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21 August 2019

The Tribulation of the Church in Revelation

Lighthouse in a storm
The book of Revelation portrays followers of the Lamb in the great tribulation; John saw an “innumerable multitude” of men and women redeemed by the Lamb coming out of the tribulation (Revelation 7:14).
The term “tribulation” occurs five times in Revelation, each time used in relation to believers. “Tribulation” is what the church endures, not the surrounding “inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 1:92:92:102:227:14).
Invariably, “tribulation” or thlipsis in the New Testament is what believers endure for the sake of their faith in Jesus (e.g., Matthew 13:21, 24:9, Mark 4:17, John 16:33, Acts 11:19, 14:22, 20:23, Romans 5:3, 8:35, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4, 1:8, 2:4, 4:17, 6:4, 7:48:2).
The concept of the Church escaping tribulation by its removal from the earth is not found in the New Testament and is contrary to the tenor of Scripture, and the examples of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Rather than something to avoid at all costs, to be counted worthy to suffer persecution for the gospel is a matter of great honor and a cause for rejoicing (Matthew 5:10-12Romans 5:3Romans 12:12).
According to God’s purpose, “tribulation” is an integral component of how disciples enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22Romans 5:32 Corinthians 4:17Colossians 1:241 Thessalonians 3:3). The summons to persevere through tribulations and persecutions is the very heart of the book of Revelation.
Revelation 1:9
I, John, who also am your brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus; I came to be on the isle called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
The Greek noun rendered “tribulation” is thlipsis with a basic sense of “pressure, a pressing together.” Derivative meanings include “affliction, oppression, trouble, tribulation, distress.” This is a general term that can be applied to any type of hardship.
In his salutation to the seven churches, John identifies with them and their sufferings by declaring that “I, John, your brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9).
In this verse, “tribulation” has a definite article or “the,” which signifies something known and identifiable (not “a” but “the tribulation”). John participates in “the tribulation” along with the churches.
In the Greek sentence, the one definite article modifies all three items; tribulation, kingdom, and endurance are different aspects of the same reality. To be “in Jesus” means to suffer for his kingdom.  John finds himself on the isle of Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” To suffer for the kingdom is what it means to reign with Christ.
“Endurance” or hupomoné occurs six more times in Revelation, always linked to believers who persevere on account of their testimony:
1.  (Revelation 2:2-3) – “I know your works and your labor, and your endurance…And have borne and have endurance.”
2.  (Revelation 2:19) – “I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your endurance.”
3.   (Revelation 3:10) – “Because thou hast kept the word of my endurance, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial.”
4.  (Revelation 13:10) – “He who is for captivity into captivity goes; he to be killed with sword must with sword be killed. Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints.”
5.    (Revelation 14:12-13) – “Here is the endurance of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
Persecution is not something to fear, instead, perseverance through it is how the saints overcome the Dragon. Nowhere in Revelation does Satan or the Beast wage war against other nation-states or Israel; the Devil and his servants wage war against those who have the “testimony of Jesus” and follow the Lamb:
1.    (Revelation 2:9-10) – “I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and they art not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”
2.    (Revelation 2:13) – “I know where you dwell, even where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast my name, and did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you where Satan dwells.”
3.    (Revelation 3:18) – “I counsel you to buy of me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments that you may clothe thyself, and that the shame of your nakedness be not made manifest; and eye-salve to anoint your eyes that you may see.” (Compare Revelation 6:9-11, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 13:7-10, 13:17, 17:6, 18:24, 19:2, 20:4-9).
Revelation 2:9-10
(Revelation 2:9-10) – “I know your tribulation and destitution, nevertheless, you are rich, and the profane speech from among them who affirm that they themselves are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear 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 may have tribulation ten days. Become faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.
Only the congregations in Smyrna and Philadelphia receive no rebuke or correction; both are praised for faithfulness. Jesus is aware of the “tribulation” Smyrna has endured (“I know your tribulation”). Nevertheless, he declares that she is about to suffer more tribulation (the “things you are going to suffer”).
