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Sermon No: 3-The kingdom of God - Part 1 - The good seed and the inevitability of persecution



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SERMON TOPIC: The kingdom of God - Part 1 - The good seed and the inevitability of persecution

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 7 October 2007

Topic Groups: KINGDOM OF GOD, PROPHECY, PARABLES

Sermon synopsis: Jesus taught 7 consecutive parables in Matthew 13 about the kingdom. The parables, if understood, reveal the secrets of “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 13:10-11). The 7 parables refer to 7 church ages. The first parable of 'The Sower' covers the period from approximately 30 - 100 AD or the 'Apostolic Church'.

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SERMON OVERVIEW:

The 7 parables of the kingdom - Part 1

Overview

In this study we’ll cover:

Hermeneutical approach to parables.

A kingdom “not of this world” (the Church Age).

The kingdom goes to the Gentiles.

The 7 kingdom parables (7 Church Ages)

PARABLE 1: The Sower

The persecution

The good seed

Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is defined in one dictionary as “the art of finding the meaning of an author’s words and phrases, and of explaining it to others.” When applied to Scripture, accurate hermeneutics would require the scholar to:

Always look at the context of the passage and the theme of the book. Many heretical doctrines violate this rule by taking single verses ‘out of context’.

Don’t formulate doctrine on single verses. Confirm an interpretation with 2 or 3 similar passages (i.e. 2 or 3 witnesses).

Look up the actual meaning of each word (especially keywords) in the original languages.

Note the verb tenses, the cases, and other grammatical determinants.

Check out cross-references to see how the keywords are used in other contexts.

Authorial intent - no reader has the right to impose his own ideas on the text. The true meaning is what the author himself intended. Determine what the original readers understood it to mean.

Learn the cultural setting of the passage.

Literal interpretation - the meaning of a passage is the sense evident to any reader who allows the words their ordinary meanings and who expects the grammar and syntax to shape and combine these meanings in a normal fashion.

If the literal sense - makes sense, seek no other sense.

Don’t spiritualize or allegorize a passage in an attempt to solve some theological difficulty it presents you. If the Bible and your doctrine clash, change your doctrine, not the meaning of the text*.

It’s untrue that the literal meaning of the text will always be the only meaning. There may be a secondary meaning (especially with types in the OT and antitypes in the NT). At times a passage may have a deeper application, however:

The literal sense remains valid and the primary sense.

The secondary sense cannot contradict the primary sense (as Amillennialists attempt to do with Revelation 20).

* We saw how Amillennialists use this technique of allegorisation to overcome ‘problems’ in Revelation 20. They spiritualize the ‘first resurrection’ and equate it with being ‘born again’. They then relocate the Millennium’s earthly rule to heaven and make the ‘1000 years’ a synonym for ‘a very long time’.

The Bible does at times use figures of speech*, as do all forms of writing. Examples of figurative language are:

Symbolism - Clear examples of symbolism are the mysterious women in Revelation 12 and 17.

Metaphors - A metaphor speaks of an equivalence when there is no more than a resemblance e.g. in Psalm 18:2** no less than 5 metaphors occur in a single verse. God is not literally a fortress, rock, horn, shield or stronghold; He merely, in some ways, resembles them.

Parables – a parable uses a natural truth (that we can relate to) to teach a spiritual truth.

If figurative language is used, then:

Interpret Scripture with other Scripture.

Be consistent in the interpretation.

* A figure of speech is an expression implying an idea other than what is actually stated.

** The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

The Church Age

The Kingdom definition

We have looked at the “kingdom of God” on Earth, which will be fulfilled during the literal Millennial reign of Christ and his saints from Jerusalem. This will take place after the Second Coming.

We will now look at the interim kingdom that is “not of this world” and is “within you”. This is the Church Age.

We have seen how, at the First Coming of Jesus, the Jews were not expecting a Church Age, but only the literal earthly Millennial kingdom.

We have also seen how the Amillennialists confuse the future Millennium with the current Church Age.

The term “church”, as we understand it, was unknown in Jesus’ time. However He told His disciples, “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18).

Actually the word translated ‘church’ (Greek – εκκλησια/ecclesia) here means ‘assembly’ * in Greek or “called out ones”.

