God’s Word Beyond the Holy City
God’s Word spread far beyond the Holy city of Jerusalem and changed world history.
Spread of God’s Word Begins
The spread of God’s Word began proper in the Book of Acts. I want to point out, however, this Word, more commonly known as “the gospel”, was preached locally in the city prior.
I use the word ‘proper’ because Acts is when the expectations shifted from the ‘person’ of Jesus to His Apostles.
In Acts 8:1-4, a message diaspora began at Jerusalem and spread to the utter most parts of the Earth. This diaspora was a result of persecution the early church began to experience after Jesus’ ascension.
History proves that persecuted causes often draw followers no matter how controversial the subject matter. Among several things, this ability to draw stems from people wanting to fight in what they believe is a worthy cause.
That worthiness is measured from person-to-person, and culture to culture. However, this new Jesus movement in the Book of Acts was certainly such a cause. This persecution of faith continues to this day in various parts of the world.
The spread of God’s Word, beyond Jerusalem, required persecution in some form.
Persecution is often meant to halt the advance of an idea. Most often, it has the exact opposite effect. It is the double edge sword which, if one doesn’t try to halt its advance, it spreads. When one does try to stop it spread it does so as well.
In Acts 7, we find the stoning to death of Stephen. Beginning in chapter 8, devout men carried Stephen to his burial (Acts 8:1-3). The first verses reveal a man named Saul who took much pleasure in the death of Stephen.
This man would later be known as the Apostle Paul who encoutered Jesus on the Road to Damascus (Syria).
This is interesting on several levels. First are the actions of Saul who persecuted the early church. Next, and resulting from persecution, the Gospel diaspora began. According to Paul's testimony, Jesus personally sent him to the Gentiles.
The words of Jesus, spoken in Acts 1:8, now transition from prophetic to fulfillment. This movement also begins the process of an ethnic and geographic advance of the gospel.
With respect to Saul, later Paul, one of the churches' most effective persecutors carried God’s word beyond Jerusalem.
It is interesting that the most effective opponent of this early movement became its greatest champion.
Gospel Message Beyond Jerusalem
God's message, as communicated through Jesus Christ, would reach beyond the borders of Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria, and neighboring countries (Ger. 2014). One of those who helped the spread was Philip the Deacon.
Ger points out the Apostles at Jerusalem sent Philip as their pioneering witness into Samaria.
We must first remember that Jesus said he came first to the nation of Israel. It was through their prophesied rejection of Jesus back other “fields were plowed” so to speak.
Further, it is a rare event to be at the incubator stage of a new religious movement. We should not think of “new” with respect to the gospel as “novel.” Both the Messiah’s coming, and His message, were foretold in the Old Testament of the Bible.
As Jesus said, his arrival was foretold. We could have a philosophical debate on whether fulfillment of a prophecy can be considered new.
There is also an ethnicity question with the spread of the gospel in Samaria.
However, when the Samarian’s received the Holy Spirit, genealogy no longer mattered. They became a part of what the Bible describes as the natural branch (Romans 11:21-23).
Dr. Fowler made powerful thematic points in his presentation, and each builds a larger picture.
The first thematic point was the affirmation highlighted in chapter 8. This indicated Gentiles were indeed participants in the new covenant. There were only two types of people in the world according to the Hebrew point of view: Jews and everyone else.
Everyone else indicates what we know as Gentiles. Even in this area, Gentiles participating in the new covenant was also prophesied.
As Acts develops, it becomes apparent the larger themes were a result of the prophetic revelation given by Jesus in the first chapter. Not only is Jesus Jewish, and despite the false trial, and baseless accusations which led to His execution, He was a keen observer of Jewish laws.
Further, His first 13 Apostles were Jewish, both naturally and theologically. God sent physical descendants of Abraham, Hebrews, to spread the gospel to non-Hebrews. Therefore, it is worth noting that although many Jews rejected this new church, there were other Jews welcoming it.
This becomes interesting because in the Greco Western historical narrative, Jews were often persecuted and called “Christ killers.”
This most recent persecution occurred in 1930s Germany until the end of World War II. Of course, those persecutors, known as Nazis, were hardly defending the honor of Jesus by persecuting Jews.
They were known atheists and pagans. The "Christ killer" label they wielded against European Jews was simply another way to justify the ongoing genocide of the Jewish people.
It would be like me accusing you of burning down my family’s house and I neither owned it nor ever lived there. I would be acting as if I cared about something I did not just to bring an accusation.
True Cost of the Good News
The next thematic point, made by Dr. Fowler’s presentation was the death of both the martyr Stephen, and the first Apostolic death (James). These murders shook believers into shifting how they thought about the kingdom.
