The Patience of The Saints

Fruit of the Spirit: Longsuffering (Part 8)

By Simon Padbury 27 December 2023 23 minutes read

God gave the book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ, through his Son sending and signifying it to the apostle John, to show the servants of God “things which must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1.1). These events began their unfolding there and then; and that unfolding has continued throughout these last days (Hebrews 1.1-2; 1 Peter 1.5; 1 John 2.18) as God’s providence has fulfilled God’s prophetic revelation. Jesus commanded John to “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (v.19): beginning with the initial vision which he had just seen (chapter 1), through Christ’s letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (“the things that are,” chapters 2-3), and then on to “the things that shall be hereafter” (the remainder of the Revelation).

All these things were revealed to Christians, the servants of God, in order to bless us all—in every generation throughout the New Testament era, while we read them and because we keep them in our hearts (1.3; 22.7). As we continue to improve our understanding of Revelation, our hearts will be encouraged and we will be edified; our faith will built up as we learn how Jesus Christ is Lord of all things. This blessing of upbuilding and encouragement is for all the Lord’s people. And in this blessing we are encouraged to have patience in God’s outworking plan for the Gospel Age, wherever and whenever we find ourselves to be it.

In the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, the apostle tells us about his own patience that had carried him through all his suffering during his exile and deprivation on the Isle of Patmos: “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience [hupomone] of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (1.9).

The apostle here takes us to the highest point in this whole subject of longsuffering [makrothumia], or patience [hupomone].1

In the past, many of the Lord’s people have been called to patient suffering, and even to suffer long (1 Corinthians 13.4), because of their love “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” at the hands of those who hate God, and hate the gospel of God’s Son, and hate those who believe in him. Many of the Lord’s people are still called to this patient suffering in the present day. And many will be called to suffer for Christ in the future—so Revelation reveals to us. For our encouragement and upbuilding in the Christian faith, we are given to know that all this patience through all this suffering is, as John put it, truly “the patience of Jesus Christ.”

In his old age, and on this remote prison island, John still possessed the same heart that all the apostles possessed many decades earlier, where it was recorded of them that they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his [Jesus’s] name” (Acts 5.41; see context vv.17-22). We notice in John’s carefully chosen, God-breathed words, that the Lord himself also suffers in the suffering of his people: for this is the “kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” himself, says John.

Christ identifies himself with, and presences himself with, his people. As our Lord challenged Saul of Tarsus, even while he was on his way breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, for being the the Lord’s disciples: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me…I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9.14-15; see also 22.4-7).

Another phrase in John arrests our attention. In his own sufferings he identifies himself too as a “companion in tribulation” with all Christian brothers and sisters who suffer for Christ. Thus, besides John’s own sufferings, the apostle confesses that not only does Christ take it personally but so did he, whenever other Christians, whom the “apostle of love” loved, suffer in this way. And according to another apostle, Paul, this is how we should also be ourselves: “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12.26a).

Jesus knows all his saints, and he is always with with his saints (John 10.14, 27-29; Matthew 28.20), including when they patiently endure whatever they go through for his sake. The Lord their Shepherd is with them, comforting them, even if and while they are forced by evil men to walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalms 23.4).

Turning to our Lord’s own directly dictated epistles to the seven churches of Asia Minor: we know that what Jesus said to these churches, we also all need to hear.

Speaking to the church at Ephesus, Jesus acknowledges their patience twice over, emphasising his special appreciation of his people for their patience: “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience [hupomone], and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience [hupomone], and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” (Revelation 2.2-3). We also see that Christ double-emphasised his appreciation of their labours for him (in fact Christ appreciated the works of six of the seven churches: all except the Laodiceans). The Ephesians had repeatedly shown their patience for Christ both in their evangelistic labours outside the church and in their withstanding false apostles and their errors within the church. Christ desires us likewise to patiently promote and defend his gospel; to stand for him before the watching world and to stand for him within the congregation.

To the church of Thyatira, Jesus had John write to them on his behalf: “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience [hupomone], and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (2.19). Again we see how Christ shows his appreciation of their patience, and their growth in all these things, by his double emphasis; for in summary the second time, Jesus affirmed that their later works, charity, service, faith, and patience were “more than the first”—more abundant than what they had shown at first, when they were new converts. They were growing as Christians.

The church of Philadelphia had stood strong for the truths of the gospel against their doctrinal opponents and persecutors. In his address to the Philadelphians, Jesus reveals that he himself stands with them in their stand for the gospel. Jesus Christ calls it the word of “my patience”: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience [hupomone], I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (3.10).

