A Time of Testing

“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭NLT

Again the Philadelphians were commended for their obedience in obeying Jesus’ command to persevere. But what does perseverance look like? Jesus gave us a glimpse, as recorded in Matthew 10:22, “And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved“. The disciples were under no illusions as they mulled over this statement from the Master. Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, is not a popular life choice. It means living a life that does not conform with the lives of those unbelievers in the world around us. A Christian reaches out to them with love and acceptance, but receives hatred, animosity, and even violence in return. Why should that be? Because the kingdom of the world is devil-run, and the Kingdom of Heaven, the domain of Christians, is God-run. Two opposing forces. We know who wins in the end, but for the Philadelphians, living their daily lives, it must have been a constant temptation to give in to the worldly pressures and swap sides. But they persevered in the face of the persecution, being obedient to Jesus’ command. That’s what perseverance looks like.

There is no difference for today’s pilgrim. The same battle continues. The longest battle in history. The clash of the two kingdoms is no short military campaign. It will only cease when Jesus comes again, when all the nations will declare His Lordship. And we are given the same command as the Philadelphians – persevere to the end. Jesus’ half-brother James wrote right at the start of his epistle, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. I don’t know about “pure joy” but the message is clear – we will face many trials in our Christian lives and at times our faith will be sorely tested, but we have to persevere. There is no other way. We cannot flip-flop between the two kingdoms.

John goes on to write about a “great time of testing”. I can hear the protestations. Surely we are being tested enough, you say. The Philadelphians would have been alarmed when they heard these words read out to them, but also relieved when they were told that it would pass them by. There was no explanation for them about what the “great time of testing” would be, though they would have had access to Old Testament scriptures such as Daniel 12:1, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered”. Christians today also have the benefit of reading what else John wrote in his Revelation, and we will come to that in a few blogs time. Suffice to say, that there is coming a time of testing, called by many the Tribulation – perhaps that is what John was writing about in his message to the Philadelphians.

We Christian pilgrims are continually tested in this life, because the kingdom of darkness is always trying to win over the Kingdom of Light, and for most of the time, that battle is taking place within us. The Apostle Paul very clearly and eloquently set out the dilemma we all face in Romans 7:22-24, “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death”? But thankfully, verse 24 is followed by verse 25. “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord….” So, with Jesus’ help, we persevere in this life of strife, being obedient to Jesus’ commands. One day, there will be a “great time of testing that will come upon the whole world“. Something we may have mixed feelings about. But as I have said before, we may not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. 

Dear Lord. Thank You that You have our future all planned out. You know the beginning from the end. We worship You, deeply thankful for all You have done in our lives, and all that You will do as we remain faithful to Your commands. Amen.

Suffering

“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Smyrnaean church was really experiencing some hard times. Jesus could see what was coming in their lives and warned them, through John, that the persecution and tribulation would be intense. So intense in fact, that some of those in the Smyrnaean church would face death. Others would be imprisoned. And all because they believed the Truth, God Himself. Of course, all this suffering would strike fear into even the strongest, and most committed, men and women amongst them. So Jesus’ message starts once again with “Don’t be afraid“. Our wonderful Lord fully realised that the intersection between the natural and the spiritual will sometimes induce fear amongst human beings. I’m reminded of the first thing Jesus said to the disciples when He was walking on the sea of Galilee. In Mark 6:50 we read, “They were all terrified when they saw him. But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here! ”. I’m sure the Smyrnaeans were themselves just as terrified, if not more, because some of them would be facing death. But the Lord loved these people and had a message for them that would have strengthened them through their persecution. He told them that it would only be for ten days.

For some, the idea of being tested for our faith is rather daunting. Someone once asked the question, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you”? Beyond all reasonable doubt? But why would God allow us to be tested in the first place? Perhaps there are times when we go through the motions of being a Christian, but deep down we have lost our way. Our faith is perhaps weakening, or may even have reduced to a level of non-existence. In the past two years, Christians have been quite severely tested, at least here in the UK. Tested by the Covid lock downs that have shut our churches, and forcing us to depart our comfort zones and grapple with new technology, such as Zoom and YouTube. Removing from us the option of seeing our friends in person, and warming a pew on a Sunday morning. We may not have been through the physical pain and suffering the Smyrnaeans experienced, but the outcome may have been the same. When us Christian pilgrims are faced with the reality that there is a cost to our faith, some will decide that the price is not worth paying. And consequently they will disappear from the spiritual radar and fall away from the faith. In my locality, some Churches of Scotland are having to close because the congregations are no longer numerically viable. One of the reasons is that the numbers of attenders hasn’t recovered to the pre-Covid levels. Thankfully, other churches are thriving, the stronger for the testing experience.

For the faithful perseverers, there is a “crown of life”. It is there stored in a safe place. We each have one lined up for us. Our names are written on them. They are precious and far more valuable than any amount of gold and precious jewels would be. James 1:15 picks up the theme as well, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him“. 

So what does a “crown of life” look like? Here are a few thoughts. The crown imparts life, as we read in our verse today. Also it is a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), a crown of righteousness, (2 Timothy 4:8). It is imperishable and will never wear out (1 Corinthians 9:25). It is a crown of joy (Philippians 4:1). And it is the prize for staying true to our calling (Philippians 3:14). I can’t wait to get mine, and I know it will be a perfect fit. And there’s one just for you, my reader, today. If …

Dear Lord. We thank You for Your encouragement, always there for the asking when we go through a time of tribulation. I pray for the strength to stand firm in my faith day by day. Amen.