The English word ‘church’ derives from the Greek κυριακή (kyriake) and means “Lord's house”. This refers to a building and is not the word used in Matt 16.

Some confusion is caused by the same English word ‘church’ being used to translate both ‘kyriake’ and ‘ecclesia’.

Thus when I ask “Are you part of the kingdom of God, or part of the Church?” I don’t mean: “Do you attend a church (kyriake)?” but rather: “are you one of God’s ‘called out ones’ (ecclesia)?”

* Hence the name “Assembly of God”.

The kingdom of God is the domain over which God is spiritually sovereign.

A kingdom implies a king. Our king is Jesus. If we are part of His kingdom and true Church (i.e. ‘called out ones’) we should obey the king.1

Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus' authority did not come from man but from God2.

Entrance into the kingdom of God is by a new birth3, repentance4, and the divine call5.

We are told to seek the kingdom of God first (Matt 6:33) and to pray for its ultimate arrival “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).

1 Matt 7:46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

2 Luke 22:29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me.

3 John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

4 Matt 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

5 1 Thess 2:12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

A KINGDOM NOT OF THIS WORLD

The interim Church Age

The interim ‘Church Age’ is a period when Jesus has a kingdom ‘not of this world’, but Jesus’ use of the word ‘now’ when speaking to Pilate indicates that this is a temporary situation.

John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world… But now my kingdom is from another place.”

The various teachings on the kingdom of God found throughout the NT, speak of the coming of the kingdom of God as a future event in some places (the Millennium), but in other places as an ongoing event (the Church age).

The present day is caught between these two ages: Jesus Christ has established the kingdom of God on earth, but will not abolish this present evil age until he returns.

Dispensationalists view the kingdom of God as consisting of an earthly theocratic kingdom promised to Israel in the OT. It is the thousand year reign of Christ on earth.

Jesus offered the kingdom to the Jews, but they rejected the offer, and so, instead of establishing the kingdom, Jesus postponed it until the second coming.

In the meantime, he established the ‘mystery form’ of the kingdom during the inter-advent age, in which Christ rules spiritually in the hearts of believers without fulfilling the prophecies of the kingdom on earth.

This interim kingdom is ‘the Church Age’.

Because the kingdom of God is not yet here in it's full expression (“as it is in heaven”), the works of this present evil age continue, though not as unlimited as it would have without the presence of the kingdom of God (“you are the salt of the earth”).

Although Christians have eternal life, they still sicken and die.

Although they have been freed from sin, temptation to sin, and sin itself, continue to plague their lives.

Although God dwells within them, their knowledge of God at times seems quite limited.

War, poverty, sickness, godlessness, and death will continue until the end of the age.

Matthew’s gospel was written primarily for Jewish readers*, hence his frequent quotations from the OT prophets. He presents Jesus as the “Son of David” which was a reference to the Messiah.

If we observe the hermeneutical rule of “context” we’ll discover that many of Jesus parables had not only a spiritual and moral application, but were prophetic of the Millennium (kingdom) and the Church Age (interim kingdom).

The kingdom goes to the Gentiles

* 1) Irenaeus writes (2nd C - Against Heresies) that “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect.” 2) Hippolytus (2nd & 3rd C) writes, “Matthew wrote the Gospel in the Hebrew tongue, and published it at Jerusalem…” 3) According to Eusebius (4th C - Ecclesiastical History), Papias (1st & 2nd C) said “Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.”

Calling of Matthew

Luke records the parable of a vineyard owner (always represents God in Jesus’ parables*) who was dissatisfied with his barren fig tree (a type of Israel**). He decides to give it one more chance and then destroy it, if it remains barren.

Luke 13:6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years*** now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

* Matt 21:28 (the 2 sons) & 21:33 (the tenants).

** Interpreting Scripture with Scripture, see Jer 24 where figs represent Israel.

*** Interesting that Jesus ministry lasted 3 years?

Some have been puzzled about Jesus’ reason for cursing the fig tree. Matthew relates how, shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus cursed the fig tree (again, a type of Israel) because it was fruitless (again).

Matt 21:18 Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

The interim kingdom, which was not foreseen by the OT prophets, would go to the Gentiles, because of the Jewish rejection of their Messiah. Matthew recalls how after cursing the fig tree, Jesus subsequently tells 3 consecutive parables which all speak of the kingdom going to the Gentiles.

