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FACING The Tribulation

3. Birthpangs Of Jesus’ Millennium

To many people, one of the most enigmatic and astonishing statements in the Bible is this:

Jesus, the author [originator] and finisher [perfecter] of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2).

The astonishing thing to me for a long time was how Jesus was able to volunteer to go through that ordeal of crucifixion.

How could Jesus endure that ultimate hardship and agony of agonies? It briefly explains, but you can easily read right over it. I’ll come to that in a moment.

But, first, notice that the cross was an ordeal that Jesus did NOT want to go through! He despised it! He dreaded it, because He knew how horrendous it was going to be:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50.)

That’s why in prayer in the garden, He agonised! The account says He “was sorrowful and deeply distressed” (Matt 26:37).

These words of Jesus, recorded by John are an understatement:

Now My soul is troubled... (Jn 12:27).

Jesus was going through mental torment, knowing what awaited Him! But He didn’t bottle out. He didn’t run away. He didn’t cave in. How could He go through with it?

1. Was it down to the encouragement from the Father’s audible words? John recorded them:

Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it [God’s name] and will glorify it again.” Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered (Jn 12:28,29).

2. Was it due to His communing with the Spirit for so long in the garden – three hour-long sessions? (Matt 26:40-44.)

I would answer “yes” and “yes”. But that is not the entirety of the reason.

3. It says in Hebrews 12:2 that He was able to endure the torment because of the joy that was set before Him. It’s not a joy which you and I are familiar with in the physical. It was deeply spiritual.

This joy was inseparable from His love for all.

Jesus knew that His death would pay the price of sin for all humanity and put an end to suffering and all the other consequences of sin. By enduring the pain, the anguish and the rejection – “the shame” – wonderful, liberating utopia could come in due course. Without His death, there could be nothing but misery for every generation and person from then on.

But, by His sinless death, He could vanquish all evils, all sickness, all demons, and Satan, the dark prince of those evils. That goal was the jewel of joy that He could see at the end of that dreadful tunnel.

Jesus knew that, by going through with it, He could bring salvation to all who could accept it. They – you and me – would love Him for it. His love for you and me was so great that He willingly took that fate.

4. He was looking forward to dying. He was not looking forward to the suffering that preceded it. But, to know that it would not be long before He could die, there was joy in knowing that He would soon be with His Father again. He couldn’t wait for that sublime moment of complete reunion.

All this was part of the joy that was set before Him. It enabled Him to endure what you and I could not have done. And it gives us hope in our dreadful ordeals.

For, make no mistake, you and I must also suffer, endure hardships, experience pain or agony, mental anguish, emotional distress, bereavement, and all the various experiences that are common to this mortal life. They are part of the maturing process.

To endure (Matt 24:13), you must be prepared.

I summarise what you must prepare for:

  • Be prepared to die.

  • Be prepared to suffer.

  • Be prepared for hardship.

  • Be prepared to love.

  • Be prepared to hear the Spirit.

3. Be Prepared For Hardship

Hardship is a fact of life for us as Christians in this present evil world which doesn’t accept us and which hates God and His truth. So you can’t expect to have an idyllic life here and now. Paul wrote that:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable (1 Cor 15:19).

Tragically, there are many pitiable Christians who are motivated by hopes in this life. To them, their jobs, ambitions, homes, money, personal pleasures, pastimes, and physical pursuit are the sole measure of life’s value. They think Jesus has come to bless them in this life and make them physically ‘abundant’, as they say He promised in John 10:10.

That isn’t true abundance. That’s poverty!

Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses (Luke 12:15).

The abundance Jesus was talking about in John 10:10 was not about earthly possessions, whether material, financial, friendships, relationships, or related in some other way to your human physical life. He was talking about heavenly riches and heavenly abundance – not things in the earthly sense, but things of the Spirit; things out of this world; things that would blow your mind, they are so wonderful! (Ps 16:11.)

That’s why we are not permitted to know about them all now. Besides the spiritual abundance which Jesus promises those who want it and labour for it, He also promised this:

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33).

All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12).

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you (Jn 15:18). Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you... (20).

