Long before John Deere or Case International Harvester, there was a tribulum. A tribulum was an ancient, wooden threshing board studded with sharp flint. On the threshing floor the tribulum was dragged around and around over the harvested grain. With repeated strikes and beatings the kernel and chaff would separate, leaving the precious grain ready to gather and store. Related to the word “tribulum” is the Latin verb tribulare, meaning “to oppress” or “afflict.” From these words we get our word “tribulation.”
Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation…” (John 16:33). We think of oppression, affliction, beating, and scourging, all used by our wise God who is making us more like Christ. Our Lord is coming back and that is the most wonderful news! Yet, the idea of tribulation, especially the great tribulation, can strike a different chord.
Perhaps you have heard Christian parents or grandparents say they dread the thought of their children or grandchildren living through the great tribulation. A difficult subject to contemplate. We know it will be a time of extreme persecution for the church. Our congregations, homes, jobs, bank accounts, even our lives and our children’s will be on the line. What perilous times and massive testing of faith it will be! Our flesh shrinks back at the thought of such widespread suffering, cruelty, and loss of life.
Our natural inclination is to be afraid. We tend to avoid subjects that we fear. In time, we might convince ourselves that Christ’s coming is too far away to contemplate. That would be a big mistake. Though we do not know the day He will return, that does not matter in how we must live. We want our children to be watchful and sober minded, not sleepy and oblivious like the foolish virgins in Matthew 25. They knew the Bridegroom was coming and yet were not ready.
Christ does not want us to be scared, He wants us to be prepared! He said, “Be ye also ready” (Matt. 24:44). We might exhort our children about forecasted stormy weather before they head out on their bike or car. “Keep an eye on the weather!” we call after them. We want them to be watchful, alert, and ready. How much more in these last days with increasingly strong winds of false teachings, devilish temptations at every turn, and fiery trials along the way?
What are our children watching? What do they spend large amounts of time doing? Just one example is all the online videos, social media, and gaming. Surely many Christian parents are concerned. We live in a digital age that openly rejects all the commandments of God. Though the Internet can be used for good, no one can deny the dangers including non-Christian ideas, pornography, and meeting strangers. Knowing their passwords is not out of the question. It shows you care. Some studies report that children entertain themselves online an average of seven to nine hours a day.
By God’s grace our believing children are watching for Christ’s return. Yet, our flesh is weak, is it not? Jesus said, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Our spiritual foes continue to assault us. It is good to remind our children that we must take heed to ourselves to be ready for the increasing chaos and turmoil that sin causes. We cannot battle sins outside ourselves if we do not battle against our own. How often we sin against one another in the home, church, and Christian school. Is it ever right to be uncharitable, to bear grudges, exclude one another, slander, and backbite? If our pride is not repented of daily, how can we see our sins? How horrible when disunity in the body is caused by my own sin, my children’s, or yours. What does the Lord hate? “…he that soweth discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19). Do we hate that sin enough, too?
May we pray for God’s grace every day to put off our old man of sin and to put on the new. Why? Because we love the Lord and our neighbor as ourselves. That is where we humbly start our battle. How important it is to listen with spiritual ears to the preaching each sabbath; for parents to model this for their children, rather than dishing out roast preacher for dinner. It is important to study the Word together in devotions and to emphasize learning and paying attention in catechism, too. We should be diligently doing these things as those who long for Christ’s return.
The disciples were desiring Christ’s coming. They asked Jesus, “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). The signs have purpose. They are like His footsteps coming closer. Though varied, they have the same message: Christ is coming back! Ask your young children if they like to count down “how many sleeps” until a big event. Do we not eagerly anticipate the return of our Lord even more so? What a hope we have as we watch His footsteps.
Our believing children will benefit from age-appropriate discussions. There are many places in Scripture to study the signs. Matthew 24 is a good place to start. The younger children might like to memorize some signs in connection with Christ’s footsteps, maybe make a booklet. Perhaps teens can use a journal to keep notes of their observations of current signs of the times in light of Scripture, adding verses they find comforting. The point is to talk with our children to help them be watchful.
