Jesus’ final words on the cross, “Tetelestai,” (It is finished!) in John 19:30 had a finality to them that forever fixed His work of redemption as a fact. In Christ’s one act of sacrifice, willingly laying down his life as He did, salvation was established; the awful price of humanity’s sin was paid in full. The great chasm between God and humanity was closed. Satan’s plan for conquest was absolutely squelched and foiled. It was over!
Yet there’s a very important sense in which the suffering of Christ continues today — not in his physical body, but in His church. Though His suffering for the work of redemption is complete, it continues in us until that day when our total redemption is finally realized — in His glorious coming again!
There’s actually a lot written in the Bible about this theme that often escapes us which upon our discovery is very encouraging. In Romans 8, for example, we read that those who believe in Christ are co-heirs with Christ if, in actual fact, they also share in His sufferings. It goes on to say that the glory of our inheritance can’t even begin to compare with the degree of suffering that we have here on earth. It says that the whole of creation groans under the weight of sin’s consequence as it waits for the full revelation of our salvation. And we too groan in anticipation of our adoption as his sons and daughters.
Long after Jesus had died and gone to heaven, Paul prayed that he might know Christ and fellowhip of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). And so it was that in his ministry, writing to the Colossians (1:24) he said, “I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church.”
So there is a real sense in which Christ’s sufferings continue in us who take up His cross in the work of His kingdom. Those who follow Him closely know only too well, the “fellowship of His sufferings” in very similar ways to what Jesus experienced. (This theme is also prophetically shown to us in the Psalms of David — 13, 56, 69, etc.). Christ suffers in us today as we wrestle in prayer for something yet unresolved; as we pour out our lives in physical and material sacrifice for the work of His kingdom; and as we face the anguish of rejection, scorn, or persecution because we belong to Him. Paul said of his experience in ministry, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10).
So if you suffer today for His sake, be encouraged that your suffering is really an extension of suffering, and that it will all be resolved in the day of your full redemption. “…do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12).