© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

As Christians we tend to think of Jesus’ arrest, trial and death when his suffering is mentioned. And his death is indeed vitally significant. But it is not the only suffering that Jesus experienced. Jesus experienced human life, and human life is a life of suffering. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews stresses the fact that Jesus Christ fully identified with us in our human suffering. He makes it clear that living the normal human life, experiencing the normal human lot, is just as important a component in Christ’s saving work as his death. Indeed, the writer says, unless Jesus suffered as we all suffer he would not have been qualified to die as our substitute under the judgement of God or to stand as our representative in the presence of God.



A.1 Normal physical suffering
Jesus was not immune from the physical suffering that characterizes our human lives.

Check these scriptures. What kinds of physical discomfort did Jesus suffer?
Matthew 4:2

John 4:6

John 4:7

Matthew 8:20

Matthew 8:23 – 24 (two kinds of suffering)

Luke 8:1-3

Matthew 17:24-27

Matthew 21:18

In the above verses we read about Jesus experiencing hunger, thirst, homelessness, poverty, tiredness and a ‘natural’ event. We do not read anything in the Gospels about Jesus suffering sickness or injury during his life prior to his arrest; but this does not mean that he didn’t experience sickness or injury. Indeed if we read Hebrews chapter 2:10 – 18 and 4:15 we are told that Jesus experienced all the same kinds of pressures and suffering that we experience. (We’ll look further at this in section B below.)

A.2 Rejection by other humans
One of the most acute and frequent forms of human suffering comes from other people. We feel their rejection. We feel their hatred and anger. We feel misunderstood or misrepresented. And the greater our love for a person, the deeper the pain and disappointment we feel when they hurt us in some way, whether unintentionally or deliberately.

Jesus felt this emotional pain. And this pain that touches our souls is far deeper than the physical pain that afflicts our bodies.

From the verses below describe how the attitudes and words of other people caused Jesus suffering.
John 1:5

John 1:10,11

John 3:19

Luke 2:7

Luke 2:41-50

Mark 3:20, 21

Mark 5:17

Mark 6:1-6

John 6:70

John 7:3 - 7

Luke 9:51-56

Luke 11:29-32

Luke 17:25

Matthew 13:53-58

John 13:18 - 21

Mark 14:50

Luke 22:54 - 61

Matthew 27:39,40,44


A.3 Jesus’ suffering because of false religious perceptions
We come here to a specific aspect of the suffering caused by other humans, sometimes by individuals, at other times by organized religion or informal religious groups or factions.

Throughout the three years of his active ministry Jesus was repeatedly targeted by the Jewish religious elite – the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, and, to a lesser extent, the Sadducees. These were the people who were supposed to be the custodians of God’s truth. Feeling seriously threatened by both Jesus’ teaching and his increasing popularity they constantly criticized him. They laid verbal traps for him. They accused him. On the basis of their own position as the religious teachers and leaders, who studied and knew the Old Testament, they, of all people, should have recognized and acknowledged him. But they did not. By their relentless verbal attacks against Jesus they exposed the poverty of their supposed knowledge of God and of God’s Word.

In these verses, the religious leaders attacked Jesus because of something he said or did. Why were they so upset and antagonistic in each incident?
Mark 2:1-7

Mark 2:13-17

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

John 5:1 – 16

John 5:17 - 18

Mark 3:22 – 30

Matthew 15:1 – 9

Luke 11:53, 54

John 7:25 – 32

John 8:1 – 12

John 8:48 – 59

John 10:22 – 33

John 11:45 - 57

Matthew 21:15, 16

Matthew 21:23 – 27

Matthew 22:15 – 22

[Study 9 looks further at this kind of suffering.]

A.4 Jesus’ heartfelt anguish caused by human hardness of heart
The infinitely compassionate heart of Jesus felt deep and painful sadness when he saw the hard, unrepentant human heart. He knew, as we will never know completely, what he created humans for. He knew, as we will never comprehend, the horrific judgment for which the unrepentant and unbelieving are headed.

