There are times in the Old Testament when God does not rescue His righteous from destruction and He allows them to perish. The book of Hebrews Chapter 11 has an account of some of those times.
Why do some Christians suffer and other don’t. I guess I’d have to say that all Christians suffer as human beings and as Christians to some measure. But Christians suffer in different measures and so the question is: Why does God allow a different measurement of suffering and why does He allow one person to suffer much more than another person? I can’t answer this specific question because I don’t know what is in the mind of God regarding those issues. Why me and not them?
By the same token you can ask why do some people have it a lot better than others? Why do some people seem to get everything and have everything go their way and others seem to run into barricades all the time? That’s another one I can’t answer for the same reason, I don’t know God’s mind on this with regards to individuals.
But if you look at Hebrews Chapter 11 it talks about the nature of faith, which is trust and confidence in God’s capability to take things where He wants them to go; and the writer of Hebrews talks about different people that entrusted themselves to God, some of whom experienced miraculous deliverance. In fact, I think Daniel is mentioned here indirectly in verse 33 where it says that by faith some conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises and shut the mouths of lions—referring certainly here to Daniel. But then it goes on in verse 35, and I think this is a very, very important verse in Scripture. It’s the et al. Verse 35 says, “Women receive back their dead by resurrection and others [et al] were tortured, not accepting their release in order that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others experienced mocking and scourging and, yes, also chains. In imprisonment they were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword,” etc. and you can read the rest. It shows that faith works in both circumstances, and God is working in both circumstances to accomplish whatever His goals are. Some people get rescued others don’t, but God is involved in both and faith is involved in both.
Now we have a little hint here in verse 35 as to why that might be the case. It say, “Some were tortured not accepting their release in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Let’s talk about that for a quick moment. How is it that someone can obtain a better resurrection? Well, Paul tells Timothy that physical exercise profits little. To those of you who are working real hard to get your body in shape, Paul says, Well, you know, it’s all right. But godliness is a means of great gain, for it holds a promise not only for the present life but also for the life to come.
So it’s like you have two bodies, right? You have a spiritual body and you have a physical body. You can pump iron and get your physical body in shape and Paul says, Ho hum. But if you want to get your spiritual body in shape, whatever that means, he calls it “godliness that holds a promise for the life to come,” which would be the resurrection. so no here is what it looks like. One thing that I think is safe to infer from that verse, though we are not sure what is entailed in the life to come, is there does seem to be levels of growth and maturity in that life, and there are rewards, and some people get more than others. Jesus talks about different rewards for different people for different things that they have accomplished, and it seems by this comment here that there are also different levels of spiritual fitness in the life to come. That’s why Paul says godliness holds a promise not just for this age but also for the life to come.
My inference is that if you become spiritually fit in this life, that fitness carries over into the next life, and I suspect it carries over and accomplishes something in the next life that you will not be able to accomplish for yourself in the next life. I think this suggests—and I could be wrong on this—that when you are in the resurrection you can’t catch up to somebody else who developed spiritually more than you did in this life. This is why Paul is encouraging you to develop spiritually in this life.
What does this term “better resurrection” mean? Well, it seems from other passages that there is a suggestion that the quality of spirituality, the fitness of our souls, in the after life, in the resurrection, is somehow commiserate with the spiritual exercise that we do in this life. This is why Paul made the comment there to Timothy about physical exercise vs. spiritual exercise, which he calls godliness.
When it comes to this phrase “obtaining a better resurrection” I suspect what that means is that because they were allowed to suffer for their faith their spiritual selves were being built up and strengthened and increased, brought to a deeper or a richer maturity. Paul talks about this in other passages, as well, when he talks about his physical body as wearing down or being beaten up. But his spiritual man, his inner man, is being built up and is flourishing. So it looks like God gives opportunities through suffering to increase the flourishing of our spiritual selves.
This is, by the way, almost the universal testimony of Christians who have survived deep personal conflict and pain and suffering. They reflect on it and they know intuitively that what has been accomplished, as God has worked through them, is the deepening of their spiritual nature and an enrichment and maturing of their inner selves, their inner man, and they wouldn’t want to exchange that for anything, even if it meant that they wouldn’t have to go through the pain that they went through.
This allows us to look at our trials and tribulations not as a curse, but as a grace because God is giving us an opportunity to grow in the inner man in a way that will have eternal implications and consequences—a kind of growth that we wouldn’t have been able to have if He didn’t allow us to go through this, and a kind of growth we wouldn’t have been able to catch up with in the after life. It’s a one shot deal in these circumstances, and I suspect that this is why we are encouraged in the Scriptures to engage suffering, to embrace it and trust God and live godly through the process. Peter says in 1 Peter 4, “I believe that for those who suffer according to the will of God we are to entrust ourselves to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” Maybe this is an answer to the question.
One of the reasons that some Christians go through more difficulty than others is God is allowing them an opportunity to do meaningful spiritual exercise in this life so as to build up their spiritual bodies, that they will be enriched in the life to come in a way that they couldn’t be enriched unless they had dealt with this in a godly manner in faith in this life.