Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith…
This verse exhibits the ordinary Christian curriculum. Paul and Barnabas pass through a whole district expressly to teach this. The instruction is the same in every city.
1. "The kingdom of God," in its widest sense, denotes the Church, under all its forms and dispensations. In New Testament usage, the reference of the phrase is to Messiah's kingdom. Either in its initial and visible state here, or in its perfected condition in a future life. The latter is its meaning here. We who are in the kingdom in its incipiency here, "must through much tribulation enter into" the perfection of the same kingdom hereafter.
2. In this way heaven and earth do not lie far asunder. The one grows out of the other. Heaven is the summer of the year of which we have in this world the wintry beginning. And from the first there is a looking springwards, and even a touch of summer in the soul that is panting towards it. Even physically there is no vacuum between this lower and the higher world, while, morally, there stretches between them "a new and living way," by which all the faithful are going up to heaven, yet carrying something of heaven with them as they go. The toilsome journey through this world of peril and sin is not merely the passing of so much time until the dawning of the day; it is an express progress by the right way to the city of habitation.
3. Entertain the thought that going through earthly tribulations is entering in. It is not that we must pass through all the straits and pressures of this life, and then the entrance will be given according to the dictate of an arbitrary will. If we "continue in the faith," the entrance is accomplished: death then is but a servitor to open the gate: the grave is but a side room where we leave a vestment which will not be needed for a while, and which meantime will be changed into a glorious robe fit for immortal wear.
4. Think for a little of this unalterable, yet very gracious necessity of this lifelong "must." For this is not a truth that comes to us naturally. Look, for instance, at a palace or a gentleman's estate. They are talked of far and near for their beauty. Suppose one sets out for the purpose of seeing them, what will he expect to see when he comes near? Rough roads, neglected fields, thorns and briars up to the very gate and doors? No. That being the focus and centre of all, it "must" have meet setting. Well, God is taking His children to a kingdom! to a "house" with "many mansions," and our natural thought would be that as soon as they turn face heavenwards, there will be, not only a great inward, but also a great outward change. There will, now, be something of the bloom of the garden on everything; and as they go on, the way will become more pleasant, obstructions in it fewer, and more easily over come. But against that theory of life lies this text. Of course there are many exceptions. Multitudes of infants go to the perfect kingdom of God almost as soon as they are born. Also, there are great "varieties" of experience among those who live. The principle is not one of mechanical exactness. Nor are we to conclude that tribulation is measured out according to character — much of it to the sinful, and less to the pure. In some instances the reverse of this is the truth — the finest gold sometimes lies molten in the hottest fires. "We must" —
I. FOR PROBATION. A man must be proved before he can be approved. A thing — or still more, a man — may look fair, and be useless. In mercantile and public life, men are advanced from lower to higher place only after successful probation. God tries and trains men, before, and for, advancement. The advancement is to be very great: the trial must be very true. And in order to be true it must be severe and searching.
II. FOR PURIFICATION God's fires are hot, but they are purifying. He Himself is "a consuming fire" only to what is evil: He is a purifying and preserving fire to all that is good. But is not all tribulation punitive? No. It is not possible to trace all suffering up to sin in the suffering person. Broken laws bring down their penalties; and is so far as tribulation consists of penalty, of course it is punitive. But many a sufferer, in his little human measure, "bears the sins" of others. If in the sufferer there be faith, all that is punitive is yet so assuaged and filled with grace that it is purifying far more than punitive. Thus proving, and purifying, run on together to the very end, when the death fire will burn out the last dregs of corruption, and perfect the life-process of conformity to the image of Christ.
III. IN ORDER TO THE ATTAINMENT OF A REAL AND DEEP FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST. Christian fellowship is life in Christ. All that life is, or contains of good, of growth by grace to glory, is "in Him." We have joy in Him; "That My joy might remain in you." We have peace in Him; "My peace I give unto you." And strength, the "strength" that "is made perfect in weakness." And should, then, the trouble of life be excluded? No. It is the unchanging law that we "bear about with us in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus." This is "the fellowship of His sufferings" from which in due time fellowship in glory will arise.
IV. FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS. God often uses the suffering of one for the sanctifying of another. Here is a house through which a spirit of worldliness would soon flow; but up in the top room is a little sufferer from whose bed every day flows out another spirit which keeps the house in dewy softness. Or, one in maturer life, and, in so far as man can judge, ripe for the better state, is kept lingering here, a living lesson of patience and gentleness, a living proof to many of the all-sufficiency of the grace of Christ. As "no man liveth," as "no man dieth," so no man suffereth to himself.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.