Tribulation – What It Is and Its Purpose

Tribulation – What It Is and Its Purpose

Tribulation means affliction, hardship, difficulty or trying circumstances which can cause us pain, distress and test our ability to stay the course.

The word ‘tribulation‘ comes from the Latin word tribulum which was a wooden sledge used in Roman times to remove the husk from the grain. Pieces of stone and iron were attached to the under sides of the sledge which was dragged over the ears of grain and so separating the husks from the grain.

Tribulation in the life of a Christian, in a similar way, serves a purpose in God’s plan to remove that which constrains or contaminates the fruit of His Spirit in us, to remove love for the world and grow love and faith for God and Christ, to purify us spiritually though the experience may be painful. It should be realised that tribulation is not necessarily punishment or judgement from God:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10).

Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time ( Daniel 11:35).

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you 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. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgement to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:12-17)

Note Peter says judgement will begin with the household of God. So we ought not be surprised when tribulation comes for it is God’s desire that we be a holy and pure people through testing and purifying us in such times. One day God will present to His Son a bride – the Church – holy and blameless:

that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27).

Scripture often uses illustrations from farming to teach us principles about spiritual growth. Jesus did so in the parables of the sower (Luke 8:4-15) and the tares (Matthew 13:36-43). While good seed, soil and rain are necessary to produce a good crop it is also necessary for there to be a dry time when there is no rain for the grain to mature and ripen.

In the same way we can see this in times when there is an out-pouring of God’s Spirit which brings life and growth to God’s people. But then there inevitably follows a ‘dry’ time, a time of trial and tribulation when it seems the presence of God is distant. But this is not the case – for God purposely does this so our faith will mature and we produce the fruit of His Spirit – so that Christ be formed in us (Galatians 4:19).

It is probably true to say that we all experience some form of tribulation as we live in this world. First there is the normal suffering we can expect living in a fallen world: sickness, disability, personal tragedies and death.  Second, Jesus and the apostles warned Christians to expect tribulation and suffering with a significant difference: it will uniquely come upon those who want to follow Christ and bear His name.

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name ( Matthew 24:9).

If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ’A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (John 15:19-20).

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

Tribulation will clearly test our faith in God and this will be especially so in the time of the Great Tribulation Jesus forewarned us of in Matthew 24 (more on this in ‘Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?’). There will be times when God seems to be indifferent to our suffering but in reality He is wanting us to call on and seek Him more as these scriptures show:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:19).

But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble (Psalm 37:39).

Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me (Psalm 50:15).

Therefore when suffering and tribulation comes we should not fear or think God has forsaken us. We have been warned to expect it. In fact we should consider ourselves blessed and rejoice as the apostles did to be considered worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41, 1 Peter 4:14). Through enduring tribulation we are refined and grow in faith and holiness.

Next: Tribulation – Today: Hostility and Persecution

Photo Credit: Martin Roberts