Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church

OVERVIEW
The first 30 years of the church can be divided into four phases.
The first phase commenced with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and ended a few years later when the church was scattered from Jerusalem through persecution, as described in Acts 8. This article is based on those chapters of Acts.
During this phase God's Holy Spirit worked mightily, performing many great miracles, which gave courage to the apostles and power to their sermons. In a few years the church grew from the initial group of 120 to many thousands. However, the church was confined to Jerusalem, consisted of Jews only and functioned as part of Judaism. This is indicated by the following:
In Jerusalem - The church received the power of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem. In Acts 5 the Jewish Council declared that the apostles have filled Jerusalem with their teaching. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Pentecost - God selected Pentecost to pour out His Holy Spirit. On that annual festival devout Jews from all nations, who spoke the language of the nation where they were born, were gathered in Jerusalem. God also gave His disciples the ability to speak their languages.

Call to repentance - Peter, the primary spokesperson during this phase, did not hesitate to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus, but he also called the Jews to repentance, teaching:
  • That God exalted Jesus to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior to grant repentance to Israel;
  • That, for Israel first, God raised up His Servant Jesus and sent Him to bless Israel by turning them from their wicked ways and;
  • That the promise of the Holy Spirit is for Israel.
It is therefore clear that God did not reject Israel for killing Jesus. God continued to give preference to Israel after Christ's death.
Jewish Sermons - The sermons in that period were entirely Jewish, indicating that it was intended for Israel alone. For instance, Peter addressed his audience as Men of Israel and quoted liberally from the prophets. Stephen's defense before the High Priest and the council was also thoroughly Jewish, summarizing Israel's history.

In the Temple - The church worshiped every day in the temple, where only Jews were allowed. God gave them explicit instruction to preach in the temple. God gave a most significant miracle at the temple, attracting the attention of all the Jews who were worshiping in the temple, and giving Peter the opportunity to witness powerfully to them.

DETAILED DISCUSSION

For a period of forty days after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His chosen apostles, proving to them than He is alive. At the end of the forty days He was taken up into heaven.
Just before He was taken up, He gave orders to His apostles not to leave in Jerusalem, but to wait in Jerusalem to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Ten day later, on the day of Pentecost, the remaining 120 followers of Christ were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind that filled the whole house. There appeared what looked like tongues of fire that came to rest on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages.

On that day and the subsequent years God's Holy Spirit worked mightily. Many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. A man that was more than 40 years old, and who was lame from birth, was healed at the temple. The apostles were securely locked up in prison, but an angel released them. The people of Jerusalem even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. People from the cities brought their sick people to Jerusalem and they were all healed.

The Holy Spirit gave courage to the apostles and power to their sermons. The church grew from the initial group of 120 to many thousands in a few years. On the day of Pentecost alone the followers of Jesus increased from 120 to more than 3000. The Lord was adding to their number day by day. After the healing of the lame man at the temple there were more than 10000 believers.

Thereafter all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number. This is amazing, considering that the Leader of the group has been killed, but instead of His followers hiding away, the number of followers increased exponentially on the basis of the teaching of these uneducated and untrained men. This shows the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, the church was limited to Jerusalem, consisted of Jews only and functioned as part of Judaism. Indications of the Jewish nature of this first phase are:

IN JERUSALEM

Jesus explicitly told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit. The Jewish Council in Acts 5 later declared that the disciples have filled Jerusalem with their teaching. This first phase of the early church closed with the following comment: The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

PENTECOST

The church received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, when devout Jews and proselytes from all nations were gathered in Jerusalem. These Jews and proselytes included, amongst others, Parthians, Medes, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans and Arabs. They spoke the language of the nation where they were born. They also heard the sound from heaven and came together to see what it is. The Holy Spirit gave the believers the ability to speak the various languages of these people. These foreigners were amazed to hear the 120, whom they knew were Galileans, speaking in their own languages of the mighty deeds of God.

The fact that God chose Jerusalem and the day of Pentecost to pour out His Holy Spirit, and that He gave His followers the ability to speak the languages of these foreigners, indicate God's intention to reach Jews all over the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. On that day 3000 Jews were added to the church.

JEWS CALLED TO REPENTANCE

Peter, the primary spokesperson during this phase, did not hesitate to blame the Jews for the death of the Holy and Righteous One::
On Pentecost Peter said to the Jews:
  • Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this Man you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death
  • Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you crucified.
In his speech in the temple, after the healing of the lame man, Peter said the following to the Jews gathered in the temple:
  • His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life
The next day, after they were jailed for teaching in the temple, Peter said to the rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem:
  • By the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone.
The Jewish Council later complained that the disciples intend to bring this man's blood upon them, but Peter reiterated that the God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom they had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.But God did not reject Israel for killing Jesus. Christ's prayer on the cross was:
  • Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
This was an expression of God's heart. Israel still had the opportunity to repent. Therefore Peter and the apostles preached repentance to the Jews:
  • Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you and your children and for all who are far off.
After the lame man was healed, Peter said to the Jews in the temple: Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away.Not only did Peter preach repentance to the Jews; he preached repentance for Jews first. He assured his Jewish listeners:
  • That for them first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless them by turning every one of you from your wicked ways;
  • That Jesus is the Christ (Savior) appointed for them and;
  • That God exalted Jesus to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel;
Paul often used the phrase Jew first. God, after the death of Christ, not only sent the gospel to the Jews first, but they will always have the first right to salvation: From the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.
JEWISH SERMONS

Peter's sermons were entirely Jewish. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost he addressed his audience as Men of Israel and as the house of Israel. He quoted both Joel and David. These references would have meant nothing to any Gentile standing around. The 3000 people who were saved that day would all have been Jewish. His second sermon, in the temple, after the lame man was healed, was also entirely Jewish. Several times he referred to the prophets, explicitly mentioning Samuel, Moses and Abraham.

Stephen's defense before the High Priest and the council was also thoroughly Jewish, summarizing Israel's history. See Acts 7.

IN THE TEMPLE

After Pentecost the 3000 believers were day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, where Gentiles were not allowed. The nearest the Gentiles could get was the Court of the Gentiles, which surrounded the Temple. Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. They were all with one accord in Solomon's portico, which was a specific part of the temple.
God gave Peter to heal a lame man at the gate of the temple. This man they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple. All the people knew him. Since God had removed his deformity, the man was probably now, for the first time in his whole life, allowed to enter the temple. He entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. With the man still clinging to Peter and John, and with all the people gathering around them, full of amazement, the miracle gave Peter the opportunity of testify in the temple, where only Jews were allowed. God chose this location, which confirms that God's efforts were still focused on the Jewish nation. Peter urged them to repent, so that their sins may be wiped away. Many believed, and the church grew to 5000 men.

After the apostles were jailed, an angel released them and told them to go and speak to the people in the temple, which they did. The authorities arrested them again, flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, but they just kept on preaching in the temple Jesus as the Christ. Their worship still centered around the temple. In their view they were the true Jews.

CONCLUSION

For a number of years after Jesus's death and resurrection God limited the efforts of His Holy Spirit to Jews. During this first phase of massive growth the church consisted only of Jews, continuing to live like Jews. Christianity at this time was a part of Judaism, and the dramatic actions of the young church were still confined to Jerusalem. The later three phases provide additional evidence for this conclusion.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/9764499

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