Suffering comes before glory
At Easter we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, events unique to the Christian faith. In this article we will look at what happened after His resurrection, and at four contrasts between His death and heavenly reign.
After the resurrection
After Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to His followers over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). Then “He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19 niv). Luke reported, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11). The disciples were given a promise by two angels that in the future Jesus would return to earth in an event as spectacular as His ascension.
The Bible says repeatedly that Jesus Christ is now at God’s “right hand” – a place of honor, power, dominion and authority. His exalted position was noted by Peter (Acts 2:32-33a; 5:30-31; 1 Pt. 3:21-22), seen by Stephen (Acts 7:55-56) and mentioned in Hebrews (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Paul added that Christ is above all other powers (Eph. 1:20-21) and that while He is at the right hand of God, He intercedes with the Father on our behalf (Rom. 8:34). Furthermore, believers will reign with the Lord in His coming kingdom: “I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).
People sometimes say this was the greatest comeback since Lazarus because Lazarus came back from the dead, but died again because he was still mortal. But the resurrected Lord had a redeemed immortal body. He was the first to be resurrected to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:23). His was a different resurrection because He ascended into heaven to live forever. That’s a much greater comeback than Lazarus. In fact, Jesus went from the lowest place on earth, where He endured the suffering and humiliation of execution as a criminal, to the highest place in heaven, where He reigns over all creation. What a contrast!
Two types of crown are mentioned in the New Testament: a garland worn by a victorious athlete, and a diadem worn by royalty that symbolized the power to reign. Both of these crowns are used in the Bible to describe Jesus. Crowns are also mentioned in respect to His cross and reign.
Crown of thorns. Humanity, by way of the Roman soldiers, gave Christ the crown of thorns (Mt. 27:27-31; Mk. 15:16-20; Jn. 19:2-5), a purple robe and a staff in a mock coronation of the “king of the Jews.” Thorns are a product of the curse, which was God’s judgment on humanity’s fall into sinful behavior (Gen. 3:17-19). In Genesis thorns are associated with sin, struggle, sweat and death. At the cross, Christ had a symbol of the curse on His head.
Crown of glory. “We … see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). He was lower than the angels for 33 years. At His death He was the lowest of humanity, executed as a criminal. He came down to the cross and the grave. Now He is crowned with glory and honor, His exaltation a result of His suffering. The cross led to the crown. His glory was the reward of His suffering (Heb. 2:9; Phil. 2:7-9; Rev. 5:12). Seeing Jesus in His glory will give us great joy (Jn. 17:5,24).
Jesus prayed, “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began” (Jn. 17:4-5). Before He came to earth, He lived with the Father in heaven and reigned over all creation as the Creator. He regained this when He ascended, but gained the additional glory of being the Redeemer of the fallen creation. So, at the cross, He was given the crown of thorns, but when He ascended to heaven, He was given the crown of glory.
Christ was crucified between two criminals (Mt. 27:38). It was a shameful death and a time of much grief and sorrow (Lk. 23:27-28,48). However, before going to the cross He prayed, “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory” (Jn. 17:24). At the cross He was in the company of criminals, but in heaven He is in the company of the redeemed and of angels (Rev. 5:11-12).
Different comings of Christ
The Lord was here once, and He’s coming again – the invisible God visibly present on earth. The purpose for His first coming was to die on the cross for sinners like us; to be a sacrifice. The purpose for His second coming will be to reveal His great power and glory (Mt. 24:30; 2 Th. 2:8; Rev. 1:7). It is the most prophesied event in the Bible. At that time, He will wear the crown of authority, dominion, government and sovereignty, judge all evil and set up His kingdom on earth. That is when all the wrongs done on earth will be made right, all crime will end, and justice will prevail.
In His first coming the Lord entered Jerusalem on a donkey. In His second coming He will be on a war horse: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns” (Rev. 19:11-12). His supremacy is emphasized by His wearing “many crowns.”
Suffering before glory
Although Christ’s suffering and glory were both foretold in the Old Testament, their relationship was not obvious at that time. Psalm 22:1-21 describes the Lord’s suffering. For example, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from saving Me, so far from My cries of anguish?” was spoken at the cross (Ps. 22:1; Mt. 27:46). Psalm 22:22-31 describe His millennial reign over the earth. For example, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and He rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:26-27). We see in the same passage the cross and the crown; the suffering and the glory.
Likewise, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6) describes Christ’s first coming which led to the cross, while the rest of this verse and the next describes the millennial kingdom established after His second coming: “And the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” Once again we see in the same passage the cross and the crown; the suffering and the glory. Other references to the Lord’s suffering and reign are Isaiah 53 and Psalm 110.
Christ’s cross and crown are keys to understanding the Bible. And aspects of His sacrifice and death for sinners, and His kingdom and future glory can be seen in many passages of Scripture. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:10-11). The Old Testament prophets predicted the Lord’s sufferings and the glories that would follow, but they didn’t know that there would be thousands of years between these events.
Christ’s mission was to go to the cross to die for our sin. Now, having paid the price for sin, He is highly exalted at God’s right hand and will come again as King of kings and Lord of lords. His cross had to precede His crown: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).
Lessons for us
Jesus went from the lowest place on earth (the cross) to the highest place in heaven where He reigns over all creation. What a change there is between His two comings to earth – from crown of thorns to crown of glory, from criminal to the redeemed, from death to dominion, and from suffering to glory.
Because Jesus endured the cross, He now wears the crown and we can have the assurance of eternal life with Him in heaven. For Jesus, suffering had to precede glory. The New Testament pattern of suffering followed by glory applies to us as well: believers suffer now, but will be released into the glory of immortal bodies at the resurrection (Rom. 8:16-25; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Like the Lord, believers must be willing to suffer and lose their lives for His sake (Lk. 9:23).
