What Does Tribulation Mean in Revelation 1–3?

The suffering of one Christian is the suffering of another because all are in Christ.

Since the Book of Revelation speaks of all sorts of fiery trials or events, it is worth pausing to see how John (and Jesus) speak of tribulation in Revelations 1–3 to get a sense of what the word means. (I will leave the question of tribulational timing for another time.)

 

The word tribulation has become so uncommon in the English language that it conjures up the idea of a grandiose event or some far out future time that has little to do with today. Yet for John, it is a normal word that means signals a fiery trial or suffering—something that he and the seven churches that he addresses must prepare for.

While more could be said here, since the Book of Revelation speaks of all sorts of fiery trials or events, it is worth pausing to see how John (and Jesus) speak of tribulation in Revelations 1–3 to get a sense of what the word means. (I will leave the question of tribulational timing for another time.)

John’s tribulation.

John himself claims to partner with the seven churches in the kingdom, tribulation and endurance (Rev 1:9). He specifies that he shares in these because he is “in Christ” just as they presumably are (1:9). The particular tribulation that John cites is his exile to Patmos due to his testimony to Jesus (1:9). He must then endure this tribulation.

The churches’s tribulation.

As a partner in tribulation, John expects the audience of his epistle, the seven churches, to also experience tribulation and thus endure it for the reward set before them. For example, Jesus says of the church in Smyrna:

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