“But resist him (the devil), firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” – 1 Peter 5:9 (NASB)
Christ has suffered, and so His body, the church, is also called to suffer. Paul’s goal is to know “the fellowship (“koinonia” in Greek) of Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10).” It may correctly be said that to be a Christian is to anticipate suffering for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). The apostle Peter mentions in his first epistle that Christ suffered and left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21). As Christ has suffered, so we will suffer as witnesses to Him. Jesus said, “And you shall be My witnesses (Acts 1:8),” and the Greek word for witnesses is the word “martyr.” So, we are certainly to anticipate suffering for the name of Jesus. But while it is true that Christ suffered in the flesh (1 Peter 3:18; 4:1) and that the church also suffers, there is a profound difference between these two experiences of suffering.
Christ has suffered in the flesh and has perfectly accomplished the work the Father gave Him to do. In John 17:4, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” What work did He accomplish? Jesus accomplished the work of atonement. That was the reason Jesus was sent to the earth, to accomplish the work of atonement, a work that He alone could accomplish. To accomplish this work, Christ had to endure the full fury of the wrath of God against all the sins of all His people of all time. Thus, Christ suffered as a means of accomplishing His work. Accomplishing His work involved suffering, but His work was not the suffering itself. How much suffering was Christ required to endure? Exactly the amount of suffering needed to propitiate the wrath of God against His people’s sins.
Then, when God had poured out all His wrath on Christ, Christ’s work was done. Therefore, Jesus could cry out, “Tetelestai!” “It is finished (John 19:30)!” Three hours of suffering the full wrath of God had been endured and His work was accomplished. Once Jesus’ work of atonement was accomplished, His life could be yielded up (John 19:30; Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:50), because the purpose of His life was fulfilled, and now He needed to die.
We have already said, “Since Christ suffered, so we will also suffer,” but for Christ’s body, the church, our suffering is central, not incidental. That is, there is an amount of suffering that the body of Christ must accomplish. Note what Peter says in 1 Peter 5:9: “the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” The verse says that the suffering is the work being accomplished. God has ordained that the body of Christ must suffer as an end and not merely as a means to some other end. As we have seen above, Christ’s suffering was the means necessary to accomplish His work of atonement, but the church’s suffering is the work to be accomplished.
The New Testament has much to say about suffering for the name of Jesus Christ, but there is also an underlying theme in the New Testament suggesting that there is a predetermined amount of suffering which the church must “accomplish” to fulfill her purpose of witnessing. Consider these verses.
- “Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered’ (Romans 8:36).” As the sheep were sacrificed routinely and anonymously, so the church suffers continually and without glory to give testimony to the worth of Christ.
- “Now I rejoice (!) in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).” Notice that Paul’s sufferings are on behalf of the church and that they are “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” This thought is consistent with the idea that the purpose of the church is to witness to Christ through suffering.
- We have already looked at 1 Peter 5:9, “the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”
- Underneath the altar were the souls of those who had been slain (for Jesus), and they cried out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” They were told to rest a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed even as they had been would be completed also (Revelation 6:9-11). The clear message from this passage is that God has determined a set number of martyrs who must be killed to complete the testimony of the church.
The church is called to be a witness to the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). This is one of the purposes of the church, and the collective suffering of the entire church is accomplishing this part of the church’s purpose. Thus, it may be said that a suffering church is an accomplishing church.
SDG rmb 1/20/2021