Hardship in this life for us as Christians is, for many, linked to persecution. The Great Tribulation is just ahead, and we must soberly expect it.

In Paul’s remarkable letter to the Galatian believers, he explained that the sons of the freewoman are persecuted by the sons of the bondwoman (Gal 4:29). It has been that way ever since the beginning, when Satan injected his enmity into his offspring against the offspring of the woman (Gen 3:15). The woman figuratively depicts those who accept God’s ideology.

There is a never-ending struggle between the forces of good and evil. It is an unavoidable fact of life on earth, where Satan invisibly rules.

You may not realise it, but the persecution and slaughter of Christians in the 20th century exceeded that of every century before it. It will intensify.

Great Tribulation Will Be Soon

The Great Tribulation is soon to come now, to fulfil Jesus’ words. We know this from the many dreams (night visions) which He has given prophets and others true to His Word, as well as worsening world events.

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows [literally birth pangs]. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake (Matt 24:7-9).

Mark wrote Jesus’ words, adding more:

These are the beginnings of sorrows. But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake... (Mark 13:8,9).

The persecutions of the Great Tribulation will be religiously fuelled. It’s hard to conceive of it at the moment in the West, which boasts its tolerance of almost every religion under the sun. But intolerance of Christians is coming. That’s why Jesus prophesied of it – for the many Christians living today, who would otherwise not realise what’s ahead.

Prophetic revelations are given to warn of what the natural mind cannot see.

The trouble is, most Christians have been lulled to sleep by false ideologies of ‘smooth things’ (Is 30:10) – prosperity gospel preachers, who pander to the carnal nature, promising easy times, better and better things, an ever-expanding church, with greater exploits and more numbers, expanding and increasing, ad nauseam... It’s a mix of truth and error – half truths that please the audience, improve ratings and bring in the money, so the preachers can continue on their perches.

They leave out Jesus’ warnings of judgement, of persecution, of having to lay down one’s life for Jesus, and of all that that entails. If they mention some of it, it’s only in passing. It doesn’t prepare the Church for martyrdom.

Yet Jesus was very clear in His theology. Either you are willing to lay down your life, or you are not worthy of Him. And he who seeks to save his own life is going to lose it – for some that means for eternity! Either way, death is a very real prospect that faces all believers at this juncture.

And hardship, tribulation and persecution are the precursors to that eventuality. We cannot afford to avoid this issue. It’s deadly serious!

The Paradox

But it’s not all grim news.

Normally, you would expect persecution’s twin to be sorrow and suffering’s to be despair. And that is true for the natural man, but not the heavenly man. Jesus went through both those emotions. But He looked to the One who is all-knowing and received fire in His spirit. That fire placed within Him a joy that saw Him through His terrible ordeal.

In fact, it’s one of the amazing paradoxes that a Christian endures persecution and suffering with joy. Suffering in God’s service ignites joy. That’s not a natural response. It comes with the Spirit.

Herbert Schlossberg commented:

“What I have called the double-barrelled aspect of persecution – suffering / joy – suggests that there is some- thing about the Christian suffering of persecution that is uncommon. Normally, we expect the associated characteristics to be suffering / sorrow or suffering / despair. A recent [1991] news story carries the account of an Irish hostage just released from captivity in Lebanon. He describes his experience as ‘a crucifying loneliness, a silent screaming slide into the bowels of ultimate despair.’ What is it that could bring joy into unpromising circumstances like that?

...the joy in the midst of terrible suffering comes from putting the suffering in its true context. And its context is the hope – ‘the joy that was set before Him’ – that resides in what it all means.” (A Fragrance of Oppression, p 122.)

What does all this hardship, persecution, and suffering mean, when we endure it for Jesus’ sake?

It means this. If you are prepared to suffer for Christ, you will be with Him for eternity, glorified with Him, and sharing all that He shares with those who love Him likewise. Here’s the promise:

If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us (2 Tim 2:12).

This is another promise and paradox:

...if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats or be troubled (1 Pet 3:14).

How do you explain that – you are blessed!?

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you... (1 Pet 4:14).

There’s your answer: Jesus is with you. His Spirit comes in more fully – if you look to Him and trust in Him – to bear you up and help carry your burden. Jesus promises:

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5:11,12).

