Those who say the church will not have to endure tribulation are not careful readers of Scripture. Paul and Barnabas told the disciples in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch that it is “through many tribulations” that “we must enter the kingdom of God.” Paul knew this all too well, having been stoned and left for dead during his first visit to Lystra.
There is an old saying that “you have to go through hell before you get to heaven.” This is not, however, what Paul and Barnabas meant when they said “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Entering the kingdom of God does not simply mean going to heaven when we die. There is the promise of rest for those who have persevered and finished their course of faith on earth, but there is also a sense in which “the kingdom of God” is already present even in the midst of “may tribulations.”
The grace to persevere under trial, to keep focused on that ultimate destination, is itself a gift from God to the faithful. Through the example of suffering, the faithful bear witness to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God upon the kingdom of this world. As Jesus suffered before entering into glory, so the church shares with him in his suffering in order that she might share also with him in his glory. The kingdom of God is present in both the suffering of this life and the glory of the life to come.
The “many tribulations” which the faithful must endure are the birth pains of the new creation. The seed of the kingdom is there, planted and taking root, but the germination process will often be difficult. The sun may seem, at time, unbearably hot; the wind, intolerably strong; the storm, unceasing. Through it all, however, is the abiding, personal presence of of him who endured it all for the sake of his chosen ones. When those “many tribulations” seem intense and impossible to endure, it is his voice we hear, saying, “Peace. Be still.”
Where Christ is, there his kingdom begins.