Suffering, Martyrdom, and Rewards in Heaven, Part 1
13 November 2013
This past summer I started slowly making my way through an astounding, life-changing book called Suffering, Martyrdom, and Rewards in Heaven by Josef (Iosif) Ton.

I just finished a short chapter in which Mr. Ton summarizes the contents of the book so far. For the past 300 pages he has been examining what the Bible has to say about suffering, martyrdom and heavenly rewards. After a brief look at Isaiah, Daniel and Job, and a chapter on the Maccabees, the rest of the 300 pages is an in-depth look at the teaching of the New Testament, including 100 pages covering Paul's writings. Now, at the end of that Biblical overview, before he turns his attention to the lessons of Church history, Mr. Ton wrote this short chapter called "Conclusions to the Survey of the Scriptures."

Because this seems like such a good summary of the main points he has made thus far in this book, I have reproduced the entire chapter below. At first glance it may seem that Mr. Ton is making quite a few strong statements, but you need to read the previous 300 pages in which he slowly, methodically and clearly examines what the Bible says about all of these issues. It is by carefully considering what the Scriptures say that I have become convinced of the truth of what Mr. Ton has written, and have even been transformed in my heart and mind by these challenging concepts.
The main purpose of this research as been to enable us to put together a theology of martyrdom. Very early in the process, however, we found ourselves compelled to take into consideration the larger subject of suffering, as well. In addition, we discovered that in the Scriptures, the subject of suffering and self-sacrifice is intimately and organically related to the issue of rewards in heaven. Therefore, the three issues cannot be studied apart from each other. In fact, they form essentially one subject.

A further discovery that we made in the course of our investigation was the fact that suffering, martyrdom, and rewards are intrinsically and inseparably connected to the most important issue one could ever study, namely, God's ultimate plan with humanity. This plan is none other than man's ultimate purpose for existing and his final destiny for all eternity. We saw that God made man with the purpose of giving him dominion over His creation. Man was destined to become like Christ and to rule with Christ over God's created universe. For this final purpose, God intends to fashion free and responsible persons who will voluntarily submit to His authority and who will be trustworthy, reliable, and worthy of being entrusted with the authority to rule.

With this final end in mind, God has chosen to educate His children by means of the harshness of this present earthly history. Because His goal is to form a Christlike character in each of them, the main character traits that God wants to develop in His children are the following: submission to God's authority, obedience to God's commands, total fidelity to God and total dependence upon God, the love of God and of other people, a servant's attitude, endurance of all tribulations, an attitude of self-sacrifice and of giving everything to God and to others, and a passion for holy living.

Through the many trials of this life, God also tests His children. By their reactions to God's commands and to the challenges of life, they reveal their worth, their faithfulness, and their trustworthiness. The most important moment for each child of God is the moment of his appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. All of his works, thoughts, intentions, words, and attitudes will be brought out into the light so that God can determine the worthiness of that person. God has to be pleased with what He sees in each of His children on that final day of reckoning. Finally, according to what is ascertained at that judgment, God will assign to each person a place, rank, and function in His eternal kingdom and over His new creation.

Before time began, God elected those who would be His children. He then determined to give them dominion over all His creation, and this was to be their inheritance from their Father. He also redeemed them, by the death of His only Begotten Son, because they fell. In the present, He gives them grace, power, and everything else they need in order to grow and be transformed into what God intends them to be.

God's children are not called to earn anything, because their heavenly Father has already determined from eternity to give them everything. Since God has given them all that they have, and since He has worked in them all that they have become, through the tribulations of life on earth, they can never boast that they have achieved or merited anything. Ultimately, He will give them the inheritance that was theirs from the very beginning, if they prove to be worthy of it. Therefore, the elect of God will always give Him all the glory and praise.

In the kingdom of heaven, God has prepared different functions or jobs for His children to do. He will give them different ranks or positions of lower or higher authority, depending on how they have performed their duties on earth, and depending on the outcome of the last judgment of Christ. This truth is most unpalatable for Christians who are used to a theology which insists that because everything is by grace alone, there are no obligations of any kind imposed upon the believer. This type of theology also provides them with the comfortable assurance that all the saints will enjoy equality in the eternal bliss of heaven. Notwithstanding, the Bible consistently speaks of good works and of a judgment according to works. God's Word also informs us repeatedly and insistently that it is necessary for each child of God to develop a holy character, and that there will be dreadful consequences for the ones who disobey His commands.

Protestants have been deficient in putting together a reasonable and well-integrated theology of good works, of character development, and of the momentous judgment of every Christian according to his works. One of my basic conclusions thus far has been that such a theology, so badly needed, can be built only if we accept that the final purpose of God with man is to give him a position of ruling with His Son over all creation, and only if we accept that in God's kingdom, there will be a differentiation of function and position according to what the child of God has done and according to what he has proven himself to be during his life on earth.

Suffering and martyrdom are an integral part of the process by which God is educating and testing His children here on earth. God has two basic purposes to accomplish by means of the suffering and martyrdom to which He calls His children. The first purpose has to do with what He intends to work in us through suffering and martyrdom. The other consists of what He intends to achieve in the world through our suffering and martyrdom. His work in us and His work through us in the world are parallel and concomitant achievements. Hence, we should not disregard either one by concentrating mainly on one, while neglecting the other.

By now we know that what God desires to produce in us is a Christlike character. What He has purposed to accomplish in the world through us is, first of all, the spreading of the gospel to the ends of the earth (or the spreading of grace and of the salvation that is in Jesus Christ). Secondly, He has purposed to bring about the triumph of the truth of God and the defeat of Satan.

Before we attempt to construct a systematic theology of suffering, martyrdom, and rewards in heaven from the ideas that we have gleaned from our study of the books of the Bible, it is necessary to first conduct a survey of the various ways Christians in different times and different places have understood their own suffering and martyrdom. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we should try to build on what Christians have thought throughout the course of history. As we scan the history of Christianity for ideas about suffering and martyrdom, we shall also discover portions of Scripture that have particularly spoken to people in times of persecution, and we shall pay specific attention to the ways in which persecuted Christians have interpreted those Scriptures. In the process, we shall uncover numerous examples of extremely moving and deep biblical thinking; on the other hand, we shall also find mistakes and sometimes tragic errors that have had disastrous consequences for all subsequent Christian history.

After we have completed a thorough review of the Christian ideas on this subject, we shall then be able to start reasoning and judging for ourselves, in order to formulate a strictly scriptural theology of suffering martyrdom, and rewards in heaven for our own time.
A couple of months ago I briefly introduced this book when sharing two parables which came to my mind based upon what I have been learning from it. You can check out what I wrote in Endurance and Rejoicing in Suffering. I have somewhat more than 100 pages to go before I finish the book. I expect that I will be sharing some more extracts from it once I reach the end. I'm really looking forward to that last chapter where he shares a modern Protestant theology of martyrdom!

The information and insights Mr. Ton shares in this book are extremely vital for preparing us to face our Islamic future — a not-too-distant future in which suffering and martyrdom will once again become the norm for followers of Yeshua (Jesus, Isa) around the world and even right here in the United States. To dig deeper into the "whys" and "hows" of all this, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of Suffering, Martyrdom, and Rewards in Heaven — it could easily be the most important book you will ever read, and the most crucial to affect your eternal destiny! All this for only $15 — you can't afford NOT to get this book!

I have shared more extracts from this book in Suffering, Martyrdom, and Rewards in Heaven, Part 2 and Suffering, Martyrdom, and Rewards in Heaven, Part 3.