Taking Delight in Suffering
1. To whom does Isaiah, chapter 53, apply, and how can this be proved?
ISAIAH was inspired to record many prophecies concerning Jehovah’s servant, who was and is Christ Jesus, the Messiah. The entire fifty-third chapter of Isaiah tells of the Messiah’s suffering, death and burial. That this is the inspired application of this chapter is generally recognized, because of the many quotations made from it in the Greek Scriptures. The opening words of Isaiah 53:1 are quoted by John at John 12:37, 38, and, as reported at Luke 22:37, Jesus applied one of the closing expressions of Isaiah 53:12 to himself.
2. (a) What wrong conclusion might be reached from the first part of Isaiah 53:10? (b) What rule must be followed in seeking the right understanding of any scripture?
2 At Isaiah 53:10 we read: “But Jehovah himself took delight in crushing him; he made him sick.” Just taking this expression by itself, a thing that is often done by Christendom’s teachers, a critic or commentator might exclaim: “What a sadistic God, to take delight in crushing his own Son!” We must keep in mind, however, that when seeking the understanding of any part of God’s Word, it is of the utmost importance to look carefully at the context. Consider not only the immediate setting, but also any other related passages, knowing that the true understanding will be in harmony with all such references; never at variance. It is the widespread failure to observe this guiding principle that causes many interpretations to be put forward that make the Bible appear to contradict itself.
3. (a) For Jehovah’s delight to succeed, what must first be done? (b) Why could Jehovah take delight in crushing his servant?
3 In this instance, notice the interesting enlightenment that we get when reading the entire verse: “But Jehovah himself took delight in crushing him; he made him sick. If you will set his soul as a guilt offering, he will see his offspring, he will prolong his days, and in his hand what is the delight of Jehovah will succeed.” (Isa. 53:10) Did you notice the connection between the two uses of the word “delight”? You cannot afford to separate them. The “delight of Jehovah” is centered in his kingdom. This will cause his will, or good pleasure, to be carried out successfully. First of all, however, man’s guilt, due to inherited sin, must be set aside in a way that would meet the requirements of God’s justice. This would open the way to restore a righteous standing before God for those who would gratefully accept such a merciful provision. Not one of Adam’s sons could make such a provision. Jehovah therefore arranged for his servant, his Son, to come to earth and give himself a “corresponding ransom for all.” Yes, “Christ was offered once for all time to bear the sins of many.” Moreover, it was Jehovah’s good pleasure to provide a tested, loyal servant, who would be fully qualified to carry out all the fine objectives of God’s kingdom. This would involve the work and the duties of a king, also that of a high priest who could intercede, or interpose, on behalf of fallen man. Who better than the one who became the ‘propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the whole world’? Being “made perfect” for such an onerous position required that he be tested to the limit. He “learned obedience from the things he suffered.” Because there was a glorious and delightful end in view, it helps us to understand why Jehovah “took delight in crushing” his servant. It was not a case of the end justifying the means. The means in themselves, though so painful, were worthy means, as we shall see more fully.—1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 2:2; Heb. 5:8-10; Rom. 3:25, 26.
4. How does the context give further support to this view?
4 Immediately, though, see how a further look at the context confirms the foregoing scriptures and comments, showing also that Jehovah’s servant would be satisfied with the outcome. “Because of the trouble of his soul he will see, he will be satisfied. By means of his knowledge the righteous one, my servant, will bring a righteous standing to many people; and their errors he himself will bear. . . . he himself carried the very sin of many people, and for the transgressors he proceeded to interpose.”—Isa. 53:11, 12.
5. What questions arise as to Jesus’ own view of his sufferings?
5 Though it is agreed that Jehovah inspired the prophetic record concerning his delight in determining the course and suffering of his servant, the question might arise as to the servant’s own view of the matter. Was the suffering forced on him? Did Jesus, God’s servant, know from the start of his ministry the kind of suffering that was in store for him? Did he foreknow the crushing ordeal that would terminate his life on earth? If so, did he express his inner feelings, his mental attitude, in this regard?
