"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
-- John 16:33
Over the past 30 years of pastoral ministry, I have found various ways and means to cause trouble in churches. These include believing the Bible, preaching the gospel, and applying scriptural standards for church membership and leadership. Such principles should not have been controversial, but too much of the world had crept into the church.
When the world gets into the church there will be trouble. When the church goes into the world there will be trouble. Great tribulation comes to Christians because of the great revelation God has given to us of Himself and His plan of salvation. Over a period of three years, Jesus revealed theological truths in figures of speech, parabolic tales, and vague fulfillments of prophecies. Beginning with the upper room discourse, and continuing on for 40 post-resurrection days ahead of them, certain teachings about God became plain and clear.
The tri-unity of God, or the Trinity, is a great revelation of God. The disciples begin to get it in this text, confessing "we believe that you came from God." Hearkening back to the "I Am" statements and the miraculous signs of deity, the disciples finally understood what Jesus had told them months or years before, "I and the Father are one" (ref. John 10:30). Combine this with Jesus' recent teaching on the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of the Trinity becomes formulated as apostolic doctrine.
The personal and powerful love of God is a great revelation of God. Before the advent of Christ, God seemed distant and transcendent to the Israelites. Jesus broke that barrier with the incarnation, and His ministry made God imminent to those who believe drew near to Him. Christ's presence and Christ's passion proved one powerful truth, God "the Father Himself loves you," if you love and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had said so, years before, "For God so loved the world" (ref. John 3:16). To borrow a line from Burt Bacharach, what the world needs now is love. But it needs more than love, it needs the gospel.
Jesus came to give us a great revelation about the gospel. God showed His love by giving Himself in the person and work of the Son. The Son's mission was to bring a new covenant for all nations, be killed to kill sin, live again to give life, and leave the earth with the promise of Heaven to all those who accept the great revelation and risk the great tribulation.
Jesus promised the disciples, that as a result of their affirmation of His revelation, "In the world you will have tribulation." Unlike other theologians, I do not make a great dichotomy between "tribulation" and "great tribulation." All tribulation is great, if you are the one going through it. It is like the difference between suffering and intense suffering, or surgery and major surgery. All suffering is intense and all surgery is major if it is happening to you.
Focus for a moment on the meaning of the word "tribulation." It means trouble, suffering, or persecution brought on by unbelievers against Christ, Christianity, Christians, and the Christian church. If something negative happens to you because you are a Christian, you can rightly call it tribulation, and it is always great.
Jesus experienced great tribulation at the hands of Judas, soldiers, Herod, Pilate and the cross. Those first disciples and Apostles, to a man, experienced great tribulation as they spread the gospel and planted churches in Judaea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. The early church, the medieval church, the reformers, the missionaries, and our contemporary brothers and sisters in hot spots all over the world can tell us about tribulation, and it is always great, in more ways than one.
On one hand, tribulation can cause great pain and shame. Tribulation is great, however, when it causes personal and numerical growth in the body of Christ. Tribulation does a great job of separating the sheep from the goats, scattering believers into fields of mission and service, producing perseverance, and creating stronger bonds between Christ and the Christian. Tribulation will be great when it ushers in the new heaven and earth. Tribulation will result in great vengeance and wrath poured out upon the enemies of Christ.
The question we must ask ourselves now is, is accepting the great revelation of the gospel worth the great tribulation that follows followers of Christ?
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church, 5963 Central Ave., in Hot Springs. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]