Expecting Tribulation

The New Testament exhorts the disciples of Jesus to expect tribulation and persecution on account of their faithful witness to him. While it may not be an everyday experience, neither is persecution something unexpected and shocking. In church history, the primary cause of the church’s trials and tribulations has been her faithful proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. To put it negatively, when the church fails to preach the Good News in this world, her sufferings diminish, and persecution becomes an increasingly distant memory.

This understanding is especially prominent in the Book of Revelation. In Chapter 7, for example, John saw countless followers of the “Lamb” exiting the “Great Tribulation” to stand before the “Lamb” and the “Throne” after persevering through it.

Lighthouse Storm - Photo by Thomas Grams on Unsplash
[Photo by Thomas Grams on Unsplash]

This striking image is central to John’s vision of the “
innumerable multitude” comprised of men purchased from every nation by the lifeblood of Jesus. Having “overcome” in every trial and tribulation, they stand triumphantly before the “Lamb” in the holy city of “New Jerusalem.”

At the beginning of the Book, John identified himself as a “fellow participant” with the churches of Asia “in THE tribulation and kingdom and endurance.” In his exile on the isle of Patmos - “for the testimony of Jesus” - he participated in the same “tribulation” endured by the “Seven Churches of Asia.”

THE TRIBULATION


The term “tribulation” occurs five times in Revelation. Each time it is used in relation to believers. In other words, “tribulation” is what followers of Jesus experience. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the word is applied most often to what disciples undergo for the sake of the Gospel - (Matthew 13:21, John 16:33, Revelation 1:9, 2:9-10, 7:14).

In the Greek text of John’s declaration, ONE definite article or “the” modifies all three nouns - Tribulation, Kingdom, Endurance. Each term represents an aspect of the same reality. It is THE tribulation; namely, the same one out of which the “innumerable multitude” exited to stand before the Lord.

To live faithfully “in Jesus” results in “tribulation” for his sake. To suffer for him is what it means to reign with him.

The Greek term rendered “endurance” in John’s statement, or hupomon√©, occurs six more times in the Book, and it is always linked to believers who persevere in persecution - (Revelation 2:2-3, 2:19, 3:10, 13:10, 14:12-13) - PERSEVERANCE is how they “overcome” to inherit the promises found at the end of each of the letters to the “Seven Churches.”

Arguably, the church in Smyrna is the most faithful of the Seven Churches, having persevered through false accusations and poverty. Yet remarkably, rather than escape from further suffering, Jesus promises them even more:

  • Fear not the things which you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you will TRIBULATION ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” – (Revelation 2:10-11).

If anything, faithfulness in one’s witness before a hostile society entitles a disciple to endure even more for the sake of his kingdom, as counterintuitive as that may sound. Perhaps this perspective reflects the exhortation of Jesus to REJOICE when we are accounted worthy to suffer for him, “for great is your reward in heaven.”

And in Revelation, the “Dragon” and his earthly vassals wage unrelenting war against the “saints,” not against nations and governments. The object of his wrath is the Assembly – “Those who have the testimony of Jesus” – and his goal is to destroy it - (Revelation 12:17, 13:7-10).

FAITHFUL UNTIL DEATH


The slain “Lamb” who redeemed his people now summons his “saints…to be faithful even unto death,” not only in the city of Smyrna but all believers throughout the period between his death and his return at the end of the age. Every disciple of Jesus is called to persevere.

His disciples must remain steadfast in trials, even when doing so may mean their violent death. And just like their Lord, it is FAITHFULNESS IN TRIBULATION that results in the “crown of life.”

The saints endure the “GREAT TRIBULATION,” the period during which the followers of the “Lamb” are tried to the maximum. But they overcome the “Beast from the Sea” and the “Dragon” by their faithful “testimony” and their willingness to become martyrs for him - (Revelation 12:11).

But death will not be the end of the story. After persevering through “tribulation,” the saints will find themselves “standing before the Throne and the Lamb” in the New Creation, in “New Jerusalem” - (Revelation 7:9-17).

In contrast to persevering saints, the unrepentant “Inhabitants of the Earth” undergo “wrath,” which is the “Second Death” in the “Lake of Fire.” “Wrath” refers to the punitive sentence of God on His enemies, and nowhere in the Book is it equated with “tribulation.” Saints may suffer for a time, but the enemies of the “Lamb” that persecute his church will pay an everlasting price.


POPULAR POSTS

The Suffering Servant

The Living Word