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Saints, Tribulation


In Revelation, faithful saints experience “tribulation,” but the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth” undergo “wrath.”

John saw the followers of the “Lamb” exiting the “great tribulation,” having persevered through it. This striking image is central to the vision of the “innumerable multitude,” a company of men purchased from every nation by the lifeblood of Jesus. Having “overcome,” they stand triumphantly before the “Lamb” and the “throne” in “New Jerusalem.”

At the beginning of the book, John identified himself as the “fellow-participant” with the churches of Asia “in the tribulation and the kingdom and the endurance.” In his exile on Patmos “for the testimony of Jesus,” he become a participant in the same “tribulation” that the “seven churches” were enduring in the Roman province of Asia.

The term “tribulation” occurs five times in Revelation, and each time it is used in relation to believers. In other words, “tribulation” is what churches endure. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the term “tribulation” is applied to what disciples of Jesus experience for his sake – (Matthew 13:21, John 16:33, Revelation 1:9, 2:9-10, 7:14).

In the Greek text of John’s declaration, ONE definite article or “the” modifies all three nouns – Tribulation, Kingdom, Endurance. Each term represents an aspect of the same reality. To be “in Jesus” means to endure and suffer “tribulation” for his kingdom. And to suffer for the kingdom is what it means to reign with Christ. The Greek term rendered “endurance” or hupomoné occurs six more times in the book and always is linked to believers who persevere – (Revelation 2:2-3, 2:19, 3:10, 13:10, 14:12-13).

Perseverance is how believers “overcome” and then inherit the promises found at the end of each of the letters to the “seven churches.” And in Revelation, the “Dragon” and his vassals wage war against the “saints,” not with nations or governments – (“and the Dragon made war with those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus” – Revelation 12:17, 13:7-10).

Jesus summons his “saints…to be faithful even unto death” in persecution and tribulation. They are to remain steadfast in trials, even when doing means death. It is faithfulness in tribulation that results in the receipt of the “crown of life.”

And faithful saints endure the “great tribulation,” the period during which followers of the “Lamb” are tried but also overcome the “beast” by means of their “testimony.” After doing so, they find themselves “standing before the Throne and the Lamb” in the New Creation – (Revelation 7:9-17).

In contrast to persevering saints, the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth” undergo “wrath,” that is, the “second death” in the “lake of fire.” “Wrath” refers to the punitive sentence of God against his enemies, and nowhere in the book is it equated with “tribulation.” The “churches” endure “tribulation,” but they do not undergo divine “wrath.” That is reserved for His enemies and those who afflict His people.

Finally, and ultimately, believers overcome the “Dragon by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they love not their lives even unto death” – (Revelation 12:11).

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