What does tribulation mean? Is it a term used for all afflictions that a human being experiences? Does it occur
in phases? Is it occurring now or does it apply only in the future?
The Greek noun "thlipsis" is translated as "tribulation" or "affliction" and is found in 45 instances in the New
Testament. Examining how Jesus and His apostles use the term will provide a clear understanding of its meaning and
especially its usage in the book of Revelation.
The first use of "thlipsis" is seen when Jesus teaches the Parable of the Sower.
The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and
immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction
(thlipsis) or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
(Matt 13:20-21; Mark 4:16-17)
Here Jesus indicates that "affliction" or "tribulation" occurs as the result of one's faith in
God. Exclusively applying the term "thlipsis" to Believers, Jesus also limits the use of the term to the persecution
of one's faith in God; there is a distinction from other causes of persecution (i.e. racism, socio-economic class,
Speaking to His disciples, Jesus presents "thlipsis" as occurring very soon and with certain fatality.
Then they will deliver you to tribulation (thlipsis), and will kill you, and you
will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and
hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most
people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
(Matt 24:9-13; John 16:33)
With His crucifixion and ascension coming soon, Jesus prepares the disciples, aware that they will
be His representatives of the gospel to a world ruled by Satan, that they will be recipients of the world's hate.
Despite this, no amount of "thlipsis" will separate a genuine Believer from God's agape love and Jesus' work of
Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives
birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish (thlipsis) because of the joy that a child has been
born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and
no one will take your joy away from you. (John 16:21-22)
Drawing a comparison to a mother's pain in labor, Jesus reassures the disciples that while
"thlipsis" is painful, the experience will be temporary and will be supplanted with the everlasting joy of seeing
each other again.
Anticipating the persecution awaiting His disciples after He is crucified, Jesus warns Believers of the
tribulation they will experience then (and now) for those who live by God’s word and claim salvation in His name.
This form of tribulation is occurring now.
In contrast to Jesus' use of the Greek noun "thlipsis", the apostles use the term, in some instances, with a more
generic sense of affliction from any cause and not limited to one with a faith in God
(Acts 7:10-11; Rom 2:9-10).
But when addressing the church, the apostles use "thlipsis" with the same exclusive application to Believers as
Believers should expect "thlipsis;" and it is a shared experience.
After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned
to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in
the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations (thlipsis) we must enter the kingdom of God."
I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation (thlipsis) and kingdom
and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of
Jesus. (Rev 1:9)
For Believers, "thlipsis" is necessary for the process of sanctification. The implication is that
without it, one is not living righteously for Jesus Christ in a manner that draws others to Him.
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations (thlipsis), knowing that
tribulation (thlipsis) brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character,
hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy
Spirit who was given to us. (Rom 5:3-5)
When personally experiencing "thlipsis," it is confirmation that one is living for Jesus Christ
which should provide joy to the Believer.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of
His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions (thlipsis). Of this church
I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully
carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and
generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the
glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Through "thlipsis," a Believer can identify with Jesus Christ on the cross even unto death. Just
as Jesus was being persecuted for being the Messiah, Believers are being persecuted, because of His name.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of
all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction (thlipsis) so that we will be able to comfort those who
are in any affliction (thlipsis) with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as
the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
(2 Cor 1:3-5)
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation (thlipsis), or
distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
"For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
were considered as sheep to be slaughtered."(Rom 8:35-36)
When Jesus speaks of tribulation, the persecution for one's faith can occur now.
But when referring to tribulation in the context of the end time, Jesus speaks of the "great
tribulation" as an extreme and lethal persecution of Believers (Matt 24:21;
Mark 13:14-19) and a test for those who may be marginal Believers
(Rev 2:22). Angels appear to understand this distinction of "great
tribulation" as well (Rev 7:14).
When the apostles speak of tribulation in the context of Believers, they inform that it should be expected for
all who identify with Jesus Christ and is part of the process of sanctification. Moreover, the suffering is temporary,
shared, and yet rewarding for all who persevere. Like Jesus, the apostles use tribulation, the persecution because
of one’s faith, with the sense that it is not limited to the end times and may occur right now
While persecution of one’s faith is one matter, the Bible makes special note of those who died from that
Revelation, the last book of the Bible, indicates that those Believers who were martyred for
their faith before Jesus Christ returns reside underneath the altar in the Temple of God and emerge later, when
Jesus breaks the fifth seal, to receive their white robe and serve God Himself.
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those
who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and
they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and
avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they
were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their
brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
Revelation also makes special mention of those who were martyred during the Great Tribulation
as well including the 144,000 sealed bond servants.
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white
robes, who are they, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me,
"These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have 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 temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.
Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one
hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.
And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the
voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the
throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one
hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.
It appears that Believers do live through the tribulation and that implies that the great tribulation ends
with the demise of the last genuine Believer.