Appointed for Tribulation

Lightning Storm Photo by Josep Castells 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” refers to the horrific fate of the wicked at the “end of the age” – “Wrath” is what unrepentant sinners endure as the just punishment for their iniquities. - [Lightning Storm - Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash].

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul taught that the church is not destined for “wrath.” However, in the same letter, he declared that 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 glad-message of the Christ—that he might confirm and console you over your faith, That no one, might be shrinking back in these tribulations. For ye 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 ye 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.” Jesus taught his disciples to expect tribulation and persecution in this age - (1 Thessalonians 1:6, Matthew 13:21).

Jesus 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 for Jesus will be pronounced “blessed” in the Kingdom of God. Suffering for him becomes a matter for 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 endures suffering for the sake of his “conscience toward 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 endured faithfully through “all their persecutions and tribulations.” Note well the use of plural nouns. Believers and non-believers alike are 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 to “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).
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 that believers will not experience His “wrath” at the end of the age, not that they escape suffering and trials in this life - (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9).

In the book of Revelation, when John addressed the seven churches of Asia, while in 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 that is 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, in Revelation at least, the healthiest churches are destined to endure even more tribulation - (Revelation 2:8-11).

The Christians of Smyrna were summoned to “be faithful unto death,” even if that meant a martyr’s death. In this very way, saints “overcome” and escape something far worse and longer-lasting than tribulation – 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.” This term refers to the same tribulation in which John was a “fellow participant” - (Revelation 1:9, 7:9-17).

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

Wrath” occurred when the seventh trumpet sounded; it was 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 was 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 was declared in the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. All men who had rebelled against the “Lambdrank the wine of God's wrath, poured out unmixed into the cup of his anger.” This image portrayed the same event as the one seen 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).
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).
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote that “God did not appoint us to wrath,” and that “we are appointed for tribulation.” This was no contradiction. For him, the terms referred to two different things - “Wrath” was God’s judicial sentence on the wicked, and “tribulation” what the world inflicts 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.



Language of the New Testament

Armageddon - Final Battle