The phrase is used twice in the book of Revelation. The first is with reference to the endurance of persecution by God’s people during the centuries of papal supremacy, culminating in the decapitation and eclipse of this apostate power at the close of 1,260 years (Rev. 13:5). In the words of the apostle John:
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 (Rev. 13:10).
And then, of course, we have the third angel’s summary description of God’s final generation of believers, those who respond to the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:
Here is the patience of the saints. Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12).
But what in fact is the “patience of the saints”? Why does it play such a pivotal role in the triumph of God’s people at the end of time?
Patience, Tribulation, and Character Development
The apostle Paul writes of this patience in the fifth chapter of Romans:
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope (Rom. 5:3-4).
Here Paul lists a succession of Christian virtues which remind us of another such list, this one from the pen of the apostle Peter:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity (II Peter 1:5-7).
The apostle James, like Paul, emphasizes how patience is produced by the trying of the Christian’s faith, declaring at one point: “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:3). But in the following verse he urges his readers not to despair, reminding them to “let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (verse 4). The patience of the saints, in other words, is a key component of the perfecting of Christian character.
In His message to the church of Philadelphia in the book of Revelation, Jesus declared:
Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, 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 (Rev. 3:10).
According to Ellen White, this reference to “the word of My patience” will be repeated by our Lord just prior to His second coming, regarding the victorious saints who endure the time of Jacob’s trouble:
Again a voice, musical and triumphant, is heard, saying, “They come! they come! holy, harmless, and undefiled. They have kept the word of My patience; they shall walk among the angels” (1).
So it is clear that the patience of the saints has to do with the calm, faith-empowered endurance of adversity and tribulation on the part of God’s people. The apostle James elaborates further on this reality when he recounts the experience of the patriarch Job, who in so many ways is a type of the final generation of victorious Christians:
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy (James 5:10-11).
Job’s experience is familiar to all of us. A man with a very large family and enormous material wealth (Job 1:2-3), he is described by God as “a perfect and upright man, one who feared God and eschewed evil” (verses 1,8). Satan, who challenges the motive for Job’s integrity (verses 9-11), is then permitted to put Job through every trial but death itself—the loss of his possessions (verses 14-17), his children (verses 18-19), even his physical health (Job 2:7-8). His wife subsequently urges him to “curse God and die” (verse 9); and his three visiting “friends”—whose dialogue with him comprises most of what remains of the book that tells his story—give perhaps the best meaning in all history to the saying, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”
Yet the Bible tells us that “in all this Job sinned not, neither charged God foolishly” (Job 1:22; see also 2:10). Never again in the book does Satan reappear to bring accusations against Job, for his accusations have been vanquished. Yes, Job had many questions about what God had permitted to occur in his life. Indeed, Job’s experience helps us understand that it is not a sin to ask such questions. But at the bottom line, the testimony of this shining example of Bible sanctification is perhaps best summarized in the following verse:
Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him (Job 13:15).
God’s Church Today
At the present time, the striving faithful in the Seventh-day Adventist Church are being called in a special way to develop and nurture the “patience of the saints” (Rev. 14:12). As I trace these lines, many wonder what direction the church will take in the aftermath of the Annual Council of 2017, with its decision to delay for a time certain corrective measures involving those territories in the world field which presently refuse to comply with General Conference decisions relative to more than one Biblical issue.
Some are asking, silently or aloud, just how long they and others can endure any number of negative conditions within the church. The agenda of the current General Conference leadership promoting revival and reformation through the supreme authority of God’s Word has brought hope to thousands of sorrowing, struggling believers. But many devoutly wish and pray for a more rapid reversal of destructive spiritual trends.
They mourn the depth and pervasiveness of the present darkness. And they yearn with breaking hearts for the dawn’s early light.
The Night of Weeping, the Morn of Song
Let me suggest the following for those among the striving faithful who find themselves struggling with discouragement and uncertainty at the present moment:
First, spend more time with God through the study of Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. There is no substitute for this. Plead with the Lord daily for a new heart and a right spirit. Only the strength that comes with such study and heart-surrender can enable us to wage successful war against evil, whether in our own lives or in the corporate life of the church.
Second, write letters of encouragement to our General Conference president and his fellow officers, urging them to uphold our Bible-based teachings and voted actions by the worldwide Adventist body. Help them to understand that the great majority of the church supports our current General Conference leadership, and does not wish to see Biblical authority supplanted by human opinion, human culture, human scholarship, and human experience. Encourage them to continue pursuing the current process of reconciliation and adherence, even if this means the application of corrective, even severe discipline.
Third, get more involved than ever in the church’s governing processes and leadership opportunities, at your local church level and beyond. Such avenues of expression and responsibility cannot be surrendered to the negative forces among us through apathy and fatalism on the part of those whose trust in the promises and counsel of God has no excuse for faltering. If you need to budget more time from your busy schedule for such proactive involvement in the church, do so. It is unconscionable for those whose theology is focused on persistence and perseverance to be found less diligent, less available for service, than those whose theology is focused primarily on accommodation, compromise, and the quest for subjective spiritual comfort.
Fourth, do not despair. Despair can take many forms. One of the most dangerous forms it has taken in recent times among theologically conservative Adventists is in withdrawal from active involvement, personally and/or financially, with the organized church. God has explicitly promised, through His modern prophet, that the organized Seventh-day Adventist body will see its disobedient majority purged from its visible ranks during the end-time process called the shaking (2). Nothing approaching the prophesied final test for God’s people has yet assaulted the experience of contemporary Adventists, at least not in Western lands. Our present trials are nothing like those to come. We must claim the power and strength of God to endure now, in moments of comparative ease, in preparation for the much greater tests which lie ahead.
One of my favorite hymns is “The Church Has One Foundation.” Perhaps verse three of this stirring hymn carries special relevance just now for the striving faithful of the great Advent movement:
Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed
Though foes would rend asunder the Rock where she doth rest
Yet saints their faith are keeping; their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
1. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 636.
2. ----Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 380; Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 89; The Great Controversy, p. 608; Manuscript Releases, vol. 12, p. 327; vol. 20, p. 320.