (local and whole); v. 20
Man in robe with golden sashJesus as the only able deliverer (Daniel 10:5)
Head and hair like white wool or snowGod, the Father (Daniel 7:9)
Fire eyes and bronze feetGod, the Son (Daniel 10:6)
Voice like rushing waterVoice of the Almighty (Ezekiel 1:24)
Seven startsThe angels, messengers, of the 7 churches (local and whole); v. 20
Mouth swordMessiah’s word (Isaiah 11:4; 49:2)
Sun faceMessiah as the only capable warrior (Daniel 10 with Judges 5:31)

John’s intention is not to present us with a puzzle but a picture. Not every symbol allegorizes a distinct trait. Neither is every symbol an exact metaphor. John borrows from Old Testament imagery to identify Jesus. We shouldn’t go crazy trying to figure out what bronze feet and fire eyes secretly mean. There is no secret meaning. Revelation is a picture, not a puzzle; it is an apocalypse, not an allegory. The picture we see is Jesus, the Messiah who is one with the Father, standing in the midst of His whole church and speaking His word to and through His church with the power and authority of the Father.

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

After seeing Jesus, John falls prostrate as an unworthy subject. Jesus comforts John, telling him not to be afraid. John, and every bondservant of Christ with him, has no reason to fear because King Jesus is the one with the keys of death and Hades. He is the one who justifies or condemns people. He does so justly. If we are in Him, we have no reason to fear or fret. His mercies are great and He has overcome death forevermore on behalf of His people. Jesus is currently the first and last. He currently lives and holds the keys to death and Hades. He currently reigns, having all dominion.

John’s commission (v. 19-20)

“Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Because Jesus has all authority, has overcome death on behalf of His people, and holds the keys to death and hades, John is to write the things he has seen, which are, and which will take place after these things. If Christ is truly the one with authority, specifically over life and death, then His message is the one to be presented by His bondservants to His church and the world. No other message is sufficient.

The things John has seen deal specifically with the symbolism in this passage. John will address these things in chapters 2-3 in his letters to the seven particular churches. “The things that are” refers to the current condition of the world. John is cluing us in. A large portion of his revelation will deal with the world’s current condition in his own time. John will address these conditions and Christ’s current ongoing work in chapters 4-20. “The things that will take place after these [current] things” refers to the establishment of a new, just world. John will symbolically describe these things in chapters 21 and 22. Jesus is currently speaking His word to and through His church on the earth.

There is something, here, to be said about Christ’s preeminence in His church. We notice our own human structures. We notice our pastors. We notice our deacons. We notice ourselves. Do we recognize that Christ is the one in the midst of His church? He is the one speaking to His church. He is the one speaking through His church. Christ is preeminent. May our attention be on Him and Him alone—neither glorifying ourselves nor one another but Christ who is exalted. He is leading this waltz, not us.

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