You can’t have that joy if you are physically minded. You will just despair and get depressed. But if we are spiritually minded, and look for the coming of the Kingdom of God, we can share in that joy that Jesus experienced that saw Him through His terrible ordeal.

If you read the accounts of Christian believers in totalitarian countries, who have been imprisoned for their faith, beaten, tortured, persecuted to the ‘nth’ degree, you see a new kind of person. It’s not the common cross-section of a Western believer, who, more often than not, lives for the moment. You see people who are living for the beyond, who know that there is nothing worth holding onto in this life, other than for the purpose of spreading the truth about the wonder of Christ. You can I can learn much from them. For it will be our turn next to witness for Jesus.

Hardships Have A Divine Purpose

This account of a Chinese woman imprisoned for being a Christian illustrates how God will help you in similar circumstances:

After the great persecution, another affliction came upon me that I could hardly bear. One of the cell mates would humiliate me every day and I soon considered her my adversary. Because I loved the Lord, I showed love to her in every way. I served her, brought her tea, water and washed her clothes. I did not feel embarrassed at all to do these things, but she did her best to rouse my anger and continually cursed me. The most painful thing to me was that she would not allow me to pray, for every time I knelt down to pray she would stand at my side shouting and cursing me. Whenever I shared the Gospel with others, she would immediately interfere and create a disturbance. Then she would run to the administrative offices to report me.

One day, I was unable to bear it any longer. I fell on my bed and began to sob uncontrollably. I asked the Lord to take me home. ‘Lord, why have you put me in this situation? I ask you to take my soul!’ That evening, the Word of the Lord came to me: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it brings forth much fruit.’ (Jn 12:24.) Then I saw that I was weak and pitiful. I recalled all the work the Lord had done in the prison in the past.

I requested that the warden transfer me to another cell. The warden, aware of my situation,  transferred me to cell number eight. When I arrived there I felt like I had ‘crawled out of the pit to fall into the well.’ For all the prisoners in this cell were extremely wicked and there was not one good person among them. I then realized that the persecution I received from my previous cellmate was of the Lord. The Lord had used her to force me to leave that cell and pioneer in this place. For in almost every part of the prison there were many believers, but this one cell was full of darkness. I earnestly interceded and fasted for the work in this new field.

The work was very difficult. Each time I began to witness to the inmates I met with opposition. I felt very discouraged and everything within me cried out to the Lord. One day a young girl whose bed was next to mine fell sick. I was genuinely concerned, and took it upon myself to care for her. As a result she accepted Jesus. Then two more inmates believed. Soon, one of my cellmates reported my activities to the authorities. ‘From the time Chan entered cell number eight, she has been preaching Jesus, praying and singing all night so that we are unable to sleep.’

The guards came to search my cell. In my hand was a copy of Streams In The Desert. I quickly passed it to the sister two beds away and she hid it under her belt.

How I thank the Lord, for even with 20 pairs of eyes on me and under the hawkish glare of several guards none of them seemed to have seen me passing the book to the sister. Hallelujah! I immediately thought of the scripture, ‘If God be with us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31.) I was elated. The guards searched for a long time but could not find anything. They led me to the offices where they reprimanded me. Then they took me to the cell in the basement and prepared to lock me up there. But as the cell was flooded they took me to the observation room above where they keep criminals who have committed serious crimes. Prisoners who were especially stubborn or who had violated prison regulations were kept here as punishment.

The second day, four more people joined me in the cell. We were not allowed to speak to each other. The Lord especially watched over me. I took advantage of every opportunity to preach the Gospel and with great joy all four of them accepted the Lord. One night the Lord gave me a revelation in which I saw the prison warden wanting to speak to me and demanding that I confess all my activities in cell number eight.

The next morning I told the guard outside the cell, ‘Today, I will be brought out for interrogation.’

The guard asked, ‘How do you know?’

The Lord, whom I serve, told me so last night.’

At 8.00 am I was summoned to the offices. Four cadres sat there waiting for me. I sat before them on a small stool.

‘Chan, have you considered carefully?’ they began.

‘I have considered carefully,’ I replied.

