Appointed for Tribulation

Our natural tendency is to avoid conflict. Understandably, we prefer our daily lives to be characterized by peace, acceptance, and prosperity, a life devoid of difficulties and afflictions. Moreover, the New Testament does promise believers peace now and everlasting life later. Nevertheless, it also exhorts the Assembly of God to expect afflictions and even persecution in this life on account of its light and testimony in a sin-darkened world.

Jesus confirmed that in this world his disciples would have “tribulation.” But at the same time, they could be of good cheer, “for I have overcome the world.” Indeed, he exhorted them to rejoice when they were accounted worthy to suffer for his sake.

Mountain Storm - Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
[Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash]

His message was radically different. Rejoicing while suffering is contrary to human “
wisdom,” experience, and nature even when done for a noble cause - (John 16:33, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Disciples are reassured of victory because Jesus has “overcome” the world. He is the pioneer who blazed the trail for his people. Similarly, in the Book of Revelation, the Risen Son of Man exhorted the “assemblies of Asia” to “overcame, just as I overcame.” It was through his own perseverance in suffering and death that he “overcame” and thereby qualified to reign on his Father’s Throne – (Revelation 3:21).

The English noun rendered as “tribulation” translates the Greek term thlipsis, the same word used for the “Great Tribulation.” Originally, it referred to pressure, a “pressing together,” hence it denoted the sense of “affliction, tribulation” - (John 16:33, Matthew 24:21, Revelation 1:8-9, 7:9-17).

Disciples of Jesus must expect resistance to the Gospel. “You will be hated by all men for my name's sake: but he that endures to the end will be saved.” However, suffering for his sake is a “blessing… for great is your reward in heaven” - (Matthew 5:11-12, 10:22, 24:4-9).

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul praised the young congregation because its members “became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much TRIBULATION [thlipsis], and with joy of the Holy Spirit,” so much so they became “examples” to the assemblies in “Macedonia and Achaia.”

In his praise, Paul included the same paradox found in the words of Jesus – joy amid tribulation. Likewise, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, he boasted of the congregation’s steadfastness as its members endured faithfully through “all their persecutions and tribulations”- (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7, 2 Thessalonians 1:4).

APPOINTED


Thus, Paul praised the Thessalonians for remaining faithful in tribulation, and he expanded on this idea in his Letter to them:

  • We were well-pleased to be left in Athens alone; and sent Timothythat he might confirm and console you over your faith, that no one might be shrinking back in these TRIBULATIONS [thlipsis]. For you yourselves know that FOR THIS WE ARE APPOINTED. For even when we were with you, we told you beforehand, we are going to suffer TRIBULATION [thlibô] - (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, 3:1-3).

His words assume that suffering for the Gospel is an expected experience for believers. The clause, “suffer tribulation,” translates the Greek verb related to the noun thlipsis or “tribulation,” namely, thlibô. The followers of Jesus are appointed to this very thing just as he foretold them - Rewards and compensation in this and the next life, but also persecution and affliction - (Mark 10:29-30).

How should his disciples react when afflictions and tribulations come? Paul encouraged his congregations 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. 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 us for an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” - (Romans 8:35-39, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4, 4:17).

Similarly, Peter declared it thankworthy to suffer for the sake of “conscience towards God.” There is no glory if one suffers for sin, but if a man suffers patiently for the Gospel, it is praiseworthy.

His disciples “have been called for this” very thing. To suffer persecution for the Gospel is to “follow in the footsteps” of Jesus who “left us an example” in his self-sacrificial sufferings and death. The disciple who is found worthy to “suffer for righteousness” is blessed, and this is in “accord with the will of God” - (1 Peter 2:19-23, 3:14-18, 4:15-19).

Storm - Photo by Bernd 📷 Dittrich on Unsplash
[Photo by Bernd 📷 Dittrich on Unsplash]

His followers are called to emulate him in their conduct toward their persecutors, especially by showing mercy and praying for them. In doing so, the disciple becomes “
perfect” like his Father in Heaven who sends his rain “on the just and the unjust” - (Matthew 5:44-48).

Tribulation” is an integral part of what it means to follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.” Suffering for his sake is not punishment or aberration, but grounds for rejoicing. Being found “worthy” to suffer for the Kingdom of God is the greatest “blessing” and honor that any disciple can receive in this life.

Thus, his disciples should not be surprised by the “fiery trial” that comes upon them, especially when they suffer for their testimony. Suffering persecution for Jesus is part and parcel of what it means to take up the Cross and follow him.  After all, as Paul declared, All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”



RELATED POSTS:
  • Faithful Until Death - (The Assembly of Smyrna has remained faithful through tribulations and persecutions)
  • The Tribulation of the Church - (Those who choose to follow Jesus “wherever he goes” must remain faithful when bearing witness before kings and nations even at the cost of their own lives)
  • Tribulation versus Wrath - (The terms tribulation and wrath are not synonymous in Paul’s letters or in the  Book of Revelation)


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