Rather than escape, he encourages this church “not to fear what you are about to suffer” and promises they will “be tested and for ten days have tribulation” (Revelation 2:8-11). There is no thought of escape, fear, or shame. Tribulation is something the healthiest churches of Asia endure. It is not punishment.
The prediction that they will have “tribulation ten days” alludes to Daniel 1:11-15 where the prophet and his companions requested to be tested on a vegetarian diet for ten days and, thus, avoid eating food that had been offered to idols:
(Daniel 1:11-15) – “Then said Daniel to the overseer whom the ruler of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: ‘I pray thee, prove thy servants ten days and let them give us vegetable food, that we may eat and water that we may drinkthen let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenances of the youths who have been eating the delicacies of the king, and as you shall see deal with thy servants.’ So then he hearkened unto them according to this word, and proved them ten-daysand at the end of ten days their countenances appeared more comely and fatter in flesh, than any of the youths who had been eating the delicacies of the king.”
Christians must “be faithful unto death”; not escape but endurance through suffering is called for, even if it means a martyr’s death. Faithfulness in tribulation results in the “the crown of life” and avoidance of “the Second Death.”
Revelation 2:20-23
(Revelation 2:20-23) – “Nevertheless, I have against you, that you allow the woman Jezebel, she who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads astray my own servants to commit lewdness and to eat idol-sacrifices; and I gave her time that she might repent, and she wills not to repent out of her lewdness. Behold, I cast her into a bed, and them who are committing adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent out of her works; and her children will I slay with death; and all the assemblies shall get to know that I am he that searches reins and hearts, and will give unto you, each one, according to your works.
Jesus rebukes Thyatira for tolerating a false prophetess, “Jezebel.” He is about to throw her “into great tribulation unless she repents.”  This is the only instance where “tribulation” is used negatively in the book to warn believers. The threat of “tribulation” is not to inflict wrath or final judgment, but to cause purification (Revelation 2:18-29).
Elsewhere, faithful saints endure the “great tribulation”; an event not for the punishment of erring Christians but a period during which followers of the Lamb are tried and overcome (1:97:1412:11).
Revelation 7:14
(Revelation 7:14-17) – “These are they who are coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; For this cause are they before the throne of God and are rendering divine service unto him day and night in his sanctuary; and he that sits upon the throne shall spread his tent over them; They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither in any wise shall the sun fall upon them nor any burning heat, Because the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them and shall lead them unto life’s fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes.
John sees “an innumerable multitude” of redeemed saints from “every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the Throne and before the Lamb.” This group is comprised of saints “who are coming out of the great tribulation”.  Though redeemed, they nevertheless go through the “great tribulation.” The same “tribulation” is in view as the one mentioned by John at the start of the vision (Revelation 1:9).
The multitude is clothed in white robes, having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They now stand before the Throne of God and the Lamb to render priestly service day and night in his Temple. This is the kingdom of “priests” established through the death of the Lamb (Revelation 1:5-65:10).

Conclusions

The Apostle Paul wrote, “God did not appoint us to wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). In the same epistle, he also stated, “we are appointed for tribulation” (1 Thessalonians 3:3).
There is no contradiction; in Paul’s mind, the two terms refer to different things. “Wrath” is God’s retributive judgment on the wicked. “Tribulation” is the persecution and suffering Christians endure for the Gospel.
The word “tribulation” is applied in the New Testament to believers and only rarely to enemies of the Gospel. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). 
While believers experience “tribulation,” the unrepentant undergo Divine “wrath.” Jesus delivers his followers from this final “wrath,” for they are appointed to salvation (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 5:9). “Wrath” is a dreadful thing reserved for the unrepentant; something to be avoided at all costs. The New Testament does not equate the term “tribulation” with “wrath,” they are not synonymous.
Certainly, believers should not seek out suffering and persecution but, when it inevitably occurs, it is a great honor and a cause for rejoicing. This may be contrary to human wisdom, but that is precisely the point. The saints overcome the Dragon “by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they love not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11).

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