Did Jesus suffer truly, knowing his future glory?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: This question is about the sacrifice of Jesus. Apparently, Jesus was sent to be sacrificed on the cross for our sins. However, since he would eventually reign on the earth, how big of a sacrifice was this actually, since he had a view of an eventual rule?

Answer: Thank you for submitting this thoughtful question. Here is what I understand it to mean: Was it really a sacrifice for Jesus to die since he knew that all his distress would be temporary and that he would thereafter rule and reign forever?

We shall look at this a number of ways, but let us start with a fundamental fact: Jesus actually died on the cross. The Bible teaches this, of course, but even a majority of critical scholars (critical scholars are people who do not necessarily believe the Bible to be the word of God) also believe this.

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23, ESV)

Even secularists know that Jesus actually died on the cross... but did he actually suffer? He did indeed! Just as it is a fact that Jesus died on the cross, so it is a fact that he suffered thereon. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus willingly and fully took on our weaknesses and that these weaknesses were not mollified by his concurrent deity. This means that Jesus was physiologically and emotionally just like us (except without sin).  

“... Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8, ESV)

Since he was fully human, he suffered the same physical and mental anguish, as would any one of us. Additionally, Jesus (as Ruler of the Universe) could have chosen some easier ways to die... but he did not. He chose the way of suffering. Jesus knowingly came to earth in the time and place of Roman rule, and he knew their methods: Rome did not choose crucifixion because it was efficient, they chose it because it was cruel. And Jesus chose this cruelty for himself.

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again...” (John 10:17–18, ESV)

Such a choice only makes sense if he suffered the effects of its cruelties, an agonizing death. We may logically conclude, therefore, that Jesus fully suffered, because he chose to be crucified and crucifixion is one-hundred percent effective in causing suffering. Furthermore, we know that Jesus acquired some physical wounds and that his physiology demanded that he felt them. Even today, he connects with us via these wounds since every human being can identify with him in his suffering. What I find theologically astounding, however, is not that we identify with him...but that he identified with us! He identified with our very sin by taking it upon himself, and by his physical suffering, he healed our sin-sick souls.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV).

In the above sections, I’ve made the argument that Jesus’ suffering was a fact of history and a requirement for redemption, but one thing remains: to discuss whether or not Jesus’ glorious future somehow diminished his suffering. It could not have. Since we’ve already given evidence that Jesus’ suffering was a necessary part of God’s program, then that suffering could not be phony in any way. Therefore, when we think of his suffering and his future glory as it relates to your question, it is helpful to think of these two elements as discrete—all the while acknowledging that God’s plans unfold with a fluid and purposeful connectedness.

Jesus, in his humanity, was just like us in that his deity gave him no advantages. So let us construct a parallel example to postulate how we might fare. For example, if you were given the opportunity to be a sovereign king over a vast domain, but first had to be tortured until you died...and then shocked back into life, the first question is, would you do it? Second, if you decided to do it, would the pain and anguish be substantially reduced by a glimpse of a glorious future? Or would you writhe in pain, experience doubt and despair? I think the latter. Personally, I would not have the courage to even go for it.

In like manner, Jesus knew what awaited him—both in pain and in glory—but this knowledge did not lessen his suffering. He condescended just as far (Philippians 2:5-8). He was just as much emotionally wrought, wrestling with his options (Mark 14:36), and his body was just as much cruelly broken and disfigured (Psalm 22:14-18). Scripture indicates that his sufferings were not at all softened, either because of his deity or because of his future glories.

As a final thought, we must remember that, throughout all eternity, Jesus had already been in possession of all things. He was already ruling, reigning and judging even before he came to earth. Additionally, all the glory was already his (John 17:5) so, for Jesus, there was no “net gain” in dying — and since there was no net gain, the issue of his suffering being mollified by a future advantage is, in my opinion, a non-starter. The cross was all loss for him. It was gain for us.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV)

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