Articles ECF Article The Early Church

The Coming Glory

Why did the Earliest Christians long to be partakers in the sufferings of Christ, and rejoice during persecution?

The glory of God is coming in a way that most Churches and even prophetic voices are not prepared for. The way in which the glory will manifest is seldomly understood. The glory is costly, and it is not coming through a people who walk unworthy of God (2 Thessalonians 2:12). For the glory of God to manifest through His people it will come by the power of God. It is not completely reliant on our merits, yet that does not disqualify those who have labored to walk in virtue. The Lord is going to have to allow us to get to a point where we feel completely incapable and weak, in order to understand how it is not by our own strength, but by His mercy.

The Lord spoke to Gideon when he was given instruction about the three hundred, “lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ (Judges 7:2) The Apostle Paul received such a revelation from the Lord concerning the necessity of the weakness he would need to endure, 

And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) 

The above scripture is pivotal to understand, in order to know the course we are to take to be a part of the glory of God. At the end of the age there is going to be a remnant that will exclaim “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25; Luke 18:26) and as we see the current events unfolding, when we look at our own lives, it does feel impossible. However, we have this hope from the Lord “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) The Lord is going to let things get worse, just as He did with Pharaoh, allowing the hardness of his heart for the purpose of revealing His power. God did not let Moses stay in Egypt and become the next Pharaoh to save Israel, nor did he use Moses while he was in his youth. God had Moses face the greatest army of his time when he was exiled and 80 years old. Let that sink in, Moses ministry did not start until the ripe age of 80.

The Apostle Paul reveals a loving Father to us for the purpose of these infirmities, and this may seem hard to understand, however that is due to an immature mind. For example, a five-year-old child who cut their knee, will oppose you when trying to clean the wound with rubbing alcohol (to prevent infection). Because of immaturity, or lack of understanding, there is a strong resistance- the child thinking you will further harm them and exacerbate the pain, even if your approach is calm and soothing. They are afraid of the remedy; they know it’s going to hurt. This is an example of the mind of a believer who has not matured in their understanding; to realize that our Father is trying to administer a remedy that is going to hurt, but will save us in the end. Now imagine a 15-year-old with the same wound. They would be still and brace themselves for the sting, but there would be no resistance knowing that their parent is a loving physician seeking to prevent further injury and saving them. The Early Church was very mature in understanding this, and were led by such great examples; they understood what it would take to obtain the glory, and were eager to be partakers of the sufferings. Believe it or not they were more fearful of the tribulation within their soul, than the enemies that were external. They showed no fear in the face of persecution from outside sources.

We tend to lean on our own strengths and have confidence in the things that we know we are capable of. Insecurity is a sign that we still rely on our natural strengths, and those strengths have limits and weaknesses. God exploits these weaknesses for the purpose of us acknowledging that it is truly through Him that we will obtain His glory. The Apostle Paul said “We were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). The Early Church taught that even the most righteous will need God’s mercy to make it at the end of the age. 

Early Church Father Origen explains below that the glory comes through intense adversity.

“Let us learn from this how great is the benefit that comes during the persecutions of Christians, how much grace is bestowed, how God becomes their champion, how the Spirit is abundantly poured out. For it is especially at that time that the Lord’s grace is present, when human cruelty is aroused. At that time, we have peace with God, when we endure wars from men for the sake of justice, “For where sin abounded, grace superabounded.” However great in meritorious living were Moses and Aaron, however strong they were in the virtues of the soul, nevertheless the glory of God could not appear to them except when they were placed in the midst of persecutions, tribulations, dangers, and were brought practically to the point of death. Therefore, neither should you think that the glory of the Lord can appear to you when you are asleep or at leisure. Or did not even Paul the apostle merit to attain God’s glory by this means. Does he not list himself beyond all the others to have been in tribulations, in difficulties, in prisons? Does he not say that he was “three times beaten with rods,” was “once stoned,” that he suffered “shipwreck three times,” that he had “dangers at sea, dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from false brothers”: To the extent that such circumstances abound, so much the more do they confer the glory of God on those who bear them patiently.” (1)

This is an exhortation for enduring patiently what we are seeing in the world today. Even with the virtues that Moses and Aaron had attained it was still not enough for the glory of God. This is to prevent any one from thinking that the glory comes because of our own merit. It is a process of humility and hardships that we must endure, and it is going to come to the brink of our destruction, but as the Apostle Paul said, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10) The pattern is set and we should not lose hope. The Early Church was not discouraged by persecution; they were rejoicing knowing it would bring them into God’s glory. They did not murmur – Lord why are letting this happen to me? On the contrary “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:41) They longed to be partakers of the sufferings of Christ. This however is not solely a physical suffering, as it is written “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) and “that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Romans 6:6) Partaking in the passion and sufferings of Christ is not only based on the physical sufferings but are to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,” (Eph 4:22)

The reason the martyrs were able to joyously enter the lion pits, and were zealous to give their lives for the sake of the Gospel, was because they had already died to themselves; having put off their old man. It was from this freedom they were set free from any fear of man or of torment. The Lord gave them the supernatural strength to endure sufferings no man was able to endure. This was a strong witness to so many Gentiles, that were astonished at the martyrs’ joy and longsuffering. The reason we lose hope is because we lose sight of the goal and we start to focus on our current predicament; this is when discouragement starts to creep into our soul. When we understand the purpose of affliction, we see it is productive for us “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and by understanding the great reward we choose to endure “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,” (Hebrews 11:25) – this was speaking of Moses, who was eventually rewarded for this endurance, being covered in the glory. Moses was most certainly pressed to the point of feeling like he was going to be overthrown. Even after all this, it was still not enough. For that, we should rejoice in our weakness, in our affliction for the hope of the glory that we will partakers of. To God be the glory, Amen.

1. Origen- Homilies on Numbers

All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.