In 2 Corinthians 4:17, the apostle Paul presents a beautiful and emphatic contrast between present afflictions and future glory: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (ESV). Before analyzing the meaning of “eternal weight of glory,” it is essential to understand the broader context of the epistle.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul addresses the challenges faced by the Corinthians and defends his apostolic ministry against accusations and opposition. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul emphasizes the grace and mercy of God, which sustained Paul and his fellow-laborers during times of toil, weariness, scorn, danger, and constant exposure to death (see 2 Corinthians 4:7–10; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23–27). Their suffering was not in vain: “So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12).
Despite these hardships, which continued for the duration of his life, Paul characterizes his trials and tribulations as “light” and “momentary.” The word light denotes something that is easy to bear or of little weight (cf. Matthew 11:30 and 2 Corinthians 1:17). Paul’s use of this term conveys the relative insignificance of present afflictions when juxtaposed with the eternal weight of glory.
Furthermore, the term momentary emphasizes the brevity and fleeting nature of present afflictions (cf. James 4:14). Paul contrasts the temporary nature of suffering with the eternal nature of the glory that awaits believers (see Romans 8:29–30). Even if we were to suffer for the rest of our lives, our afflictions are still momentary because this life will come to an end (2 Corinthians 4:16). And when it does, we will be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:17).
Next, Paul juxtaposes the light and momentary affliction with an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” The word weight signifies the substantiality, significance, and overwhelming nature of the future glory that believers will experience (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9, 13:12; 1 John 3:2). Hence, it conveys a sense of immeasurable value and magnitude.
This “eternal weight of glory” stands in stark contrast to the fleeting and transitory nature of present afflictions. The word eternal signifies the everlasting and unending nature of the glory that believers will inherit. It also highlights the incomparable duration and permanence of our future glory.
In Romans 8:18, Paul expresses a similar idea, declaring that the “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (ESV). This passage reinforces the idea that present afflictions, though seemingly significant, pale in comparison to the future glory that believers will partake in.
In 1 Peter 1:6–7, the apostle notes that suffering has a redemptive purpose: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (ESV). This passage aligns with the theme of present afflictions preparing believers for an eternal weight of glory, as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 4:17.
Second Corinthians 4:17 reminds us that present afflictions, though at times severe, are light and momentary when contrasted with the immeasurable weight of glory that awaits believers. This provides immense comfort to those enduring trials, assuring them their suffering is purposeful and temporary, while their future glory is eternal and incomparable.
May this passage inspire and strengthen our faith as we endure various trials, always mindful of the surpassing glory that awaits us in Jesus Christ.