Christ-rejecting religious and political systems come and go but fallen human nature does not change, unless we are born again by God’s work of grace in our souls (John 1.13; 3.3-6; 1 Peter 1.2-5). Therefore, we understand, that the times of tribulation inflicted by evil men upon the seven churches in the First Century are not unique. Similar and worse times of tribulation have been inflicted upon the Lord’s people around the world in later centuries by Christ-rejecting, even anti-Christ religious and political systems—and this continues to happen today.

The Lord Jesus Christ kept his people in those days. He stood with them as they stood with him. He delivered them. And he avenged them. And the same Lord is our Lord today.

There remain two more mentions of the Spirit-cultivated fruit of Christian patience [hupomone] in the Book of Revelation. To understand their importance to us, we need to consider their contexts: Christians suffering patiently under the two great beasts.

According to the word of God, where a faithful historical record is maintained, our ancestors joined together to build “a city and a tower.” It was a metropolis with what was to be a great public building—their seat of world government and world religion. Babel was fallen mankind’s first collective effort against God after the Flood, rather than obeying his command to disperse and repopulate the whole earth. But God came down and split apart man’s common language, causing their evil project to be abandoned (Genesis 9.1; 10.10; 11.1-9).

Though separated into various people groups, fallen mankind has repeatedly risen up against God, following the Babel pattern, down the centuries and millennia. In the states, nations, unions, religions, movements, empires that mankind has built. Though sometimes much social good has been done by “civilisation” and “progress,” most of this has not been directed toward Jehovah and his Anointed One, but has been both anti-God and anti-Christ (Psalm 2.1-3). God describes man’s greatest social constructs as like beasts that rise up against himself. Out of the great sea, that is, out of the peoples around the world, some especially monstrous beasts have risen up and claimed “divine status” against God—and have fallen, one after another (see Daniel 2; 7).

The first great beast prophesied of in Revelation is a culminating composite of features from earlier beasts; and he wears his badge of dishonour, the “name of blasphemy” against the one true God, proudly upon his forehead (Revelation 12.3; 13.1-8). The entire world would “wonder after” this great beast—i.e. they would become love-struck admirers of his accomplishments and successes, and desire unification with him. The world loved this beast so much that it even worshipped “the dragon” who gave his power to the beast (this “dragon” is Satan: see 12.9), as well as worshipping2 the beast itself (13.4). We understand this to be the Roman empire (or rather, to have been the Roman empire, for it is a thing of the past to us). This was the same entity as that which God had revealed to the prophet Daniel many centuries earlier (see Daniel 2.40-45; 7.7-8,19-28).

Fallen mankind is always enamoured by mankind’s great achievements, in any age. The higher those achievements are esteemed to be, especially if they further the desires of fallen hearts without God and against God, then the more obsessed is that worship of man-as-god. In this prophecy we see a large part of mankind fixated upon this political-religious body that eventually grows to become a unification of “all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” in the lands that it gains control of (Revelation 13.7). And this beast, as one great collective political “person” with one enthroned man—a king-as-god speaking on behalf of all his willing and admiring subjects, giving voice to their collective will, absurdly opens his mouth to blaspheme against everything pertaining to God, and his Son, and his people (13.6). He commits his engine of state to persecuting “the saints” (those who are called out of the world to be the Lord’s people; i.e. true Christians), intending to destroy all who remain faithful to the one true God (13.7-8).

This first beast of Revelation conquered a much greater territory than those empires that came before it—but it was just another empire in the flow of world history, in the very same channel as all the beasts that had previously risen and fallen. Rome too had its downfall, exactly as was prophesied in Revelation centuries before it fell. Meanwhile the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has remained standing, weak in themselves but strong in him, being kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1.5). And she grew bigger and stronger through all this suffering, all these waves of Roman persecution.

“If any man have an ear, let him hear. He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (Revelation 13.9-10). This “he that leadeth into captivity,” namely the first beast, “shall go into captivity,” and this same “he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword,” says the Judge who would do this, the Lord Jesus Christ himself (John 5.22). The patience and faith of the saints, gifted to them, and grown and maintained in them by the Holy Spirit, is what enabled these saints stand in their “evil day” (Ephesians 6.13), patiently enduring it all, persevering through it all. For it is God himself who keeps his people. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46.1).