We will look further at this aspect of Jesus’ suffering in the study on the heart of God.

A.5 Jesus’ suffering because of human authorities
Some human suffering is caused by the ruling authorities. Jesus also experienced this kind of suffering.

What did Jesus experience because of the actions and attitudes of political/national rulers and authorities?
Matthew 2:13 – 15

Mark 15:1 – 15

Luke 23:6 – 12

Mark 15:16 – 20

John 19:16 – 24



The Letter to the Hebrews stresses the critical significance of Jesus experiencing the suffering that is normal for humans. Although Jesus is the Son of God, creator and sustainer of the universe, worshipped by the angels as both God and King (Hebrews 1), he became fully and truly human (Hebrews 2). This incarnation, this taking our humanness upon himself, is essential for the saving work that he came to do.

To qualify as our representative high priest or mediator, and to qualify to make atonement for our sins, he has to be one of us. Not only so, he has to experience the hard yards of human life – the suffering, the pressures – in order to be a perfect representative and substitute. He is not qualified, he is not the perfect Saviour, unless he has gone through what we go through, unless he has felt what we feel.

So he suffered. Not only in the three years of his ministry that we have looked at above, not only in the agony of his death, but in those thirty unreported years. In those silent years Jesus was living the normal human life, just like our normal human lives. He felt the pain and the hurts. He felt the pressures. Just like us. Indeed, even more so than us, because he felt the pressures and the pain and the hurt without giving in to sin and unbelief. Temptation ran its full course with him and he did not give in. Through it all he persisted in righteousness, thus perfectly qualifying himself to bear our guilt and to credit us with his innocence.

B.1 Hebrews 2:10
In Hebrews 2:10 we read ‘... it was fitting that God ... should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.’

Let’s look at what God is telling us here:

‘It was fitting’ = it was proper – it was the right thing to do in keeping with God’s strict justice.

‘the author of their salvation’ - (KJV = ‘captain’). The Greek word is ‘archegon’ which is made of ‘arche’ (beginning, authority, prince, first place) and ‘ago’ (I lead or go). Thus, Jesus Christ is the one who leads us into the presence of God.

‘It was fitting that God ... should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.’ The writer is not saying that Jesus was not morally or legally perfect until he was made ‘perfect through suffering’. We know that he was without sin, that there was no wrong with which the Jews could accuse him. What the writer is saying here is, that in order to be a high priest for us, in order to stand in our place in the presence of God, in order to be a perfect representative and perfect substitute for us, it was right and proper for him to experience the sufferings that we experience: to be perfect as our representative in the presence of God and our substitute under the judgement of God he had to share our lot. So FF Bruce writes:

‘In order to be a perfect high priest, a man must sympathize with those on whose behalf he acts, and he cannot sympathize with them unless he can enter into their experiences and share them for himself. Jesus did just this.’ (p44).

B.2 Hebrews 2:17, 18
Having spoken in verse 10 of the fittingness or rightness of God perfecting Jesus through suffering the writer to the Hebrews now speaks of the necessity of Jesus experiencing the suffering that is common to us all. We read ‘he had to be made like his brothers in every way’.

In these verses we learn:

In order to represent us and mediate for us in the presence of God as our high priest, it was essential that Jesus be one of us – just like us (v.17).

Not only was real humanness essential for Jesus to qualify as our merciful and faithful high priest, it was also essential to qualify him to make atonement for us, that is, to turn God’s wrath away from us (v.17).