Jesus spoke of some signs as “the beginning of sorrows.” Understood as early birth pains, they are the earthquakes, wars, famines, and pestilences. We know these pains will continue and increase until the end of the world. For example, there will be a massive earthquake like none other with stars falling from heaven (Rev. 6:12-16; 16:18). There will be an immense final war called the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). All this controlled by God who dissolves the old and ushers in the new.
There are signs that indicate Christ’s coming is very near. A sample of these are: a falling away from the faith (apostasy), persecution of Christians, abounding lawlessness, the coming anti-Christian kingdom and antichrist, the great tribulation, and worldwide gospel preaching. These, too, will increase with intensity. Children learn how painful labor is for mothers. The signs of Christ’s coming are painful yet necessary before the birth of the new heavens and the new earth.
Jesus described the last days “as the days of Noah.” Today, man is progressively like he was before the flood. He is busy eating, drinking, and marrying for his own glory, not for God’s. It is a life characterized by selfishness, lawlessness, indulgence, and excess. We live in a culture that thinks this is the good life.
This is creeping into churches. Sins are being tolerated. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12). False teachings will become so deceptive they could almost deceive the elect, if that were possible. Those who will fall away from the truth will be those who once confessed it. Among them will be fellow church members, friends, and family members.
Hatred against God and His Word will be shown by the ever-increasing persecution of the church. Though we will receive the reward of grace, being faithful will bring upon us hatred in this life. There will be much pressure to deny the truth and the infallibility of Scripture. This is a painful experience. Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20).
The antichrist, the political ruler used by Satan, will unite all the nations under one government and religion. He is the first beast out of the sea, of whom we read that the dragon (Satan) “gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority” (Rev. 13:1,2). He and his anti-Christian kingdom will gain complete control over its citizens. Their enemy will be the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. During this time of the great tribulation we will know Christ’s return is very soon.
Reminiscent of King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel, the antichrist will demand everyone worship him. Those who refuse will be killed (Rev. 13:15). Are we and our children ready for this? How often we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” All this must take place. In the face of persecution, temptation, and even the great tribulation may we be like Daniel and his three friends—praying for strength to trust God and remain faithful.
Of all the signs, a central one is this: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14). Christ will not return until the number of the elect is complete. God uses means: “… how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). May we not be afraid, but rather encourage our sons to prayerfully consider the ministry. What a high calling it is! With our daughters, may we encourage them to consider marrying a godly man aspiring to the ministry. If called to marry, what a great blessing to have a godly helpmeet and co-laborer.
How very important is the work of missions. Though a privilege to bring God’s word to the nations, it comes with sacrifice. For every missionary family there are loved ones back home missing them, knowing how difficult, even treacherous the labors may be. Yet, for the sake of the gospel we are willing and thankful they can go. Showing interest in our mission work and sister- church relationships through conversations, prayers, and offerings sets a good example for our children.
Near the beginning of this article part of a verse was quoted. Jesus said much more: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Yes, we shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer! Is that not a great comfort? We live in the last days with dangerous times ahead, but be of good cheer. There are plenty of times we do not feel that way due to a sharp threshing. At such times if a mother tells her children to be of good cheer, they might not appreciate it. (Not that we do not sympathize with them and express our love and support.) Yet, there is just one reason to be of good cheer, and that reason never changes: Our Lord has overcome the world!
Trusting in Christ is a gracious gift of God; it is an antidote to fear of tribulation. Learning how to deal rightly with trials and difficulties today, our children will be better prepared for tomorrow. Our heavenly Father reassures us that He is always with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He hears our prayers, including our children’s. It is good to remind them of that. Unlike social media where they can be unfriended, unfollowed, or blocked, God has made an unbreakable, everlasting covenant of friendship with all His people. He loves His precious children so very much. The One who died on the cross to pay for all our sins is the very One who is coming back!