“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
This is how John begins relating the revelations he received that are preserved in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. Sometimes we read over things quickly that other times will stick out. This verse sticks out today, perhaps, because we have a good friend who is fighting cancer. Today is also the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
I recently wrote about the charge from atheists that people have faith in God because of wishful thinking. Nothing could be more wishful. True faith is forged only in tribulation.
We in western civilization today are divorced from the realities of the 1st Century church and from the church in much of the rest of the world. We live in unprecedented luxury and comfort. Christianity has been the dominant religion for centuries, but in most of Europe and Canada, and maybe even in the United States, western civilization might now be classified as post-Christian.
Christianity is now seen as a religion for the weak minded and wishful thinkers who don’t have the individual courage to throw off the superstitions of the past and trust in the bold new world of scientific progress and achievement. At the same time, moderns eschew the moral and cultural controls of Christianity for individual rights and freedoms, unhindered by ancient standards.
Christianity in the modern western world, however, is a far cry from 1st Century Christianity. Being a 1st Century Christian was no walk in the park. Being a Christian in many (if not most) parts of the non-western world, even today, is a completely different reality than the relatively weak and myopic Christianity in our white-washed western churches.
John wrote the Book of Revelation between 80 BC and 95 BC. It was the last writing that was accepted as New Testament scripture by the early church. The followers of Jesus were initially ostracized by the Jewish community, but tolerated by the Romans, until mid-century.
Christians were viewed with disdain as superstitious (sound familiar) for believing in the resurrection of Jesus and miracles and with disgust for the practice of communion, which the Romans viewed as cannibalistic. Under Nero, the Christians were blamed for a fire in Rome, and Christians were thereafter subjected to cruel, tortuous deaths that were public spectacle.
Throughout history and even today, Christians have been and continued to be subjected to ostracism, oppression, torture and death. We see this in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS, in Africa from Boko Haram and in Pakistan and other Muslim countries were Christians are relegated to second hand citizenship by Muslim regimes. Christians in China and Russia are still scrutinized and oppressed by the ever watchful state.
The Christians in the west have enjoyed enviable freedom and even control in society that has largely been shaped by Christian influence. But that is changing.
When John described himself as a “partner in tribulation”, his audience could identify with him in ways that we, in the west, cannot. Tribulation was what the 1st Century Christians knew, and Christianity flourished in spite of that tribulation.
Jesus told the disciples,” In the world you will have tribulation.” This suggests that tribulation is what Christians should expect. The modern western church is not the norm.
The tribulation the 1st Century church came from outside. Many Christians throughout history and in many parts of the world today face outward political, cultural and even physical pressure to conform to some god, or some religious, political system or other standard that is antithetical to the lordship of Jesus. Not even the western church is immune from that.
A more subtle pressure has confronted Christians in the west arising out of the humanism that evolved from the Enlightenment, the naturalism growing out of the scientific community with the embrace of Darwin and the relativism that has crept into social mores that threaten any claim to higher authority and ultimate morality in the public square.
Tribulation comes not only from the outside, but inevitably works inward on the person professing faith in Christ. Although we often resort to fighting in the public arena, the real battleground is the heart of the believer. This tribulation is something Jesus said we would surely experience in this world. We should not be surprised by it.
The subtle tribulation we experience in the west is, perhaps, more dangerous to faith than outright oppression. We often don’t see the lines of demarcation and find ourselves unwittingly adopting the antithetical views that threaten to undo us. The pressures that we feel as Christians are inescapable, and they are necessary.
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Tribulations, pressures that leave us no options, pressures that hem us in and require us to commit to God or abandon the faith, are a necessary experience for the follower of Christ. These pressures are primarily internal, though they may result from external circumstances.
We should “exalt in our tribulations”, Paul told the Roman church, because the pressures that we feel to conform to the world, when resisted by faith, produce perseverance; and perseverance produces character; and character produces hope; and that hope is satisfied by the love of God that is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Paul rejoiced in tribulations, knowing that God was working eternal treasures in him. Paul says we should not be disturbed by the tribulations we experience because we have been destined for them.
Faith, then, does not lead people to avoid difficulties; it leads people into and through tribulation! Far from a refuge for the weak-minded and weak-hearted, faith leads to the strength of perseverance, character and hope. This is not a wishful hope, but hope that is forged in the fire of difficulty and pressure.
God destines the believer for tribulations and uses tribulations to work His eternal purpose in the lives of believers. Diamonds are made only through great pressure. Gold is refined only in fire. Christians are perfected only through tribulations.
John wrote Revelations to as a “partner in tribulation” because tribulation is something that believers experience in common. Tribulations test our faith. People who are not rooted in their faith may fall away under the pressures they face, but the strong will remain and will be strengthened through the process of tribulation.
Jesus didn’t promise to rescue us from tribulation. To the contrary, he promised that we would experience tribulation in this world… and, through tribulation, He would perfect us.
Dr. Gleason Archer (during his bout with cancer in Lake Forest Hospital, 4/27/02), said the following:
“God glorifies Himself in our tribulations, even the most painful ones. They enable us to powerfully share in His triumph – a comfort which is passed on to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). During these times, we perhaps most dramatically share with people that we are servants of the Lord Jesus.
“The triumph of the Lord is always our portion . . . because we belong to Him! God works all things out in His providence so we should revel in His power. The Lord knows how to make everything work out, as He sees we are ready for it. God overcomes evil and brings His joy to us as we watch Him demonstrate His devastating force over darkness.
“Ironically, God builds us up through tribulations by establishing His triumph beyond all our expectations. To experience this, we must open our hearts. Closing the heart to God in tribulation is life’s greatest defeat.
“No resistance alters God’s plan so the successes of evil are illusions. Victory is our privilege as we live in the awareness of His triumph.”
May we accept our tribulations as Paul did in the 1st Century and Dr. Archer did in our own time!
 2347/Thlípsis – literally, pressure (what constricts, rubs together in a narrow place that “hems in”); tribulation, focusing on internal pressure that causes one to feel confined (restricted, “without options”). Thlipsis can be translated as compression or tribulation, implying the idea of coping with the internal pressure caused by the tribulation, especially feeling that there is no way of escape because of being hemmed in. All outside forces that trouble us impose internal pressure to avoid that pressure.
 John 16:33, using the same world translated tribulation in Revelations 1:9.
 Acts 14:22
 Romans 5:1-3
 Romans 5:3-5
 Colossians 3:24
 1 Thessalonians 3:3
 The quotation is found in the word study for thlípsis, that is translated as “tribulation”, that can be found in the Discovery Bible.
I use The Discovery Bible to gain a deeper, richer and more complete understanding of the Scripture. If you want ready understanding of the original Greek, the original word emphasis and Greek tenses that do not exist in English, definitions of Greek words and more to make your reading of the New Testament deeper and richer, check out The Discovery Bible. The Discovery Bible opens up knowledge of the original New Testament text in Greek to you in your everyday Bible reading. It shows the words emphasized in the Greek text, the tenses and the meanings that do not always translate well into English or English sentence structure. If you are ready to dig deeper in your Bible reading, try a free 30-day trial download of The Discovery Bible.