Nobody likes or welcomes them when they come. It is hard to “count it all joy when you fall into divers [various] temptations” (Jms. 1:2). Yet troubles, trials, difficulties and persecutions are part and parcel of true Christianity. If you have been in God’s Way for any length of time, you have experienced your share of tribulations. Some are more difficult than others. Indeed, we are told that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
While they can and do come at different times, the most severe trials always seem to occur during the weeks and days leading up to Passover. So much that, in the Church of God, we often talk about our “pre-Passover trials.”
They can come (seemingly one after another) in many forms: family problems, financial difficulties, issues at work, car or home appliance repairs, being pulled over by traffic police on the way to the Passover service, personal weaknesses flaring up, problems with brethren, and so on. You can recount your own. Additionally, major trials for the entire Church have frequently occurred prior to the Passover.
Why does Satan increase his attacks on the brethren and the Church—and why does God allow it—as we approach this annual reminder of Christ’s sacrifice?
Christ’s Passover Trial
When trials come, we would do well to remember this instruction: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (I Pet. 4:12-13).
Stop to consider how much our Elder Brother endured. Knowing the severe trial that was coming, Jesus was driven to intense prayer to the Father. He hoped for support and comfort from Peter, James and John, yet they let Him down. He was betrayed with a kiss from Judas, whom He called friend—one who had been with Him from the beginning of His ministry. How terrible that must have felt!
Christ was arrested, treated as a common criminal and hauled before a court of His own countrymen. Think of it! The Creator of mankind on trial—falsely accused, lied about and interrogated through the night by those He created! They spat in His face, and blindfolded, beat and mocked Him, declaring that He blasphemed and was worthy of death. This He faced alone, through the night, with the disciples having fled and Peter having vehemently denied that he even knew Him. Christ was keenly aware of this (Luke 22:61). Imagine how that must have felt!
As painful as this was, it was only a foretaste. A long, grueling trial was just beginning.
When morning came, the religious leaders bound—handcuffed—Jesus, delivering Him into the hands of Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor. He endured further questioning from Pilate and more accusations from the chief priests and elders. Then the Roman governor, hoping to shift responsibility, sent Jesus off to Herod. He endured even more accusation, was questioned by Herod, and was mocked and treated with contempt by Herod’s soldiers.
Afterward, Christ was sent back to Pilate. Seeking to release Him, Pilate, as it was customary to release a prisoner at the time of the Passover, assembled the priests and elders, telling them, “You have brought this Man unto me, as one that perverts the people: and, behold, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this Man touching those things whereof you accuse Him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto Him. I will therefore chastise Him, and release Him” (Luke 23:14-16).
But the leaders of the people would not have it. Instead, they cried aloud, saying, “Away with this Man…Crucify Him, crucify Him” (vs. 18, 21), and stirred up the assembled crowd. Preferring a common criminal, they demanded that Barabbas, a thief and murderer, be released to them. Thus, Christ came “unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11).
His trial grew worse, being whipped—scourged!—with a cat-o-nine tails, the flesh torn and ripped from His body by soldiers who excelled in this practice. Christ was stripped of His clothes and endured more mocking, humiliation and spittle from the mouths of His tormentors. A crown of thorns was thrust upon His head, piercing the flesh and bringing sharp, intense pain.
He was made to bear—carry—the very instrument of His death on the way to being crucified with thieves, thus being “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). As He hung naked on the stake, life slowly ebbing from His body, He received no respite from the cruel mocking of those assembled round about. His last moments of physical life echoed with the taunts of those “wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, You that destroy the temple, and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross…He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:29-32). And “they parted [His] raiment among them, and for [His] vesture they did cast lots” (John 19:24).
Christ now found Himself alone—cut off—crying out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?...My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). With a spear thrust into His side, His blood poured out, Christ drew His last breath.
His trial was over. The One who was God, existing from eternity with the Father, became sin for us (II Cor. 5:21).
Satan had sought to overcome Jesus—to break His will, His commitment to God and the plan that had been laid out long ago. Yes, the adversary brought this tremendous trial, hoping the Son of God would fail—and the Father allowed it: “For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). By enduring His own drawn-out trial, leading up to His being offered as our Passover sacrifice, the captain of our salvation was made “perfect through sufferings.”
And “in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him” (5:7-9).
Following in His Steps
Recall that we are to partake of Christ’s sufferings: “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (I Pet. 2:21).
Can our Christian walk be any different? Should we expect to escape trials, tribulations, or sufferings?
No. The example that was set, the one we are to follow, is one of enduring—come what may. Truly, “For unto [us] it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).
Do you grasp that? It has been given to us on behalf of Jesus Christ—who suffered on our behalf—to, in turn, suffer for Him.
Just as Satan tried to defeat our Elder Brother, so too will he try to defeat us. He does not want us to escape from his grasp. He desperately wants us to remain in our sins. He knows that Christ overcame him, and he knows that we can as well, through Christ’s sacrifice. Is it any wonder then that, as we come to the Passover, the devil increases his attacks on God’s begotten children?
The devil, “as a roaring lion, walk[ing] about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8), specifically times his attacks on us. Often, he does this where it hurts the worst, and at times it comes from those who are closest to us. He shoots arrows of fiery darts (doubts) (Eph. 6:16), probing for and targeting our weaknesses, attempting to destroy our faith. His goal is to make it as difficult as he possibly can, sometimes bringing a series of trials like waves crashing on the shore, trying to erode our character—break our resolve and commitment to God. The adversary sets out to overwhelm and discourage you, hoping that you will throw in the towel, give up the fight.
From him come feelings of hopelessness, despondency, depression and uselessness. He will attempt to broadcast into your mind doubts about your conversion, and about whether you should take the Passover and renew your commitment to God and Christ. He does not want you to make it! Resolve steadfastly to resist him (I Pet. 5:9), to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12) by using these opportunities for self-examination, and to shore up your weaknesses.
Remember that “there has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer (allow) you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13). None of us have “resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4).
Enduring pre-Passover trials is the pattern Christ left for us. He escaped His trials and, being perfected, has qualified to replace Satan on the throne of Earth.
By allowing trials to come, the same purpose is being worked out in us by “the God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, [and] after that [we] have suffered a while, [will] make us perfect, establish, strengthen, settle [us]” (I Pet. 5:10). Through these Passover trials, we are to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, [to be] made conformable unto His death” (Phil. 3:10).
No Other Way
Prior to the most difficult time Jesus would ever face, He prayed these words, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). God’s will was that He go through these horrible events. There was no other way. Neither can there be for us—we must endure our own Passover trials, allowing God to perfect us.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses [examples—of which Christ would be considered the ultimate], let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider”—yes, consider—“Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:1-3).
We can do no less.