‘You must honestly give an account!’

‘What do you want me to give an account of?’

‘You yourself know!’ they retorted.

‘I haven’t done anything wrong or anything bad. What can I say?’ I pleaded.

Suddenly, they all exploded and jabbing their fingers at me one of them screeched, ‘Chan, you still so obstinate. You have an opportunity to speak, so why don’t you speak? Since you have carefully considered, why don’t you honestly give an account? Where did the book come from? Who gave it to you? Chan, if you refuse to speak you will get a thrashing.’

Then great joy filled my heart and I silently prayed, ‘Lord, allow them to beat me and hit me! If they do this I will be greatly blessed to be considered worthy to suffer for Your Name’s sake.’ [What a contrast to the soft Western Christian who fears pain and suffering, and who would pray the opposite!]

The cadres continued their verbal volley, and after asking me several questions surprisingly said, ‘You may return to your cell. Carefully reconsider and at a later date come back here to make your report.’ That was how the interrogation ended.

Several days later, they called me in again in the evening and said, ‘You should give an honest account! You have done nothing else, but just because you believe in the Lord you have caused us unnecessary work. Every day our time is taken up with dealing with this matter.’

I prayed, ‘Lord, I obey You and I will do what You want me to do!’ Then the Spirit of the Lord spoke to me, ‘Be faithful unto death!’ (Rev 2:10.) Thus I was strengthened. Even though I had suffered much already the Lord especially protected me that day from further punishment. Many sisters had been praying for me.

On a third occasion I was asked about the book and my Bible. I did not give them any information. In the end they simply sent me back to the observation cell to ‘reconsider’.

I thought of three things they could do to me: (1) I might be sent to the northwest. (2) They might increase my sentence. (3) Perhaps I would be given the death penalty. I prayed to the Lord and joyfully said, ‘Lord, if they send me to the northwest, I can praise you aloud. If they increase my sentence, I can learn more lessons in prison. If they execute me, I will truly be grateful, for I can soon return to You and quickly end the pain of being separated from You.’

The fourth time the interrogating officials were demanding. ‘You must give an account now. What book do you normally read?’

I remembered that when I first entered prison in 1982 I had brought with me a certain novel. Then I did not know why I had brought it, but now I could answer, ‘It is a certain novel. If you don’t believe you can see for yourself. It is under the front of my bed.’ They found the book and brought it to me.

I said, ‘This is evidence that those who have accused me have fabricated false testimony to harm me.’ There was nothing else they could say, so they allowed me to return to cell number eight. The Lord said, ‘But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak...’ Matthew 10:19-20. The Word of the Lord is so real!

I was in the observation cell for 50 days and in that period altogether five prisoners were brought in. I preached the Gospel and loved them and they all believed... (Lilies Amongst Thorns, by Danyun, pp 121-124.)

Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Tim 2:10).

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim 2:3).

Persecution, A Norm For Christians

Jesus said that:

...they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake (Matt 24:7-9).

And Peter said similarly:

Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind... (1 Pet 4:1).

So, persecution, hardship and suffering is the package that is a norm for Christians, which we must accept. We are to arm ourselves – to EXPECT it, steel ourselves for it, and even embrace it.

If Chan could do it, so can you. Leave behind the cares of this life, and prepare for the next life where you will see and experience things that will make all the sufferings of this world pale into insignificance. That’s impossible for the physical mind to grasp. But, accept it by the Spirit as you let yourself die to the things that previously held you.

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love Him (1 Cor 2:9). But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God (2:10).

And the Spirit makes it possible for you to have a new mindset, one that rejoices in sufferings because the reality of God’s heavenly kingdom is being birthed more in you.

We speak wisdom among those who are mature (1 Cor 2:6).

The day is soon coming when this will happen:

...when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief (1 Thes 5:3,4). Your deliverance is near.

Then, being with child, she cried out in labour and in pain to give birth (Rev 12:2).

Great Tribulations are the labour pains of God’s heavenly Kingdom which will soon fill the earth.

Jesus led the way (Matt 26:39). Chan and many other martyrs showed it’s possible. We likewise follow.

Continued in part 4...

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