We can say the following about the notion of suffering in the New Testament.
- Eternal Life as reward for suffering sustained faithfully: We see this theme in John 6: 20-22: Eternal Life leads them to discount present tribulations. 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18: Suffering sustained by comparison with what was to come (Rom 8: 18). John 17: 3: With new life suffering acquires a new meaning already in the world as a result of Christ’s cross.
- Medicinal suffering: Suffering can bring faith to those who do not believe (The example of healing, Jn 6: 29; 9: 3, 35-38) and suffering recalls to themselves those who do believe but not act accordingly (Rev 2: 21-23; 1 Cor 11: 23-33).
- Suffering as a Test: Behind all suffering stands God’s infinite merciful love (Rom 2: 4; 9: 22-24). Therefore, testing was not such a dominant theme, however, in Matthew 10: 34-38, to believe meant a test. The abandonment of earthly goods in favour of Jesus (Mk 10: 17-27; Mt 19: 29). The testing of people’s hearts was meant to bring an immense reward (Mt 16: 25; 10: 39; Mk 8: 35; Lk 9: 24; Jn 12: 25).
- Suffering as Purification: We notice this theme in: –
Jn 15: 2, 8: Believers bearing fruit, require the pruning.
2 Cor 7: 1: Purification from every defilement, to bring holiness.
2Thess 1: 5: Christians undergo suffering to be made worthy of the Kingdom of God.
Gal 6: 12: Paul carried in his own body Christ’s wounds.
1 Cor 7: 5: Sexual abstinence to obtain freedom to pray – virginity for the Kingdom of God.
- Vicarious, Redemptive suffering: We notice this theme in: –
Acts 20: 23; 21: 10-14: Paul willingly took on suffering for the sake of the Gospel.
Mt 5: 10ff: Suffering persecution for His name (Lk 9: 23: carry one’s cross and follow me; Jn 15: 18-21: Suffering persecution for Him).
Rom 8: 17: To suffer with Him.
Phil 2: 5-11: To put on the mind of Christ, that is, obedience unto the Cross.
1 Cor 12: 26: What each member of Christ’s body accomplishes and suffers effects all other members.
Just as God’s being super-abounds in letting us be, finite alongside the infinite, and God’s omnipotence does not obliterate but rather creates our freedom, so also the plenitude of Christ’s redemptive suffering does not suppress the need for the suffering of Christians, but gives them a new value.
- Jesus’ Suffering: The purpose of His life was to give life and this involved suffering (Mt 10: 34ff; Mk 2: 17; 10: 45; Lk 19: 10). He experiences the sufferings of human life: hunger, thirst, fatigue (Mt 4: 2; 8: 24; Jn 4: 6-8; 19: 28).
He shows compassion to those in suffering (Lk 7: 15: the widow of Naim).
He shows compassion for the crowds that are hungry (Mk 6: 34; 8: 21).
He wept for Lazarus (Jn 11: 35).
He wept over the destruction of Jerusalem (Lk 19: 41-44).
The letter to the Hebrews sums up the life of Christ, as one who embraced suffering (Heb 2: 9-15; 5: 7-10).
At the temptations His obedience was tested (Mt 4: 1-11).
At the garden of Gethsemane, we witness His suffering, and His obedient love of the Father wins (Mk 14: 32-42).
Despite inner resistance (Jn 12: 27) He was determined to complete the Will of the Father.