Who says that trials and tribulations are a bad thing?
I was called upon at the last moment to fill in for our preacher who had fallen ill, and I decided to present a ‘behind the scenes’ look at Revelation Chapter Seven, the subject matter of this post. You can listen to the message Signed sealed and Delivered.
Chapter Seven presents a picture of two groups of people, one on earth and the other in heaven. In the sermon I describe a couple of the misinterpretations of the identity of these groups, so I am not going to repeat this here – suffice it to say that they are neither 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor converted post-rapture Jews. Rather, the crowd on earth represent the church and the crowd in heaven represent Christians who have already died and are with the Lord. If you want more detail on how I come to this conclusion, then please listen to the sermon.
The two key truths revealed in this chapter are, firstly, that Christians on earth are enduring ‘tribulation’, and secondly, that we are ‘sealed’ by the Holy Spirit during this experience so that we can learn and develop through this experience.
Dispensationalists and some others teach that the tribulation referred to in Revelation is only something that will occur after Christians have been ‘raptured’ (snatched up into heaven) before the real trouble starts. But what does Jesus say about this? In speaking to his disciples about what would happen after he had left them he said: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). The word translated as ‘trouble’ in the NIV is thlipsin, a Greek word rendered in many bible versions as ‘tribulation’. Paul and Barnabas understood what Jesus had meant by his use of this word because Acts 14:21-22 records that, ‘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 that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ (ESV).
Contrary to much popular teaching in our day, we are not guaranteed wealth, health, and comfort in this life. Quite the contrary, we are warned that we will experience ‘tribulation’ during our time on earth. Now there is a reason for this – earth is our training ground for eternity. We are here to come to know Jesus, become like him, and help others to do likewise. The questions the Lord will most likely ask us when we die will not have much to do with position, qualifications, wealth, or achievements: I strongly suspect that we will be asked something like, “Have you learned to Love me and others? Have you grown in faith in me? Did you come to understand that hope in an eternity with me is the only real hope there is?”
But here is the really good news! During our time in this School of Tribulation we are sealed by the Holy Spirit with the mark of divine ‘ownership’. The devil may afflict us, circumstances may batter us, ISIS may scare us…. but nothing in heaven or on earth can assault our spiritual identity – we are sons and daughters of the Most High God!
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
The revelation of the church already in heaven sheds its wonderful light on the darkness of a world in tribulation, and it is the hope of being part of that glorious multitude that draws us through to our journey’s end. But we also have this light within us now. The anointing and presence of the Holy Spirit seals and signs us as Children of God; an anointing that protects our spirits and helps us to learn and practice love, faith, and hope in this present tribulation.