Appointed for Tribulation

Lighthouse Storm - Photo by Marcus Woodbridge on Unsplash
In the New Testament, the terms “tribulation” and “wrath” are NOT used synonymously. “Tribulation” is what disciples of Jesus endure for his sake, but “wrath” is the horrific fate of the wicked, what they undergo at the “end of the age,” ultimately, the second death.” “Wrath” is what unrepentant sinners and apostates endure as the just punishment for their iniquities and betrayals - [
Lighthouse Storm - Photo by Marcus Woodbridge on Unsplash].

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul taught that God has not destined the church for “wrath.” However, in the very same letter, he declared the church has been appointed to “suffer tribulation”:
  • God did not appoint us to wrath, but to the acquiring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” - (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
  • Wherefore, no longer concealing our anxiety, we were well-pleased to be left in Athens alone; and sent Timothy, our brother and God’s minister in the gospel of the Christ, that he might confirm and console you over your faith, that no one might be shrinking back in these tribulations. For you yourselves know that hereunto are we appointed. For even when we were with you, we told you beforehand, we are destined to suffer tribulation! Even as it also came to pass, and you know” - (1 Thessalonians 3:1-4).
Either Paul contradicted himself, or he did not equate “tribulation” with “wrath.” By enduring persecution, 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.” Likewise, Jesus had taught his disciples to expect tribulation and persecution - (1 Thessalonians 1:6, Matthew 13:21).

Christ warned that opponents of the faith would deliver disciples “for tribulation and kill them: and they will be hated by all the nations.”  Before his return, there would be “great tribulation” for the saints; so much so, that only “he who endured to the end” would be saved - (Matthew 24:9, 24:21-22).

Contrary to human wisdom, men and women who endure persecution will be pronounced “blessed” in the Kingdom of God. Suffering for him is a matter for great rejoicing:
  • (Matthew 5:10-12) - “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!”
Elsewhere, Paul encouraged saints to rejoice in suffering. We are to “exult in our tribulations because they bring about endurance, and our endurance a testing, and our testing hope” - (Romans 5:3, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4).

In “tribulations,” Christians must remain patient and “continue steadfastly in prayer.” It is God who “comforts us in every tribulation, so that we ourselves may be able to comfort those who are in any tribulation.” Tribulations “prepare for us an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” - (Romans 8:35-39, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4, 4:17).

According to Peter, it is thankworthy if a man suffers for the sake of his “conscience towards God.” There is no glory or honor if one suffers for doing wrong, but if a man suffers patiently for his obedience to God, it is praiseworthy. Moreover, believers “have been called for this” very thing - (1 Peter 2:19-20, 4:15).

To suffer for the gospel is to “follow in the footsteps” of Jesus, who “left us an example” in his self-sacrificial death. Disciples found worthy to “suffer for righteousness' sake” are blessed, and this is in “accord with the will of God” - (1 Peter 2:19-23, 3:14-18, 4:19).

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul boasted of their steadfastness. They had endured faithfully through “all their persecutions and tribulations.” Note well the use of plural nouns. Believers and non-believers alike will be found alive when Jesus arrives from Heaven, an event that will result in the vindication of some, but the condemnation of others. The sufferings of the Thessalonian disciples occurred so that:
  • They “might be counted worthy of the kingdom of God on behalf of which they were suffering, if at least, it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).
In Paul’s epistles, “wrath” is NOT identical with “tribulation,” and ultimately, it is linked to the “end of the age” and the final judgment of the wicked. The impenitent man stores up for himself “wrath” and “fury” for the “day of wrath.” Because of sin, the “wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” Because Christians have been justified by Jesus, they will “be saved by him from the wrath of God” - (Romans 2:5-8, 5:9, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6-8).

Clouds over church - Photo by Jacob Mejicanos on Unsplash
Photo by Jacob Mejicanos on Unsplash

This coming “
wrath” is connected to the day when Jesus returns in glory. God has not appointed the church to experience the “wrath,” but instead, the acquisition of salvation through Jesus. “Salvation” means believers will not experience His “wrath” at the end of the age, not that they escape suffering in this life - (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9).

In the book of Revelation, when John addressed the seven churches of Asia from his exile on the isle of Patmos, he identified himself with their situation:
  • (Revelation 1:9) – “I, John, your brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance in Jesus.”
Here, “tribulation” has a definite article, that is, “the tribulation.” This signifies something known. Among the seven churches, only Smyrna and Philadelphia received no correction; both were praised for their faithfulness. Yet to Smyrna, Jesus declared, “I know your tribulation and things you are going to suffer.” He encouraged them “not to fear what you are about to suffer” and promised they would have tribulation for ten days.” Apparently, at least in the book of Revelation, the healthiest churches are marked out for even more tribulation - (Revelation 2:8-11).

The church at Smyrna was summoned to “be faithful unto death,” even if that meant martyrdom. In this very way, saints would “overcome” and escape something far worse than tribulation or persecution – the “Second Death.”

In one vision, John saw a great innumerable multitude of saints from every nation standing before the “Throne” and the “Lamb,” men and women who “were coming out of the great tribulation.” Here, the term refers to the same tribulation in which John was a “fellow participant” - (Revelation 1:9, 7:9-17).

The term “wrath” first appears in Revelation when the sixth seal is opened. This results in a final day characterized by celestial and terrestrial upheaval, and the arrival of the “wrath of the Lamb” – (Revelation 6:12-17).

Similarly, “wrath” occurs when the seventh trumpet sounds, the time for the “dead to be vindicated and to give their reward to God’s servants the prophets and to the saints,” but also for God’s “wrath and the time for the dead to be judged.” This is a picture of the final judgment, when the righteous are vindicated and the wicked condemned - (Revelation 11:15-19).

The final “hour” to reap the harvest of the earth is declared in the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. All men who have rebelled against the “Lambdrank the wine of God's wrath, poured out unmixed into the cup of his anger.” The image portrays the same event as the one presented when the rider on a white horse “tread the wine-press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” after the final battle with the “Beast and False Prophet” - (Revelation 14:14-20, 19:11-21).

Thus, in Revelation, “wrath” refers to the final judgment against the enemies of God. “Tribulation” is what the “saints” endure at the hands of the “Dragon” and his earthly agents - (Revelation 12:17, 13:7, 14:12).

When Paul wrote that “God did not appoint us to wrath,” and that “we are appointed for tribulation,” there was no contradiction. For him, the terms referred to two different things - “Wrath” was God’s judicial sentence on the wicked, and “tribulation” was what the world inflicted on Christians.

Tribulation” is part of what it means to follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” to daily “deny yourself and take up the cross.”  Suffering for his sake is not punishment or aberration, but instead, grounds for rejoicing. Being found “worthy” to suffer persecution for him is the highest honor and greatest “blessing” that can befall a disciple - “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” - (2 Timothy 3:12).

In contrast, the unrepentant undergo “wrath” at the end of the age, a dreadful thing reserved for the unrepentant, something to be avoided at all costs.




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