Three Dimensions of Brotherhood

“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

– Revelation 1.9/ESV

Many people are longing for a sense of connectedness.  The explosive growth of the gang culture in our nation’s urban centers is a direct reflection of this reality.  People want to – no, need to belong.  While the Church in America has been busy offering the mainstream populace cheesy versions of its own cultural standards (think Christian music, movies, etc.), we’ve failed to offer something that Hollywood can’t even touch: an authentic sense of brotherhood.  In the Eucharist, the centerpiece of Christian worship for 2,000 years, we’re not just acknowledging the fact that Christ’s death reconciled us to God, but to our fellow man as well.

John the Revelator introduces himself to his readers as a “brother” on three levels.  If we take some liberties here, at the very least we may discover some powerful truths that help us make sense of our lives.  This brotherhood begins with tribulation – hard times.  Not one of us is exempt from difficulty.  Tribulation connects us and reminds us that regardless of gender, age or social status, none of us is immune to the painful realities of our fallen world.  We’re in this together!  Any teaching that encourages you to disdain tribulation is failing to embrace a biblical understanding of it.  God may not “will it” but he certainly does use it (tribulation) for his purpose and glory!  The cliché says there’s no crown without a cross, and I would add that there is no brotherhood without tribulation.  Acts 14.22 provides the perfect text for John’s progression of tribulation > kingdom > patient endurance:

“strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

By referring to himself as a brother in the kingdom, John is drawing his readers’ attention to the reality that exists beyond this material world (though not at the expense of it!).  Much of Jesus’ teaching was spent clarifying the way in which God’s Kingdom is the polar opposite of mankind’s kingdoms.  John is highlighting the fact that we not only share in hardship, but we share a “kingdom culture” whose values are in sharp contrast with those of fallen humanity’s.  We share a “kingdom mentality” that emphasizes the rejection of self-rule and the embrace of Christ’s lordship in all areas of life.  We share a “kingdom focus” that looks forward to a day when 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/ESV]

And of course, John finds camaraderie with his readers in the sense that their faith remains steadfast in the time between now and the emergence of God’s Kingdom on the earth in its fullness.  In other words, there is a bond we share in that our awareness of the coming Kingdom not only births hope in us but patient endurance.  We’re not pressing on because we as individuals have such strong character, but because IN CHRIST we have discovered a strength that transcends the human experience.  Rather than a group of body builders who have a sense of brotherhood based on what they have been able to accomplish, we’re like a group of lottery winners in the sense that we would never be able to acquire what we have on our own.  It’s a brotherhood of amazement, a partnership of wonder!

It’s not enough to suffer, we must enter the Kingdom; and it’s not in entering the Kingdom alone that we discover true brotherhood, we must endure until the end…

“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

-Mark 13.13

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