Acts 14:22

Passing a cemetery in Vermont. Let’s go visit.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

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 14:22

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

The previous verse noted the effective preaching of the apostles in Derbe and then their subsequent return to Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe. Of their time in these cities, it notes, “strengthening the souls of the disciples.”

This includes a new word in Scripture, epistérizó. The word signifies the process of strengthening the understanding that precedes by building upon it. One might say, “to further support.” There is a knowledge that exists. By building upon that knowledge, with further instruction, the original basis of the faith is strengthened and built upon. The word will be seen three more times, all in Acts. Next, the narrative continues with, “exhorting them.”

This is a common word that is widely translated based on the context. It can mean to implore, beseech, encourage, comfort, and so on. It is an action that is close and personal. In this case, the apostles are imploring these disciples “to continue in the faith.”

One must ask, “Is this referring to the faith possessed by the disciple (their trust in the gospel) or is it the faith that is the basis (the substance) of what the apostles taught and in which they then trusted?” The answer is most certainly the latter.

To the apostles, what difference does it make if these disciples have faith if it is not in the faith that has been taught? If they went back and placed their faith in Zeus and Hermes again, that would be a pointless waste of everyone’s time. Rather, the term is being used in the objective sense, just as it is elsewhere, such as –

“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8

Paul wrote those words to Timothy, a person who is certainly included in the words of Acts 14:22 as he is from the area of Derbe and Lystra, as will be seen in Acts 16. That this is an objective faith, and not merely the personal faith of the believer is seen in the next words. In their exhorting these new believers, they explained to them, saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”

The Greek more literally reads, “and that through many tribulations it is behooving us to enter into the kingdom of God.” By placing the words “We must” before “through many tribulations,” the NKJV makes it seem as if the kingdom of God is earned. However, by changing the structure to correct that, the sentence then requires the addition of the word “to” before “enter.” This then almost makes it seem like it is a necessity to experience tribulation before entrance can happen, which is not the case.

The verb translated as “enter” is aorist. It signifies a completed action at a particular time. Before that time, something will necessarily occur as stated by the apostles.

The word translated as “must” is a verb signifying that which is necessary or inevitable. As such it is translated as should, ought, must, and so on. The same general thought is expressed later by Peter –

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6, 7

Peter says, “if need be.” There is a purpose for all things that come upon man. They come according to God’s sovereign decisions. In the book of Job, Satan afflicted Job terribly, but he did so only as allowed by the Lord. There was, in fact, a need for this trial in his life, and there is always a reason for that which occurs in our lives as well.

For some, they are temporary. Job was afflicted and then restored. However, others may face a particular affliction (or afflictions) for their entire lifespan. Here in Acts, the apostles are not telling these disciples that they had to earn entrance into the kingdom of God (a necessity), but that tribulations will necessarily occur in this life, which must be lived first, to enter the kingdom of God.

This is certainly the case. Paul and Barnabas were saved, and yet they include themselves in the exhortation as indicated by the first-person pronoun “us.” They were not saying, “We must go through tribulation in order to enter into the kingdom of God,” but surely, “We must inevitably go through tribulations before entering the kingdom of God.”

The difference may seem like splitting hairs to some, but to misunderstand this will lead to the thought of our earning what has already been earned by Christ for us. Both thoughts are expressed by Paul in Colossians 1 –

“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:9-14

Paul speaks of longsuffering with joy. It is something that he assumes will necessarily come upon believers. He speaks of the inheritance, something that is granted but not yet received in actuality. And then he speaks of having been delivered and conveyed into the kingdom at the same time. In other words, we are in the kingdom, but we are also awaiting it as an inheritance. This is the substance of the words of the apostles now.

Life application: The apostles now in Acts are speaking to disciples about the kingdom of God. It is something that Paul refers to numerous times as well in his epistles. One cannot have a kingdom without a king. In the case of the kingdom of God, it is referring to that of Jesus Christ.

There are numerous teachings that deny that Christ is our King. This is done in order to justify various heretical doctrines. One of them is hyperdispensationalism. It improperly divides the dispensations that God has set up as He works out the redemptive narrative in human history saying that the church age began with Paul, not with Acts 2, and then saying that the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation are directed solely to the Jews of the end times.

No such distinction as this exists. Paul and Barnabas have been sent on a missionary journey. There is no set time when they suddenly started the church as this false doctrine would claim. There is simply a slow and gradual diversion from the prime focus being on Jews to it being on Gentiles.

Hyperdispensationalism is so arbitrary and unsound that one could say, “It was on the walk between Lystra and Derbe that the church began.” There is not even a breath of a hint of this. Rather, the focus has been on one gospel throughout the entire Acts narrative. The book records the rejection of Jesus by the Jews while at the same time, there has been a wholehearted acceptance of it by many Gentiles.

Eventually, the nation of Israel will no longer be a consideration in the church age, but this does not mean they will not be a consideration later. And it does not mean that those Jews who were saved early on are not a part of the church. Rather, it means exactly the opposite. Someday, the church will be removed from the picture at the rapture. After this occurs, the narrative will again focus on Israel as a nation in their land.

The world is being prepared for this right now. Unfortunately, because of various nutty doctrines, such as hyperdispensationalism and replacement theology, many who are left behind (nonbelievers) will not understand when the events take place. This is too bad, and it could have been avoided if proper doctrine was taught in advance, even if initially rejected by those who heard it.

Lord God, please help us to learn Your word and understand it properly. Keep us from false teachings and false teachers who are untrained or incorrectly trained in proper theology. Lead us to those who will properly instruct us on what is occurring in the biblical narrative. Please hear our petition according to Your great mercy. Amen.