A Biblical perspective on suffering and salvation

Medellin, Columbia.

By Dr. Milton Acosta

An excerpt from “So Great a Salvation: Soteriology in the Majority World” (Langham
Global Library, 2017)

In Acts 4, Psalm 2:1-2 is applied to Jesus in order to affirm that this anointed king has been killed “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” This is said by people who are being persecuted because of Christ. The disciples’ request for protection seems short and mild. They pray that God would “look upon their threats” and grant them boldness to continue preaching and to perform signs and wonders by the power of God.

The way Psalm 2 is used provides a scriptural explanation for Jesus’s death, but it seems to suggest that the rulers of the earth who revolt against the Lord and his anointed have succeeded. The verses quoted seem to change the tone of the psalm as a whole. The issue of God’s sovereignty might be present in both texts (the whole psalm and what is quoted in Acts 4), but in its New Testament context does not seem to offer any hope of divine protection from social crimes, like the injustice of killing an innocent.

What about justice?

We could say that this is precisely the paradox of salvation, but the point is that the issue of justice is overridden and that those who want to follow this king should be prepared to be the objects of similar injustice. This text seems to set a foundation and a pattern for other stories and future reflections in the rest of the New Testament about suffering for the sake of Jesus, especially in the writings of Paul on this issue.

The result of the prayer in Acts 4 is that the disciples got what they asked for: fear was gone, the gospel was preached, and miracles occurred. And even more, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Justice does not seem to be a concern here, but there is resistance on the part of the apostles to the political pressure of the priests and Sanhedrin. They were jailed, but God delivered them; clearly, the powers are challenged, the authorities are dishonored, and the apostles are honored. The church does not have an army to jailbreak, but God sends his angel instead!

An opportunity to trust

In his teaching about prayer, Jesus tells the story of a widow who is the victim of a corrupt justice system (Luke 18:1–8). A judge does not do his job, and nobody cares. However, the apparently helpless widow has a powerful weapon—nagging—and she knows how to use it. The conclusion is that this widow will be given justice by the unjust judge because of her persistence; he gets exasperated and she will not go away. The story seems to be in line with some prayers about justice in the psalms. For this reason, some versions of the Bible reference some psalms next to it (Ps. 9:8; 58:11; 94:2).

It seems to be that on the issue of suffering, Paul and other New Testament authors are not following the theology and experiences of the psalms, but other texts, perhaps Job and Habakkuk. Paul finds strength in weakness, and sees distress, personal crises, and unanswered prayers as opportunities to trust God and his grace in those situations where justice on this earth is not done. Death is victory because it is a way to participate in the sufferings of Jesus, who died but conquered death by being resurrected. This eschatological hope means that both the faithful and the wicked will receive their recompense, a prominent theme in the Gospel of Luke. So, there will be justice.

Dr. Milton Acosta earned his PhD in Old Testament and teaches the subject at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia in Medellín. He is a speaker and author and has written several books, articles and encyclopedia entries. Milton’s areas of research include rhetorical patterns in the Hebrew Bible, forced migration and violence in the Bible. He also leads a small group of pastors and academics in Medellín who explore the issue of worship and liturgy in evangelical churches. 


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