In order to set us free from this present evil age, Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father. (Gal 1:4 GNT)
What a powerful verse of Scripture this is. Not only does Christ’s death set us free from our sins and ourselves, it also sets us free from “this present evil age”. Before we go any further, let us have an understanding of what “age” means.
“Age,” or aion, in Greek, is a reference to a “cycle of time”. In the Bible, we are told that there are only two “ages”: “this present evil age” (Gal 1:4) and the “age to come” (Heb 6:5). So this verse and its wonderful assurance is true, and will continue to be true, until Christ returns for the second time.
What makes this present age evil? The answer is, obviously, Satan. He is the “thief” who comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10). If you are wondering what he is capable of doing, just read the book of Job and you will immediately be acquainted. He will not spare or hold back. He will not hesitate to take what is yours, even your life. In the days ahead, the Bible promises us that Satan will not slow down. Rather, he will be full of fury “because he knows that his time is short” (Rev 12:12). Christians, I’m sorry to say, are not exempt from Satan’s fury. In fact, they are his primary targets. Jesus himself said so. “In the world, you (Christians and Jews) will have tribulation” (John 16:33b). The Greek word for “tribulation” is thilipsis, which also means “persecution, affliction, [and] distress”. Paul, later, echoes what Jesus said and calls suffering thlipsis a “privilege” (see Phil 1:29 NLT).
Thlipsis a Privilege
How is suffering a privilege?
It is a privilege because it proves that you are a follower of Christ. As Jesus said, “Everyone will hate you because you are My followers” (Mark 13:13 NLT). And when (not if) the world hates you, “know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18 ESV).
It is a privilege to suffer thlipsis because we are soldiers of Christ. Soldiers are constantly training for battle. But all that training will go to waste if, instead of fighting them, they avoid battle. I am not saying that we look for a fight. As a matter of fact, we don’t have to because we are already in “a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels” (Eph 6:12 MSG). As loyal soldiers of Christ, we must willingly accept our part of the suffering. This is the way to please our commanding officer (2 Tim 2:3-4). Of course, every soldier has a prerogative to choose whether he will stand and fight, or run and hide. Paul helps us to make the right choice by sharing with us this trustworthy saying:
“If we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
If we endure, we will also reign with Him.
If we disown Him, He will also disown us;
If we are faithless, He remains faithful,
for He cannot disown Himself.” (2 Tim 2:11-13)
James, the brother of Jesus, offers us another reason why suffering is a privilege. He says that you should “count it pure joy” when you face trials of all kinds because your faith is begin tested, and “the testing of your faith produces perseverance…” (James 1:2-3 NIV). Then, when perseverance has finished it work, you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (verse 4).
For Peter, “Trials will show that you faith is genuine” (1 Peter 1:7). “So be truly glad,” says Peter, “there is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while” (verse 6).
While it is true that trails (thlipsis) will show that our faith is genuine, it will also show when it is not. This was the case for the disciples when they encountered a storm in the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus had just ended a day of ministry. But before calling it quits, He instructs the disciples to get into the boat and set sail to “the other side”. What was on the other side? There was a demon-possessed man that God wanted Jesus to set free. So, they all got into the boat. And along the way, Jesus fell fast asleep.
A terrible storm arose on the sea. Four of Jesus’ disciples were seasoned seamen who were familiar with these waters. Yet, this was a storm like none they had ever experienced. It was so severe that they actually feared for their lives. As wave after wave crashed against and into their boat, they finally woke Jesus and cried out, “Don’t you care that we are about to die?” Judging from these words, they really believed that they would not survive this intense thlipsis.
Mark wrote that Jesus “awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:40 ESV). Then, turning to His disciples, Jesus rebuked them saying, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (verse 41) Through this thlipsis, the disciples’ lack of faith was exposed.
Finally, experiencing thlipsis is a privilege because it is through it that we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
Source of Thlipsis
Jesus said that “in this world you will have many thlipsis” (John 16:33b). And James says that there are “various kinds” of thlipsis (James 1:2). Just how many kinds are there? I can think of natural calamities as a kind of thlipsis. Evil people can also cause us thlipsis. Economic crisis, sickness and diseases are other kinds of thlipsis. One things for, though: In all of these, Satan is the one working behind the scene producing them. He is able and has the authority to do so because he is the “ruler of this world” (John 16:11).