Firstly, there is the son who initially agreed to obey (Israel) but ultimately did not, while the son who said he would not obey (the Gentiles) had a change of heart.

Matt 21:28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 ”‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered.

1) The parable of the two sons

Secondly, the vineyard is taken from the original tenants (Israel) after they killed the heir (Jesus) and is given to others (Gentiles) to work it.

Matt 21:33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35 The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

2) The parable of the tenants

Matt 21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

2) The parable of the tenants

One of Matthew’s major themes is the “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” which he refers to over 70 times.

After the parable of the tenants, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (v 43)

He identifies himself as the “the stone the builders rejected” which “has become the capstone” (v 42)

We then read that “when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.” (v 45)

The kingdom goes to the Gentiles

3) The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Thirdly, Jesus then tells a parable about a wedding feast where the originally intended guests (Israel) refuse the king’s invitation. They mistreat and kill his servants (the prophets) and show indifference to his hospitality. They are judged and their city (Jerusalem) is destroyed.

Matt 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

Then the wedding invitation is given to others (the Gentiles) who accept it:

Matt 22:8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

3) The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

The prodigal Son

Luke records the parable of the prodigal son, which is normally applied (correctly so) to personal salvation.

However I believe that the reference to the response of the second son clearly shows an intended national application on the part of Jesus.

Like the previous parable of the 2 sons, one represents Israel and the other the Gentiles.

Jesus is alluding to His rejection by Israel – the son who was faithful initially (Israel) was offended when the father showed mercy to the repentant prodigal son (the Gentiles).

The Mountain Peaks of Prophecy

As mentioned, this interim kingdom, or ‘Church Age’ was not foreseen by the OT prophets. They sometimes refer to both the First and Second Coming in the same passage.

Clarence Larkin used an apt analogy called “The Mountain Peaks of Prophecy” to illustrate this.

The First and Second Coming are depicted as mountains and both can be seen by the OT prophets, although they appear as one mountain.

The Church Age is a valley that cannot be seen by the OT prophets. From their perspective those in the valley can see the valley and both mountain peaks of the First and Second coming.

The Church Age not foreseen

Following are 2 references to both the First and Second Coming in an OT passage where the distinction between the 2 comings is not apparent.

This well-known prophecy of the promised child (referring to Jesus’ First Coming) also speaks of Him reigning on David’s throne, which will only be fulfilled at His Second Coming.

Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…

The following passage which was quoted by Jesus refers predominantly to his ministry of His First Coming but the “day of vengeance of our God” refers to His Second Coming.

Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God…

Note that when Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 and says that He has fulfilled it, He leaves out the portion that refers to the Second Coming.

Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Paul explains to the Ephesians how the Church Age and the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles was a “mystery” that had been hidden in ages past:

Eph 3:8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church*, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

* ecclesia

When Paul and Barnabas spoke in Pisidian Antioch we see the following:

Acts 13:44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

And then later in Corinth:

Acts 18:6 But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

The Seven Parables of the Kingdom

Jesus taught 7 consecutive parables in Matthew 13 about the kingdom.

1

The Sower

The kingdom is sown and experiences rapid growth – the enemy seeks to steal the seed or destroy the crop through persecution.

2

The Wheat and Weeds

The enemy sows a counterfeit seed. Persecution intensifies.

3

The Mustard Seed

Exponential growth of the kingdom, but the enemy infiltrates from within.

4

The Leaven

Widespread corruption spreads throughout the kingdom.

5

The Hidden Treasure

A treasure is found.

6

The Pearl of Great Price

The treasure is acquired.

7

The Dragnet

The harvest and separation of the good and bad elements of the kingdom.

The Seven Church Ages

No.

PARABLE

+/- PERIOD

CHURCH AGE

1

The Sower

AD 30 – 100

Apostolic Church

2

The Wheat and Weeds

AD 100 – 300

Persecuted Church

3

The Mustard Seed

AD 300 – 600

State Church (Constantine)

4

The Leaven

AD 600 – 1500

Papal Church (Roman Catholic)

5

The Hidden Treasure

AD 1500 – 1700

Reformation Church (Protestant)

6

The Pearl of Great Price

AD 1700 – 1900

Missionary Church

7

The Dragnet

AD 1900 -

Apostate Church

The parables, if understood, reveal the secrets of “the kingdom of heaven”.

