Tribulation vs Wrath
The terms “tribulation” and “wrath” are NOT synonymous in Paul’s letters or the Book of Revelation. “Tribulation” is what the disciples of Jesus endure for his sake. “Wrath” is the horrific fate that awaits the wicked at the final judgment. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes that God did not appoint them to “wrath.” Yet, in the same letter, he states that believers are destined for “tribulation.”
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Persevering through trials and persecution is part and parcel of what it means to follow Jesus. Moreover, Paul does not treat tribulation as something unexpected or an aberration in the life of the Assembly.
- “GOD DID NOT APPOINT US TO WRATH, but to the acquiring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” - (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
- “Wherefore, no longer concealing our anxiety, we were well-pleased to be left in Athens alone;FOR YOU YOURSELVES KNOW THAT HEREUNTO ARE WE APPOINTED. For even when we were with you, we told you beforehand, WE ARE DESTINED TO SUFFER TRIBULATION! Even as it also came to pass, and you knowand sent Timothy, our brother and God’s minister in the gospel of the Christ, that he might confirm and console you over your faith, that no one might be shrinking back in these tribulations. ” - (1 Thessalonians 3:1-4).
Either Paul contradicts himself in the Letter or he does not equate “tribulation” with “wrath.” By enduring persecution, the believers of Thessalonica “became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much tribulation with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” - (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
Likewise, Jesus taught his disciples to expect persecution. Opponents of the faith will deliver them “for tribulation and kill them, and they will be hated by all the nations.” Before his return, there will be “great tribulation” for the saints; so much so, that only “he who endures to the end” will be saved - (Matthew 13:21, 24:9, 24:21-22).
Contrary to human wisdom, disciples who endure persecution will be pronounced “blessed” in the Kingdom. Suffering for Jesus is a matter for great rejoicing - “Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice! Be exceedingly glad! For great is your reward in heaven!” (Matthew 5:10-12).
Paul also encouraged his assemblies to rejoice in suffering. They were to “exult in our tribulations because they bring about endurance, and our endurance a testing, and our testing hope” - (Romans 5:3, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4).
Followers of Jesus must remain patient in tribulations and “continue steadfastly in prayer.” It is God who “comforts us in every tribulation, so that we ourselves may be able to comfort those who are in any tribulation.” Tribulations “prepare for us an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison” - (Romans 8:35-39, 12:12, 2 Corinthians 1:4, 4:17).
According to Peter, it is thankworthy if we suffer for the sake of our “conscience towards God.” There is no glory or honor if we suffer for doing wrong, but if we do so because of our obedience to God, it is praiseworthy. Moreover, as believers, we “HAVE BEEN CALLED FOR THIS” very thing - (1 Peter 2:19-20, 4:15).
To suffer for the Gospel is to “follow in the footsteps” of Jesus who “left us an example” in his sacrificial death. The disciple found worthy to “suffer for righteousness” is blessed, and this is in “ACCORD WITH THE WILL OF GOD” - (1 Peter 2:19-23, 3:14-18, 4:19).
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul boasts of the congregation’s steadfastness. They endured faithfully through “all their persecutions and tribulations.” At Christ’s return, faithful disciples will be vindicated, but the unrepentant condemned - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).
In Paul’s letters, “wrath” is NOT identical to “tribulation.” The impenitent man stores up for himself “wrath” and “fury” that he will reap on the “day of wrath.” Because of sin, the “wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” In contrast, the saints have been justified by Jesus, therefore, they will “be saved by him from the wrath of God” - (Romans 2:5-8, 5:9, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6-8).
The coming “wrath” is connected to the Day when Jesus “arrives on the clouds.” God has not appointed His Assembly to experience this “wrath.” Instead, His saints will acquire salvation through Jesus, and that means they will not experience this future “wrath,” though it does not mean they will avoid suffering and persecution in this life - (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9).
In the Book of Revelation, John addresses the Seven Assemblies from his exile on the isle of Patmos, “Because of his testimony,” and he identifies himself with the plight of the congregations in Asia - “I, John, your brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance in Jesus” - (Revelation 1:9).
In John’s declaration, the Greek term rendered “tribulation” has the definite article, he is a participant in “THE tribulation.” The article signifies a reference to something known. Thus, the Seven Assemblies were experiencing “the tribulation.”
To the Assembly at Smyrna, Jesus declared, “I know YOUR TRIBULATION and the things you are going to suffer,” and he encouraged the congregation “not to fear what you are about to suffer.” He stated that they will “have TRIBULATION FOR TEN DAYS.” He summoned the Assembly to “become faithful unto death” even when that meant martyrdom. In this way, the saints would “overcome” and escape something far worse, the “Second Death.”
Later, John saw an innumerable multitude of believers from every nation standing before the “Throne” and the “Lamb.” They “were coming out of THE GREAT TRIBULATION.” Here, the term refers to the SAME TRIBULATION in which John was a “FELLOW PARTICIPANTS” with the assemblies of Asia - (Revelation 1:9, 7:9-17).
The term “wrath” first appears in Revelation when the Sixth Seal was opened. This resulted in a final day characterized by celestial and terrestrial upheaval, and the arrival of the “wrath of the Lamb” – (Revelation 6:12-17, 11:15-19).
THE FINAL HOUR
The final “hour” to reap the harvest of the Earth was declared in Chapter 14 of Revelation. All men who rebelled against Jesus drank “the wine of God's wrath, poured out unmixed into the cup of his anger.” This image presents the same event as that of the rider on a white horse who “trod the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God” after the overthrow of the “Beast and False Prophet” - (Revelation 14:14-20, 19:11-21).
Thus, in Revelation, “wrath” refers to the final judgment and punishment of the enemies of God. Tribulation is what the “saints” endure at the hands of the “Dragon” and his earthly agents - (Revelation 12:17, 13:7, 14:12).
When Paul writes that “God did not appoint us to wrath,” and that “we are appointed for tribulation,” there is no contradiction. For him, the terms refer to two different things. “Wrath” is God’s judicial sentence and punishment on the wicked, and “tribulation” is what the world inflicts on the disciples of Jesus.
Thus, enduring “tribulation” for his sake is part of what it means to follow the “Lamb wherever he goes.” Suffering for the Gospel is not punishment but GROUNDS FOR REJOICING. Being accounted “worthy” to suffer for his Kingdom and Gospel is the highest honor for his disciple.