by Ken Ryland
One of the most commonly asked questions among Christians these days is "When will the tribulation begin?" I, like many others, believe that the return of Christ is imminent, which means that the tribulation (or "the great tribulation" as some refer to it) is even nearer. This is a legitimate question for Christians to ask, but in this land of plenty what is often meant is "When will my way of life begin to be upset?"
I ran across a story the other day that should shape our perspective on the nearness of the tribulation.
When we arrived in Sudan, our first interview was with a small group of boys who had been captured by Islamic soldiers. Their village had been attacked early in the morning. The villagers tried to escape but soon found themselves surrounded by soldiers. The elderly and infants were killed on the spot. The boys told of watching as the Islamic soldiers plunged their swords into their friends and family members. Twenty-seven children, 14 boys and 13 girls, were taken to a military camp about 9 miles from their village.
That evening, around 7 o'clock, the boys were taken out of their makeshift prison cell one at a time. Their hands and feet were tied together behind their backs. Each boy was ordered to deny Christ and become a Muslim. Each one refused. Coals were then taken from where the soldiers were cooking and piled on the ground in front of the boys. As they refused to convert to Islam, they were held over the burning embers. Most of the boys passed out from the pain.
Without successfully converting even one of their prisoners, the soldiers took the four youngest boys out of the cell. They ranged in age from five to nine. They were again tied securely with hands and feet behind their backs and laid in front of the ten older boys. The younger boys were repeatedly beaten. All they had to do was accept the Muslim faith and they would be set free. Not one of them did. They screamed from the beatings and yelled for their mothers, but not one of them was willing to become a Muslim. Each of the small boys, holding to the faith, gave up his life that evening.
The older boys escaped the following evening and eventually were placed in the refugee camp where we met. They have no idea what happened to the girls who were taken. The five boys we interviewed had horrific scars on their stomach or back from the burning coals. We asked what they would do if they were again captured by Islamic soldiers and threatened with their lives if they did not become a Muslim. Each one affirmed his faith in Jesus and said he was willing to die if necessary. They would never deny their faith.[*]
I hope this story has moved you as it did me. You see, this question of when the great tribulation begins is in some respects an academic one. The Christian people of the Sudan will probably never know when the "great" tribulation begins. And, it's the same for many Christians around the world. There is already severe tribulation in most countries. It's only in the West that we have no knowledge of such hostility toward Christ. So, in reality, the great tribulation refers to a period when we in the West will be treated the same as our brothers and sisters in the Sudan. All restraints will be off, and Christians everywhere, including in our own country, will be persecuted in the same manner and to the same degree as those in the Sudan, North Korea, China, or Pakistan.
We have trouble thinking of our country as "America, the next Sudan" or the next North Korea. The tribulation phase to come, the "great" tribulation, will see persecution against all people who name the name of Christ in every nation, not just in third-world nations like the Sudan. At that time persecution will know no geographic borders. It will be as Jesus stated in Matthew 24:21, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be." It will be a time of unbridled satanic wrath against all Christians. Satan will experience little restraint in his effort to wipe Christianity and the memory of Christ from the face of the earth. This time is described in Revelation 12:12: "Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time."
So, when you think of "the" tribulation, I hope you will think a little more deeply than most American Christians who take it for granted that there is no tribulation until they experience it, for to most Christians in the world that day of Satan's great wrath has already arrived, and many are those who have already offered the ultimate sacrifice for the name of Christ: "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (Revelation 12:11)