TRIBULATION & JUDGMENT
The word, "Judgment," conjures up fantasies of old, bent, black robed figures glowering down with solemn, pitiless faces from lofty heights; cavernous halls with high ceilings and polished marble floors; echoing footsteps and hushed whisperings. It is a word around which swirls vague feelings of sorrow and distress, dread and foreboding, alarm and fright. And always, there is about the word a gloomy and oppressive pallor; a dull, aching sense of impending doom.
The Scriptures anticipate a day of coming judgment - one that will make men's hearts stop beating in fear and their blood run cold with terror. The Bible refers to it over 150 times in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the Psalmist writes:
"... for He cometh [this Judge, who flies on the wings of the wind with fire in His eyes and darkness under His feet; whose pavilion round about Him is dark waters and thick clouds (Psalm 18:8-12)], for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with [pure] righteousness, and the people with [absolute] truth." (Psalm 96:13)
. And in the New Testament, Paul exclaims:
"... He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world..." (Acts 17:31).
In the vernacular, or common language of the people, this day of horror has been referred to as Judgment Day - and perhaps even more to the point, as Doomsday. Its anticipation has always struck fear in the hearts of men and women. Indeed, so great has been man's dread of Judgment Day that in the year 999 a paralyzing terror gripped all of Europe in anticipation of the turn of the Millennium. It was commonly believed by prince and peasant alike that Judgment Day was New Years Day, 1000 A.D. The ordinary cares of life were given up. The land was left untilled. Houses and buildings of every type were allowed to fall into disrepair. Throngs of common people slept in the porches and in the shadows of holy buildings and churches. Kings and emperors begged to be admitted to monasteries. A wild and uncontrollable dread and sense of foreboding seized the entire continent.
And make no mistakes about it, that same terror is still alive - lurking just beneath our Twentieth Century veneer of sophistication and science. It comes to us when we are alone - at night; it's in our music, our movies, our art. It is a phantom that defies the scientist's efforts to dislodge it, and the psychologist's attempts to explain it away.
But beyond our fears, beyond our foreboding, what does the word "judgment" really mean? Judgment is the act of DECLARING the worth of something, of ANNOUNCING its value. We do it every day, in countless ways. When we shop, we make judgments as to which foods are best for us, which coats are warmer for the winter, what car is best suited for our needs, where we should live, the house we should live in - all these decisions are or will be products of a judgment we have made or will make. And all these judgments [which have been manifested or DECLARED in our purchases] were preceded by some form or process of TESTING. True, the testing may have only occurred in our minds at a very rudimentary level, but it occurred nonetheless. The judgments or decisions [which is another word for judgment] that were made as to which products to purchase were the results of that testing. A JUDGMENT IS ALWAYS PRECEDED BY SOME FORM OF TESTING.
This brings us to the matter of the Tribulation. The word, "Tribulation," means test. It is derived from the Latin word, Tribulum, which means to press and subject to stress as in a test. But the word means more - it means to SEVERELY test, to press to the point of ANGUISH - much as a test pilot tests an experimental plane and presses it to its very limits of toleration.
The Roman word, Tribune, is also derived from the Latin word Tribulum. A Tribune in ancient Rome was a magistrate or judge appointed to hear civil and criminal proceedings. It is the word from which our modern English word, "Tribunal," is derived - which means a seat of judgment. In all these instances, the word Tribulum [from which, once again, the English word "Tribulation" is derived] had a legal sense attached to it. It meant [in the sense that is appropriate here] pressure and stress applied to an object in order to test it.
This is the exact sense that the translators of the King James version of the Bible were trying to convey when they translated the Greek word, Thlipsis, as Tribulation in Revelation 7:14. As with the Latin word, Tribulum, the Greek word, Thlipsis, means pressure and stress applied to an object for the purpose of testing.
It is this sense, then, of the word, "Tribulation," which the translators of the King James version of the Bible wished to convey to the readers - A TIME OF TESTING!! This is substantiated by Revelation 3:10 when Jesus referred to the Tribulation as "the hour of testing."
It goes without saying that in any test the presence of witnesses is paramount. They are required to OBSERVE and RECORD the results of the test. These observations and recordings, carefully compiled and documented, are then used as the basis of later JUDGMENTS [or decisions].
