OUR GREAT TRIBULATION
By Dan Luehrs
When most Christians hear the words "great tribulation" their minds automatically go to a futuristic time of the seven year great tribulation period in the book of Revelation. We do this because that's what most of us have been taught in the church over the years, and frankly that’s about all most of us know about tribulation! But I believe there is an even higher understanding of what the scriptures are saying about great tribulation and why we must go through it. The Greek word for "tribulation" is "thlipsis," and is used forty-five times in the New Testament. It means, "To be under pressure, affliction, anguish, burdened, persecution, and trouble." All of us that are pressing into knowing Jesus more have entered into His sufferings as promised in the Bible.
"For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:5 NAS).
"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 NAS).
"… Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22 NAS).
"Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer" (Romans 12:12 NAS).
"You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:6 NAS).
TRIBULATION WORKETH PATIENCE
"By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Romans 5:2-5 KJV).
It is easy for us to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God; it is only natural for us to rejoice in that which is exciting. Yet we are told to rejoice in our tribulations! Now that is supernatural! Unless we have a revelation of what tribulations can do for us we will not make it through the severe tests and trials designed to open for us the greatest revelation of the Lord… His full revealing in and through us.
Paul said, "Tribulation worketh patience." In other words, "Pressures, trials, and afflictions work in us the willingness to suffer the will of God so that we will be matured like Jesus." Patience means just that, "the willingness to suffer the will of God." We must let tribulations finish their work in us and not try to escape from them if we expect to grow spiritually like Jesus, "Perseverance (patience) must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:4 NIV). Our willingness to stay under these trials is what is testing our obedience to our heavenly Father through our most trying of circumstances. "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8 NAS). Our goal should be to be as our heavenly Father is, "Therefore you are to be perfect (mature), as your heavenly Father is perfect (mature)" (Matthew 5:48 NAS). My goal as an earthly father is to help my children grow up and grow to maturity in their hearts and minds. Should God have any less of a goal for us than to be like Him?
But Paul does not stop there. He goes on to say in Romans 5:4, "Patience (works) experience" or we could say, "Patience brings forth tested character in us." This tested character is "Christ-likeness" in our minds. When we have gone through our trials and have learned something from them, we now have tested character and have learned experience from them as a hardened war veteran would have learned to stay cool under fire! "Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11 NRSV). When the Lord has trained us through our tribulations we will have gained peace in our heart and mind through any circumstances and nothing will move us!
"Experience or tested character (works) hope: and hope maketh not ashamed." How can tested character bring hope? Because we have seen the faithfulness of our God to keep and deliver us through all circumstances. He has promised this to us in His word and this brings great hope and peace to our inner man. Once we have learned that we can trust God through anything we will have a greater hope that He will keep His word to us. As a Christian we should have one hope/goal, which Paul speaks of often in His writings. This hope is not the rapture, a mansion in heaven. It is to know Jesus and be like Him, which is the hope of His glory.
"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10 NAS).
"Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2 NAS).
"To whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27 NAS).
"Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13 NAS).
These tribulations that we are going through are preparing us to be revealed as the sons of God! "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19 NAS). But this will only take place after we have been tried and trained by God.
TO COME OUT OF GREAT TRIBULATION
"… These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14 KJV).
These people that "Came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." They have willingly entered into the sufferings of Christ and their sufferings have cleansed their minds and bodies from rebellion. "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:7-8 NAS). These sufferings prepare them for the glory of God, which is their white garments, "His bride has made herself ready!"
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 KJV).
“But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13 NAS).
Clearly if we want to partake of His glory we must also partake of the sufferings of Christ. Then it will be written of us, “These are they that have come out of great tribulation!” Now read carefully Revelation 7:15, "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them.” Why are they before the throne (meaning face to face with Jesus)? Because they have suffered with Christ in His sufferings and were found faithful to the end! Now Jesus has placed His glory upon them. They do not have to go in and out of His presence, but can now abide continually in His presence, which is peace. This is their reward for dying to self in this earthly life. “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Write, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them" (Revelation 14:13). We must die to self now so that we can enter into His rest! The word for "rest" is "repose." It simply means, "The act of resting or the state of being at rest, the freedom from worry; peace of mind, calmness, and tranquillity." Isn't that what mankind desires the most?
"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat” (Revelation 7:16).
No more will they go through life having to suffer spiritual hunger and thirst pains, for they have come to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. They now drink of the River of Life where they thirst no more and they eat of the bounty of the Tree of Life. No longer does the stress of life burn them out, because they have learned to enter the rest of God. Their sun, which is their natural reasoning and understanding, troubles them no more. They have learned to trust and obey God through their tribulations and nothing causes them to be fearful or worried any more. The Lamb now sits on the throne of their heart, leading them into the springs of life where there is no more sorrow. “For the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17). Praise God!
MARK CHAPTER THIRTEEN
As we have seen so clearly in scripture, tribulation has been promised to us; not because we are bad or that God is mad at us, but because God is working His perfect will in us to make us like Himself. Man went from perfection into sin. Now we must go from sin into perfection again, and frankly, it hurts! I cannot imagine the pain that Adam and Eve went through as they went from perfection into sin, but we know what it's like for us. We may not like the process of fire which with God has chosen to perfect us, but if we willingly lay down our lives now we will not have to face the fires later against our will, which will even be more painful.
"For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created, until now, and never shall" (Mark 13:19 NAS).
In Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21 Jesus spoke of coming tribulation to the people of the earth. Many in the church have interpreted this to be the time of "The great tribulation, the time of Jacob's troubles, or the seven year tribulation period." Yet Jesus never makes such statements. He just says there will be great tribulation, He does not label it as a seven year period of time; this has been added by Bible teachers. To be honest with you, I believe what Jesus is talking about is true Christianity, Christianity is tribulation! Why is Christianity tribulation? Because Christianity is about dying to self and learning to live by our spirit man, who is Christ. This brings great tribulation and warring into our lives by obeying and following the Lamb wherever He goes. Our spirit man (Jesus' likeness) is being birthed through our opposing flesh and this is causing great pain in our lives. This spiritual life is a higher realm than the natural one we live in physically. Our minds are being renewed and raised up to God's realm of thinking and acting. This takes place by the power of His word and Spirit that is working in us so that we will think and act like Jesus. He wants us to be at peace and rest in Him through all circumstances. Then we are beginning to have His likeness.
Now, do I believe that there are going to be very hard times on earth in the future, like earthquakes, floods, famine and the likes? Absolutely! These things have always been since the fall of man and will only increase as man falls out of balance and harmony with God. But I do not necessarily believe that natural catastrophes are the only things that Jesus is talking about in these verses, because He says, "But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance. But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken" (Mark 13:23-25 NAS).
Notice the word "after" the tribulations, "The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven." He is not talking about the natural sun, because if our natural sun goes dark this would bring death to all of His creation on earth immediately. This sun and moon is our natural reasoning and understanding that is at war with God, His will, and His ways in us. Isaiah 60:19-20 says, "No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. Your sun will set no more, Neither will your moon wane; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be finished." This fleshly reasoning must be darkened (darkening is a slow process). It comes to our lives through carrying our cross and our daily shakings and tribulations. In Hebrews 12:26-27 God promises us, "And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven." And this expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain." Only those things of the kingdom of God in us cannot be shaken; they will remain!
"For nation will arise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs" (Mark 13:8 NAS).
The word "nation" here means "customs." In other words, the customs of my body of sin and death will be at war with the Jesus life in me because of His new birth in my spirit. "But I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:23 NAS).
"Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Mark 13:29-30 NAS).
Here we are given a great promise by our Lord, that when we see tribulation after tribulation coming to pass in our own lives, we are to know that He is near and right at the door. This means a fuller revelation of the Lord in our life is at hand! Jesus goes on to say "This generation will not pass away until all these things take place." The word for "generation" means, "age." Or as I see it, "this man of the sin/age in us will not pass away until our sun and moon is darkened through tribulation!"
In Luke 21:34-36 we are given a very strong warning by the Lord about these times of great tribulation. "Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. "But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
What I believe Jesus is saying here is that we must be careful to have daily fellowship with Him in order to give us spiritual strength to get through the trials. We are not to be having fellowship with the world's ways, because this is spiritual drunkenness with the cares of the world. “So then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober… But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:6,8).
If we are going to make it through these days we must stay sober! This does not just mean to stay away from becoming drunk with alcohol; it goes much deeper than that. We must have spiritual understanding in this or we too will be deceived along with the multitudes of people who are drunk on the spirit of this world. There are two sources that we can drink from everyday. One is the Spirit of God and the other is the spirit of the world. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
We are to be ever filled with the Holy Spirit. We can drink of the new wine every day by spending time in the Holy Spirit’s presence. This will give us the strength to go on each day with Him. If we ever find ourselves walking in defeat, fear, worry, and depression, it's because we have chosen to drink from these spirits rather than the Holy Spirit. When we are drinking of the Holy Spirit, we will be walking down the straight and narrow path of righteousness, peace, and joy. If we are not walking in this, we are walking in deception! “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
It says in Acts 2:4, “… They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” That is, they were filled with the new wine of the Spirit until they were under the influence or the control of the Holy Spirit. When someone is drunk with alcohol or high on drugs we say they are "under the influence" of a substance. So it is with the Holy Spirit! But His influence will never, never bring depression or defeat in our lives, only overcoming power to live for Him in an ungodly, sin-filled world. Jesus warned us of the dangers and what will happen to those who drink from worldly spirits of this age. "Men fainting from fear and the expectation (worry) of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken" (Luke 21:26 NAS). Depression, fear, apprehension, and panic attacks are some of the greatest medical problems people are facing today and it arises from our trials and tribulations that we are all facing. Jesus said, "For it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth" (Luke 21:35 NAS).
Yes, Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21 speak about the end of the world, (but it is the end of the world's ways of thinking and acting in us!) As our minds are being renewed more and more each day by His word, we will be able to see the Lord and His ways much clearer because He is filling us with more of Himself. Then, as He possesses and conquers more and more of us, we will possess more and more of God's character! "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Galatians 6:9 KJV). We will reap full salvation if we faint not!
Jesus said that one of the greatest tests and dangers about us going through tribulation would be encountering false ministers trying to deceive the very elect of God. "And Jesus began to say to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. "Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He (or I am of Him)!' and will mislead many" (Mark 13:5-6 NAS). I believe much of this deception comes from preachers who say we do not have to go through tribulations to become like Jesus. They say, "If you have enough faith and word in you, you don't have to suffer." But Jesus told the church at Smyrna, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10 NAS). If we desire the crown of life, which is His glory, we too will have to be faithful unto the death of self so that we can rule and reign with Christ. These same preachers may say, "Jesus is not talking about dying to self in these verses, He talking about this literally taking place in the earth." This could be. But the problem with most preachers is that they see most things in the New Testament in the history of the Old Testament, while they do not see the mystery that has been hidden long ages ago as Paul had seen. "And to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things" (Ephesians 3:9 NAS).
Jesus said, "… To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables" (Mark 4:11 NAS).