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28 August 2019

The Church and Tribulation

Stormy seas
One popular teaching claims that the church will not endure the “great tribulation,” for “God did not appoint us to wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Two assumptions lie behind this; first, that “wrath” is synonymous with “tribulation.” Second, Paul specifically has the final “great tribulation” in view when he wrote these words.
An immediate problem is that in this very same epistle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians “not to shrink back in these tribulations. For you yourselves know that we are appointed for this”. Either Paul contradicted himself or “tribulation” and “wrath” were not identical in his theology (1 Thessalonians 3:3).
In the New Testament, “tribulation” translates the Greek noun thlipsis, meaning, “pressure, a pressing together,” hence, derivative ideas include “affliction, oppression, trouble, tribulation, distress.” It is a general term that can be applied to any type of hardship. “Wrath” translates orgé and means “anger, indignation, wrath.”
Jesus taught his disciples to expect tribulation and persecution. They would have tribulation but ought to be “of good cheer because I have overcome the world.” Opponents would deliver up his disciples “for tribulation.” There would be “great tribulation”; however, rather than remove his disciples from the earth, God would “shorten” it “for the sake of the elect” (Matthew 13:21, 24:9, 24:21-22, Mark 4:17, Luke 21:12, John 16:33)
Followers of Jesus who are persecuted for his sake are “blessed!” The Kingdom of God belongs to such ones. “Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice! Be exceeding glad! For great is your reward in heaven!” It is a great honor to be found worthy to suffer tribulation and persecution for the Kingdom (Matthew 5:10-12).
It is thankworthy if a man endures suffering and grief for the sake of his conscience toward God. There is no glory or honor if one suffers for doing wrong, but if one endures suffering for obedience to God, then it is praiseworthy. Moreover, believers “have been called for this” very thing. To endure suffering for the Gospel is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the one who “left us an example.” Christians found worthy to “suffer for righteousness” are blessed (1 Peter 2:19-23, 3:14-18, 4:15).
Likewise, Paul encouraged Christians to rejoice in suffering and TRIBULATION.  Believers are to “exult in our tribulations” because they “bring about endurance, and our endurance a testing, and our testing hope.” Christians who endure through tribulation become “more than conquerors.” In tribulation, they are to be “patient” and “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Romans 5:3, 8:35-39, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4).
It is God who “comforts us in every tribulation, so that we ourselves may be able to comfort those who are in any tribulation.” The momentary tribulation experienced in this life “prepares for us an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 1:4, 4:17).
The Thessalonian believers “became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much tribulation with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Paul encouraged them “not to be disturbed by these tribulations; for you know that we have been appointed for this” (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 3:3). 
The Thessalonian saints remained “steadfast through all their persecutions and tribulations.” This occurred so that they “might be counted worthy of the kingdom of God in behalf of which there were suffering, if, at least, it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.” In this last clause, “tribulation” represents the noun thlipsis and “trouble” its related verb, thlibō (2 Thessalonians 1:4-10).
When Jesus arrives from heaven, believers who are “troubled” (thlibō) will receive “release,” while those who “troubled” them will receive everlasting destruction. The “revealing of the Lord Jesus from heaven” means deliverance and vindication for some, condemnation and destruction for others (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Though God’s wrath is in the process of being poured out, ultimately, it is an end-time event. His wrath is against “all ungodliness and wickedness of men.” In the book of Romans, the wrath of God is contrasted with his righteousness that is even now being revealed to believes. Like “wrath,” salvation is also an eschatological event (Romans 1:16-18).
The impenitent man stores up for himself “wrath” for the “day of wrath.” Because of sin, the “wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” Because Christians have been set right by Christ’s blood, they will be “saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 2:5-8, 5:9, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6-8).
God’s “wrath” is linked to the day when Jesus arrives from heaven. God has not appointed the church to experience this wrath but, instead, the acquiring of salvation through Jesus. This means believers do not experience His final wrath though they do undergo tribulation in this life (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9).
To disciples, it has been granted not only to believe in him but to “suffer for the sake of Christ.” The Thessalonians suffered persecution at the hands of their fellow countrymen and, thus, became “imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus in Judea,” the same churches that endured the sufferings at the hands of their Jewish countrymen (Philippians 1:29, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, 2 Thessalonians 1:5).
In his opening address to the Seven Churches of Asia, John of Patmos identified himself as a “fellow participant in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). “Tribulation” has the definite article or “the,” signifying something known and identifiable; not “a” but “the tribulation.” In the Greek sentence, there is only a single article or “the” that modifies all three nouns; that is, “tribulation,” “kingdom,” and “perseverance” are three aspects of the same reality.
In the letters to the seven churches of Asia, only Smyrna and Philadelphia received no rebuke; both were praised for faithfulness. Yet to Smyrna Jesus declared, “I know your tribulation,” and he foretells the things they were “going to suffer.” Rather than escape, he encouraged them “not to fear what you are about to suffer”; in response to their past faithfulness, he promised even more tribulation, this time, “for ten days” (Revelation 2:8-11).
John saw a vision of a vast “multitude that no man could number” comprised of redeemed saints from “every nation and tribe and people and tongue standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” A voice explained that these men and women were “those who are coming out of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:9-17). As in Revelation 1:9, “great tribulation” has the definite article or “the”; it is THE “great tribulation” out of which the redeemed are coming. They do not escape it but, instead, endure through it.
It is the results of the day of the Lord that are designated the “wrath of the Lamb and God” in the book of Revelation when the sixth seal is opened. Men are unable to stand before him and so seek shelter under rocks and inside caves. This describes not an extended period of tribulation but the final day of wrath upon all unrepentant humanity (Revelation 6:12-17).
When the seven trumpet sounds, loud voices declare that it is the “fit time for the dead to be vindicated and to give their reward to God’s servants the prophets and to the saints.  The nations raged but God’s wrath arrived and the time for the dead to be judged.” This is a picture of final judgment when the righteous are vindicated and the wicked condemned (Revelation 11:15-19).
The hour to reap the final harvest of the earth is declared and those who rebelled will drink the “wine of God's wrath poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence…of the Lamb.” The “vines of the earth are cast into the great wine-press of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:10-20).
Paul did not contradict himself when he wrote that “God did not appoint us to wrath” and, instead, are appointed for “tribulations.” In his mind, the two terms refer to different things. “Wrath” is God’s retributive judgment upon the wicked, “tribulation” is the persecution and other forms of suffering Christians endure for the Gospel. This is the same view found elsewhere in the New Testament.
“Tribulation” is something disciples experience; it is an integral and expected part of the Church’s life. Suffering for the Gospel is not punishment or aberration but grounds for rejoicing. It is what it means to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.”
The word “tribulation” is applied in the New Testament to believers; only rarely to enemies of the Gospel. It is what Christians endure.  “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). 
While believers experience “tribulation” in this life, the unrepentant will undergo Divine “wrath” at the end of the age. Jesus, by his death, has delivered his followers from God’s final “wrath,” the “second death” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). The New Testament does not equate “tribulation” with “wrath”; they are not synonymous. Instead, “tribulation” is part of the church’s call and what it means to follow Jesus.

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