In a criminal case in a court of law, the judgment of the judge is preceded by a test of the evidence which has been compiled against the accused. It is on the basis of this test that the judge will make his decision as to the guilt or innocence of the accused. The process is known as a trial - which really means test. Once again, throughout the entire proceeding, WITNESSES are called forth to give evidence as to the guilt or innocence of the accused. These witnesses are people who saw or who can give FIRSTHAND accounts [or TESTIMONY] as to the guilt or innocence of the accused. Hear-say or second and third-hand evidence [gossip] is not admissible as evidence. The witnesses can introduce into evidence only that which they saw on a FIRSTHAND basis. In other words, they had to be present themselves when the alleged crime was committed.
The Tribulation, then, is humanity's trial, its test before its Maker - a time of great separation, disunion, division, and parting. And the Church will be a part of this immense process.
Oh, you're surprised that the Church will be a part of this process? Well, be assured, dear Christian, your salvation is secure - it is not in question! Nothing can pluck you out of the Father's hand. Paul writes:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
"Nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35,38-39)
Why, then, is the Church to be a part of this process? If this process has nothing to do with our salvation, then why are we to be involved? The answer is twofold. The paramount reason is that the church is to be subpoenaed as a "witness" against this world and its present world-ruler or Kosmokrator - a subject which we will discuss at great length in the next chapter - Chapter XII. There is, however, a second reason - one which is almost as important as the first, and one which is absolutely vital to the accomplishment of the first - for if the church is to testify against the world and the things of this world, it is necessary that it be shown to be not a part of the world - that it be once and for all separated from the world. And because of this separation (or "manifestation"), just and seeking men everywhere will be drawn to Christianity and the Lord Jesus Christ, producing even in such a time, the "Great Harvest of the Lamb.* This is what all creation is waiting for. Paul writes:
"For [even the whole] creation ... waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God's sons [the Church] to be made known - waits for the REVEALING, the DISCLOSURE of their sonship." (Romans 8:19, Zondervan, the Amplified Bible )
The King James version translates it in this way:
"For the earnest expectation of the ...[creation] waiteth for the MANIFESTATION of the sons of God." (Romans 8:19)
And the NASB version translates it this way:
"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the REVEALING of the sons of God." (Romans 8:19)
In this Paul is saying that the whole universe is waiting for something to happen insofar as the Church is concerned. It is waiting for the church to be "REVEALED," "DISCLOSED," "MANIFESTED."
These are interesting words that Paul has chosen to use with regard to the Church. In a back-handed way, what Paul is really saying is that the Church has been hidden and obscured in this present dispensation [age].
What? But hasn't the Church always been with us? Can't we see it all about us? In the hundreds and thousands of church buildings that seem sometimes to all but surround us? In the proliferation of a now almost countless number of Christian TV and radio stations? In the new manifestation of Christian political power in such organizations as the Christian Coalition, the Traditional Values Coalition, Christian Voice, etc.
But do all these church buildings, all this Christian activity, all these people claiming to be Christian and born-again really represent the Church? If they do, then God help us. Was the Thirty Years War - which made the streets of Europe run red with blood four hundred years ago - really a Christian activity? What about the Inquisition? What about the bloody war that rages even now in Ireland in the name of the Church? What about the Papacy? What about Jim Jones and the Jonestown Suicides? What about all this?
Andrew Miller, the well-known and godly Church historian, wrote in the last century:
"We must always bear in mind when reading what is called a history of the Church, that from the days of the apostles until now, there have been TWO DISTINCT and widely different classes of persons in the professing Church: the merely nominal, and the real - the true, and the false. This was predicted: "For I know this," says the apostle, "that after my departure [death] shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." (Acts 20) His second Epistle [letter] to Timothy is also full of warnings ... as to the various forms of evil which were then but too plainly manifest ...
"... Some historians have not taken into account this sad mixture of evil vessels with the good - of true Christians and false. They have not themselves been spiritual-minded men. Hence they have rather made it their chief object to record the many unchristian and wicked ways of mere professors [those who said they were Christians, but were not]. They have dwelt at great length, and with great minuteness, on the heresies that have troubled the Church - on the abuses that have disgraced it. Much rather would we endeavor to trace, all down through the long dark pages of history, the SILVER LINE OF GOD'S GRACE IN TRUE CHRISTIANS; though at times the alloy so predominates that the pure ore is scarcely perceptible.
