The words “Great Tribulation” conjure up a deep-seated fear in the hearts of many of God’s people. The fear derives mainly from the way in which the subject is presented by Christian authors. Some believe they will be “whisked away” before “IT” happens, (called the “pre-trib. rapture”.) Others are of the firm belief that all Christians will have to go through “IT”, (called the “post-trib. rapture”.)
In this brief expository paper, I would like to clear away a few misconceptions. All one has to do is to refer to a concordance and see how the word “tribulation” is used, coupled with a lexicon to tell us what the Greek word means. Matt.7:14 “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leads to Life, and few there be who find it.” These were the Master’s words. Did you know that in the original they contained the word “tribulation”? From the Greek it should read, “Narrow, constricted, is the entrance, and tribulated is the road that leads to Life.” Hence there is no way of getting round it! If we say we are Christians, then we are supposed to be on a “tribulated roadway to Life”, whatever that means. And the rest of the New Testament bears this out – Paul endorsed it when writing to the Thessalonians (1 Th.3:3-4). “No man should be moved, (or drawn aside) by these tribulations, for you yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.”
His message was clear enough to the believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, when he told them to “continue in the faith, that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) He encouraged the Corinthians by saying that “the lightness (!) of the present tribulation works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Cor. 4:17) And he asked the Ephesians “not to faint at my tribulations on your behalf, which is for your glory.” (Eph.3:13) And he emphasised that “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort will comfort us in all our tribulation, so that we shall be able to comfort others as they pass through their tribulations.” (2 Cor.1:3-4) They certainly didn’t believe in a “pre-trib. rapture”!
Let me repeat the lesson. “We are APPOINTED TO TRIBULATION”, 1 Thess.3:3-4. But praise God, “We are NOT APPOINTED TO WRATH.” (1 Thess 5:9) What then does the Lexicon say about this word “tribulation”? The Greek word is THLIPSIS, from the verb THLIBO, meaning to “hem in, compress, confine in a narrow place.” There is nothing intrinsically about persecution, affliction, cruelty, and torture. Rather does the word suggest a loss of freedom, when one is held in a vice by circumstances, when a man is shut up in prison, or is bed-ridden as an invalid, when a family is snowed up and cannot get out, when the car breaks down and there is urgent need of transport, or when the money runs out. In all of these examples there is the feeling of constriction, the loss of freedom to move.
The newly converted sinner will be rejoicing in his salvation, in the sense of forgiveness from the God of Heaven. But as he tells others of his new-found joy in Jesus, and as his whole life changes to become a TRUE person, he will soon find that it leads to all manner of confinement. Erstwhile friends will bid him goodbye. Members of his own family will no longer smile, indeed, some will make it quite clear he is no longer welcome in their homes. His employer may find it necessary to replace him due to the embarrassment he causes in a compromised business. Loss of employment may lead to the dole queue, with its financial restrictions.
The list goes on and on. But mark you, it only happens to those who are prepared to ‘witness’ openly to their faith. I am not talking about preaching here, but the effect a changed and holy lifestyle has on others. Secret disciples can maintain a camaraderie with the world, but will deny themselves the “exceeding weight of glory” promised to those who allow the “tribulation process” to occur.
So what about this “Great Tribulation” that everyone talks about? What does God say about it in Revelation chapter 7? “These are the ones who are coming out of The Great Tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Praise God! It is His own harvest! How many are there? “A great multitude that no man can number, out of all nations, kindreds, peoples and tongues.” It is the “great” tribulation because of the “great” multitude.
No man can experience more than his own tribulation. We can “bear one another’s burdens,” yes, but “each man must carry his own load.” (Gal.6:2,5) In one sense, this “great tribulation” has lasted throughout the 2000 years since Christ rose from the dead, and even encompasses the centuries before that as well. Let us cast fear aside, and not be subject to writers who only focus on the antichrist in the future. Let us rise to the occasion and “rejoice in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces patience, and patience proof (that is, a proving of our faith), and proof produces hope, and hope disposes of shame, because the love of God is poured out in our hearts.” (Rom.5:3-5) Let the exultant joy of the early apostles fill our hearts as we witness fearlessly to our faith, by living a life based on TRUTH, that, come what may, whether it be afflictions, persecutions, hatred, misunderstandings, whatever brand of “tribulation” to which God appoints us , we shall have the “proof” of His working within us, that produces this “exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” It’s the Narrow Road that leads to Life, given to us by the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And it’s the only road that God will accept from His children.