6. In considering Jesus’ background, what do we learn?
6 Before noting what Jesus himself said about this, we know that, like Timothy, he had been taught the holy writings from infancy, and, in addition, retained them with a perfect memory. He would be told what the angel Gabriel said to his mother at the time of her conception, also Simeon’s inspired word that a long sword would be run through her on his account. At the age of twelve, his words show that his mind and heart were centered on his true Father, and on his Father’s house. (2 Tim. 3:15; Luke 1:30-35; 2:34, 35, 49) When coming to John to be baptized, and possibly long before that, he realized the purpose of his coming to earth to provide the all-sufficient sin offering in fulfillment of the typical animal sacrifices under the Law. He would say, as foretold: “To do your will, O my God, I have delighted.” (Ps. 40:6-8; see also Hebrews 10:5-9.) He would appreciate the significance of John the Baptist’s introduction of him: “See, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Early in his ministry, at the first cleansing of his Father’s house, he indicated his own violent death, also his resurrection. Near the close of his ministry, he gave very clear answers to the foregoing questions, and these deserve our close consideration.—John 1:29; 2:18-22.
JESUS’ MENTAL ATTITUDE
7. How did Jesus respond to the Greek’s request to see him, and why so?
7 With this background in mind, we can appreciate the depth of meaning in what Jesus said to Andrew and Philip. The occasion was when, after his entry into Jerusalem as king, causing much attention, also intense annoyance to the Pharisees, there were some Greeks who had come for the Passover festival, and who asked to see Jesus. (John 12:20-22) But Jesus knew that at this Passover, only few days ahead, he would have to face and endure the terrible weight of all the suffering foretold concerning him, ending with the agonizing death on the torture stake. This was no time to court popularity, or satisfy some passing interest. Instead, in a few words, he disclosed to Andrew and Philip exactly what was ahead of him, how he viewed it and felt about it, also mentioned underlying principles that affect every one of us. This is what Jesus said:
8. What did Jesus say in his explanation to Andrew and Philip?
8 “‘The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Most truly I say to you, Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just one grain; but if it dies, it then bears much fruit. He that is fond of his soul destroys it, but he that hates his soul in this world will safeguard it for everlasting life. If anyone would minister to me, let him follow me, and where I am there my minister will be also. If anyone would minister to me, the Father will honor him. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me out of this hour. Nevertheless, this is why I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Therefore a voice came out of heaven: ‘I both glorified it and will glorify it again.”’—John 12:23-28.
9. How did Jesus show his full agreement with God’s purpose for him?
9 Beyond any doubt, Jesus was keenly aware of what was ahead of him. It gave him a foretaste of that vivid prophetic word at Psalm 116:3: “The ropes of death encircled me and the distressing circumstances of Sheol themselves found me. Distress and grief I kept finding.” If only it could be avoided! But, no, as he said: “This is why I have come to this hour.” He was in full agreement with the entire process, every part of it. His opening and closing words clearly prove this, mentioning first his own glorification, then leading to the final glorifying of his Father’s name. And what a strength and comfort it must have been to hear immediately and audibly his Father’s confirmation on this, the main issue: “I both glorified it [my name] and will glorify it again.” From the beginning to the end of his ministry, Jesus was determined to pursue the course set out for him. At the start, he overcame John’s resistance to his ‘being baptized,’ and, when approaching the end, “he firmly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” In the same connections, he again had direct and wonderful evidence of his Father’s approval. He proved that his mental attitude was exactly as foretold in that same 116th Psalm: “My vows I shall pay to Jehovah, yes, in front of all his people.”—Matt. 3:13-17; Luke 9:28-35, 51; Ps. 116:14, 18.
