Was Christ's suffering unique or common?

By Jeff Laird

Jesus Christ experienced pain, humiliation, and death at the hands of Roman executioners. Prior to that, He endured ridicule, poverty, betrayal, and harassment from His own people. While often taken for granted, occasionally someone reading the Bible will ask: so what? After all, the Romans crucified countless victims. Human history has always been full of hungry, humiliated people. That means Jesus' experiences were not especially unique; they happened to plenty of normal people. Doesn't that mean His suffering was...common?

That's actually a useful, vital question. The answer greatly affects how we interpret the gospel itself. And, like many such cornerstone issues, the answer is not as simple as it might seem. In some ways, the suffering of Jesus was no different from anyone else who has been abused. In other ways, His suffering was absolutely unique. Both of these aspects are important in understanding Christianity.

From a human perspective, Jesus' experiences were not unusual. That's a powerful, essential aspect of the gospel. Jesus did not live on earth as a hologram, or a disguised angel, or an unfeeling super-being. He faced birth (Luke 2:7), growth (Luke 2:52), hunger (Matthew 4:2), fatigue (John 4:6), pain (John 19:18), thirst (John 19:28), temptation (Matthew 4:5-7), sadness (John 11:35), anger (John 2:14-17), and even death (John 19:30). Scripture says this was part of His mission: to experience humanity as deeply as any other man (Hebrews 2:10-11; Hebrews 4:15). He had to be made one of us, and exactly like us, in order to serve as our Savior (Hebrews 2:17). This not only makes His sacrifice meaningful to us, it reassures us that He sympathizes with our struggles (Hebrews 4:16). Jesus felt the same things we feel, so He knows what we're going through in a personal way (Hebrews 2:18).

On the other hand, Jesus' suffering was completely different from that of any other human, in that it was both undeserved and unnecessary. As God, Jesus Christ had no obligation to "lower" Himself to being human (Philippians 2:6-7). While ordinary people are destined for some level of suffering during their life, Christ chose to become human, and willingly took on the abuse He suffered (Philippians 2:8; John 10:18). And, unlike any other person, Christ lived a sinless, morally perfect life (Hebrews 4:15). All other people are guilty of some level of sin, so they deserve some level of suffering (Romans 3:23). Not so with Christ, who was absolutely without sin, but suffered anyway. This, again, is crucial for His role as our substitute and sacrifice (Hebrews 10:14).

This combination of humanity and divinity, in the life of a sinless man, is what creates the gospel. Human beings, who are sinful and broken, have an opportunity to be free from the penalty of those sins. God, in the form of a man, took our punishment on Himself, so we can experience salvation. The only way to obtain that salvation is through faith in God, in the person of Jesus Christ, since only Jesus can be a substitute for us.

So, Jesus' suffering was different than that of other men, in that only Christ was sinless, divine, and suffering by His own choice. At the same time, Jesus' experiences were fully human, and so what He faced as a man was identical to the struggles of all men. Since Jesus was 100% God, and 100% man, we need to understand His suffering from both perspectives in order to understand the good news of salvation.

Image Credit: Doug1021; "Crown of Thorns"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Hardships  | Jesus-Christ

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Published 5-8-17