"[But] God has never left us without witness. He has had His loved and cherished, though HIDDEN ones, in all ages and in all places. No eye but His could see the seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed their knees to the image of Baal, in the days of Ahab and Jezebel. And tens of thousands, we doubt not, even from the darkest days of Christianity, will be found at last in the "Glorious Church," which Christ will present to Himself, on the long-looked-for day of His nuptial glory ..."1
Jesus himself, speaking in a prophetic parable concerning this condition of the Church, said:
"The kingdom of heaven [the Church] may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
"But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away.
"And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?
"And he said to them, An enemy has done this! And the slaves said to him, Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?
"But he said, No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them.
"Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn. "Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.
"And He answered and said, The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one;
"And the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.
"Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. "And will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43)
Now in connection with the parable above, it is interesting to note how the harvest was carried out in the ancient world and how the wheat [the good seed] was separated from the tares and the chaff [the bad seed]. BOTH WERE HARVESTED TOGETHER! Then through a process of winnowing, the wheat was separated from the tares and the chaff. The process of winnowing was accomplished in this manner: first, the harvest was crushed and spread out on a large floor; then workers took shovels and threw the harvest into the air by the shovel-full. The tares and chaff, being lighter than the kernels of wheat, were blown away by the wind, usually into another bin, while the kernels of wheat, being heavier, fell again to the threshing floor. In this way the wheat was separated from the tares and the chaff. The chaff and tares, being good for nothing, were then gathered together and burned, while the wheat was gathered together, bundled and stored in the barn.
Now it is important to note in this process, that the wheat itself is not being tested at all. Wheat is wheat!! Tares are tares!! There is nothing in this process which is meant to test the quality of the wheat. Neither is there anything in this process that the wheat is supposed to do. The wheat is required to do nothing. Works are not involved!! The wheat needs to do only one thing - be what it is inherently - wheat. The process is a SEPARATING PROCESS. It is not a process of works. The purpose of the entire process is quite simple: to separate, and by separating to MANIFEST or DISCLOSE, or REVEAL (Romans 8:19) the wheat from the tares and the chaff.
What we call today the Church is surely a mixture of wheat and tares - good seed and bad seed.
In a day when it has become so popular - even fashionable - to be referred to as "born-again" that political figures [whom the Bible calls the basest or lowest of people (Daniel 4:17)] refer to themselves as "born-again" to get votes, there certainly can be no doubt concerning this matter. Indeed, what can one say to all of this when even the owner of Hustler Magazine [one of the most notorious pornographic magazines in the country] refers to himself openly as "born-again."
Yes, there is a winnowing coming! John the Baptist, speaking prophetically, said of it:
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me (i.e., in the "end of days"**) is mightier than I ...
"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff [tares] with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12)
And how will He accomplish this winnowing? By the Tribulation! The Tribulation is to be the great winnowing of God spoken of by John the Baptist! And what will this winnowing accomplish? A great separation between those who truly love Christ and those who merely claim to love Him, but whose hearts are far away. This is the EXACT context in which John uttered his prophecy:
"Then Jerusalem [i.e., the entire Jewish religious community], all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him [John]
"And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:5-7)
John the Baptist was a forerunner, a precursor to Jesus. His work was a work of separation - to separate the hypocrite from the believer, the wheat from the chaff, the Pharisees and the Sadducees from those in Israel who genuinely longed for the Messiah. So also with Jesus in the work of the Tribulation - to which John specifically pointed in this prophecy.
