Author: Ron Graham
Times of Tribulation (Revelation 6-11) >Seven Seals >Excursus on time and suffering (1)
We have been studying the “four horses of the apocalypse” and the four horsemen who rode them. They represent typical tribulations that human beings must continue to suffer until the end of the world. One human being, because he is the very Son of God, can lead us through all tribulations, even death.
We are going to put our verse-by-verse exposition on hold for several lessons, while we consider the theme of Revelation chapters 6-11 in overview. That theme is “Times of Tribulation”. We will look at tribulation as related to times and seasons in prophecy.
In the man Jesus, we can endure and have victory no matter what ills befall us. His gospel is the revelation (Greek apokalupsis the apocalypse), that shows us the way. It is now unsealed and all the mysteries revealed.
We can have perfect confidence in its message and instruction, and in the power and glory that Jesus Christ the Lamb and the Lion imparts to all who believe in him and follow his words until death.
Jesus once said, "Whoever finds his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39).
The book of Revelation serves its main purpose by encouraging us to continue in the faith and to put all our trust in Jesus Christ our God.
Jesus promises, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). In two visions, John saw "the souls of those who had been slain because of their testimony for Jesus" (Revelation 6:9 and 20:4).
But even if your death is not that of a martyr, you still have to be faithful until you die, and cope with tribulations meanwhile.
The whole world is subject to various trials and tribulations, and Christians are not immune. Because they are in the world, Christians will be among those who suffer. This is true even when the suffering is not natural, and wickedness is to blame.
Christians can be the victims of wickedness, and at times may even be singled out.
Violence and war, rape and torture, sickness and death, plague and pestilence, fire and flood, earthquake and drought, cruelty and injustice, divorce and disloyalty, poverty and destruction, atrocities and abominations...
If you personally haven't suffered from such as these, or known someone who has, then I am very surprised.
John started his letter by referring to "the tribulation, and the kingdom, and the perseverance of Christ" (Revelation 1:9).
Yes, we belong to the kingdom of Heaven (Revelation 1:6), so we endure the temporary troubles of this world with "the patience and faith of the saints" (Revelation 13:10).
Our response to hardships and trials is perseverance, not dismay.
Many folk think that Christianity immediately takes away all pain, solves all problems, wipes every tear away, and makes life one long sweet stretch of sunshine.
It may even be felt that only sinners suffer tribulation, and suffering is a sign of sin in your life. But the promise in Revelation is different.
Only when life is over, and Jesus returns to judge the world, does God "wipe every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:13-17, Revelation 21:1-4). Until he comes, there will be traumas and tears.
Of course God will help and support us in our sufferings.
Tribulation was the common and general experience of Christians all across the world. Sail westward across the water from Revelation's seven congregations in Asia, and you come to Thessalonica.
The Christians there were told, "...all the persecutions and afflictions which you endure are a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment, that you be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you indeed are suffering" (2Thessalonians 1:4-5).
Or ride eastward a similar distance to Lycaonia and Pisidia where Paul stated this hard fact to the Christians there: "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:19-22).
If I had to find another title for the book of Revelation, that quote would be it.
Nothing happened in the first century or since that enables us today to enter the kingdom of God through much tranquillity rather than through much tribulation.
Human beings must continue to suffer tribulations until the end of the world. One human being, because he is the very Son of God, can lead us through all tribulations, even death.
If the parable of the sower and the seed is still applicable to the kingdom of God today, then so is the part about the seed which fell upon rocky ground: "They have no root in themselves but are only temporary; when affliction or persecution arises, because of the world, immediately they fall away" (Mark 4:16-17).
The book of Revelation reminds us that, until Jesus comes, there will often be "affliction or persecution" and we must endure it faithfully.
Paul summed it up like this: "We suffer with Christ in order that we may be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be" (Romans 8:16-18).
All who have the hope of glory must daily bear the cross of tribulation.
We must trust in "the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction".
Rather than taking our affliction away, He allows us to suffer tribulation for a very good reason: "that we should not trust in ourselves but in God" (2Corinthians 1:3-11).
That reason is as valid in the twenty-first century as it was in the first.
Whilst most of us are granted respite from tribulation from time to time, we have to live with the understanding that traumas and tears might be just around the corner.
You will have observed the depressing cycles of tribulation which John saw in his visions recorded in Revelation chapters six to eighteen.
In chapter six, the Lamb opens, one by one, six of the seven seals of his scroll. The opening of each seal reveals some terrible distress.
But after these six horrors there is revealed, in chapter seven, a full number of the faithful who have come out of great tribulation with their robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).
In other words, they shared in the suffering of Christ, by enduring the suffering that came to them, without giving up their faith in him.
In chapter eight, the seventh seal is opened. We might expect the seventh seal, like the seventh day, to be one of rest. Instead, to our horror, it reveals yet another litany of sufferings! There are seven trumpets given to angels.
As the first six trumpets sound, one by one, some terrible distress is revealed, just as when the six seals were opened.
In chapter eleven, the seventh trumpet is sounded. Nor is this seventh a sabbath! We are assured that God is still in his heaven, yet there are even more horrifying visions culminating in seven angels with seven plagues which are poured out upon the earth.
In chapter sixteen, when we come to the seventh angel's outpouring, there follow still more visions of tribulation and woe. Not until we reach chapter nineteen do the visions take a turn for the better and bring an end to sufferings at the end of this world.
One time of suffering passes, but another is likely down the track. This would be a pessimistic view, but because we understand tribulation, we can be optimists in the face of it.