Matt 13:10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.

The 7 parables refer to 7 church ages.

1) The Sower

Matt 13:3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

The Parable of the Sower explained

Jesus explains the symbols in this parable.

Matt 13:18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Sower

Jesus

When explaining the parable of the weeds - Matt 13:37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world…

Field

World

Seed

Word of God

Lk 8:11 The seed is the word of God.

Birds

Satan

Lk 8:5 … some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up … 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts…

Rocky ground

Shallow heart

Matt 13:20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

Thorns

Cares of life

Lk 8:14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

Good seed

Sons of the kingdom

Lk 8:15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The Parable of the Sower explained

This parable indicates the 4 different responses to the gospel. Note that only good seed is sown in this parable (unlike the Wheat & Tares parable), but the different soil (the heart of the recipient) determines the response and resultant crop.

The seed that fell on the path. This represents those who do not understand the gospel. Jesus explains that the birds represent the enemy (Satan) who steals this seed before it can take root.

The seed that fell on rocky places. This represents the shallow person (with no root) who hears the word, receives it with joy, but quickly falls away when trouble or persecution comes because of the word.

The seed that fell among the thorns. This represents the man who hears the word but is unfruitful (i.e. not a soul-winner) because the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the seed.

The seed that fell on good soil. This represents the person who not only hears the word, but understands it and is fruitful (i.e. a soul-winner) producing a crop many times what was sown.

While this parable is about the different responses to the gospel, in the context of the 7 kingdom parables, Jesus was also referring to the initial church age. This parable marks the inception of the Christian era ever since our Lord began sowing the children of the kingdom while he was on earth. The sowing continues even until today (i.e. the Church Ages overlap).

From the parable we see that in the first Church age there will be persecution.

“When trouble or persecution comes because of the word…” (Matt 13:21)

In the 1st century the apostolic church was initially persecuted by the Jews and only later by the Romans.

The 1st kingdom age - Apostolic

Persecution inevitable

Jesus told us to expect persecution:

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

Matt 11:49 … God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’

Paul sees it as inevitable:

2 Tim 4:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…

1 Thess 3:4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.

As does Peter:

1 Pet 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

Christian response to persecution

Our response to persecution should be:

Love, forgiveness, kindness, blessing & prayer.

Matt 5:44 … Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

1 Cor 4:12 … When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly.

Joy (because of the blessing, great reward & honour of being identified with Christ.)

Matt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

1 Pet 4:13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you… 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

After Gamaliel persuaded the Sanhedrin not to execute the apostles, note what happened and the Christian response:

Acts 5:40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

In about 36 AD the deacon, Stephen, becomes the first Christian martyr*. Note his response!

Acts 7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

* Martyr comes from a Greek word meaning ‘witness.’

Persecution an instrument of God

A persecution in Jerusalem follows Stephen’s martyrdom.

Acts 8:1 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria… 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.

Persecution was actually an instrument used by God to spread the seed. Jesus had originally told the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Instead of going to Samaria and the ends of the earth, the disciples were simply staying in Jerusalem enjoying the revival. Then the persecution came, they were scattered and took the gospel to Samaria and “the ends of the earth”.

Acts 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.

Thus Stephen’s death was a catalyst for the gospel being taken to the nations.

It’s highly likely that the martyrdom of Stephen also played a part in Paul’s (Saul) conversion.

Paul had watched while Stephen was stoned and witnessed his response of “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” This must have pricked Paul’s conscience because on the road to Damascus Jesus says to him, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” * (Acts 26:14)

What is also interesting is that Jesus considered the persecution of His church as a personal attack on Himself. He says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)

Paul is selected as God’s instrument, but there is a price to pay (persecution). God tells Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

* The goad is a traditional farming implement, used to spur or guide an animal, usually oxen, which are pulling a plough or a cart.

And then Paul went from being:

A persecutor:

Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

To being persecuted:

Acts 9:22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him…

Paul recalls:

Gal 1:23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.”

The apostle James (the son of Zebedee) was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. This happened in Jerusalem in AD 44 at the order of Herod Agrippa I (grandson of King Herod the Great):

Acts 12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.