The work of tribulation is first and foremost a SEPARATING work. Specifically, it separates those who merely profess Christianity from those who truly believe. This is important. The work of tribulation - in the first instance - is a work directed not at separating the atheist from the believer, or the idolater from those who worship the one true God [idolaters and atheists are people who obviously and openly are not Christians], or any other such thing; but rather it is a work SPECIFICALLY directed at separating those who claim to be Christian [out of convention or advantage] from those who truly are. And this is precisely the work of tribulation in the Parable of the Sower. Concerning those who accept Christianity and profess it superficially for material advantage, Jesus had this to say:
"But he who received the seed [Gospel] on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
"Yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when TRIBULATION or PERSECUTION arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles (other translations say "wither away")." (Matthew 13:20-21)
Yes, tribulation SEPARATES, but there is another more sublime work of tribulation; and this work of tribulation is not a separating work, but a purifying work directed not at the hypocrite, but at the believer. This work elevates, ennobles, glorifies, and transforms the believer. Paul says:
"... but we also EXULT in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation 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." (Romans 5:3-5)
Indeed, tribulation is the gate through which all true believers must pass into the kingdom of heaven; transformation is impossible without it. The Bible says:
"And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, "Strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God'." (Acts 14:21-22)
And again, the Bible - speaking of those saints who through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit [during the Great Tribulation] have been translated to the very throne of God - says:
"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands ...
"Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?
"And I said to him, Sir, you know. So he said to me, THESE ARE THE ONES WHO COME OUT OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9,13-14)
"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was BLAMELESS, UPRIGHT, fearing God, and turning away from evil. "Now there was a day when the sons of God [angles] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. "And the Lord said to Satan, 'From where do you come'? Then Satan answered the Lord and said, 'From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it'. "And the Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a BLAMELESS, UPRIGHT man, fearing God and turning away from evil'. "Then Satan answered the Lord, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? [Why shouldn't he respect you since you take care of him so well?] "'Hast Thou not made a hedge about him [haven't you put a wall around him to protect him from me?] and his house [his family] and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. "'But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face'." [but take away the wall and let me at him, and he will hate you] "The Lord said to Satan, 'BEHOLD, ALL THAT HE HAS IS IN YOUR POWER ...'" (Job 1:1, 6-12)
"... where you go,
Why does God allow his servants to suffer? Why does God allow Satan access to them? Why does God allow tribulation to enter their lives? Many in today's Church, of course, deny that God does - but this is obviously not what the Scriptures say. But these same people would retort that God only allows suffering when there is sin - and, apparently, this is what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Job's, friends said about Job during his sufferings: that Job was suffering because there was "hidden sin" in Job's life, and that this was the only reason that God would allow such suffering in one of his servants. But God was greatly angered by such thinking:
"And it came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. "'Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has'." (Job 42:7-8)
GOD WAS GLORIFIED IN JOB!! Satan had said that Job loved God only because of the "things" God bestowed upon him. What a terrible thing to say. It is the curse of wealth. How does a rich man ever know that he is truly loved? The sad truth is, he doesn't so long as he retains his wealth. But should he lose it, then he will find out. Great crowds of people followed Jesus so long as he fed them and healed them of their diseases. But when tribulation arose because of the Word He spoke, the crowds disappeared. Oh, to be loved because of who you are, and not just because of the "things" you have! This is the love that God desires from those who follow Him. It is the love that Ruth gave to Naomi, and this even after Naomi had asked Ruth to depart from her because she [Naomi] had nothing further to give Ruth - she no longer possessed any "things" with which to "purchase" Ruth's love:
"But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. "'Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me'." (Ruth 1:16-17)
The Lord is looking for such to follow Him - those that will follow after Him long after the "things" are gone, the crowds have left, the popularity faded; when the clothes are tattered and torn, there is no food on the table, and persecution rages all around. These are the disciples of Jesus - with such people one can repose trust and friendship, true love is here to be found!
These are the disciples who can say with the prophet Habakkuk:
"Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock be cut off from the fold, And there be no heard in the stalls - "YET I WILL REJOICE IN THE LORD, I WILL JOY IN THE GOD OF MY SALVATION." (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
It is in this kind of love that the TRUE Church will be "revealed," "disclosed," "manifested" (Romans 8:19)! It is this kind of love which will expose the hypocrites for what they really are. It is this kind of love which will separate the wheat from the tares. And it is only in tribulation that this love is truly revealed in all of its splendor and peerless beauty. In this, God's glory can find rest; in this the presence of God securely dwells.
The following articles expand to one degree or another on the theme developed in this chapter.APOSTASY: Christianity In The Service Of A "Religio-Political-Corporate-Terrorist" State
Capitalism And Christianity
The Deceitfulness Of Riches & The "Marxist Paradigm"
It's Later Than We Think
Making Men Cogs In A Machine
The Tribulation: Acquiring A "Kingdom Perspective"
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