It is fitting to end our Focus on the Faithful series with John, the beloved disciple and author of the last book of the Bible. In the stories of the Gospels and Acts, we usually find John in Peter’s shadow. But as a writer, only Paul was more prolific. And as for distinctiveness (his Gospel, epistles, and apocalypse), John had no peer.
Love and believe
We learn a lot about a life of faithfulness from the apostle John. Called by Jesus from his fishing boat, John had a relationship with the Master that was the most intimate of all the disciples. We see it when he leans on Jesus’ breast the evening of the Lord’s Supper. We see it the next morning when he alone of the twelve disciples is at the cross. In these personal moments, the Lord speaks a private word to John, and he shares it with us.
That’s the way of things with John. When we read his Gospel and epistles, so unique among the rest, we sense that we are as close as he was, and hearing from Jesus’ own lips. What do we hear from John? That we must love and believe. In fact, no one writes of love or tells us to believe more than John does. No one comes close. Of all he had to say, these two pivotal Christian words stand out as most meaningful for a faithful life.
But the last, and most unusual, book of the Bible is our focus here, and a third word is found therein. As if magnified from the private occasions John shared with Jesus, Revelation is a whole book whispered from Jesus to John and given to us:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John (Revelation 1:1, KJV throughout).
To His beloved disciple and faithful servant, John, Jesus reveals Himself and the future that will climax in His full revelation, where “every eye shall see him” (v. 7). But many trials and troubles lay between the servants of God and that good future. Thankfully, John tells what’s needed to reach that destination as one who possesses it already:
I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ (v. 9, emphasis added throughout).
Even Paul said that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Like his fellow Christians, John is no stranger to tribulation; he writes from exile on the Isle of Patmos, after all. But John also possesses a virtue essential to faithfulness in turbulent times: the “patience of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9).
In keeping with the significance of the number seven in Revelation, this is the first of seven times the Greek word
hupomone is seen in the book. It’s rendered “patient endurance” or “perseverance” in other translations. It speaks of a steadfast, unswerving constancy. The remaining six occurrences of the word show how this patient disposition is characteristic not only of John but of the whole apocalyptic church.
To the church of Ephesus:
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil . . . And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted (2:2, 3).
To the church of Thyatira:
I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first (v. 19).
To the church of Philadelphia:
Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (3:10).
To all the churches:
He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (13:10).
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus (14:12).
Revelation shows how this persevering patience safeguards every area of faith, including works of love, service, and obedience to God’s commandments and, in spite of circumstances, enduring all temptation and tribulation.
From John it is easy to see why a patience like this is necessary for a faithful life. But this is not a patience we just muster by our own determination. John calls it the “patience of Jesus.” Jesus calls it “My patience.” Like loving and believing, this is a gift of God by the Spirit (the fourth “fruit . . . longsuffering,” Galatians 5:22). By it, we endure as Christ did:
Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1, 2).
Between here and the kingdom is tribulation. Between now and resurrection is a cross. Patience is the long bridge, a sister of hope. We endure as John did, on our own Patmoses, because in His patience we are closest to Jesus. We lean in close and listen.
Have you ever prayed for patience? It’s maybe the most frequent personal prayer I hear. Patience is essential: “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (10:36). I am praying for it because we are going to need patience to face the future and be found faithful.