In the 14th chapter of the Book of Revelation, we have Christ’s vision that he gave to the apostle John, of Christians in a subsequent period who “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” They are marked out as belonging to God: “having his Father’s name written in their foreheads” (Revelation 14.1-5). These saints too are kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1.5), in moral purity all though the reign of the second great political-religious beast of Revelation: the counterfeit lamb with its two horns but whose speech (i.e. doctrines and decrees) prove that he is really a dragon. This second beast causes “the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed,” thereby prolonging the first beast in a revived and different form. And the second beast drives this engine of state to repeatedly persecute the Lord’s people, for worse and for longer than the pagan Rome had done (13.11-18). All these symbols identify in advance, clear enough, what we know as the papacy. The second beast together with its image of the first beast is Papal Rome.3

The Lord’s people, who live during the period of the second beast, in the midst of all their troubles, learn a “new song” from God’s heavenly harpers: they learn to worship God from their hearts (compare John 4.23-24; Hebrews 12.1). The number that symbolises them is “an hundred and forty and four thousand,” and they are the “redeemed from the earth…redeemed from among men.” They are, as they will always be, saved and sanctified souls. While it is true that no Christian is perfect in this world, they grow, and all are perfected in glory. In the vision that Christ showed to John (“And I saw,” Revelation 14.6), he sees what these and all God’s saints are from the vantage-point of his irresistible saving grace. “And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God” (14.5).

The 14th chapter of Revelation continues with the appearance of three angels—three more messengers from God. The “revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him” (1.1) is progressively revealed to the apostle John by the King’s heralds. The first of these in chapter 14, denoted as “another angel,” flying in the midst of heaven for all the world to hear his message, has the “everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (14.6).

In the everlasting gospel, the call from God through his messengers is, as ever: “Fear God, and give glory to him” (14.7a). “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45.22). Today, even now, God still commands all men everywhere to turn to Christ in faith and to repent of their sins (Acts 17.30; Philippians 2.9-11), and to turn to him in reverence and worship.

Fear (revere) the one true God, the Creator of all things, alone, and give all glory to him. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—not a false representation of him, but as he truly is, according to the Bible—and you shall be saved. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3.16). This is the call of the gospel.

For rejectors of God’s everlasting gospel, there is only the bad news. “He that believeth on him [Jesus Christ] is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3.18). “Jesus saith…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14.6). “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4.12).

At this point in Revelation, this everlasting gospel call is heralded with a superadded urgency, “For the hour of his [God’s] judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (14.7b). The second angel comes after the first and pronounces Christ’s judgment upon the second beast: “And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (14.8).4 This figurative language is meant to remind us about the sudden and devastating fall of Babylon of old, that brought about the end of the Babylonian empire together with her false religion, with all the graven images of her false gods (Daniel 4.30; Isaiah 21.9; Jeremiah 51.8). The lamb-dragon beast will fall in the same way (with sudden devastation) and for the same reason: her spiritual fornication (idol worship), and her offering herself to “all nations” for their willing involvement in this same sin (compare 1 Chronicles 5.25; Judges 2.17; 8.27, 33).

The sudden and devastating end of “Babylon” is called “the hour of his judgment” (14.6). Its downfall happens catastrophically, in a short span of time. This is emphasised again later in the Revelation, were this same event is foretold: “Therefore shall her [Babylon’s] plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her” (18.8).5

More details identifying this symbolic “Babylon” is given in Revelation chapter 17. Here the second beast is symbolised by a harlot. To list the details that describe this entity:

  1. She is enthroned upon the same scarlet, seven-headed, ten-horned beast (12.3; 13.1) as its rider (17.3, 10-13), ruling the revived first beast (13.3,12) both politically and religiously;
  2. She accumulates immense wealth out of those who do homage to her, and controls their economies (17.4a with 18.9-19);
  3. Her cup is full to the brim with abominations and idolatry (spiritual fornication) (17.4b; compare Revelation 2.14,20; Exodus 20.4; Judges 2.17; 8.27,33);
  4. Her name is upon her forehead, “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (17.5)—for she has become none other than the original ancient anti-God religion of Babel, that engendered all the false religions of the ancient world, and which flourished again many centuries later in the Babylonian empire (and, continuing the policy of the Roman empire, she adopts and adapts the world’s religions and their practices for her own use);
  5. She marshals all nations and institutions under her control to war against the true saints of Christ, even to the point where she can be described as being drunk on their blood (17.6)
  6. And she is at war against Christ himself (17.14).