Paul wrote, “if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18). Meanwhile, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
The Biblical pattern is that suffering in this life will lead to an inheritance of eternal glory. We should not be focusing on our present physical situation, but be looking ahead. We are not promised a trouble-free life; in fact the opposite is the case because Jesus tells us that trouble is inevitable (Jn. 16:33). Look at His life as an example, and focus on the One who went to the cross and who now wears the crown.
Published, April 2012
See the other article in this series:
- From the Cradle to the Cross
An Easter thought
I spent Easter in the mountains with plenty of trees and birds. Two of the birds, the kookaburra and the raven reminded me of Christ’s victory over Satan. They are birds of prey, each with a distinctive call.
The Australian raven is glossy black with a fierce, menacing look. It has a high-pitched wail “aah-aah-aah-aaaahh.” Some find this call threatening. Ravens prey on reptiles, rabbits, chickens, ducklings, refuse and carrion. They can also hasten the death of weak sheep and lambs.
The laughing kookaburra is the world’s largest kingfisher. It has a loud chuckling laugh, “koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-kaa-kaa-kaa.” When the kookaburra laughs, it’s claiming a territory to share with family members. It lives mainly on insects, worms, lizards, frogs, mice and small birds. Kookaburras can also kill snakes.
The raven reminds me of Satan. Its black color symbolizes darkness and evil, and it attacks weak sheep and lambs. The Bible uses sheep and lambs as metaphors for people (Mk. 6:34; Jn. 10:1-18, 27-30; 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 2:25). The raven also reminds me that Satan stalks and attacks people like an animal stalks and attacks its prey (1 Pet. 5:8).
The kookaburra reminds me of Jesus. It attacks and kills snakes. In the Bible snakes are a metaphor for Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). By His death and resurrection, Christ destroyed Satan, like a kookaburra destroys a snake (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14). In fact, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8 NIV). Satan has been fatally wounded and defeated, to be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7).
May this brief look at the raven and the kookaburra help us to be more aware of Satan’s schemes, and to celebrate Christ’s victory.
A special Easter message
Every city, town and village has a cemetery that contains memorials to people of all walks of life, reminding us that death comes to us all. If Christ doesn’t return in the meantime, our bodies will all end up in a cemetery. It is a natural consequence of the “bondage to decay” that we share with the rest of God’s creation (Rom. 8:21 niv). Even if you have the best medical specialist in the world, you will have to face death one day.
An Empty Grave
But the foundation of our Christian faith is an empty grave, marked with the joyful exclamation, “He has risen!” (Mk. 16:6). After Christ’s crucifixion he was buried in a grave that had been cut out of rock and sealed with a big stone (Mt. 27:60). Luke’s account of what happened on the next Sunday is as follows: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the grave. They found the stone rolled away from the grave, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (Lk. 24:1-7).
Later that day Jesus joined two of His followers as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35). They were amazed that the grave was empty; they didn’t recognize Jesus. It is interesting to note their response after they recognized Him. Their hearts were warmed as the Lord talked with them and explained the Scriptures. They were encouraged as they understood what God had done. Then they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem, a distance of about seven miles (11 km), to tell their colleagues who responded, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon” (Lk. 24:34). They also recounted how He had walked with them, talked with them and revealed Himself to them. So their response to the risen Christ was both internal and external: They were excited instead of despondent, and they spread the good news to their friends.
Unlike the bodies of other people, including King David, Christ’s body did not decay in a grave (Acts 2:25-32; 13:36-37). Although Christ had a funeral and was buried in a grave, three days later He rose from the dead and was seen by more than 500 men (1 Cor. 15:6). The women didn’t need to visit Christ’s grave anymore. His resurrection demonstrated His victory over death and ushered in the kingdom of God which is eternal life (1 Cor. 15:50-57). It also is a foretaste of the coming resurrection of all believers: “In Christ all will be made alive … who belong to Him” (1 Cor. 15:22-23).
We Will Rise
Arnold Schwarzenneger’s recent action film, “The 6th Day” shows a new world where man has attained near god-like biotechnological powers, where genetic technologies are used to eliminate disease, and cloning is possible for any living being. It is a remarkable world, said to be coming in the near future, in which immortality is finally within reach. This is similar to the dream of some scientists researching longevity who imagine a world where aging and even death is not inevitable.
But the Bible says that we will all die and that everyone who has died will be raised from the grave (Jn. 5:28-29; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Resurrection is the opposite of death. In death the soul separates from the body, while in resurrection they are reunited. The Bible states that people will be in either one of two resurrections, based on whether their names are in the “Book of life” (Rev. 20:11-15). Those not in that book are judged by God at the Great White Throne and thrown into the lake of fire. Those in the “Book of life” have been rescued by Christ’s death and will be raised back to life when Christ returns. Then they will be “with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). These two destinies are illustrated by the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the beggar (Lk. 16:19-31).
A Sleeping Place
Another Lazarus mentioned in the New Testament, who lived in Bethany, was buried in a cemetery twice (Jn. 11:1-44). Jesus told his sister Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (Jn. 11:25-26). Therefore, believers that have already died will be resurrected when they are raised back to life at the Rapture: “He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.” On the other hand, believers that are alive at His return will be transformed and all the faithful will be transported to heaven: “Whoever … believes in Me will never die.”
When Lazarus was dead, Christ said that he was asleep (Jn. 11:11). This metaphor is applied in the Bible to the bodies of believers after death, indicating that such death is temporary, restful and peaceful (1 Cor. 11:30). In fact, the word “cemetery” is derived from a Greek word meaning “the sleeping place.”
So, the next time you see a cemetery remember the good news of Christ’s resurrection: He left an empty “sleeping place,” and the graves are only “sleeping places” for believers as they wait for their resurrection.