“Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
The Apostle Paul having just healed a lame man, so captivated the people of Lystra, they extolled him and Barnabas as gods, even called them Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-11). However, envious and unbelieving Jews came from Iconium and Antioch (cities Paul had previously preached and experienced hostility) and persuaded the multitude, to turn violently against him. Poisoned by Satanic lies, the fickle crowd that only moments prior deified Paul, now stoned him and dragged him out of the city supposing he was dead (Acts 14:19). When Paul’s disciples gathered around him, he arose and entered the city. Amazingly, the very next day he and Barnabas embarked on the sixty-mile trek to the city of Derbe, and once arriving there they preached the gospel (Acts 14:21). The Lord performed a supernatural healing on Paul, for he must have been in a bloody pulp and in a moribund state. G. Campbell Morgan wrote:
“Paul was writing to Timothy, the young minister, his last letter and said to him: ‘You know the persecutions I endured at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra, but out of them all the Lord delivered me’ (2 Tim. 3:11). At Antioch and Iconium He delivered him by saving him from the stones. At Lystra He delivered him through stoning.” 1
After winning many converts at Derbe, Paul boldly returned to Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra–the very cities where he was castigated (Acts 14:21). So, why did Paul return to such a hostile and insidious venue? Most believers, if not all, would have refrained from returning to such a pernicious environment. However, Paul did not faint from risking his life in order to honor his unique calling required by the Lord (Acts 9:15-16, Gal. 1:15-16). Furthermore, Paul selflessly wanted to encourage the brethren, who may have witnessed firsthand the pandemonium and violence against him. Paul encouraged them to abide in faith, declaring: “…Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b). In the same manner, Paul recounted that life-threatening experience in Lystra and with it exhorted his young fellow soldier in the faith, Timothy: “Persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:11-12). In fact, on numerous occasions Paul strengthened the brethren in the newly established churches who were enduring great persecution (Acts 14:22, 15:31, 41, 16:4-5, 40, 18:23, 20:1-2).
Amazingly, while residing in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit testified to Paul that persecution awaited him in Jerusalem. The fearless Apostle called the elders together and fortified them words of encouragement:
And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24, cf. 20:17-36).
While in Caesarea the prophet Agabus warned Paul of impending danger in Jerusalem:
“And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” And when we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” (Acts 21:10-13).
The record of Paul’s courageous and fearless character is ostensibly evident in all his missionary journeys, demonstrating abiding trust in God’s will. (cf. Acts 18:9-10, 23:11, 1 Tim. 3:11). Furthermore, Paul was a paradigm for the brethren as they witnessed his fearless faith in action; he exemplified taking up one’s cross to follow Christ (Luke 9:23).
Additionally, Paul exhorted his brethren to action. For example, he admonished the faint-hearted Timothy to emulate his Christlikeness: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, (2 Tim. 1:7-8). Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.” (1 Cor. 4:15-16). Paul exhorted again: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1). The Apostle understood suffering for the gospel’s sake leads to blessings in eternal glory. (cf. Rom. 8:18).
In closing, Paul’s above powerful exhortation is the calling of every believer. This is clearly indicated in the Word of God: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” (1 Pet. 2:21). Believers should be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice (give up their life) to follow Christ. Jesus Himself made the following declaration: “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:24-25). These encouragements carry an eternal weight of glory for those who believe in Jesus Christ: “…Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b).
1 G. Campbell Morgan, Acts of the Apostles, Fleming H. Revell and Co., 1924, pg. 344