Verse 9: "I John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus."
John did not call himself a member of Christ nor did he call himself an apostle. He called himself their brother and joint partaker. How gentle and sweet this is! Even though he was alone on the island of Patmos at that moment, his spirit was with his brothers, suffering together with them, enduring with them, and waiting with them for the coming of the heavenly kingdom. This is the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to suffer together with the saints in every place. Because he had a very deep sympathy with them and a very intimate union in life with them, their suffering was like his own suffering. When they suffered, he was even by their side as their joint partaker. May the Lord give us a bigger heart to receive all the brothers in the Lord so that they will know that we are always joint partakers with them in all things. Those who truly have the work of the Lord’s cross in them will surely know how to be united with all the children of the Lord. The cross unites sinners with God the Father. It also unites all Christians who trust in Him. The cross separates us from sinful living, but unites us with those having God’s life.
Tribulation, kingdom, and endurance—these three things indicate the present and future journey of the saints. This kingdom is the millennial kingdom in chapter twenty. However, it does not refer to the citizens in the millennial kingdom but to those who will reign together with the Lord Jesus Christ for a thousand years. In the future, the saints will have no other kingdom except their reigning together with the Lord. Reigning with the Lord is the purpose for the coming heavenly kingdom. This kingdom is the believers’ common hope and reward. This kingdom is the believers’ future glory and honor. God has called all the believers into His kingdom to gain His glory (1 Thes. 2:12). Have all the believers, however, heard this calling? Are they all able to meet God’s demand? I dare not judge, but I am afraid many will lose God’s reward!
The kingdom is indeed glorious, but what comes before the kingdom? It is tribulation. The way to the kingdom is tribulation. Tribulation paves the way to glory! "Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens" (Matt. 5:10). If we take sides with the world, how can there be persecution? If we were "of the world, the world would love its own" (John 15:19). If you leave the world, not only the world’s "world" but also the Christian "world" will persecute you. However, it is by this way that we walk to the realm of glory.
"If indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him" (Rom. 8:17). The present suffering will be the determining factor of the future glory. The more we suffer, the better prepared we will be to gain the glory, because "if you are reproached in the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Pet. 4:14). The Holy Spirit prepares us for the glory of the kingdom through tribulation. Before things come to pass, He forewarns us. He will not let us suffer tribulation without warning. He wants us to be willing. He wants us to sit down and count the cost. He told us long ago, "In the world you have affliction" (John 16:33), but by granting a reward He comforts our hearts. He told us, "He who overcomes, to him I will give to sit with Me on My throne" (Rev. 3:2)—to reign together in the kingdom. Oh, may the future glory be displayed before us! May the Lord help us to realize that we are "granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him but also to suffer on His behalf" (Phil. 1:29). Nevertheless, this suffering is not in vain because the one who suffers will have the reward.
Although "through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22), if we follow "Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb. 12:2), in the future we will be able to sit together with Him on the throne. The more we think about the joy of the coming kingdom, the less we will care about today’s small cross. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the coming glory to be revealed upon us" (Rom. 8:18). God makes glory the strength of our suffering. May the Lord grant us spiritual insight so that we can see the future glory.
"A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above his master" (Matt. 10:24). Our Lord Jesus Christ gained the glory through tribulations. Ascension to the throne is from the cross. The Lord expects us also to walk in His way. What a pity that today there are not many people who will bear the cross. Even sometimes we ourselves see the cross but go around it! Very few people are glad to take up the cross! The Lord is now preparing us to be kings, so He takes us through many fiery trials. If we are not willing, we will lose the kingdom. The Lord is now training us by the cross so that we will learn to obey through suffering. The result is that the kingly nature will be formed in us. The cross is a suffering, but we should not be mistaken in thinking that all sufferings are the cross. When we endure a suffering by the Spirit of the crucified Lord Jesus with the result that the Lord fulfills His purpose and nullifies our intentions, our suffering is indeed the cross. Oh, there are not many kings on this earth! We do not know how many will be kings in the millennial kingdom. Nevertheless, those who bear the cross today will surely be kings in the future because only the one who is a king can bear the cross.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 04: The Christian (2), Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)