Entering GOD’s KINGDOM through TRIBULATIONS: And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:21-22)
In the above passage, we read that Paul and Barnabas "returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch". Their purpose at this time was to “follow-up” on their initial ministries in those cities. They were not satisfied just to preach the gospel and bringing people to the saving knowledge of Jesus. They wanted to build up the believers in their most holy faith, especially by teaching them the truth of the church and its importance in God’s program in the world. Erdman points out: "A proper missionary program has as its aim the establishing on the field of self-governing, self-sustaining, self-propagating churches. This was ever the purpose and the practice of Paul."
Two things can be noted here. First, the exact nature of their follow-up work was strengthening the souls of the disciples and establishing the Christians in the faith by instructing them from the word of God. Paul described the process in Colossians 1:28, 29: “We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ Jesus. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me” (JBP).
Second, they exhorted them to continue in the faith, an exhortation especially timely in view of the widespread persecution then prevalent. With this exhortation went a reminder that they must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God. This refers to the kingdom of God in its future aspect (or, heaven), when believers will share Christ’s glory. A person enters the kingdom of God in the first place through the new birth. Persecutions and tribulations do not have any saving value. However, those who enter the kingdom of God by faith at the present time are promised that the pathway to future glory is filled with tribulations. “If indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17b).
What we can understand is that it is important to continually grow in Christian life. This process of growth will bring us through continued troubles and sufferings to enter heaven eventually. Earth is a land of trials, while heaven is the land of joy. Much of our life is getting through sufferings that are inevitable in this world.
Let is persevere through them as our “will to persevere is often the difference between failure and success.” (David Sarnoff). Let us bear our troubles joyfully remembering what Jesus has told us: "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33b)