Suffering Servants, Meet Your Once- Suffering Savior
Are you a servant of Jesus? If not, stop reading now. Are you suffering as a servant for the Lord? Then the message of Revelation is definitely for you. Keep reading.
God gave this drama to Jesus Christ, who gave it to His angel, who showed it to me, John, so I could describe it for the servants of Jesus, servants who are suffering. Long-suffering brings doubt; persecution gives multiplied opportunities to turn away from Jesus, and the solution to doubt and the painful temptation is this drama. You will see herein that martyrdom ends in glory, justice will have its day, and you can trust Jesus through death into resurrection.
Have you found your life to be in Christ? Then you know that focusing on Christ is the first step to healing. All suffering becomes bearable when seen alongside the love, power, and glory of Jesus Christ. So, prepare to see Jesus in a new light; the firstborn from the dead (yes, he was martyred), who freed us by His blood (yes, there can be a purpose in unjust punishment).
I, John, understand your suffering and longsuffering. Remember, it was my service for the Savior that landed me here on Patmos, isolated, lonely, feeling abandoned. What does a servant need most? To serve, remaining useful and valuable to his lord. And what an assignment God gave me! I saw Jesus in his glory. To see Him made me as nothing, lifeless, until … until I was reminded that this overwhelming Living Lord was at one time dead. Our Glory, after loving us to the death, is now alive forever and ever!
Suffering servants! Atten…hut! Quickly and dutifully arrange your ripped and bloody clothing, ready to receive new orders. And look around—hear the orders for yourselves and others. Like Elijah of old, take solace in knowing you are not alone.
There is cause for encouragement. Some of you are working hard, op- posing wicked men, persevering in hardship, enduring slander, remaining true, keeping God’s word, and enduring patiently. Yet, Jesus also has words of criticism. Some of you are carrying on without your first love. Some have tolerated false teachers, have lost your real life, or are wretched and pitiful. What are you to do? Repent. Over- come. Hold on. Be earnest. Then, oh the glory! Remain faithful and obedient to the very end, to death if need be, and you will eat from the tree of life, receiving a crown of life, authority over the nations, and a position sharing Jesus’ throne. The promises are for you.
The letters from Jesus to his churches are complete.
Sweep of History
But there’s more? The messages to each of you seemed complete. Rebuke, correction, instruction, and promise—what more is needed? God wants you to be overcome by the majestic significance of your suffering and the eternal glory your obedience will bring. Consider this—your sacrifice and your faithfulness will be passed down to others, whose sufferings will be even more painful and more glorious, until the unfathomable victory at the end. So, don’t give up.
I was taken to heaven, surrounded by the glories of God, His attendants praising, His audience worshipping; with colors and lightning, music and thunder filling the senses.
Then, wonder! All attention focused on a magnificent seven-sealed scroll, held by God himself. Mystery and sorrow ended when I was told that the triumphant Lion of Judah was worthy to open the scroll. Surprisingly, instead of a Lion, there appeared a Lamb, looking like its throat had been slit. Why was He worthy to do what no one else in the universe could do? He was worthy for the very fact that He had been slain. Remember, suffering ones, that you follow a Savior who has received all honor and glory and is fit to be judge of all man- kind—because He suffered and died. The greatest Victor of all is proud to appear as a slain Lamb.
He did open the seals and what tragedy he initiated! Conquest, violence, out-of-control inflation, and death marched out over the earth until one out of four people were killed. It is just as Jesus said. Wars will escalate, famine will multiply, and persecution and martyrdom will get worse, all before the end.
Then, how strange, the growing number of martyrs, whose spirits were finding refuge under God’s throne asked the question you ask every time someone else in your church is killed for his faith, “When? How long until judgment comes? Isn’t God going to do something about this? When will there be justice?”
The answer? “Not yet … but soon!”
And soon it was! As if in reply, the next seal-opening shook the heavens and the earth supernaturally, bringing such devastation that all people left on earth were terrified. More importantly, they all knew the judgment of God had begun. Maybe this is when all living believers were taken to heaven in what is called the Rapture. Maybe the chaos led to totally different political structures. Maybe this is when the Antichrist started his beastly treaty with Israel—but I’m getting ahead. To the world, it was obvious God showed up and was angry.
Final Heroes and Judgment
Even in judgment, there is grace, and in tribulation there are heroes. Next, I was introduced to the heroes, because they matter the most. The villains can wait. I learned that the point of tribulation is not judgment alone, but redemption amid judgment. What was the great flood without Noah, or Sodom’s brimstone without Lot? I saw the glory of God in the 144,000 sealed and the great multitude slain. The former were sealed by God to give them victory, avoiding death. The latter was introduced with a snapshot from the final act, in heaven, standing victorious because they shared “in the blood of the Lamb.” They will die, holding their faith dear, becoming like Jesus in His resurrection. Oh, to be like them! And some of you will.
After hero introductions, judgment began in earnest, prompted by the imprecatory prayers of God’s people, saved for that day. Whereas the seal judgments were bad, they were tragedies we always face, just worse. The next judgments, introduced by trumpet blasts, were different—much worse. The first four were ecological disasters, destroying one-third of life on planet Earth. The fifth trumpet judgment was a horrible locust/demon mix that had one purpose—to torment people. It lasted five months. The sixth trumpet brought pure evil—200 million mounted military troops producing plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur, which killed one-third of mankind. This wasn’t just the “tough times” we face now; this was the unmitigated judgment of God!