Watching the actual cost of following Jesus, awoke both the early church and its leadership to its true costs. Preaching Sermons on Christianity was literally hazardous to your prospects of living a long life!
For at least the first 11 apostles, notwithstanding Judas, the death of Stephen and James reminded them of the terrible price that Jesus paid. This sacrifice, however, was necessary for establishment of the new covenant.
Truly, Jesus’s own words in the Gospel of John, resounded loudly; “if the world hates you, remember it hated me before it hated you. A servant cannot be greater than his master” (John 15:18-19).
In this statement, Jesus was simply land without a fact pattern for the spread of his message. The reality is, and having served as the faith's initial preacher, Jesus of Nazareth was persecuted for His worldview.
What is interesting is the very same execution, and later resurrection reportedly of Jesus, paved the way for the faith which exists to this day.
As the early church discovered, a persecuted person can do one of three things. First, religious persecution could result in one renouncing their belief. Second, it could strengthen one's resolve to go forward.
Third, it could make one undecided which equals being lukewarm.
Put more simply: persecution can inspire, discourage, or result in "sitting on the fence."
Everyone Plays Their Part
The next thematic presentation in the reading material was that the kingdom needed people who both know and play their part.
Dr. Fowler used at least three examples to explain.
First, he pointed out the Apostle James died, for the kingdom, and that was his part. Although everyone who practices this religious worldview would not die, many were forced to.
Again, this was the example Jesus set my being murdered on a Roman cross.
Next, Fowler explained Peter being jailed, and revealed his part was suffering for the kingdom’s sake. Peter, at least according to traditional accounts, would later be killed for the followship of Jesus.
However, and in the Book of Acts, he was jailed for his worldview. That was the part this apostle was called to play.
Last, Dr. Fowler spoke about Herod and the awful death he suffered having persecuted the Apostles of Jesus. This sickness resulted from a horrible intestinal infection. This death was a warning: those who oppose the kingdom will suffer the consequences.
Additionally, and not something Dr. Fowler pointed, was the reaping and sowing of Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul. We discover in Acts 8:1, that Saul was at the stoning death of Stephen and took pleasure in it.
However, and after his conversion, Acts 14 finds this former persecutor, now preaching the faith of Jesus Christ. In super-natural fashion, this former ‘persecutor’ became the ‘persecuted.’
With respect to Peter’s outreach beyond the Jewish community, he was led to the home of a Gentile named Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. Peter described the former prohibition for Jews, like himself, to interact in certain ways with non-Jews (Gentiles).
However, Peter had a vision, and now realized what the vision meant.
He shared that the former prohibitions were no longer to be observed because, and as Ger says: “Peter perceived that God was not going to show favoritism with the spread of the gospel.” Such a proclamation, that non-Jews would now be welcome by the God, would be viewed as heretical by Jews.
Peter returned to Jerusalem, and to the Jewish church, where a firestorm of controversy awaited. Jewish believers still had not accepted that Gentiles could be welcomed.
Further, the old views of kosher laws would not apply to these Gentiles either.
Peter related that he received a vision, from the Holy Spirit, and he would obey no matter what.
The spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ began in the Book of Acts, in earnest, but this was just the beginning.
From the Jerusalem events shortly after Jesus' ascension, the world changed. Many people, from different nations, heard the message in their own language. This impacted my life, personally, because without Pentecost, how do I ever hear the good news?
The Word of God spread far beyond Jerusalem and continues is relentless march to this day. The good news is that the Word of its progenitor, Jesus of Nazareth, forecast this would occur and it did.
Having so done, those who are not followers of His must ask a question: “how could this man have known what He said and did would change the world and last 2,000 years beyond His lifetime?”
There are several over-arching answers to this statement. First, perhaps Jesus of Nazareth just got “lucky” and his “guess” at the fate of His movement. Or, perhaps, Jesus was simply repeating Words of previous would be “messiahs” hoping to carve out a niche following.
Third, it could be that He is not only Jesus of Nazareth, but is, in fact, Jesus the Messiah. I am not going to argue which of these I believe. I think it obvious from this article as well as every other on this site.
Which of these presented scenarios you chose will not only affect your life on Earth, but the hereafter. Choose wisely.
Header Image Courtesy of 696188 @ Pixabay
Ger, Steven (2014). The Book of Acts: Twenty-First Century Biblical Commentary Series. Background of Acts. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.lifeway.com/workspace
Dr. Fowler (Ndg). Presentation: The Death of James, First Missionary Journey & Jerusalem Council. Retrieved from https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/