BEYOND SUFFERING

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

The Bible is an extremely honest book. It portrays human life in all the stark and horrible reality of its sinfulness and its suffering. God knows we suffer. We need only to study the parables of Jesus with this thought in mind, and we will be surprised how many of them are actually based on our real sin and our real suffering. God knows this inevitability of suffering in this abnormal, in-between, world in which we live. God knows the extreme pathos of human existence between the fall and the consummation. And knowing all this, God, in his great compassion and grace, gives us words of hope. By these words of hope he enables us to see beyond the suffering, both in our present, and looking past the present, to his glorious eternal kingdom.

There is a future beyond the suffering. A future beyond our imagination.

Note that in the Bible, ‘hope’ is not mere wishful thinking. Rather it is a grand assurance, a confident certainty. What is hoped for is never in doubt. It is as fixed and as secure as the promise of God. It is grounded in God’s faithfulness, and not at all dependent on our personal qualifications. Indeed, Paul writes with exultant confidence:

‘ … giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light’ (Colossians 1:12).

God has qualified us. That, and that alone, guarantees our future in his kingdom. Both now, and beyond the suffering.

 

A. IN GENESIS 3

Right from the first entry of sin and suffering into our world, God in his kindness and grace gave his word of promise and hope, encouraging us to look beyond our current circumstances.

We see this in:

[1] The prophecy of the crosswork of Jesus Christ the Son of God, in which Satan is defeated: Genesis 3:15.

[2] His provision of a covering for Adam and Eve, which anticipates the covering of our sin by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ: Genesis 3:21.

3] The non-destruction of the tree of life: Genesis 3:23-24. Instead of destroying this tree, and thereby indicating that the hope of eternal life was now completely and forever denied us without any possibility of reprieve, God left the tree there. We were barred from it, but it was still there. Through the work of Christ on the cross, the barrier has been removed – as indicated in God’s tearing the temple curtain (on which golden cherubim were embroidered) from top to bottom at the very moment that Christ died as our substitute.

But even before the entry of sin and suffering there is an indication of hope embedded in the scripture. God’s seventh day rest (Genesis 2:1 – 3) provides a message of hope beyond the suffering that has not yet begun. In speaking of the completed work of God in creation, it parallels the completed work of salvation that God accomplished in Jesus Christ our Saviour. For an extended study on the Sabbath rest that we have in Jesus Christ go here.

 

B. THE COVENANTS

Each of the covenants God made with Old Testament people contains a definite element of hope.

Study the following and identify the hope contained in them.
The covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1-17).

 

The covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 17:1-14; 22:15-18).

 

The covenant with Israel on Sinai (Exodus 19,20).

 

The covenant with David (Psalm 89:3,4,27-37; 132:11-18; Isaiah 11; 55:3,4).

 

The new covenant (Isaiah 44:1-5; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24ff; Hosea 2:16-23).

 

C. THE OVER-RIDING EXPECTATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

The whole of the Old Testament stands on tiptoe anticipating the coming of the Saviour of the world, the Son of God who would undo the effects of sin and the curse. This grand and over-riding certain hope can be seen:

[1] In historical prophetic shadows. Historical events recorded in the Old Testament (for example, Noah’s family’s preservation in the ark, the exodus from Egypt, the entry into the promised land under Joshua’s leadership) are massive historic-prophetic messages of hope. They reveal a God actively at work for the good and the salvation of his people, and speak ultimately of the absolute spiritual rescue-liberation package which God had planned before the creation of the earth to put into effect through Jesus Christ.

[2] In ritual and ceremony. The lengthy and involved ritual and ceremonial laws given to the people of Israel shortly after their liberation from Egypt were not arbitrary. They were not ritual for the sake of ritual. They, like the history, are visible, tangible, always in-your-face messages of hope. Without exception they point forward to the person and work of Jesus Christ. As the letter to the Hebrews extensively points out, as Paul indicates in Colossians 2:16-17, as Jesus himself indicated in Luke 24 and John 5:33-47, all of the Old Testament scriptures speak about him. Jesus Christ is the true meaning of the Old Testament rituals. It is only in him that they have any significance.

He is the real Sabbath.
He is the real New Moon.
He is the real Passover.
He is the real Day of Atonement.
He is the real Year of Jubilee.
He is the real sacrifice.
He is the real high priest.