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (18). In the context of this letter, indeed in the whole of Scripture, ‘tempted’ has a much deeper significance than temptation to commit a moral sin. Only a small handful of Biblical references to temptation are about moral temptations; the large majority are about being pressured to give in, being pressured to give up on one’s faith and deny the Lord. Here in the letter to the Hebrews the writer’s whole purpose is to prevent his readers doing just that. Pressured by the Jews to return to adherence to and trust in Jewish ritual laws, pressured by physical persecution at the hands of the Romans to deny their faith in Jesus Christ, these Hebrew Christians are at the point of giving up. The writer tells them: Jesus suffered that kind of pressure too. He knows. He survived and triumphed over it. He, the ‘merciful and faithful high priest’, not only made atonement for their sins, but also understands, supports, aids and intercedes.

B.3 Hebrews 4:15
In Hebrews 4:15 we read: ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.’

This high priest, Jesus Christ, ‘can sympathize with our weaknesses’ because he ‘has been tempted in every way just as we are - yet without sin’. Here we have an expansion of the qualifications of our great high priest: he ‘can sympathize with our weaknesses’. Why? How come he understands our weaknesses so intimately that he sympathizes with them? Is he not perfect and without sin? How can a perfect, sinless person feel what imperfect people feel? Because this perfect person was not perfect because of an unrealistic, monastic removal from the world and its temptations; this perfect person was no cloistered, head-in-the-sand ascetic severed from the hurly-burly of human existence. Rather, this perfect person, this flesh-and-blood Jesus lived among us (John 1:14) – as John recorded in 1 John 1:1 ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched…’ This perfect person experienced our rejection and treachery and hatred, he heard our scorn and accusations, he felt our whips and our mocking thorns and our nails. All of this without sin.

But not only this: this high priest, this perfect man, was pushed to the very limit of temptation’s power by the great deceiver, until the tempter gave in. At the beginning and the end of his ministry Jesus’ commitment to his Father’s will was challenged by the devil. The pressure to give up their faith that the readers of this letter were experiencing was nothing compared to the pressure the devil put on Jesus to deviate from and avoid the way of the cross appointed by the Father. This high priest knows. He knows what that kind of pressure, that kind of temptation, is like. He knows what it feels like to shrink from the shame and the suffering. He, who did not give in and give up, knows why we feel the way we do, and how we feel. He knows the strength and the power of temptation and testing because he endured them in their ultimate intensity.

B.4 Hebrews 5:7 – 9
Again the writer to the Hebrews points out that Jesus, although the Son of God, ‘learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him’. Through his suffering Jesus learned what human obedience involved. He did human life the hard way, the way of not giving in to doubts and pressures, the way of not giving up on faith in God and obedience to God’s commands. He lived the perfect human life. Despite the pressures.

Because he was thus qualified to represent us before God, he became, as our substitute and representative, the source of eternal salvation to all who obey his command to believe in him.

Only a soccer player, who has done the hard yards of training, of learning the rules, of practice, can effectively substitute for an injured soccer player in the World Cup. Only a tennis player who knows the game can effectively substitute for a tennis player at Wimbledon. Only a real human being, who has experienced real human life with all its suffering, is qualified to substitute for us in the presence of God.

Suffering the normal human life made Jesus the perfect substitute. The perfect representative. He, who knows our suffering, takes our place under the judgement of God and in the presence of God.

What have you learned about the suffering of Jesus from these Hebrews texts?






Suffering entered the world because of sin. This is recorded in Genesis 3, with further extensions of suffering introduced with the global flood (Genesis 6 – 9) and the confusion of languages (Genesis 11).

It is obvious from these Genesis narratives that suffering was not part of the world that God created; rather, suffering became part of the world when sin has entered. At the base line, suffering is here because of our original human sin, the automatic cause/effect consequences of that sin, and God’s judgement on that sin. It is a curse, not a blessing. And once having become sinners who sin, we inevitably cause more suffering by our sinful choices – our attitudes, words and actions.

But such is the power and sovereign authority of God that he can take suffering and turn it into a blessing. He takes hold of what is evil and transforms it into something good. Jesus came. He shared our suffering. He bore our sins in his body on the cross. The life and death of Christ are clear testimony to what God in his sovereign purpose can do with suffering.