10. What application to himself did Jesus make respecting a grain of wheat?
10 Next, notice the fine reasoning and apt illustration, showing the necessity for a sacrificial death, mentioned at John 12:24, 25. A grain of wheat cannot be fruitful in providing more grains unless it is put in the ground and dies. This had a special application in the case of Jesus. If he held on to his human life selfishly, going contrary to his Father’s will, he would lose out. Besides, he could only confer temporary benefits to others. If, however, he was willing to lay down his soul, his life, “in this world,” as prescribed by the Great Sower, Jehovah, he would not only “safeguard it for everlasting life” in God’s new order, but could become the ‘Father for eternity’ to countless others. As Paul said: “For to this end Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living.”—Isa. 9:6; Rom. 14:9.
11. In this regard, how do we know that Jesus was not thinking only of himself?
11 It is evident, however, by what Jesus said next, at John 12:26, regarding those who would minister to him, that he was not thinking only of himself. True, he knew he was going to die a sacrificial death on a torture stake, with a unique merit attached to such a sacrifice. But he also knew that it was his Father’s good pleasure that he should have close, footstep followers, or disciples. These would be invited to pursue a similar course of disowning themselves, picking up the torture stake, and following him continually. This is confirmed by what Jesus said earlier, just before his transfiguration, and recorded in almost identical wording by each of the other Gospel writers: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me. For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it.”—Matt. 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26.
12. (a) How does Paul describe Jesus’ mental attitude? (b) What fine result does Paul then point out?
12 In making a strong appeal to these followers, note Paul’s fine description of the mental attitude of Christ Jesus. Note, too, how Paul shows that, as a direct result of Christ’s suffering, “in his [Christ’s] hand what is the delight of Jehovah will succeed.” (Isa. 53:10) Paul wrote: “Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men. More than that, when he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”—Phil. 2:5-11.
13. What was necessary in order for Jesus to get and maintain the right attitude?
13 How can we get and keep the same mental attitude that Jesus had, and which he proved by his entire course? How did Jesus himself maintain such a fine attitude of mind and heart? Surely the answer is that he was careful to get the right viewpoint on everything affecting his life and ministry. He obtained this by thoroughly absorbing his Father’s Word, as foretold concerning him: “Your law is within my inward parts.” It was this that enabled him to say at the beginning of his ministry and trialsome course: “To do your will, O my God, I have delighted.”—Ps. 40:8.
14. (a) Does the same apply to us? (b) In Eve’s case, how was the wrong viewpoint given, leading to what bad attitude?
14 The same is true of us. The right viewpoint is essential if we are to build up and maintain the right mental attitude. Conversely, the wrong viewpoint, though held in sincerity, will likely lead to a wrong attitude. This is what happened with Eve. Notice the opening words, stressing God’s bounty and generosity, when he “laid this command upon the man: ‘From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction.”’ Then came the one exception: “But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” Now notice Satan’s opening words, spoken through the serpent, when it “began to say to the woman: ‘Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?”’ Why, it was just the opposite to what God had said! By inference, in question form, it was really the first lie, giving a false viewpoint, creating the atmosphere of doubt, leading to the first direct lie: “You positively will not die.” (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:1-5) Her allowing herself to be “thoroughly deceived” quickly led to a bad attitude, and thus Eve “came to be in transgression.” We should take this as a pointed warning, putting us on guard, as Paul said: “I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning, your minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.”—1 Tim. 2:14; 2 Cor. 11:3.
REJOICE TO SHARE IN CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS
15. How does Isaiah, chapter 53, show the contrast between the two viewpoints respecting God’s servant?
15 This warning is particularly necessary where suffering is involved, which is generally looked upon as something to be avoided at all costs. This is the main argument in Isaiah, chapter 53. A suffering Messiah? Not for the Jews, either then or now. “He was despised and was avoided by men, a man meant for pains and for having acquaintance with sickness. . . . we ourselves accounted him as plagued, stricken by God and afflicted.” (Isa. 53:3, 4) They looked at the Messiah from a selfish, human viewpoint, leading to an attitude of hate, even of murder. In contrast, what a blessing it is when we get Jehovah’s viewpoint, and learn why he took delight in his Son’s willing sacrifice and suffering. We can say with deep appreciation and gratitude: “Truly our sicknesses were what he himself carried; and as for our pains, he bore them. . . . he was being pierced for our transgression; he was being crushed for our errors.”—Isa. 53:4-6.