What proof do I have? Just read the book of Job and you will see Satan using the Sabeans to steal Job’s animals and kill his servants (Job 1:15); sending a storm to blow down Job’s house, killing all his children in the process (Job 1:18-19); and, finally, making sores break out all over Job’s body (Job 2:7).
Satan also has control over the economic system of the world. We first saw this at the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, where Satan offered to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of this world and their glory (or riches)” (Matt 4:8). Satan could not have offered them to Jesus if they were not his to give. If Satan is able and has the authority to give both the kingdoms and their glory as he pleases, then there is reason for everyone to worry because whatever riches they possess is not theirs to begin with; they belong to Satan. He is the one who gives and takes away – not God. And, as we have seen from the Temptation of Jesus, he gives to those who will “fall down and worship” him.
With thlipsis coming at us from all sides, what hope do we have? Well, there is one, and it is all you will need: Jesus.
I know that this will be the third time I am quoting the verse but it is such a great verse and we ought to be meditating on it day and night until we grasp it. Until we do, we will always be living under our circumstances instead of above it.
In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Therein lies our hope: the fact that Jesus has overcome the world.
“How did He overcome the world?” you ask. By defeating its ruler, of course. “And how did He defeat the ruler of the world?” By dying on the cross. Colossians 2:15 tells us that Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Just like in any battle, the conqueror and victor will have authority over the domain of the defeated ruler. In this case, Christ has authority, all authority on the earth. And not just on the earth, but also in heaven because He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father (Col 3:1).
This is wonderful news indeed. But wait, there is something even better.
Now that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, what authority do we, believers in Christ, have? The answer: the same authority.
Before you shut me out and label me a heretic, I hope that you will hear me out.
The reason I say that we, believers, have the same authority that Christ has is because we are members of His Body. Now, can the Head have a different level of authority as the rest of the Body? No, they are one. The Body will have whatever level of authority the Head has. So if Christ the Head has all authority in heaven and on earth, then His Body will also have the same authority. Think about this for a minute.
John, in his first epistle, tells us that not only has Christ overcome Satan, we too have overcome him by virtue of being a child of God and because he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). We also have overcome the world because we are “born of God” (1 John 5:4). And on a daily basis, we continually overcome the world (and its thlipsis) by exercising our faith. Our faith, John says, is “the victory that overcomes the world”.
I have experienced this victory to some extent and I would like to encourage you with a couple of my experiences.
One time, during winter, my family and I were preparing to fly home for the holidays. But thick fog threatened to disrupt our plans. Instead of changing the flight (which would incur additional costs) I decided to change the weather. So I stood at the kitchen window, looked out at the fog and spoke to it. I gave it permission to stay another twenty-four hours, but by 6 pm the next day it would have to go. True enough, by 6 pm the next day, the fog started to lift. When the time came for us to go to the airport, the sky was clear. I heard, later on, that soon after we took-off, the weather turned again. It snowed heavily.
In 2011, I dislocated my left shoulder but didn’t know it. For a long time I thought that it was just a “frozen shoulder” and that it would get better with time. Six months on, it was still as painful. I finally ceded and went to a chiropractor. There I learned that it was a dislocation. I started therapy at seventy dollars per session and after seven sessions, it had improved only slightly. So I decided to stop going to the therapy and rely on prayer. Every day, I would lay hands on my shoulder and speak to it, commanding it in Jesus’ name to be heal. Within two months, I had full mobility in my shoulder and the pain was gone.
In closing, I would like to draw your attention to this passage of Scripture:
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Heb 6:4-6)
This passage of Scripture speaks of believers who have repented from their sins, believed in Christ and received the Holy Spirit. They have also “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come”. This is the part that I really want you to notice. At the start of this lesson, I said that there are two ages in the Bible: the present evil age and the age to come. We are now living in the present evil age. But, in spite of that, because of our faith in Christ, we are somehow able to reach into the age to come and draw on supernatural powers to help us live our lives and overcome every form of thlipsis. All that Jesus was able to do while on the earth – the miracles He performed – He did them by tapping into the “powers of the age to come”. Then He tell us that the works He had done we will also do, and greater works will we do because He goes to the Father and sends us the Holy Spirit (John 14:12).
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