There are a couple of lessons that confront us in the fact that Jesus shared our normal human suffering.

C.1 He was perfect, yet he suffered
Jesus had no sin, yet he suffered. This should make us very cautious of the popular theology that links personal suffering to personal sin. While it is clearly true that suffering is on the earth because of human sin, it is not true to say that all personal suffering is because of the individual sufferer’s sin. Jesus, the perfect human, experienced normal human suffering because he lived on a cursed earth, and because he lived in the midst of sinners. In such a context, suffering is unavoidable and inevitable.

Those who by faith are ‘in Christ’ are reckoned by God to be perfect in Christ, beyond judgement and condemnation. It is therefore not only inappropriate but also inaccurate to suggest that the present suffering of a believer is God’s deliberate punishment for some personal sin.

Check these texts that affirm the perfection and freedom from condemnation of those who are ‘in Christ’.
John 3:18

John 5:24

Romans 8:1

Colossians 1:22

Hebrews 10:10

Hebrews 10:14

C.2 God is working his purpose out
Jesus’ subjection to normal human suffering was an essential part of God’s saving purpose. Without it, as we have seen above, he would not have been qualified to be our Saviour. His suffering is thus holy – that is, something set apart by God for his special purpose. Although it looks ordinary, it is far from ordinary. Although it looks ‘common’ – just the same as every other human – it is actually ‘holy’. Our suffering is in God’s hands, and he incorporates it into his grand and glorious purpose. It still hurts. It is still undesirable. But it also is holy.

What do these texts say about God’s use of our human suffering in his holy purpose?
Genesis 45:5 – 7

Genesis 50:20

Romans 5:3 – 5

Romans 8:28

2Corinthians 1:3 – 7



The death of Jesus is the ultimate evidence that God takes hold of suffering and uses it for our good and for his glory. Although we may follow the example of Jesus in his self-denial and self-sacrifice, we cannot reduplicate his death. In its deepest purpose and significance Jesus’ death is unique. It is unrepeatable. By this suffering, by this death, we are redeemed. This death of Jesus, this ultimate suffering, was planned by God deep in eternity, before the beginning of time, before the creation of the universe. It had one purpose: to bring us back to God.

From these texts, which we have looked at previously in the study on the beginning of suffering, identify when God planned the death of Jesus Christ, and the details of the salvation achieved by that death.
Matthew 25:34

1Corinthians 2:7

Ephesians 1:4

2Timothy 1:9

Titus 1:2

Revelation 13:8

Revelation 17:8

The salvation gained for us through the death of Jesus is multi-faceted. Below are some of the results that God had in mind for us when he gave us his one and only Son.

From these texts, what is God’s intended result of the death of Jesus?
Mark 10:45

John 3:14, 15

John 6:40

Romans 3:21 – 26

Romans 5:9

Galatians 3:13

Ephesians 1:7

Ephesians 2:18

Colossians 1:12

Colossians 1:13

Colossians 1:19, 20

Colossians 2:13 – 15

Hebrews 2:10

Hebrews 4:14-16

This suffering of Jesus, this death in which he put himself in our place under the judgement of God, is not something that any of us can copy. This death in which he carried our guilt and bore all the accusations of the Law of God, is not something that we can reproduce. We cannot die for another person’s sins. We cannot by our dying obtain acquittal for the guilty. We cannot reconcile anyone to God, even if we actually did die saving them from some physical peril. Only the death of Jesus Christ can reconcile a person to God.

Christ’s greatest weakness is his greatest glory. His greatest defeat is his greatest victory. The ultimate human rejection of God, evident in the crucifixion of Jesus, is the one place where God accomplishes his eternal purpose.

If we have any doubts about God’s ability to bring great good and great glory out of suffering, let us fix our eyes on the death of Jesus Christ. Let us meditate upon it. And be at peace.