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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Tribulation Has Begun

The Tribulation has begun.
In fact, it began a long, long time ago.

Tribulation is the English word used to translate the Greek word thlipsis. The daily reading today (we will use it at Evening Prayer) is from Acts 14. Paul is preaching and some of the Jews take offense at his message. We are told they stone him and drag him out of the city thinking he is dead. The apostles "circle" around the body and he "rises" and goes back to his vocation. The term "rise" (anistemi) is ambiguous as it also means rise from the dead, in reference to Jesus, and one wonders exactly what took place? At any rate, Paul's fast recovery is certainly a miraculous healing, whether or not it is a re-animation of the dead.

Paul strengthened and encouraged the new disciples to stay in their faith in Jesus. Most people rejected Jesus in that time (like today) and the life of a disciple has always been very much an 'uphill battle.' We who have been raised on the prosperity gospel, looking for countless blessings and assuming smooth sailing, do well to ponder the cost of following Jesus. I find this especially comforting (yet a stern warning as well) as I struggle to keep myself and my parish focused and enthusiastic about the Lord. Success is not obvious much of the time....

Acts 14:22 quotes Paul, "It is through many tribulations that we must enter the Kingdom of God." One recalls Jesus saying you must be born again to enter, or become like a child to enter. Yet, this "tribulation" to enter is part of that process as well. Ironically, the same word (thlipsis) is used by Jesus to describe child birth!(John 16:21) Paul, recently stoned, was no doubt still covered in bruises and scabs from his tribulation, so his words have an added authenticity, intensity and authority.

The word thlipsis (tribulation/persecution) literally means pressing. You get the image---crushed under the forces which fight against God and His rule. Jesus spoke of those with "no root" who will wither when they experience persecution. Jesus promised that they shall persecute, kill and hate His followers. This was not theoretical, nor is it in the Middle East today. Paul adds more in Romans, reminding us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, including tribulations (8:35); so we need to hold onto hope and be patient in our tribulations (12:12).

Sometimes we get the impression that tribulation is something stored away for the last weeks of history. Books are written about "the Great Tribulation" as if, in the meantime, what is going on today is unrelated to that grand finale. Truth be told, the appearance of Jesus ushered in the End of the Age. This is God's Final Act and we are characters, you and I. This is the time of the 'birth pangs' and if we notice some unpleasantness in our own lives (and serious mayhem in the lives of persecuted Christians in other places around the globe, especially the Middle East) then we should not be surprised. Jesus is coming back and this is the Final Act (even if there may be a few 'scenes' left before the curtain comes down--or, paradoxically in Revelation terms, the curtain is finally drawn back to reveal the Kingdom in its fullness!!!)

So believing in Jesus and embracing His rule will continue to create resistance, it may cost you at work, and lead to people making unkind comments, even trying to do you harm. (Just make sure it is because of Jesus and not because you are a jerk!) It is the Tribulation, and has been since He was here among us. He is among us, still, in the thlipsis, so do not worry. As He said in John 16:33: You will have tribulation in the world, but cheer up, I have overcome the world!  

see the Blue Letter Bible for more: 

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