16. (a) Why is it necessary for the Christian congregation to share Christ’s sufferings? (b) Why should we not give out when being disciplined?
16 However, those forming the Christian congregation not only benefit from Christ’s sufferings, they are invited to share in them. Indeed, it is essential that they should. As Paul explains: “It was fitting . . . in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Chief Agent of their salvation perfect through sufferings,” and, further, that “he was obliged to become like his ‘brothers’ in all respects, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest . . . for in that he himself has suffered when being put to the test, he is able to come to the aid of those who are being put to the test.” (Heb. 2:10, 17, 18) Ah, yes, how fitting and necessary that there should be similar testing and perfecting for all who share as kings and priests with the Chief Agent in his heavenly throne. (Rev. 20:6) Such severe testing involves pressure, discipline, endurance, cleansing and refining, all of which entail suffering. As Paul later says: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.” He then emphasizes the right viewpoint: “‘Do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines; in fact, he scourges every one whom he receives as a son.’ . . . True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—Heb. 12:1-11.
17. How do James and Peter confirm this?
17 The next Bible writer, James, confirms this, saying: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith works out endurance. But let endurance have its work complete, that you may be complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything.” (Jas. 1:2-4) ‘Rejoice,’ no, not in the trial itself, but in the end result if taken the right way. Peter, too, confirms this in his first letter, and, after warning: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters,” he concludes: “Let those who are suffering in harmony with the will of God keep on commending their souls to a faithful Creator while they are doing good.”—1 Pet. 1:6, 7; 4:15, 19.
18. How did Paul fill up what was lacking respecting Christ’s sufferings?
18 It is evident that God foreknew and predetermined just how much suffering and tribulation would be needed in the case of Christ and his congregation. Paul, for one, was willing to undergo his share, as he said: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for you, and I, in my turn, am filling up what is lacking of the tribulations of the Christ in my flesh on behalf of his body, which is the congregation.” His own record testifies how much he endured. (Col. 1:24; 2 Cor. 11:23-27) Neither was he taken unawares, as we know from what the Lord said to Ananias: “I shall show him [Paul] plainly how many things he must suffer for my name.”—Acts 9:16.
19. Do the present “great crowd” of “other sheep” share in the suffering, and to what end?
19 Though the foregoing scriptures have their primary application to the Christian congregation, the underlying principles also apply to the present “great crowd” of “other sheep.” Much of the suffering is due to the opposition from Satan’s world. As it nears its end the opposition increases. As Jesus said to his disciples: “You will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name,” and added: “But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.” He followed this with the illustration of the sheep and goats, showing that the “sheep” are those who openly identify themselves with, and minister to, Christ’s “brothers” in their suffering hunger, sickness and imprisonment.—Matt. 24:9-13; 25:35-40.
20. What view should the Christian take of suffering due to distress caused by sickness, and so forth?
20 In this Scriptural view of suffering, can we include all the sorrow and distress due to sickness and bereavement, and other things common to all mankind? Yes, if taken as an opportunity for working out greater endurance, faith and integrity. The Scriptural rule for the Christian is to “do all things for God’s glory,” even eating and drinking, everything that makes up daily life. (1 Cor. 10:31) Hence, on this basis, all such suffering provides a good opportunity for taking God’s side of the great issue raised by Satan.—Job 1:8-11; 2:3-5.
21. How can we take delight in suffering, collectively and individually?
21 We can therefore learn how to take delight in suffering, whether viewed collectively or individually. Collectively, we rejoice to be living in the day when Jehovah, through his “messenger of the covenant,” has been “like the fire of a refiner and like the lye of laundrymen” to the anointed remnant and has thereby fulfilled the promise that “they will certainly become to Jehovah people presenting a gift offering in righteousness.” Individually, you can, like Job, learn by “the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience,” and, not only learn, but actually experience that “Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.”—Mal. 3:1-4; Jas. 5:10, 11.