Tribulation of the Church

SYNOPSIS – In Revelation, faithful saints experience “tribulation,” whereas, the unrepentant undergo “wrath.” 

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The book of Revelation presents the followers of the “Lamb” exiting the “Great Tribulation,” not through their removal from the earth but because of their perseverance through it. This striking picture is featured in the vision of John in which he saw a vast “innumerable multitude” of men and women from every nation coming out of the “tribulation” to stand triumphantly before the “Lamb” who redeemed them by his sacrificial death - (Revelation 5:6-12, 7:9-17).

From the outset of the book, John identified himself as a “fellow-participant” with the seven churches of Asia “in THE tribulation.” The term “tribulation” occurs five times in Revelation - Each time in relation to believers - NOT to the lost. In other words, “tribulation” is what the churches endure, not the “inhabitants of the earth.” Invariably, in the New Testament, “tribulation” or thlipsis is applied to what disciples of Jesus experienced for the sake of the gospel - (Matthew 13:21, John 16:33, Revelation 1:92:9-107:14).

The idea of the church escaping the “tribulation” by its removal from the earth or other means does not occur in Revelation. Furthermore, it is contrary to the tenor of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus. Suffering for his sake is not something to avoid at all costs; instead, it is a cause for rejoicing when it occurs for his sake - (Matthew 5:10-12).

The summons to persevere through “tribulation” is at the heart of the book of Revelation. For example, John describes himself as a “fellow-participant in the Tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus.” Here, “tribulation” has a definite article or “the,” which signifies something known and identifiable. It was not “a” but “the tribulation.” That is to say, in his exile on the isle of Patmos, John was participating in the same “tribulation” as the seven churches of Asia.

In the Greek sentence, the one definite article modifies all three nouns - Tribulation, Kingdom, Endurance - Each noun represents a different aspect of the same reality - To be “in Jesus” is to suffer for his kingdom.  John found himself exiled “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 the book, and always linked to believers who persevere in their testimony. For example:
  • (Revelation 2:2-3) – “I know your works and your labor, and your endurance…And have borne and have endurance.”
  • (Revelation 2:19) – “I know your works, and charity, and service, and faith, and your endurance.”
  • (Revelation 3:10) – “Because thou hast kept the word of my endurance, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial.”
  • (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.”
  • (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 in it is how the “saints” overcome and inherit the promises given by Jesus at the end of each of the seven letters to the churches. Nowhere in the book does Satan or his agents wage war against other nation-states. Instead, he attacks the saints who have the “testimony of Jesus,” the men and women who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” - (Revelation 2:9-10).

The “saints” are summoned “to be faithful unto death” in persecution and tribulation. They are to endure suffering faithfully even when doing so means their death. It is faithfulness in tribulation that results in their receiving the “crown of life” and the avoidance of the “second death.”

Faithful saints endure the “great tribulation,” a period during which followers of the “Lamb” are tried but also overcome the “Beast” by means of heir faithful “testimony.” After overcoming through the Tribulation, they will “stand before the Throne and the Lamb” in the New Creation. Although redeemed by the “Lamb,” nevertheless, they must remain faithful through the “great tribulation” - (Revelation 7:9-17).

In contrast, while the “saints” experience “tribulation,” the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth” undergo “wrath.” Those who follow the “Lamb” are delivered from this final “wrath” – The “second death.” The book of Revelation nowhere equates “tribulation” with “wrath.” In the end, believers 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).