They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.[Hebrews 11:37-38]
If there is one consistent thread that runs throughout all of church history, it is the thread of suffering for the sake of Christ. From the very first generation of believers who were driven out of Jerusalem leading to the death of the Apostles, the story of God’s people has been the story of martyrdom.
Of all the promises that God has given to the saints, the promise of suffering is the most sobering of all. As followers of Jesus Christ living in the West, the concept of persecution and tribulation is mostly abstract and largely absent from our lives. But for the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout history and among those alive today, the call to follow Jesus Christ is the call to come and die.
The price to follow Jesus Christ in many parts of the world is costly, and the Lord told us as much. The plague of prosperity preaching has infected the church like a cancer, leading millions astray into a pseudo Christianity that does not reflect the true teachings and mission of Jesus Christ.
The truth is that God has not promised to bless His people with riches, comfort, pleasure, and popularity in this life. No! On the contrary, God has promised that all who identify with Jesus Christ and seek to live a godly life will suffer persecution in this world — our rewards being stored in heaven for the day of judgment.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.[2 Timothy 3:12-13]
Just this week, over 100 farmers — most of them Christians — were slaughtered by the Muslim militants, Boko Haram, in Nigeria. Unfortunately these headlines seem to be more and more common in this evil age. Our brothers and sisters all over the world are being targeted and killed for one reason and one reason alone — faith in Jesus Christ. Whether it be in China, North Korea, Africa or the Middle East, the demonic rage against God’s people is growing more and more intense in these last days.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.[John 15:18-20]
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.[1 Peter 4:12-13]
Preparing for the Great Tribulation
Jesus Himself promised His followers that in this world, we will suffer tribulation [John 16:33]. This promise has held true for nearly 2,000 years and seems to only be getting worse. If tribulation and suffering is guaranteed for God’s people of every generation, then it only stands to reason that the last generation of believers will be forced to go through the time of great tribulation as well.
The great tribulation is that unprecedented time of trouble and distress that will encompass the whole earth just prior to the return of Jesus Christ and the Day of the LORD. The Bible makes a distinction concerning this period of immense suffering as being unlike any before or after it. It will be the final 3.5 years of this present, evil age, and God’s people must be prepared to face it and go through it just as every other generation of Christians has gone before us.
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved … For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.[Jesus Christ — Matthew 24:9-13, 21-22]
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.[Revelation 6:9-11]
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
10If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.[Revelation 13:5-10]
Despite what many Christians have been taught, the great tribulation will be the most comprehensive and systematic persecution of God’s people the world has ever seen. The great tribulation will reveal the final generation of true witnesses and faithful followers of Jesus Christ and lead to the greatest display of martyrdom in human history. In other words, it is impossible to have the great tribulation without God’s people because the great tribulation is the final refining and testing of God’s people!
As a pastor and preacher of the gospel, it is my obligation and responsibility to prepare the church for what is coming. Anything less would be cruel and cowardly. We must wake up to the reality that the days are evil and the time is at hand. Tribulation is already here for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, and the great tribulation is coming.
We must be ready.
We must remain faithful.
We must endure to the end.
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.