Why Do Saints Suffer?
“Precious (costly, valuable, rare) in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Ps. 116:15
What makes the death of one of the Lord’s saints different from the death of anyone else? There isn’t any experience Christians have that others don’t experience. Christians “die like men” (Psa. 82:7). Death comes in all forms—natural or violent; sudden or drawn out; for supporting a righteous cause or in a seemingly insignificant role. Yet the death of His saints is very precious in the Lord’s sight.
The last hours of life are not the focal point, but the years leading to that end. The years of long suffering and patient endurance produce the Christ-like character acceptable to the Lord.
What is the purpose of suffering and trials of the saints? Is it more than a test of faithfulness?
When our Lord gathered his disciples just hours before his death, he introduced them to a new concept associated with his impending death. As Jesus passed the cup at the Passover Supper, he instructed them to drink of it also (Matt. 26:27,28). Earlier, when asked about their position in the Kingdom, Jesus responded, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink? (Matt. 20:22 NAS). Jesus knew that sitting at his right hand in the Kingdom was an honor requiring a willingness to drink of the same cup he was about to drink of. The disciples didn’t fully know what would be involved when they answered, “We are able.” In time, as their minds were enlightened to the true meaning of our Lord’s words, the disciples did not waiver from their commitment to drink of Jesus’ cup. As each member of the body of Christ drinks of the Lord’s cup, he shares in communion (Greek. koinonos: partnership, participation) with the death and sufferings of his Savior. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).
Followers of Christ
“These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” (Rev. 14:4). Jesus called his disciples, “Follow me.” And they forsook all, and followed him (Luke 5:11). “Follow”—to be in the same way with, to accompany, as in union with a road. “For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter2:21).
“Conformable to his death”
The Apostle Paul recognized types in the Law. He reflected upon the types as illustrations of Jesus’ sacrifice and the sacrifices of those willing to drink of the cup of suffering. The Church would “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:10). “… as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation” (2 Cor. 1:7). “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10).
Pattern to Follow
The Day of Atonement sacrifices picture the sufferings of the Gospel Age, beginning with our Lord and continuing until the completion of the Church, resulting in blessing the people.
What happened to the bullock (a picture of our Lord), also happened to the Lord’s goat (a picture of the Church). Both animals were killed. Their blood was taken into the Most Holy. Their fat burned on the brazen altar. Their skins, flesh, and dung burned without the camp (Lev. 16).
“Outside the Camp”
“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp. “Therefore, Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate. “Hence, let us go out to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13:11-13).
By following Jesus, the Church bears his reproach. As the skins, flesh and dung of the bullock and goat produced a stench outside the camp, so the living sacrifices of Jesus and the church bring reproach from the world. “We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things” (1 Cor. 4:13). “The reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me” (Psa. 69:9). Jesus was “despised and rejected of men.” He was esteemed “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:3, 4). Jesus told his disciples, “…the world hateth you…. The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John. 15:19,20.
Burning in the Court
The fat and life organs of the bullock and goat were burned on the brazen altar in the Court. Life organs (heart sentiments, best powers offered in self denials) were burned quickly because of the fat (zeal). Jesus’ sacrifice was consumed quickly in 3-1/2 years because of his zeal. “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John. 2:17). When the love (zeal, fat) of our inmost being is laid on the altar, it increases the fire of God’s acceptance. The more love in our consecration, the more quickly the offering is consumed.
Incense in the Holy Place
Simultaneous with the burning outside the camp and the burning in the court, incense was burned in the Holy. The incense (Jesus’ perfection) was burned (consumed by obedience) by fire (trials), producing fragrance (a sweet perfume to God). “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8). “Walk in love as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor” (Eph. 5:2). Through the perfection of Jesus, the obedient sufferings of the followers of Christ also are a sweet savor to God. “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved” (2 Cor. 2:15).
Seated in the Heavenly Places The new creatures of the Church, like the new creature of Jesus, developed in the Holy Place while the bullock and goat were consumed in the Court and without the Camp. God “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6) In the Holy, Jesus and the Church feed at the Table of Shewbread, the Word of God (Matt. 4:4), for strength and refreshment. They hold forth the Word of life to others (Phil. 2:16). The candlestick represents the Church enlightened by truth from the holy spirit (olive oil), as well as their being lights in the world (Mt. 4:16; Mt. 5:14; Rev. 1:11). At the Incense Altar, prayers of the saints are offered (Rev. 5:8).
Ram of Consecration
In another picture, the blood of the ram of consecration was put on the tip of the right ear, right thumb of the right hand, and great toe of the right foot of Aaron (Jesus) and his sons (the Church) (Lev. 8:22-24). As with Jesus, so with the Church. Spiritual ears are opened by faith to hearing God’s Word (Psa. 40:6-8; Rom. 10:17). Spiritual hands, physical activity, do the service of God (Phil. 4:13; Ecc: 9:10). Spiritual feet walk in newness of life, walk by faith, walk in the spirit and walk in the light (Rom. 6:9; Eph. 4:17; Rom. 6:9; 2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 5:16).
During Jesus’ ministry of 3-1/2 years, it is difficult to imagine he could experience every problem and trial common to man from Adam to the present. There were problems since his time that he would never have been exposed to and yet he is our High Priest of whom we read,
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NAS). The word “sympathy” is from the Greek Sumpatheo—to feel “sympathy” with, i.e., to commiserate. From Sumpathes—having a fellow-feeling, mutually commiserative.
The risen Lord Jesus is our sympathetic High Priest. He knows what we are going through. He understands and is there to encourage us to keep up the good fight and resist the world, the flesh, and the adversary. Misery loves company. What better company could one ask for than to have a sympathetic Lord Jesus near us at every moment down through the age. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Our privilege is to use our experiences today to make us sympathetic to the sufferings which are in the world that we may help them up the highway of holiness in the next age. Each experience is intended to bring out the best in our character. Each painful lesson is custom designed to mold and shape us into a unique place in the body, so as a whole, the body of Christ may be better enabled to serve in lifting the groaning creation up from the miry depths of sin.
When we have been chosen of the Lord to experience a severe trial, he knows we have the ability to withstand it. It is a sign of his confidence in our ability to overcome. He wouldn’t allow such an experience to fall upon us if we couldn’t handle it. He will not leave us to flounder about, helpless, alone. He will be there to supervise each moment. The greater the suffering, the higher the honor. “There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Cor. 10:13)
The Fullness of Christ
The Heavenly Father graciously provided for the afflictions which the Church would experience. Jesus experienced affliction, but there was additional affliction to be shared by his followers. It wasn’t just a coincidence, but part of his great Plan to “… fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” (Col. 1:24). The Church is the fullness of Christ, the body of the Head (Eph. 1:22,23).
No wonder our experiences are not different from the world’s. No wonder we do not live sheltered from pain and distress. Overcoming, in spite of these obstacles, gives purpose to the life of the church and makes their death more valuable, precious, in the sight of the Lord. As the Church was patterned after Jesus in the way of suffering and death, so the Church will be like Jesus in their resurrection. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).
“Beloved, think it not strange, concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:12, 13).
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John. 3:2).
“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” (2 Tim. 11,12).