Making sense of suffering when Christ is king (Ephesians 3:1)

According to Ephesians, the good news of King Jesus is transforming the world:

But, if Jesus is running the world, why do we suffer? Why was Paul locked up in Caesar’s prison when he wrote this? Doesn’t it feel incongruous?

Rather than complain that he’s starved of food and sleep in these oppressive conditions, Paul flipped the script — the humour of incongruity.

Paul is the ambassador of another King, bringing good news of peace for all humans from the King of Kings. Caesar’s mob don’t yet recognize the divinely appointed king, so they lock up his ambassador to impede his message. Ultimately, the reason Paul is in prison is Jesus’ kingship, with Caesar not worth mentioning:

Ephesians 3 1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles …

Not only is that statement a hilarious snub to Caesar’s impotence, it’s also an astounding revelation of the gospel. Previously, he explained how you (gentiles) were dead, slaves of evil in kingdoms that received their power from the spirit of the rebellion against God kingship (2:1-2). Later he’ll insist that the humans who work for Caesar are not our enemies, merely slaves of the powers of evil too (6:12).

Seriously, Caesar isn’t the problem. Jewish people had been enslaved to power after power (Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, the Seleucids, and Rome) because there was a spiritual enemy behind these powers. You can’t say that without realizing that the nations themselves were also slaves of this spiritual enemy too.

And that’s why Paul’s gospel is such good news! Ambassador Paul proclaims the release of the whole of humanity out of the reign of sin and death, into the peace and citizenship of King Jesus (2:11-22). The nations, along with the Jewish people, are being raised up out of their dead existence to form a single unified humanity in the reign of King Jesus (in Christ).

It is for this message that Paul is incarcerated. He is being held hostage for the good news that frees the gentiles of Asia Minor. He sees himself as a hostage in their place, locked up for their sake — so they can go free.

That’s the sense Paul makes of his incongruous suffering.

After all, how did Jesus become king? Not by fighting Rome, since his kingship was not given to him by the authorities of this world (John 18:36). He suffered on behalf of his oppressed people to emancipate (ransom) the slaves, receiving the kingship by divine appointment when God raised him out of death to the throne. His suffering freed us.

And if that’s the path Jesus took, that’s the path we follow. When we suffer at the hands of evil, that suffering is not meaningless: it is redemptive. We suffer for the sake of the world, to bear away the iniquities that divide and oppress humanity.

Does that make it worthwhile, when you suffer as a servant of King Jesus, for the sake of people who need to see the good news that Jesus, in his people, is bearing away the sins of the world?

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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