Prophetically Jesus had previously asked the brothers James and John, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they had answered. Jesus had replied “You will indeed drink from my cup” (Matt 20:22-23).

Jewish Persecution

Eusebius writes the following about the martyrdom of James in his Ecclesiastical History:

“Clement, in the seventh book of his Hypotyposes, relates a story which is worthy of mention; telling it as he received it from those who had lived before him. He says that the one who led James to the judgment-seat, when he saw him bearing his testimony, was moved, and confessed that he was himself also a Christian. They were both therefore, he says, led away together; and on the way he begged James to forgive him. And he, after considering a little, said, ‘Peace be with you,’ and kissed him. And thus they were both beheaded at the same time.”

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263-339)

James, the brother of Jesus, was one of the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem* and wrote the epistle that bears his name. He was stoned at the instigation of the High Priest Ananus in about 62 AD.

Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian, relates that Ananus “assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done…” **

* Galatians 2:9

** Antiquities Book 20: chap 9

Reading the book of Acts, we find that Paul always preached to both Jews and Gentiles (often starting at the synagogues), and had many converts from both groups. However the persecution was predominantly from the Jews, mainly due to the circumcision issue (some legalistic Jews believed that the Gentiles should be circumcised).

Gal 5:11 Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.

In Pisidian Antioch:

Acts 13:49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

In Iconium:

Acts 14:2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

In Thessalonica:

Acts 17:5 But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city.

In Berea:

Acts 17:13 When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.

In Greece:

Act 20:3 … Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia.

In Jerusalem:

Acts 23:12 The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.

Acts 26:21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.

Paul also experienced persecution at the hands of Gentiles. Here’s a passage Paul wrote which I refer to as “the prosperity gospel of Paul”.

2 Cor 11:23 I have … been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Roman Persecution

The Romans initially tolerated Christianity because they regarded it as a sect of Judaism, which was a tolerated religion in the Empire.

The expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 49 AD by the Emperor Claudius, clearly indicates that he didn’t differentiate between Jews and Christians.

Suetonius (c. 69-122 AD) was a Roman historian. In his ‘The Lives of the Caesars’*, Suetonius writes: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus** (Emperor Claudius in 49 AD) expelled them from Rome.” ***

* Claudius 5.25.4 ** Christ is ‘Christos’ in Greek

*** This is also referred to by Luke in Acts 18:2 “There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.”

Claudius (ruled 41 – 54 AD)

In 51 AD it’s evident from the Corinthian proconsul’s irritated response that he saw Christianity as some internal debate within Judaism.

Acts 8:12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” 14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law— settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he had them ejected from the court. 17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.

Before the governor Felix (c. 57 AD), the Jews themselves still refer to the Christians as a ‘sect’: *

Acts 14:5 “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect…

* A sect is generally a small religious group that has broken off from a larger group.

Nero – 1st Century

Nero persecuted the Christians after blaming them for a devastating fire that ravaged Rome in 64 AD (that Nero himself was reputed to have started).

Gaius Cornelius Tacitus

Writing in his Annals c. 116 AD, the anti- Christian pagan historian Tacitus records, “But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians…”

At this time Simon Peter was martyred* by Nero. According to tradition he was crucified upside down.**

As an old man John recalled Jesus’ prophetic words to Peter (John 20:18-19):

“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.

* Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians (AD 88-97), Dionysius of Corinth (c. AD 180), Tertullian (c. AD 200), Caius - a 3rd century ecclesiastical writer.

** Hippolytus (2nd & 3rd C) writes, “Peter … was afterwards crucified by Nero in Rome with his head downward, as he had himself desired to suffer in that manner.” Jerome (5th C) writes, “At his (Nero’s) hands he received the crown of martyrdom being nailed to the cross with his head towards the ground and his feet raised on high, asserting that he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.” (Lives of Illustrious Men 1- AD 396)

Tacitus writes of the persecution of Christians by Nero, “They died in torments, and their torments were embittered by insult and derision. Some were nailed on crosses; others sewn up in the skins of wild beasts, and exposed to the fury of dogs; others again, smeared over with combustible materials, were used as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined for the melancholy spectacle…”

Paul was martyred by Nero in Rome about the same time as Peter* or possibly as late as 67 AD. As a Roman citizen, Paul was spared crucifixion and thus beheaded.**

* Clement of Rome, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Caius.

** Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History (AD 325) says: “Thus Nero publicly announcing himself as the chief enemy of God, was led on in his fury to slaughter the apostles. Paul is therefore said to have been beheaded at Rome…” Tertullian also writes: “… Rome … where Peter had a passion like that of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John [the Baptist, by being beheaded]"

Other victims of Nero’s persecution were “Erastus 1, chamberlain of Corinth; Aristarchus 2, the Macedonian, and Trophimus 3, an Ephesian… Joseph, commonly called Barsabas 4, and Ananias 5 … of Damascus…” 6

Earlier Paul had written to the Romans of the Christian response to persecution and hardship.

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

1 Rom 16:24, 2 Tim 4:20, Acts 19:22? 2 Acts 19:29, 20:3, 27:2, Col 4:10, Philemon 24 3 Acts 20:4,21:29, 2 Tim 4:20 4 Acts 1:23, 15:22 5 Acts 9 6 Foxe’s book of Martyrs

In 68 AD a military coup drove Nero into hiding. Facing execution at the hands of the Roman Senate, he reportedly committed forced suicide.

Nero killed Paul and Peter. But today, we name our sons after Paul, Peter and the followers of Jesus. We name our dogs after Nero, Caesar, and the Roman Emperors.

In his typical fashion, Tertullian later said of Nero, “We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.” *

* Eusebius – Ecclesiastical History

Nero – 21st Century

More than conquerors

Domitian

At the close of the 1st century, the Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96), the brother of Titus, demanded to be worshiped. He signed documents “dominus et deus” (Lord and God), and required people to address him similarly.

Under his reign, according to Tertullian (2nd & 3rd C) “the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile!” *

Victorinus (3rd C) stated that “John … was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labor of the mines by Caesar Domitian.” **

“Nicodemus, a benevolent Christian of some distinction, suffered at Rome during the rage of Domitian's persecution.” ***

Domitian was murdered in September 96 AD, in a plot organized by his enemies in the Senate. His successor, Nerva, ordered the custom of “damnatio memoriae” (obliteration from all public records) on Domitian.

* The Prescription Against Heretics ** Commentary on the Apocalypse, XI *** Foxe’s book of Martyrs

Timothy was reputedly the overseer* of the church at Ephesus until AD 97. “At this period, as the pagans were about to celebrate a feast called Catagogion, Timothy, meeting the procession, severely reproved them for their ridiculous idolatry, which so exasperated the people that they fell upon him with their clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner that he expired of the bruises two days later.” **

* I use the term overseer opposed to bishop.Bishop was loosely transliterated from the Greek ‘episkopos’ (επίσκοπος) and simply meant ‘overseer’. In the 1st century ‘episkopos’ (bishop or overseer) and ‘presbuteros’ (presbyter or elder) were used interchangeably, e.g. Titus 1:5 & 7, where both words refer to the same office. Only afterwards when hierarchical systems developed in the church did the idea of the office of a bishop as superior to the elder arise.

** Foxe’s book of Martyrs

John Foxe (1516-1587) authored what is popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Gentile Persecution

According to tradition (not necessarily reliable):

Hippolytus of Rome (2nd & 3rd Century), the disciple of Irenaeus, says that “Philip preached in Phrygia [Turkey], and was crucified in Hierapolis with his head downward in the time of Domitian, and was buried there.”

According to Foxe, Judas called Thaddeus “was crucified at Edessa 1, AD 72.” 2

“Bartholomew, again, preached to the Indians… and was crucified with his head downward, and was buried in Allanum, a town of the great Armenia [modern day southern Georgia].” 3

“Thomas … was thrust through in the four members of his body with a pine spear at Calamene, the city of India, and was buried there.” 4

1 Edessa is now Urfa, a city in Turkey 2 Foxe’s book of Martyrs. Other legends say he was martyred when he was beaten with a heavy club. 3 Hippolytus. Some say he was beheaded and others insist that he was skinned alive and crucified head down at the command of King Astyages for having converted King Polymios. 4 Hippolytus

An ancient writer reported that Matthew died a martyr’s death in Ethiopia. He was killed with a halberd (a pike or long spear that was fitted with an ax head) in Nadabah. 1

