By Dr. Kevin Peacock
In the previous two columns we discussed whether the coronavirus is God’s judgment for sin, and whether or not it is an indication of the End Times.
Here is another question I have encountered:
3. Is it only going to get worse; in other words, is this the tribulation?
Again, the term “the tribulation” needs a sense of scriptural context to determine if what we are thinking of is indeed what the Bible is speaking about. The Scripture teaches that followers of Christ should expect tribulation in this world.
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“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 we must enter the kingdom of God.’” (Acts 16:21-22)
“We exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:2-4).
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom 8:35)
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” (Rom 12:10-13)
Specifically, “tribulation” or “persecution” is tied to the spread of the gospel. Jesus expected the gospel to be spread throughout all creation (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47; John 20:21, 29; Acts 1:8), and this proclamation would bring increasing opposition to it – human opposition, but also that of a cosmic dimension (Matt 24; 1&2 Thessalonians, Revelation).
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matt 24:9)
The NT speaks of “great tribulation;” an unprecedented time of global suffering at the end of the age that is somehow related to the second coming of Christ. It speaks of war and violence, famine and persecution, suffering, tribulation and apostasy.
“But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matt 24:20-22; cf. Mark 13:19)
It speaks of cosmic upheaval (sun, moon, and stars).
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” (Matt 24:29-30; cf. Mark 13:24-27)
It speaks of catastrophes on the earth (e.g. earthquakes, pestilence, drought, fire, etc.) – these may be literal or simply the apocalyptic imagery common in the day.
Bible interpreters see these passages differently in terms of the timing of these events; whether they refer to events that happened in the first century, will happen in our future, or some combination of both. Interpreters also differ on whether or not God’s people will even be around when this “tribulation” happens.
Regardless, this is clear from the message of those passages:
1. God expects His people to be agents of spreading the good news around the world.
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)
2. As His people spread the good news, they should expect opposition (Matt 24:9).
3. Though at the present time it may look like evil is winning, our Lord will triumph, and His people will be vindicated.
“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.’” (Rev 7:13-15)
4. Therefore, His people should always remain faithful, watchful, and vigilant.
“Therefore, be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” (Matt 24:42; cf. 44)
[K. E. Brower, “Eschatology,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 463-64.]
In terms of the question, “Is it only going to get worse? Is this the tribulation?” A biblical answer to that question probably also needs to address these questions:
- Is this time of suffering somehow tied to the spread of the gospel?
- How faithful have God’s people been through this time of suffering?