Everything else is just a shadow, just a copy, of Jesus Christ, who is the reality.

In this way God surrounded his people with hope and expectation. Every time they performed their rituals and ceremonies those rituals and ceremonies were meant to whisper, no, to shout to them that the Saviour of the world was coming, and that their relationship with God depended on him, not on these predictive rituals.

[3] In straight prophecy. We could look almost anywhere in the Old Testament for prophecies of hope.

Check out these passages from Isaiah. How do they express hope?
9:1 – 7

11:1 – 16

12:1 – 6

16:5

33:17 – 24

35:1 – 10

42:1 – 16

43:1 – 13

43:14 – 21

49:8 – 12

51:3 – 6, 11

52:7 - 10

57:13

60:1 – 22

61:1 – 11

62:1 – 12

65:13 – 25

 

[4] In praise and worship, and prayer.

Of the 150 Psalms, only 22 have no reference to suffering. Read any other and you will find the Psalmist either praying to the Lord in the hope and expectation of deliverance from suffering, or praising the Lord because of his ability to deliver from suffering. The Psalms are thus intimately involved in the whole question of suffering, and have particular relevance to suffering and hope, and also to suffering and the faithfulness of God. Any person burdened with suffering is advised to read the Psalms, and to there make contact with the God who understands our suffering, and is, in our suffering, a source of comfort, strength and hope.

For other OT examples of suffering and hope expressed in praise and worship, read Isaiah 25:1-12 and 26:1-21

 

D. IN THE TEACHING OF JESUS

Jesus’ teaching was coloured with hope. He taught about hope in the present context of suffering, and about the hope of a glorious future beyond the suffering.

Identify the hope in the midst of suffering, and hope beyond suffering, in the following texts.
Matthew 5:3 – 12

Matthew 6:25 – 34

Matthew 13:37 – 43

Matthew 19:28, 30

Matthew 22:44

Matthew 26:64

John 11:25, 26

John 14:1 – 4

John 14:16 – 27

John 16:19 - 24

 

E. THE MIRACLES OF JESUS

The miracles of Jesus demonstrate that it is he who is the King - not sin, not death, not suffering, not Satan. At the word of the King sickness, deformity, evil spirits - all have to flee. In these miracles we have not only the validation of who Jesus is but also the validation and the promise and the anticipation of what it will be like in the new heaven and the new earth: when he returns, at his word all suffering and sadness will flee away. That is all it will take: the powerful word of Jesus.

[See Section G below, for how this final removal of all suffering and sadness occurs.]

 

F. THE TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES

In the messages of the apostles hope and suffering exist together. From this we understand that we must not expect to be exempt from suffering in this life. Where there is no suffering there is no need for hope. It is only when ‘that which is perfect is come’ and that which is imperfect has disappeared forever, that hope will lose its importance and significance. In the meantime, hope, grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ ‘we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure …’ (Hebrews 6:19).

Check out the following aspects of the apostles’ teaching about hope, lifting our eyes above the suffering to the grand assurance of God’s love for us in the present and God’s future for us beyond the suffering.

In God’s time everything will be restored
Acts 3:19 – 21

Romans 8:18 - 25

1Peter 5:10

Our hope is sometimes the cause of our suffering
Acts 28:20

Hope exists in the presence of suffering and contradiction
Romans 4:18 – 21

Romans 5:1 – 5

Romans 8:35 – 39

Hebrews 10:32 – 39

Hope in the midst of suffering is generated by the indwelling Spirit
Romans 8:10, 11

Romans 8:14 – 17

Romans 8:18 – 27

Romans 15:13

2Corinthians 1:20 – 22

Hope motivates joy in the presence of suffering
Romans 12:12

2Corinthians 7:4-7

James 1:2, 3

1Peter 1:6 - 9

1Peter 4:12 – 19

Hope understands that God is at work even through the suffering
Ephesians 3:13

Philippians 1:7, 12 – 18

Philippians 1:27 – 30

Colossians 1:24, 29

2Timothy 4:16 – 18

James 1:2 – 4

Hope motivates godly behaviour
Romans 12:1, 2

Romans 13:8-14

Hebrews 12:1-3

1Peter 1:13

1John 3:1 – 3

Hope is based on Christ’s resurrection and anticipates our resurrection
1Corinthians 15:12 – 58

