Appointed to Tribulation

Disciples escape God’s wrath, but they endure tribulation to which they have been appointed – 1 Thessalonians 3:1-4. 

Lantern Twilight - Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash
In the New Testament, the terms “
tribulation” and “wrath” are NOT synonymous. “Tribulation” is what disciples endure for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom. However, “wrath” is the horrific fate awaiting the wicked at the “end of the age,” the “second death” that unrepentant sinners and apostates will endure on account of their iniquities and refusal to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ - [Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash].

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes that God has not appointed the church to “wrath.”

However, in the very same letter, he declares that the church has been set to “suffer tribulation.” Persevering through trials and persecutions is part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus:

  • 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).

SUFFERING PATIENTLY


Either Paul contradicts himself in the letter or he did not equate “tribulation” with “wrath.” By enduring persecution, the believers of Thessalonica:

  • Became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much tribulation with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” - (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Likewise, Jesus teaches his disciples to expect tribulation and persecution. Opponents of the faith will deliver them “for tribulation and kill them: and they will be hated by all the nations.”  Before his return, there will be “great tribulation” for the saints; so much so, that only “he who endures to the end” will be saved - (Matthew 13:21, 24:9, 24:21-22).

Contrary to human wisdom, men and women who endure persecution will be pronounced “blessed” in the Kingdom. Suffering for him is a matter for great rejoicing:

  • 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!” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Paul also encourages his churches 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).

We are to remain patient in tribulations 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).

IMITATING JESUS


According to Peter, it is thankworthy if we suffer for the sake of our “conscience towards God.” There is no glory or honor if we suffer for doing wrong, but if we suffer for our obedience to God, it is praiseworthy. Moreover, as believers, we “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” 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 boasts of the Thessalonians’ steadfastness. They have endured faithfully through “all their persecutions and tribulations.”

Both believers and non-believers will be found alive when Jesus arrives from Heaven, an event that will result in the vindication of the former, but the condemnation of the latter. And the Thessalonians are enduring persecution:

So 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).

WRATH


In Paul’s epistles, “wrath” is NOT identical to “tribulation.” The impenitent man stores up for himself “wrath” and “fury” that he will reap on the “day of wrath.”

Because of sin, the “wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” In contrast, the saints have been justified by Jesus and, consequently, they will “be saved by him from the wrath of God” - (Romans 2:5-8, 5:9, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6-8).

The coming “wrath” of God is connected to the day when Jesus returns in glory. God has not appointed the church to experience that “wrath.” Instead, the saints will acquire salvation through Jesus, and that means they will not experience His “wrath” at the end of the age. It does not mean they will escape suffering and persecution in this present life - (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9).

In the book of Revelation, when John addresses the seven churches while exiled to the isle of Patmos “because of his testimony”, he identifies himself with their challenging situation:

  • I, John, your brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance in Jesus” - (Revelation 1:9).

THE TRIBULATION


In John’s declaration, “tribulation” has the definite article - he is a participant in “THE tribulation.” The article signifies something that is known. Even at this early stage in church history, the churches are experiencing “the tribulation.”

To the church at Smyrna, Jesus declares that “I know YOUR TRIBULATION and the things you are going to suffer.” He encourages them “not to fear what you are about to suffer,” and he promises they will “have TRIBULATION FOR TEN DAYS.”

The Risen Christ summons the church of Smyrna to “become faithful unto death” even when that means martyrdom. And it is in this very way that the saints “overcome” and escape something far worse than persecution – the “Second Death.”

Later, John sees a great innumerable multitude of saints from every nation standing before the “Throne” and the “Lamb,” men who “are coming out of THE GREAT TRIBULATION.” And here, the term refers to the SAME TRIBULATION in which John and the seven churches are “FELLOW PARTICIPANTS” - (Revelation 1:9, 7:9-17).


Thunder and Lightning - Photo by Andras Kovacs on Unsplash
[Photo by Andras Kovacs on Unsplash]


In Revelation, the term “wrath” first appears when the sixth seal is opened. This results in the final day which is 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. It signifies the time for the righteous “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 last image pictures the final judgment when the righteous are vindicated and the wicked are condemned to “wrath” - (Revelation 11:15-19).

FINAL HOUR


The final “hour” to reap the harvest of the earth is declared in the fourteenth chapter of Revelation.

All men who rebel against Jesus will drink “the wine of God's wrath, poured out unmixed into the cup of his anger.” This presents the same event as the rider on a white horse who “treads the wine-press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” after the overthrow of 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, the “day of the Lord” and of the “wrath of the Lamb.” Tribulation is what the “saints” endure at the hands of the “Dragon” and his earthly agents in this life - (Revelation 12:17, 13:7, 14:12).

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

Tribulation” is 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 him is the highest honor and greatest “blessing” for his disciple.



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