by Jeremiah Bass
Today, we are faced with a world that seems to be increasingly characterized by uncertainty. Everything is changing, and the changes we are seeing are more often for the worse than for the better. Suffering seems to be on every side, and paralyzing fear is the natural response. It is in times like this that we need to turn afresh to our Bibles to hear what God’s word has to say about facing uncertain times.
And God’s word is not silent.
Throughout the New Testament, we are called to endure suffering in this world with joy. For example, writing to the Romans, Paul describes healthy Christianity in terms of “rejoicing in hope” while being “patient in tribulation” (12:12), and and says Christians “glory in our tribulations also” (5:3). Our Lord himself exhorted his disciples along these same lines: “In this world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
How can we do this? To rejoice in suffering is one of the most counterintuitive things you can call a person to do. It is the very opposite to what we are inclined to do. The answer is to be found in the reality of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. We are to do what Paul exhorted Timothy to do: we are to “remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8). In other words, Paul points us to the gospel, and in so doing points us to that pivotal event which is announced in the gospel: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The reason the resurrection of our Lord can call us to rejoice even in the face of trial is because the resurrection is the seal of Christ’s redemptive work and the sign that God the Father has accepted the sacrifice of his Son. What makes this all the more certain is that our Lord himself faced his own death with joy knowing that resurrection was to follow: “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). In like manner, we can endure our own crosses for the joy that is set before us by virtue of our Lord’s death and resurrection. Our Lord Himself has shown us the way. For the resurrection is a reminder of what God has promised, and what in fact is obtained by the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. And these things are reasons for us to rejoice in the face of trial and suffering and persecution.
And what has Christ obtained for us? In 2 Timothy 2:8-13, the apostle Paul mentions four related yet distinct things which are ours in virtue of the resurrection: salvation, glory, life, and a kingdom.
In 2 Tim. 2:10, Paul writes, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Paul is of course not saying his suffering is what saved the elect. The reason why Paul’s sufferings made sense to him was because he saw that his sufferings gave him the opportunity to preach the gospel and to announce the good news of Christ’s salvation to the elect in places where it would otherwise never have gone — like Caesar’s court, for example. But preaching the gospel meant preaching the good news of both his death and his resurrection. If you look in the pages of the book of Acts, you will see that almost every evangelistic sermon was a sermon that centered on the resurrection of Christ. The call to faith was a call to believe that God raised Christ from the dead.
What is the salvation under consideration here? Again, the apostle Paul explains that we believe “on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25). In other words, the resurrection of Christ secured our justification — by which the apostle meant our acceptance with God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us and the forgiveness of all of our sins.
In the New Testament, salvation is not about getting our best life now. It is about escaping the wrath of God which we all deserve. The only way to escape that wrath is by having our sins purged and expiated and dealt with completely. None of us can purge our own sins. The only one who can truly give us the forgiveness of sins is Jesus Christ and the proof that He can do this is found in the fact that God raised Him from the dead.
It doesn’t matter how comfortable this life is if you are facing the wrath of God on the other side of death. But, on the other hand, if you are justified and forgiven — saved — then in the end it doesn’t matter too much what we have to endure now, knowing that we are accepted in the Beloved and instead of having God as our enemy we now have Him as our Father and Friend.
This salvation is described in terms of “eternal glory” (10). This is possible because of what Christ achieved for us by His death and resurrection. One day when we are raised, we will be raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:43). It’s why Paul could write, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). Note the link between the glory of Christ’s resurrected body and the glory of the resurrected body of believers.
But glory goes beyond just having glorified bodies. The word describes every aspect of life in the age to come: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4). And there is nothing in this world than can even compare. When Paul got a glimpse of the glories of heaven, he said he heard “unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4), not because God is trying to keep it a secret but because we just do not have the ability to conceptualize adequately the magnitude of the glory which exists in the very presence of God. The best we can do is to approximate the glory by figures of speech, which is exactly what John does in the Revelation.
Suffering inevitably brings shame. It reminds us of our frailty. But the resurrection of our Lord reminds us that glory follows the shame. One day, the shame will go away, but the glory will remain forever.
“If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him” (11). One of the things that we are prone to fear is death, but Jesus came to give us life and to redeem us from the power of death: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who thorough fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). And then we have this amazing statement in John 11: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26).
Resurrection helps us in the face of suffering because the worst thing that can happen, death, has already lost its sting thanks to what our Lord has done and because He is risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:54-56). Not even death can take away the life we have in Christ or can keep us from rising again. That is hope that only Christ can give!
He has also given us a kingdom, as we see in verse 12: “If we suffer, we will also reign with him.” It is an amazing thing that not only does Christ give us life and glory in the age to come, but also the privilege of sharing with Him in his reign. Every believer will be exalted to the status of kings and queens in the age to come. Though it is hard to conceptualize what this will look like, yet there is no doubt that what is intended is for the believer to grasp the fact that life in the age to come will not be a menial existence but one of exalted status. In this world, the believer may be, like Paul, considered to be no better than a criminal, the lowest of the low. But in the age to come, there will be no doubt in any part of the universe who the privileged are. The first will be last and the last first in that great day.
Suffering can come in myriad forms, posing challenges that we never foresaw. And suffering not only brings shame and pain, but also massive uncertainty. How can you rejoice in the midst of that? The believer in Christ can rejoice even then because the resurrection of Christ has guaranteed our resurrection and with it salvation and glory and life and a kingdom. And no one and nothing can take that away. There is no uncertainty here. The promise of God is sure. It’s why Paul could say, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (11-12). It’s why He was able to say in the previous chapter, “I suffer ... nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (1:12).
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