2Corinthians 1:8 – 11

Philippians 3:20 – 21

1Thessalonians 4:13 - 18

1Peter 1:3 – 9

Hope is focused on the unseen
2Corinthians 4:13 – 18

2Corinthians 5:1 – 10

Ephesians 1:15 – 2:7 (note that in Christ we are already seated with him in the heavenly realms)

 

Philippians 3:20 – 21

Hebrews 11:13 – 16

Hebrews 11:39 – 40

Hebrews 13:13 – 14

Hope anticipates rewards
Ephesians 6:8

Philippians 3:10 – 14

1Thessalonians 2:17 – 20

2Timothy 4:6 – 8

James 1:12

1Peter 5:1

[For a study on rewards go here. ]

Hope expects the Lord’s return
James 5:7, 8

2Peter 3:3 - 18

Hope knows that it will then see Jesus as he really is
1Corinthians 13:12

1John 3:2

See also: Isaiah 33:17

See also: Job 19:25 – 27

 

G. IN REVELATION

The book of Revelation gives powerful testimony to the suffering that exists on earth. In particular, it speaks of:

Suffering that is common to everyone.

The suffering of God’s people. This suffering is caused by Satan, by his associates (the beast and the false prophet, and ‘the great harlot’), and by ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ (godless humans).

The suffering of all the enemies of God when God’s wrath falls upon them in both preliminary judgements and the final cataclysm.

The suffering of the Lamb, by which we are redeemed.

Although Revelation speaks of the extremely intense suffering of those who believe in Jesus Christ, we will not focus on that suffering here. We will look rather at the way Revelation draws our attention beyond the suffering to the glory that will follow. Again and again Revelation speaks with great assurance and certainty that there is such a thing as ‘beyond suffering’. Suffering is not the end of the story. So Revelation begins with the affirmation ‘Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near’ (1:3).

We will work progressively through Revelation, looking at those sections that focus on what God has beyond the suffering for those he has redeemed, and the grand certainty and security of the redeemed, each of whom is incredibly precious to God.

Revelation 1
In this chapter Jesus is referred to by many different titles and descriptions. Some of these draw our attention to Jesus and the hope we have in him.

Think about each of these titles/descriptions. What confidence do they generate in your heart and mind?
‘… the one who is to come …’ (1:4)

‘the firstborn from the dead’ (1:5)

‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (1:5)

‘someone “like a son of man”’ (1:13; compare Daniel 7:13, 14)

‘out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword’ (1:16; compare 2Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:15, 21)

‘I am the First and the Last’ (1:17)

‘I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!’ (1:18)

‘I hold the keys of death and Hades.’ (1:18)

 

Revelation 2 and 3
Again we have a number of titles or descriptions of Jesus Christ, many repeated from chapter 1. As in chapter 1 these titles and descriptions affirm the authority and the position of Jesus Christ. In addition, we learn that he sees everything and knows everything that is happening in his church. He is, in fact, right in the midst of his church. He sees and knows its strengths. He sees and knows its weaknesses. He sees and knows its suffering.

Where we are faithful, he encourages us to continue faithful.
Where we have been deceived, he warns us to flee from the deception.
Where we have sinned, he warns us to repent.
Where we are being impacted by false teaching and temptations, he warns us to stand against them.
Where we are suffering, he encourages us with his promises.

Above all, he encourages us to keep on believing, to overcome all that is attacking our faith, and, despite it all, to still be believing at the end. To those who thus by overcoming demonstrate the genuineness of their faith he promises the multi-faceted salvation that is the inheritance of all who believe in him.

Look again at these verses; identify the salvation that all who believe in Christ inherit
2:7

2:11

2:17

2:26 – 28

3:5

3:12

3:21

Jesus reminds us of all that he has prepared for those who love him. He knows how difficult it is to live for him. He knows the strength of temptations. He knows the deceptions of the evil one. He knows the prevalence of false teaching. So he says to us: Hang in there. Look what there is for you beyond the suffering.

 

Revelation 4 & 5
Revelation 4 reveals God in his unapproachable glory.

Chapter 5 reminds us of our desperate condition. No one is worthy. No one can approach God. And the apostle John weeps and weeps because no one is worthy. But one of the twenty-four elders tells him of the Lion of Judah who has triumphed over all that has disqualified everyone – he has conquered all the temptation, all the sin and guilt, all the enemies. He has conquered even death. He has also overcome that terrible prohibitive barrier between God and man.