Matthias, the replacement for Judas Iscariot, “was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.” 2

The traditions of the early church report that Simon the Zealot met a martyr’s death in Persia, where he and others were sawed in half. 1

Hippolytus records that “James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem, was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there beside the temple.” 3

1 “The Twelve – A Study of the Apostles” by: James Korthals 2 Hippolytus. According to Nicephorus, he was crucified in Ethiopia. The Synopsis of Dorothea says he died at Sebastopolis in Cappadocia. 3 Foxe’s book of Martyrs. According to some traditions James was sawed in half; other insist the head of James was cut from his body with a saw after his death. The latter tradition says he was killed by a fuller’s pole when Simeon the Fuller gave him a blow to the head.

Hippolytus writes that Andrew “was crucified, suspended on an olive tree, at Patrae, a town of Achaia [Greece]; and there too he was buried.”

About the year 60 AD when the wife of the governor was converted by Andrew’s preaching, the governor in anger ordered him crucified. He was crucified on an X-shaped cross which had 2 ends planted in the ground. Tied to that cross, he preached for 3 days before he died. Accordingly this cross is known as the “St. Andrew’s Cross.” 1

According to John Foxe, “The proconsul ordered Andrew not to preach these things any more or he would face a speedy crucifixion. Whereupon Andrew replied, ‘I would not have preached the honor and glory of the cross if I feared the death of the cross.’ Andrew, going toward the place of execution and seeing the cross waiting for him, never changed his expression. Neither did he fail in his speech. His body fainted not, nor did his reason fail him, as often happens to men about to die. He said, ‘O cross, most welcome and longed for! With a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to you, being the scholar of Him which did hang on you, because I have always been your lover and yearned to embrace you.’”

1 “The Twelve – A Study of the Apostles” by: James Korthals

Remember how Israel was cut off because of fruitlessness (the fig tree). Here, however, we find that despite the attempts of the enemy and the influence of persecution and worldliness, the good seed “produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” i.e. exponential growth.

The good seed - Pentecost

The 120 disciples grew to over 3000 in just one day (Pentecost), which included many foreigners.

Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

It was soon about 5000.

Acts 4:4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) Luke records that the following nations were represented:

Cappadocia, Pamphylia, Phrygia, Asia & Pontus (Turkey)

Media, Elam, Parthia (Iran)

Mesopotamia (Iraq)

Arabia

Crete

Egypt

Libya

Rome*.

They all heard the “wonders of God” being proclaimed in their “own tongues”. They subsequently heard Peter preach and were among the 3000 converts.

* Thus the debate of how the gospel got to Rome before Paul reached there is settled. It would have been taken back by the converts at Pentecost. In the book of Romans, Paul writes to an existing church which he hadn’t visited yet.

Despite persecution and intimidation, the early church teaches and witnesses on a daily basis.

After being flogged and ordered not to speak again in the name of Jesus we see that “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 5:42)

The number of the disciples continued to ‘multiply’ in Jerusalem

Acts 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

The good seed - Philip

We’ve already seen how, after the martyrdom of Stephen, Philip (later joined by Peter & John) took the gospel to Samaria (Acts 8).

The God-fearing Ethiopian Eunuch who had “gone to Jerusalem to worship” is then converted through Philip’s ministry. He was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” and would have taken the gospel back to the royal court in his country.

There is a lapse in the persecution and the church in Israel & Samaria then grows further.

Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

Years later, there were ‘thousands’ of Jewish believers just in Jerusalem alone.

Acts 21:17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly…19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed…”

The first missionary church

The persecution had actually served to spread the Church and it reached Phoenicia (Lebanon), Cyprus and Antioch in Syria.

Acts 11:19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

This ‘mixed’ Gentile and Jewish church at Antioch* becomes the first missionary church and sends out Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. In Acts we read of 2 subsequent missionary trips by Paul.

* Luke also records that “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:25)

From Acts, Romans & Galatians we know that the apostle Paul preached the gospel in the following places besides Israel, Syria (Damascus) and Lebanon (Tyre1).

