Disciples and Tribulation

The New Testament exhorts followers of Jesus to expect tribulation because of their faith. While it may not be an everyday experience in the life of the church, neither is tribulation for the kingdom unexpected. And the chief cause of tribulation and persecution in the life of the disciple is his or her faithful witness of the life and teachings of Christ.

And 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” after persevering through it.

This striking image is central to his 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” and the “throne” in “New Jerusalem.”

At the beginning of the book, John identifies 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 the “Lamb” experience. And elsewhere in the New Testament, the word is applied to what the followers of Jesus undergo for his sake - (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” came and stood before the Lord.

To live faithfully “in Jesus” results in “tribulation” for his kingdom. And to suffer for him is what it means to reign with Christ. 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). And perseverance is how they “overcome” and inherit the promises found at the end of each of the letters to the “seven churches.”

In Revelation, the “Dragon” and his earthly vassals wage unrelenting war against the “saints,” not with nations or governments. The object of Satan’s wrath is the church – “those who have the testimony of Jesus” - (Revelation 12:17, 13:7-10).

FAITHFUL UNTIL DEATH


The “Lamb” who was slain to redeem 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 Christ’s death and his return are called to persevere.

His followers must remain steadfast in trials, even when doing so may mean their violent deaths. And just like their Lord, it is faithfulness in tribulation that results in their receipt of the “crown of life.”

And faithful saints endure the “great tribulation,” the period during which the followers of the “Lamb” are tried to the max, but they overcome the “Beast from the Sea” and the “Dragon” by their faithful “testimony.”

And 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” - the “Second Death” in the “Lake of Fire.” And “wrath” refers to the punitive sentence of God on His enemies, and nowhere in the book is it equated with “tribulation.”

Thus, the “churches of Asia” endure “tribulation,” but they do not undergo the divine “wrath.” That is reserved for the enemies of the “Lamb” that afflict his people, and it will be meted out at the “great white throne of judgment.”

Those who would follow Jesus “wherever he goes” overcome the “Dragon by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they love not their lives even unto death.” They remain faithful in their testimony even at the cost of their own lives - (Revelation 12:11).


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