A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XI)

March 10, 2010

This post will be just a brief expedition to explore a subject that I have come to think is closely related to what I have discussing recently, even if that is not immediately apparent to you as the reader.  In fact, I would not be at all surprised if some of you immediately object, “What in the world could ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22b)  possibly have to do with the Olivet Discourse as a background for the Book of Revelation?”

I hope to make the connection clear in rapid-fire order, though.  So, here we go: If there is a connection, let me quickly say that it has to do with what Paul had on his mind when he made that statement.

You may ask, of course, how we can be confident of what the Apostle was thinking.  All I ask is that you track with me through the following line of reasoning and think decide whether or not you think I’m right.

First, let’s take a quick look at the context of Acts 14:22.  Paul had recently been stoned and left for dead (14:19), though he did survive (v. 20).  As a result, as he and his missionary partners evangelized in the area of Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch (v. 21), Paul certainly still had healing cuts and bruises all over his body, some of which would have been visible to everyone with whom he conversed.

In that regard, if believers—especially new, young Christians—were anything back then like they are today, among the first questions they would have asked the Apostle would have been, “Paul, how could the Lord let such an awful thing to someone like you, who is trying to do His will and glorify Him?”  This, of course, is nothing more or less than one form of the perennial question, “How can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?”

Because everybody in the area would have known of the brutal persecution Paul had endured so recently, it would have been absolutely necessary for the Apostle to answer those questions.  That also would have naturally worked hand-in-hand with his goal of “strengthening the hearts of the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith” (v. 22a).

Before proceeding any further, perhaps you are thinking something like, “Hold it now, how are Paul’s really much of any different from Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:12?”  My answer is, yes, they are very similar because they are closely connected.

In 2 Timothy 3:12, it is crystal clear that the Apostle is thinking of exactly the same thing he is talking about in Acts 14:22.  Why?  Because his assertion that “… all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” is hard on the heels of his reference to “the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra” (v. 11), obviously looking back to the exact same situation in Acts 14.

But, there is an important element missing in 2 Timothy 3: the mention of “the kingdom of God” in Acts 14:22.  Where does that come from, if we can determine that?

It appears to me that Paul is thinking about the Olivet Discourse, where we have invested several recent posts.  You see, in Matthew 24:9, “persecution” is actually the Greek thlipsis, which literally means “tribulation,” the same word Paul uses in Acts 14:22 for his sufferings.  And, as was determined from out analysis of the chiastic structuring of Matthew 24:1-28, the “tribulation” spoken of in v. 9 is also persecution/suffering/affliction that is being experienced now, before the end of the age.

But, again, how does that equating connect with Paul’s assertion that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22)?  The connection would appear to be that much of the rest of the chiastic structures detected in Matthew 24 point ahead to the Son of Man coming on the clouds in great glory (24:29-31).  That imagery of the Son of Man unquestionably comes from Daniel 7:13-14, the latter part of which describes in some detail the Divine “kingdom.”  So, since Paul would have known Daniel 7:13-14 and would have at least been aware of what Jesus had said that Matthew recorded in his version of the Olivet Discourse, we have a highly likely explanation of the scriptural origin of Paul’s words in Acts 14:22.

Thus, the reason why Paul made the statement in Acts 14:22 is because he is, in effect, in “encouraging them to continue in the faith,” opening their eyes to the reality that Jesus had told his followers to expect persecution/suffering/affliction (Greek thlipsis).  That is nothing more or less than a part of life for believers in this age prior to the coming of “the kingdom of God.”

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