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THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

THE FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS

In Revelation 1:9 John introduces himself as ‘your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus’. The word translated ‘companion’ is sugkoinonos – which means ‘sharer together’ or ‘co-participant’. He is referring to three things that those who believe in Jesus Christ, those who are ‘in Jesus’, share in common.

We tend to think of Christian ‘fellowship’ as a nice little gathering together of Christians during which praise, prayer, sharing and maybe a meal are enjoyed. But what John has in mind here is the total reality shared by those who are in Christ: a life that involves a common suffering, a common kingdom, and a common ‘patient endurance’.

The common suffering
Jesus Christ made it clear that those who acknowledge him experience suffering in this world.

‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you … They will treat you like this because of my name …’ [John 15:18-21]

‘In this world you will have trouble …’ [John 16:33]

Allegiance to the name of Jesus Christ attracts the opposition of the enemy. The Church, the redeemed, the saints – this fellowship of believers – is the custodian of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus. The fellowship of believers holds, and is a living authentication of, the truth about God. It is the possession and demonstration of this truth, this word, this testimony that makes the unbelieving world hate the Church. It is the possession and demonstration of this truth that motivates all attempts to destroy or disempower the Church and all attempts to dilute or corrupt the truth the Church proclaims.

The common kingdom
As we have already seen in 1:6, all who believe in Jesus Christ are already ‘a kingdom’. We have already been delivered from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of Jesus [Colossians 1:13]. We already reign in life [Romans 5:17]. The ‘kingdom’ is already within us [Luke 17:21].

The patient endurance
But these two aspects of the fellowship of believers seem incongruous. ‘Suffering’ and ‘kingdom’ seem to contradict each other.

Here John introduces us to the underlying tension that runs right through Revelation, and, indeed, through the whole New Testament: the tension between the already and the not yet.  Here John defines the reality in which the church of all ages lives: suffering and kingdom. Both are present realities for all believers between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. [On a broader perspective, this tension has existed since Genesis 3 for all who have called upon the name of the Lord, as Hebrews 11 testifies.]

Already, all believers participate in the ‘kingdom’, but we do not yet experience freedom from temptation, sin and suffering. Because of this tension, because we are already in the kingdom but not yet experiencing the ultimate reality of the kingdom where there is no suffering of any kind, ‘patient endurance’ is also, along with the suffering and the kingdom, an essential part of the fellowship of believers [see Revelation 2:2,3; 13:10; 14:12].

These three things – suffering, kingdom and patient endurance – ‘are ours in Jesus’. Because we belong to the King, we suffer; but because he is indeed the King, we persevere.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015