“Babylon’s” doom is pronounced by the second angel in Revelation 14.8. Then the third of the three angels in Revelation 14 comes and issues the starkest warning to those who remain in union with this political-religious entity: “And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast [i.e. this second beast, ‘Babylon’] and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name” (14.9-11).

This same downfall of the lamb-dragon beast is again revealed to John, in symbols giving more details, in the 18th chapter of Revelation: “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (18.1-2).

In the 18th chapter, there is also “another voice from heaven”—that of God himself, who calls his people directly: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (18.4). The Lord’s people are here identified as those who come out of “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,” not as those who remain united to her in any way. They will follow the true Lamb of God wherever he goes.

The Lord’s people are known by their spiritual fruit. “Here is the patience [hupomone] of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (14.12). The Lord’s people are those who hear the call of the everlasting gospel and their hearts are changed, so that now they would rather keep God’s commandments and keep the faith of Jesus. They will not (or, they will no longer) submit willingly or unwillingly to beasts or harlots or false prophets of every kind. They will hold out against all who are anti the Lord Jesus Christ with that patience that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, whatever the cost (12.17; 13.7; 14.3-4,13; 16.13).

The Lord’s people are always hated by “Babylon” and those who love her, and very many of them are martyred down the centuries (12.13-17; 13.6-7; 17.6,14; 18.24; see also John 15.18-21). But the Saviour saves them all. The Lord Jesus Christ builds his Church, and the plans made by the conspirators in the courts of the gates of hell will prove unable to prevail against it (Matthew 16.18). They will all lose, and the “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” shall triumph (Revelation 19.11-16). They will all fail to prevent Christ adding to and preserving his Church in all the world, through the gospel preached in fulfilment of his great commission, in this Gospel Age in which we live (Matthew 16.18; Mark 16.15).

Every saved soul is saved individually by the work of God’s grace. We are a new creation, born of God by the Holy Spirit; our hearts are opened by him so that we believe the everlasting gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 5.17; 6.15; John 1.13; 3:3,5; Acts 16.14; 11.18; 15.7-11). Thus we give all thanks to the God for our salvation: “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1.12-14).

Each individual saved soul is added to the true Church by Christ himself (Acts 2.47; 5.14; 16.5). Each and every saved soul grows to give their entire faithfulness to God in Christ as their Lord of lords, their King of kings, their blessed and only Potentate (Acts 5.29; 17.7; Romans 15.17; 1 Corinthians 10.31; Philippians 1.11; 1 Timothy 6.15). “That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2.12).

It is Christ who builds his Church. This is why the Church of Christ will endure to the end of this Gospel Age. And this is why the Church will become so great, when Christ has his prophesied global triumph in her: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Revelation 7.9-10). “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11.15).

This same triumph of Christ’s kingdom was revealed to the prophet Daniel many centuries earlier: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2.44). “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7.13-14).

And so, this is our song with the Psalmist: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations” (Psalm 22.27-28).

Christians today should take the same encouragement from Paul as the Philippian Christians did: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Philippians 1.27-30).

Here is the patience of the saints: it is in those who learn to be “in nothing terrified” by any evil beast of Revelation, or by anything else that wars against the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. Indeed our God-given patience and faith, outwardly manifested in the perseverance and resolute fearlessness of the Lord’s people (for we know that we ought to obey God rather than men, Acts 5.59), is an “evident token”—an advance payment and pledge—of two inevitable things that will come to pass: the one being the perdition of the adversaries of Christ’s Church, and the other being the Lord’s salvation, deliverance, and preservation of his Church.

  1. See Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary numbers 3115 and 5281. In our current Bible studies on longsuffering, the fruit of the Spirit, we have included an excursion into patience. ↩︎

  2. The beast is, evidently, both a political and a religious entity in one. ↩︎

  3. This is further proved when the second beast’s doom is spoken of, under the symbol of “Babylon the Great” (Revelation 18.8; more on this later)—the harlot false-church that contrasts so sharply with the Lord’s true saints, symbolised as “virgins” in Revelation 14.1-5. ↩︎

  4. Note that this judgment doesn’t fall only upon the capitol city of the second beast, but upon the second beast itself. It is the entire entity symbolised by the second beast (the entity that has “horns like a lamb” but “spake as a dragon,” Revelation 13.11) that is here symbolically called “Babylon.” ↩︎

  5. This entity symbolically called “Babylon” is sometimes called he (Revelation 14.6) and sometimes called her(18.8). The he reminds us that this is the second beast, a political body; the her indicates that this is also a religious body, the false religious system of the Antichrist: “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (17.5). ↩︎