Tribulation

by Mike Ratliff

20 ὁ δὲ ἐπὶ τὰ πετρώδη σπαρείς, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τὸν λόγον ἀκούων καὶ εὐθὺς μετὰ χαρᾶς λαμβάνων αὐτόν, 21 οὐκ ἔχει δὲ ῥίζαν ἐν ἑαυτῷ ἀλλὰ πρόσκαιρός ἐστιν, γενομένης δὲ θλίψεως ἢ διωγμοῦ διὰ τὸν λόγον εὐθὺς σκανδαλίζεται. Matthew 13:20-21 (NA28)

20 And the seed upon the rocky places being sown, this one is like the one listening to the Word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but is only transitory, and when tribulation or persecution comes on account of the Word, immediately he falls away. Matthew 13:20-21 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In the passage above, tribulation translates θλίψεως (thlipseōs) the genitive singular feminine case of θλίψις (thlipsis). This is a graphic word that literally means “to crush, press, compress, squeeze” and “is from thlaō, “to break.” We see θλίψις again in Matthew 24:21.

21 ἔσται γὰρ τότε θλῖψις μεγάλη οἵα οὐ γέγονεν ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς κόσμου ἕως τοῦ νῦν οὐδʼ οὐ μὴ γένηται. Matthew 24:21 (NA28)

21 For then there will great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now nor will it by any means happen again. Matthew 24:21 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Here we have the Nominative, Singular, Feminine form of θλῖψις. 

Our Lord uses a form of θλῖψις in His praise of the church at Smyrna.

9 οἶδά σου τὴν θλῖψιν καὶ τὴν πτωχείαν, ἀλλὰ πλούσιος εἶ, καὶ τὴν βλασφημίαν ἐκ τῶν λεγόντων Ἰουδαίους εἶναι ἑαυτοὺς καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν ἀλλὰ συναγωγὴ τοῦ σατανᾶ. Revelation 2:9 (NA28)

9 I know your affliction and your poverty, but you are rich, and the slander of the ones declaring themselves to be Jews are not but are a synagogue of Satan. Revelation 2:9 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

In this verse our Lord used θλῖψιν (thlipsin) the Accusative, Singular, Feminine case of θλῖψις. The church at Smyrna was the center of the Roman imperial cult that declared, “Caesar is God”, it was also the center of pagan worship, and false religious worship as our Lord mentioned with the term “synagogue of Satan.” This church did indeed suffer tribulation because all of those false religious forms stood against and put pressure on it to conform and fall away.

The Greek θλῖψις, in fact, appears many times in the New Testament to indicate that tribulation, hardship, affliction, distress, and other difficulties are simply and everyday part of Christian living. Also, much of the tribulation will be a direct result of our standing for the Word of God. In the Parable of the Sower, for example, the “stony ground hearer” is excited at first but when tribulation and persecution come “become of the word,” he withers away (Matthew 12:20-21). Paul often writes of the tribulation that he suffered because of his preaching the truth (2 Corinthians 1:8; 4:17; 7:4; Colossians 1:24; et cetera).

Does God put any value in tribulation? What good does it do? As Paul encourages us, “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance” (Romans 5:3). You will never truly grow deep in your Christian life without tribulation, so you might as well rejoice in it.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Some Greek grammar helps:

Genitive is the Greek equivalent of the English possessive case. Greek puts a word in the genitive case by adding genitive case endings onto the end of the word. The head noun is the word that the word in the genitive is modifying.

Nominative is the Greek equivalent of the English subjective case. When the Greek word is the subject of a verb, it is in the nominative case.

Accusative is the Greek equivalent to the English objective case. When the the direct object receives the action of the verb, it is in the accusative case.