There was a purpose to these trumpet plagues: they were calls to repentance, appeals to turn to God away from demons and idols. As you know, there must be communication to achieve repentance. When Moses brought God’s plagues on Egypt, Moses gave a warning and a call to repent before each plague. In the Tribulation mankind “still did not repent.” Someone had been pleading with them. They said “No.”
I was relieved next to see beauty, not tragedy. A mighty angel descended to earth. He was strong, radiant, and loud. He announced, “No more delay.” He said that in the next days the oft-proclaimed prophecy would be fulfilled. He announced it as a positive thing, but I knew. What could be better-marked, in both the teachings of Daniel and Jesus, than “the abomination that causes desolation,” the time so evil that the only proper response is for believers to flee to the mountains? Apparently, I was about to witness the mid-point of Daniel’s seven-year covenant.
Bear with me—what I next saw became very dark. The number of new players was overwhelming, entering one at a time yet interacting, and building in complexity and evil. For each one, some background was given to bring clarity to my spinning mind.
I was glad to see the temple rebuilt, but Gentile presence was still prevalent.
“Two witnesses” were killed, but after a few days, they rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. They had been operating for 3½ years, punctuating their witness with supernatural plagues—apparently the plagues seen in the first four trumpet judgments. Indeed, these two had been the nemesis of those who opposed God for those three-plus years, calling for repentance. When you are opposed, remember their example, and their victory.
Satan himself sought to destroy the true Israel, the followers of Jesus. Nothing new it was, remembering his attempts through Herod to destroy infant Jesus, and God’s protection. The intensity was greater, however, because Satan had led a civil war in heaven, resulting in him being kicked down to earth with all his angels. Knowing his days were limited, Satan devoted his full efforts the next 3½ years to kill the saints.
There was a Beast who blasphemed God, setting himself up as God. This Beast had been empowered by Satan, receiving authority, doing great miracles. A second Beast was a master deceiver, convincing everyone to worship the first Beast, to the point of receiving a mark as a sign of worship, without which no one could buy or sell. Those 3½ years were hell on earth for all who were promised heaven.
Then, finally! After 3½ years of Jewish believers being excluded from society, unable to buy food, on guard against attack, Jesus showed up! The Lamb came to Jerusalem, and the 144,000 stood bravely with him. I easily filled in details from Jesus’ teachings—Jesus descending from the sky in the same manner that he left Jerusalem those many years ago, sending his angels to gather the faithful to him. But note: their faithfulness was marked by remaining sexually pure, and only speaking the truth. Never compromise on those!
The Lamb, Jesus, acted like a lion: winning total victory in only a few days, maybe weeks. He attacked the persecutors with terrible plagues. Their bodies were covered with painful sores. The sea, the rivers, and even the springs of water turned to blood. People were scorched by extreme heat from the sun. Then everything became dark.
In desperation, the nations of the world gave their authority to the Beast, who ordered all their military forces to attack the Lord, gathering at the valley before Megiddo. Did they really think they could defeat Him? A worldwide earthquake plus 100-pound hailstones stopped them in their tracks, leaving them only able to mutter curses against God. Then the Beast’s devious purpose became obvious. He used the authority ceded by the other kings to attack and destroy the one power on earth greater than himself, Babylon! At the pause in battle, the kings watched the unimaginable. In the space of one hour, Babylon was destroyed. The world’s control center for commerce, finance, and trade was reduced to rising smoke. God used the Beast himself to destroy the entire world economic system.
Finally, Jesus went back to heaven to bring down His bride, the church, to witness justice in action. With the world watching breathlessly, He captured the two beasts, consigning them to hell, and He summarily killed the arrayed armies of the world, already overwhelmed by hopelessness.
Little did I see of the glorious coming kingdom. Maybe there was no need to repeat the grand visions of the prophets. Maybe God knew something different would help you as you face persecution and loss for His sake. I saw Satan bound and thrown into the Abyss. I was told his incarceration would be for 1,000 years. I saw all the souls of the martyrs from the tribulation; they came back to life and were rewarded for their faithfulness with positions of power and responsibility, which I was told would be for 1,000 years, enough time to rebuild a destroyed earth into a paradise.
How fickle people can be! Satan was released, after 1,000 years, and deceived the nations to rebel against God’s people, again, only to be devoured by fire from heaven. Then Satan, finally, was thrown into the lake of fire, beginning what would be eternal torment. But not only him. All who had died were resurrected, receiving God’s judgment, then were consigned to the lake of fire. Only those whose names were found in the book of life avoided second death.
New Heaven and New Earth
With unspeakable joy, I share with you the end of Jesus’ revelation to me for you. Behold, everything was made new; heaven, earth, and a new Jerusalem coming straight out of heaven, featuring one-on-one connection with God himself.
Don’t give up, my friends and fellow servants, because God said, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” And those torturing you now? They will be far away in the lake of burning sulfur, never able to torment you again. And those who have only half-heartedly named the name of Jesus, dragging you down with discouragement? “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
And what of your deep longings to serve Jesus more completely, more effectively, with total freedom? “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve him. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Don’t miss that—“the throne of the Lamb!” Eternity will be a place where wounded people serve God in glory—and the one who was wounded the most, our Lord Jesus Christ, the slain Lamb, will receive the most glory and will serve the most joyfully; offering water, giving light, and wiping tears.
So, stay the course. The time is near. Let your vile and evil tormentors do their worst; you keep doing what is right and holy. Be confident and jubilant! Jesus is coming; rescuing and rewarding. And soon! – by Dan Thornton
Dan Thornton is executive pastor at Maranatha Brethren Church, Hagerstown, Md.
This story first appeared in the Winter-Spring 2021 issue of GraceConnect magazine. Click here for your complimentary subscription to this publication.