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Kingdom Perseverance

Jim Thompson - 5/26/2024

Scripture: Revelation 4-5


When we turn to the great and final book of Revelation, it’s fragile to understand because it’s a unique text, but it’s also because of how many extreme interpretations exist. As Chesterton said, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” So, where do we begin?

Well, since Revelation is filled with dozens of images and pictures (from Old Testament events like the exodus and exile), perhaps an additional word picture would help us as we lean into understanding and guard against speculation. Imagine you’re staring at a thick piece of glass. It’s bright and brilliant, and depending on how you tilt your head, different shades of green shine through the piece of glass. Also, it’s odd-shaped and not naturally symmetrical in any way, and beside it is another odd-shaped piece of glass that’s uniquely red and severe. And you can’t stop looking. You then realize other funny-shaped, different-sized, different-colored pieces of glass, and you can tell that they make a picture. You’re not quite sure what, but you can’t look away; it’s all so unique and intense. So, you take a few steps back and realize that you’ve been looking at a majestic and ornate stained-glass window. And if you step far enough back, you see that the whole window is the picture of a Bleeding Sacrificial Lamb who has defeated an array of violent beasts and, in doing so, is enthroned as King and protects his family. This is the book of Revelation.

Revelation is a mosaic that reminds us: Jesus the Lamb wins. And he wins because of his Sacrificial Love. And in his victory, he secures and brings final salvation to his people and judgment to his enemies. Yes, throughout the book, his people are tempted to follow the way of the beast(s), but he pleads with them and bleeds for them to stay true. And all of these things are seen in Revelation 1:

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

So, what should we do about this? How do we respond to this stained-glass Mosaic? Well, John hints at that in Revelation 1:9. He writes, “I, John, am your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance that are in Jesus.” Much could be said here, but it seems as though our dominant reaction to what Revelation is teaching is “perseverance” (NASB) or “patient endurance” (ESV). But John is not telling his friends anything new. We also feel this need to persevere well. Our hearts and our world are filled with anger, hate, violence, abuse, deception, and greed. 

How do we follow King Jesus to, in, and through all of that? What shape should endurance take in these things? When family problems hit, when money problems hit, when work problems hit, when health problems hit—we know the Christian response is to persevere, but how do we do that? As God’s people, how do we persevere well?

While John specifically encourages each of the seven churches to perseverance in chapters 2-3, in Revelation 4-5, we have the broadest answer to our question about how we should persevere. In Revelation 4, John has a vision of God seated on his throne, surrounded by heavenly beings praising him and crying out, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” This chapter has the highest concentration of the use of the word “throne” in the entire Bible (62x in NT, 47x in Revelation). Meaning, the main thing John sees is God as the ultimate sovereign, reigning and ruling as supreme overall. 

But then, in Revelation 5, John begins to cry. Actually, he “began to weep loudly” (5:4). Why, though? Why is he bawling? Because no one was found worthy to open the scroll that was held by the one on the throne. What does this mean? Well, in John’s vision, this scroll was sealed up with seven seals, and it serves as sort of a last will and testament for all of human history. When the seals are broken in chapter six, we see how crazy its contents are. This implies that John’s cries are laments: “God, how will you bring any kind of meaning and purpose to how broken the world is?! Everything is stained with sin! Perseverance is probably not even worth it! How can anybody bring order to the chaos of it all?” That’s what John is feeling.

But then, one of the twenty-four elders taps him on the shoulder and says, “Hey John, dry your tears! The Lion from Judah’s Tribe, the King from David’s Line, he has conquered! He is Worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. He can make sense of it all. This Lion King can reverse the curse of the horrors of this world.” But when John turns to look at this Conquering Lion, he instead sees a Slain Lamb, who is also taking the throne. And the meaning here is straightforward:

The way that God has chosen to exercise his sovereign kingship in the world (that’s the throne)... The way that he has and will continue to bring healing to the sin-sickness of the world (that’s the scroll)... The way that he will do it is through the cross of Jesus, the slain Lamb. That’s Revelation 4-5. We will never graduate from the gospel of Christ-crucified. It fills the halls of heaven right now and will fill our songs for all eternity. Why? Because at the cross, Jesus understands every ounce of pain and suffering that you and I will ever go through. There, he feels the weight of every war and abuse and hatred and act of violence ever carried out. At the cross, he becomes victorious over sin, death, and hell by taking them into himself. And this is why, when John turns to see the Lion King, he sees a Slain Lamb. Because only Divine and Sacrificial Love can make sense of how ugly the world is.

John’s vision of Revelation 4-5 finally answers our question. As God’s people, how do we persevere rightly? For all of Revelation, for all of life, and for all of eternity, here’s how:

We persevere well by seeing the crucified Christ above everything and at the center of everything.

John goes on to see more visions in Revelation, but above them all, this vision of the throne is constantly playing, where Jesus is the slain Lamb. And the content of this vision is that Jesus is the central focal point of all that John sees. Everything is defined in relation to him. Only he can make sense of life, and this is what makes him worthy. This is why John can dry his tears. And this is precisely how we hold fast and persevere – by trusting, worshiping, and emulating Jesus’ example of Self-giving Love. And this happens when we behold him above everything and at the center of everything.

So, we have to simply ask: Is Christ-crucified above everything else in your life? Is he unmatched on the top of your priority list? Or do you attempt to put other things in the number one slot with him? What if your best friend, your wife, or your closest co-worker was asked, “Is Jesus and his sacrificial love above everything else in his life?” How would that go?

These questions are poignant and important, but they’re also a little flawed. Here’s why: Because you can say, “Of course, he’s number one!” and then go on believing that means that he doesn’t have to be King over everything else on the list of your life as long as he’s number one. So, there’s another question that Revelation throws at us: Is Christ crucified at the center of everything in your life? Just like Jesus walked in the middle of the seven churches in chapters 2-3, and just like he is in the middle of John’s vision in chapters 4-5, we must ask: Is everything in my life defined by the centrality of the cross of Jesus? Is the gospel the thing in my life that everything else revolves around?

And this reality of King Jesus on his throne as the slain Lamb – above it all and central to it all – it extends all the way to the end of Revelation. This suggests that our sole task as we find ourselves – like John – in the middle of the tribulation and the kingdom is to persevere (1:9), fixated on Jesus alone. This is where we find life. If we gaze at this glorious mosaic with the eyes of faith and trust, then we will taste the life of heaven that has come to earth in Jesus.

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.