But when John looks to see this Lion of Judah, he sees not a Lion, but a Lamb. A Lamb with the marks of a vicious death still upon him. John hears the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders singing a song of praise to the Lamb. And that song informs us of the permanent impact of the death of the Lamb:

With his blood he purchased men for God.
He has made them to be a kingdom.
He has made them priests to serve God.
They shall reign on the earth.

There is no uncertainty here about the impact of the death of Christ. What he has done stays done. Those whom he has purchased for God are God’s forever. Beyond the pain, beyond the suffering, beyond the pressures to give in and give up, they shall reign.

So certain, so sure, so indestructible and non-reversible is this victorious work of Christ that the whole angelic multitude encircling the throne and the Lamb bursts forth into praise of the Lamb; then, joining with them, every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, sing in jubilant praise of the Lamb.

And we, we who are redeemed, where are we in this powerful scene? We are there in the 24 representative elders. And our prayers are also there, even now, in the golden bowls held by the elders (5:8).

As in other parts of Revelation we see here how precious, how dearly loved, we are to God and to the Lamb. And we see how glorious is the reality, even now, beyond the suffering.

Revelation 6
Revelation 6:1 - 11 portrays the in-between time. The time during which Christ, the Victor, is intent on building his church. The time that suffering persists – wars, killings, famine, death, and for the people of God, persecution and martyrdom. It is painful, it is difficult; but God’s people are clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, safe from the wrath of God and of the Lamb.

Revelation 7
Again we see that believers are protected from the final judgement (7:1 – 8). Clothed in white robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb, they stand accepted and fearless in the presence of God. From every nation, tribe, people and language they come. About them, one of the elders said:

They are before the throne of God.
They serve him day and night.
God spreads his tent over them.
Never again will they hunger or thirst.
Never again with the sun scorch them.
The Lamb is their Shepherd.
The Lamb leads them to springs of living water.
God wipes away every tear from their eyes.

This is the joy that is set before us … beyond the suffering.

 

Revelation 11
Here we see the intensity of the hatred and persecution directed towards God’s witnesses.

There is death. But it is followed by resurrection.
There is the mockery of men. But it is followed by the welcome of heaven.

Here we also see:

The eternal kingdom of Christ established.
The eternal reign of the Lord God Almighty.
The final outpouring of God’s wrath.
The final judgement, with its rewarding of God’s people.
The destruction of those who destroyed the earth.

Again, there is no uncertainty here.

 

Revelation 12
Again we see:

The victory of Christ on the cross.
The salvation, power, kingdom and authority of Christ.
The persistent attacks and accusations of the evil one against believers.
The sure and certain victory of believers over the evil one, grounded in the blood of the Lamb and the truth to which they bear witness.

Revelation 13
This chapter reveals two levels of persecution against believers:

Persecution by human governments.
Attempted deception by false teaching.

But there is the certain promise that those whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life, although suffering, cannot be deceived and cannot receive the mark of the beast.

 

Revelation 14
About those who believe in Christ we learn:

They are with the Lamb.
They have his name, and his Father’s name, on their foreheads.
They are singing a new song in the presence of God.
They have been redeemed from the earth.
They follow the Lamb.
They are, in Christ, blameless.

 

Revelation 15
Here we see believers:

They are standing on (or beside) the glassy sea that surrounds God’s throne.
They have been victorious over the beast and his image and his number.
They have been given harps by God.
They sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb.

 

Revelation 19
About believers:

The wedding of the Lamb has come.
His bride has made herself ready.
She was given fine linen, bright and clean, to wear.

 

Revelation 20
Believers:

Reign with Christ.
The judgement (the second death) has no power over them.
They are priests of God.
Their names are in the book of life.

 

Revelation 21 & 22
These chapters describe the new heaven and the new earth.

From these verses, what will not be there?
21:4

 

21:8

21:25; 22:5

21:27a

22:3a

22:15

From these verses, who will be there?
21:2, 9, 10

21:27b

22:14

What else do you learn about the new heaven and the new earth from these verses?
21:3

21:6,7

21:22 – 24; 22:5a

22:1

22:2

22:3b

22:4

22:5b

 

What encouragement do you gain from these descriptions of the new heaven and the new earth?