Peter M. Dietsch is pastor of Providence PCA in Midland, Texas. This article first appeared on his church website and is used with permission.
Dear Church Family,
In the sermon this past Sunday from the first part of John 7, we saw how Jesus continued to come into conflict with those who are of the world, the merely religious, and the religious leaders of His day. Even as Jesus’ teaching was not fully understood by His hearers, the more He taught the more conflict He encountered. At first the people were confused (perhaps Jesus is a good man, perhaps he is a deceiver, John 7:12); then, they began to accuse Him of being demon-possessed (John 7:20).
The world hated Jesus because He testified that their deeds are evil (John 7:7); and, the merely religious superficially judged Him to be a law-breaker because of the way He loved people – particularly how He made an entire man well on the Sabbath (John 7:23-24). Today, we tend to be surprised if the world hates us. We think that if only the world recognized how nice we are, Christians would be accepted. Being nice is not a bad thing, but niceness is not enough to overcome the hatred of the world.
After all, Jesus warned His disciples that because He chose them out of the world and they are not of the world, the world will hate them. If the world persecuted Jesus, it will persecute His followers (John 15:18-20). The Apostle Peter even declares that Jesus suffered not only to bear our sins so that we might be healed (1 Peter 2:24), but Jesus suffered also to leave us an example – to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). Christ patiently endured unjust suffering and persecution to redeem us from our sins; the redeemed then patiently endure unjust suffering and persecution as we follow in the way of Christ.
This aspect of the Christian life – conflict with the world and being hated by those who are not united to Christ – is not something that we like to reflect upon, but it is a major theme of the New Testament. And, as John Calvin writes, God uses the tribulations of this world to wean us from excessive love of this present life: “Whatever kind of tribulation presses upon us, we must ever look to this end: to accustom ourselves to contempt for the present life and to be aroused thereby to meditate upon the future life” (Calvin’s Institutes, III.9.1).
As I’ve been thinking on these things lately, I was reminded of this theme in another book of the New Testament which was also written by the Apostle John, the book of Revelation. Particularly, I’ve been thinking about the four themes of the book of Revelation as enumerated by William Hendriksen in his excellent commentary, More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. These four themes are helpful reminders for Christians who may be discouraged by the ongoing conflict with the world in which they find themselves:
1. Christ in the midst of His Church.
The echo of Jesus’ Great Commission promise – lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20) – runs throughout the book, especially in the first three chapters. Revelation teaches us that Christ does not abandon His Church.
2. The Conflict between the Church and the World.
Darkness hates the light, so the world persecutes the Church. Again, the echo of Jesus’ teaching – I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you (John 15:19) – runs throughout the book. Revelation teaches us that persecution is to be expected for those who follow Christ.
3. The Judgments upon the Persecutors.
The judgments upon those who persecute the Church which are spoken of throughout the book serve to remind us that God will not allow the wicked to go unpunished. Also, because all of the judgments leading up to the final judgment are partial, they are also intended to warn and call men to repentance.
4. Victory through Christ.
The summary verse of the entire book of Revelation helps us to maintain perspective as we seek to read and understand the book: “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).
On the first page of Hendriksen’s commentary, he gives the main purpose of the book of Revelation – a purpose which encompasses these four themes. Hendriksen summarizes this purpose so well that it is worth quoting in its entirety:
In the main, the purpose of the book of Revelation is to comfort the militant Church in its struggle against the forces of evil. It is full of help and comfort for persecuted and suffering Christians. To them is given the assurance that God sees their tears (7:17; 21:4); their prayers are influential in the world affairs (8:3, 4) and their death is precious in His sight. Their final victory is assured (15:2); their blood will be avenged (19:2); their Christ lives and reigns for ever and for ever. He governs the world in the interest of His Church (5:7, 8). He is coming again to take His people to Himself in ‘the marriage supper of the Lamb’ and to live with them for ever in a rejuvenated universe (21:22).
As we think of the glorious hope of the second coming, our hearts are filled with joy; our souls are consumed with a breathless impatience; our eyes attempt to pierce the dark clouds which veil the future, hoping that the glorious descent of the Son of man may burst upon the view. It is a longing which gushes into words: ‘And the spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that hears, let him say, Come’ (22:17).
But as we consider these truths we realize that already he is with us – with us in the Spirit, walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (1:12-20). ‘And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’ We are, indeed, more than conquerors through Him that loved us!” (William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, pp 7-8)
Though presently we are the church militant, one day we shall be the church triumphant. As we sing in that great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,”
‘Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore;
Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
And the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch