A Biblical Theology of Suffering (Part 2)

As we witness the testimonies of courageous persecuted brothers and sisters, it is worthwhile to reflect on the words of Peter, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly” (1 Peter 2:19 ESV). In these words, Peter defines grace as being enabled to endure suffering because of one’s faithfulness to God. As we read the accounts of those who have suffered for the sake of Christ, we might be justified in saying that, from the world’s perspective, those who endure persecution are heroic. But from God’s perspective, Peter reminds us, they are recipients of grace.

Peter stresses that enduring suffering is evidence that God is at work in one’s life. There is no glory for the sufferer, no hero worship, no merit for those who are able to endure hardship, no boasting of one’s achievements. It is evidence of God’s grace. It is all a work of God, from beginning to end. Is it any wonder that near the end of his first epistle, written especially to instruct persecuted believers to stand firm in their faith, the apostle writes, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10, 11 ESV)

This hope is solidified with the Revelation of John’s vision of the victorious Lamb. Written to address the apparent discrepancy between the belief that God’s kingdom has come and that Jesus Christ is Lord and the reality that the forces of evil continued to exist, to dominate the culture and even flourish, while oppressing Christians to varying degrees, Revelation provided the churches with what they most needed; a revelation of who Jesus Christ is.

God’s priority is not so much to answer the questions that His people may have as to why they are persecuted as to give them a revelation of Himself. In this final book of the Bible, Jesus is revealed as the one who is in the midst of the churches, as one who is in control of history and who will soon bring history to its conclusion. The believers to whom John writes face the challenge of witnessing for Christ in the midst of temptations to compromise with idolatry. John sees the persecution as increasing and his warning is meant to prepare the churches for that day, as well as for the challenges they presently face. He sees that not all of the churches are prepared; some are already well on their way to denying Christ. The Christian in Revelation is called to witness for Christ, even to the point of death, in the midst of compromising Christianity and a hostile world, knowing that his reward is coming.

Revelation helps us to see that there is always hope. Defeat may seem imminent to those in the midst of persecution; the disciple needs to be reminded that so is victory. The victory is the vindication of the Church. Redeemed, triumphant in heaven, secure forever with the Lamb who has won the victory for Himself and the Church through His death and His conquest over it, the Church participates in this victory with Christ as Bride and Bridegroom. By refusing to deny their allegiance to Him and acknowledge the idolatrous claims of the world order (13:15, 14:9), enduring even unto death, the martyrs share in Christ’s victory over it and in His triumph over all the powers of evil (12:11). God has determined to save the world by the foolishness of the cross of Christ and by the foolishness of the crosses of His children whom He has chosen and called for this very purpose. He will be consistent in using this unique method until He achieves His final goal. God will thus bring the nations to Himself by the sacrifice of His obedient Son followed by the sacrifices of His other obedient sons and daughters.

This is part two of an article written by Glenn Penner, and made available by www.idop.org. Part one was published in the previous blog post. It has been edited because of its length.

Sincerly with the HOPE of the Gospel,
J. Mark Horst, President, HERALDS OF HOPE, Inc.

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