19But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
21After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. 22There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, "It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God."23And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
24Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. 27When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. 28And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.
To be an "Apostle" sounds grandiose or glorious, to our ears. But to have been an "Apostle" in the early church was nothing but, if we examine how some of them were actually treated.
To be stoned by a crowd to a point where many thought you were dead indicates not a stone here or there, but a barrage of stones to one's head and body. That was the extent of damage incurred by the Apostle Paul.
But why the stoning, why the horrific persecution? One straightforward reason is to say that the people did not like Paul and his message of good news. We read above that folks from Antioch and Iconium came over to where Paul was and incited the crowd to attack Paul.
However Paul and Barnabas were not the only ones who faced such physical harm. Terrible persecutions of Christians occurred during the first 300 years under Roman authorities. Why? Because Christians were seen as dangerous -- dangerous to the well-being of the Roman Empire -- since Christian allegiance was to a foreign "god" and not to Caesar.
From a purely naturalistic or humanistic perspective, the reason for Christian persecution makes historical and political sense.
But there's another layer to why believers were persecuted. We can say that this reason lies in the "spiritual" dimension of the Kingdom of God coming against the kingdom of darkness. Neutral actions begat neutral reactions. But threatening actions begat threatening reactions. The "threat" from the perspective of demonic powers is the threat of their displacement. An "enemy" has come upon their territory and this "enemy" is about to take over and to dislocate them to the spiritual hinterland.
This perspective explains why Jesus says in Matthew 16:18, "On this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Overcoming implies struggle, a battle. Overcoming makes no sense if everything is easy.
This perspective also explains the commentary made by Barnabas and Paul: "It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God."
To advance in the kingdom of God sometimes entails a struggle that is costly and difficult, but overcome-able.
Even now, persecution of Christians around the globe -- in Iraq and Syria; in NK; in China; in Sudan; in India; in Nigeria; etc. -- are occurring because of the spiritual battle that's taking place. We can also see the political and religious reasons of course.
Let's pray for the Persecuted Church: Father, we lift up to you all our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing harm because of their allegiance to Jesus. We ask for your strengthening and presence to overcome the challenges they are facing. We thank you, Jesus, for your words in John 16:33, "But take heart! I have overcome the world." May the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit buoy up hearts that are hurting and despairing. Strengthen our dear friend, Kenneth, in this hour. We pray for his quick release. And for all those under the demonic oppression of ISIS, we pray especially for your supernatural overcoming power. In Jesus' Name, Amen.