The Christian’s Tribulation (and the suffering of the world)

There was a criminal who was exiled from the land of a good king. He lived in great turmoil, but the king allowed him to live hoping that he would one day be reconciled. The criminal changed his ways and gave himself as a servant to the king. He promised the king all he had (which was not much) and hoped to receive the promise of reconciliation, for the king’s land was indeed good. The criminal, though he had devoted his life to the king, still had to complete his sentence before he could enter the king’s land.

Now, the land where he was had a vile nature. Everywhere he looked he saw suffering. Because of his new devotion, his own suffering was multiplied. “How can there be a good King,” he wondered, “if he allows even his people to suffer so much, or since there was any suffering at all in a land where the king had all authority?” That suffering, though, could only be accounted for because the king loved people in such a way that he yearned more greatly for their reconciliation than their demise. Tribulation was a sign of the king’s love even for those who sinned against him.

One of the greatest questions of our day is the question of human suffering. If God is so good, why would He permit any sort of suffering at all? It is my understanding that suffering exists in the world because all people in the world became criminals before God. Because of the love He has for us, God allows the suffering that people have caused so that many might be reconciled to Him. By no means is this a comprehensive answer to the question and it by no means makes suffering easier for us to deal with, but the existence of both evil and suffering seem to be evidence not only of God’s existence, but also His gracious and just nature.

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,

who is seated on the throne,

and to the Lamb!

All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and they fell facedown before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honor

and power and strength

be to our God forever and ever. Amen.

Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from?”

I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

Then he told me:

These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.

They washed their robes and made them white

in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,

and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary.

The One seated on the throne will shelter them:

They will no longer hunger;

they will no longer thirst;

the sun will no longer strike them,

nor will any heat.

For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne

will shepherd them;

He will guide them to springs of living waters,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes[1]

Context

Leading up to this point, we discovered that Christ is the only righteous judge. In Chapters 4-5, we read about the glorious throne room and about the otherworldly creatures that surround God’s throne both day and night singing Him praise. In Chapter 6, we read that Christ alone has the authority to unseal the scroll and pronounce the judgment of the world.[2] With each of the first six seals that are broken, a new judgment is unleashed upon the earth:

  • The first: a victor is unleashed against the world
  • The second: peace is taken from the earth and nation slaughters nation
  • The third: there is hostility within trade and economics
  • The fourth: people of the earth would lose life to war, famine, plague and by wild animals
  • The fifth: great persecution martyrdom toward God’s people is realized
  • The sixth: great day of wrath (every disaster combined and people run and hide).

After this, Christ places a seal upon every tribe of the Jews and we arrive at out current passage.

Reality about suffering

Why does suffering exist today? Why is it that even though God is good, there are many in the world today who suffer greatly? Why is there genocide? Why are there natural disasters? The answer is simple. Christ, who is the righteous judge, is judging the world.[3] Humanity is paying the price for sin. This is why suffering exists in the world. When we criticize God for allowing us to suffer, we are making the claim that we do not deserve to suffer. The reality is that a single sin earns us death and an eternity away from God. Instead of requiring us to pay that bill, Christ came and paid the price for us. Now, instead of suffering for an eternity, we suffer for a time and are promised eternal life with God and apart from suffering. Suffering exists here and now within the confines of Christ’s mercy. Woe to those who do not turn to Christ, for they will suffer forevermore. It is God’s goodness that allows us to hope for an existence beyond suffering.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”>

Why does suffering exist? Is God actually judging the world for its sin? He could have judged more harshly and more hastily. #mercifulGod

— Andrew Paul Cannon (@andrewpcannon) April 12, 2015

The great promise

Even though God’s people are not immediately removed from suffering (we are like the criminal who was redeemed in the story above), we are promised a great existence with God. John saw a great multitude from every nation and tongue who came out of these earthly sufferings. There were so many that no person could count them. They stood before God’s throne and before the Lamb (Jesus).

  • They were robed in white, meaning that God had dressed them in purity and righteousness. These robes were washed in the blood of the Lamb. It was Christ’s atoning sacrifice that made them pure and righteous.
  • They held palm branches as though to herald in the King of Kings
  • They serve God day and night in His sanctuary.
  • God is their shelter
  • They will no longer be hungry
  • They will no longer be thirsty
  • They will no longer suffer physically or emotionally

Suffering exists because God is righteous and people have rebelled against Him. It is a constant state in this life because we were all once criminals. We cannot meditate our way out of suffering. There is no reincarnation where we can live without suffering. We cannot escape suffering by gaining good karma. We can, though, persevere through suffering as people of God, hoping and trusting in His promise of eternal life! I would rather suffer temporarily and be with God forever, than seek happiness temporarily and suffer an eternity apart from God.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>I would rather suffer temporarily and be with God forever, than seek happiness temporarily and suffer an eternity apart from God.</p>&mdash; Andrew Paul Cannon (@andrewpcannon) <a href=”https://twitter.com/andrewpcannon/status/587340602167193601″>April 12, 2015</a></blockquote>

[1] Revelation 7:9-17 (HCSB)

[2] Revelation 5:9-10 pronounces that Christ is worthy to “open the seals” because He is the one who was slaughtered and who redeemed His people. It is Christ who accepted our punishment and, therefore Christ who has authority to judge the entire world. It is my understanding that the seals of the scroll directly represent Christ’s judgment upon the earth.

[3] I could spend time elaborating on whether or not it is the great 7-year tribulation that referenced by these seals, but I feel as though we would not benefit much by that conversation. It suffices to say that John wrote a very relevant message to a very real audience. His audience was in the midst of persecution and might have questioned God much the same way. Suffering exists because the world is under God’s judgment.

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