Arabia2

Cyprus3

Asia Minor i.e. Turkey (Pamphylia4, Ephesus5, Cilicia6, Phrygia7, Troas8)

Galatia i.e. Turkey (Iconium & Lystra9, Derbe10, Pisidian Antioch11)

Macedonia (Northern Greece – Philippi12, Thessalonica13, Berea14)

1 Acts 21:3 2 Gal 1:17 3 Acts 13:4 4 Acts 13:13 5 Acts 19 6 Acts 15:41 7 Acts 16:6 8 Acts 20:6 9 Acts 14 10 Acts 16:1 11 Acts 13:14 12 Acts 16:12 13 Acts 17:1 14 Acts 17:10

Achaia (Southern Greece – Athens1, Corinth2)

Illyricum3 i.e. The Balkans (Albania and Yugoslavia)

Malta4

Italy (Rome5)

Some claim that he reached Spain6 (as he had expressed his desire to do in Romans 15:28).7

1 Acts 17 2 Acts 18 3 Rom 15:19 4 Acts 28:1 5 Acts 28:14 6 Clement of Rome writes that Paul “having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West” (1 Clem 5:6). The “farthest bounds of the West” is taken by some to mean Spain. This rather shaky evidence is taken even further by some (notably the British Israelites) to even include Paul going to Britain. 7 “I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.”

Paul’s companion, Titus, preached in Crete. Paul writes, “The reason I left you in Crete1 was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5).

Paul’s companion, Epaphras, founded the church in Colosse (Turkey). When mentioning this in his letter to the Colossians, Paul also refers to the rapid spread of the Gospel worldwide. “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf…” (Col 1:6-7)

John preached in Asia Minor (Turkey) eventually settling in Ephesus where he wrote his gospel.2 He died in Ephesus around AD 100.3

Thus in the 1st century the Gospel was taken through a great portion of the known world of the Roman empire and even to regions beyond.

1 This was probably on Paul’s way to Rome when they stopped at Crete (Acts 27).

2 Irenaeus (Against Heresies – 2nd C)

3 Polycrates (2nd C), overseer of Ephesus. Also Irenaeus (Against Heresies) says “But the church in Ephesus also, which was founded by Paul, and where John remained until the time of Trajan”.

The following accounts are based on tradition, not necessarily reliable:

Hippolytus of Rome writes, “Peter preached the Gospel in Pontus, and Galatia, and Cappadocia, and Betania, and Italy, and Asia…” 1

In the 4th Century Eusebius writes “Meanwhile the holy apostles and disciples of our Saviour were dispersed throughout the world. Parthia [Iran], according to tradition, was allotted to Thomas as his field of labor, Scythia [Georgia-Russia] to Andrew, and Asia to John…”

Earlier Hippolytus had written that “Andrew preached to the Scythians and Thracians [Bulgaria]… (and) Achaia [Greece]…” 1

“Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes, Persians, Hyrcanians2, Bactrians [northern Afghanistan], and Margians (and) … Calamene, the city of India…” 1

1 Hippolytus 2 Hyrcania was an ancient kingdom in present day Golestan, Mazandaran, Gilan and part of Turkmenistan.

Hippolytus says that Matthew preached in Parthia1. It is generally supposed that for 8 years after the ascension of Jesus, Matthew proclaimed the gospel in Judea. The early Christian church believed that Matthew continued his ministry by preaching in Ethiopia and Arabia. Still others suggest he worked in Palmyra and among cannibals on the shores of the Black Sea. 1

An item about James the son of Alphaeus that has been passed down through tradition is the report that he may have travelled to Spain to preach to the Jews in bondage there. It is said that he then travelled back to Jerusalem. 1

It is claimed that Simon the Zealot was a determined missionary who preached principally in Mesopotamia, including Parthia and Babylon. Eusebius in his Church History names Simon as one of the missionaries “beyond the Ocean to the isles called the Britannia Isles.” This happened after preaching in Egypt and Africa. 1

1 “The Twelve – A Study of the Apostles“ by: James Korthals

Hippolytus says, “Bartholomew, again, preached to the Indians, to whom he also gave the Gospel according to Matthew…” 1

According to Eusebius, “Pantaenous is said to have gone among the Indians where a report is that he discovered there the gospel according to St. Matthew among some who knew Christ; Bartholomew, one of the Apostles had preached to them and had left them the writings of St. Matthew in Hebrew letters.”

We should note that “India,” at the time, meant everything from Arabia to the east. Other traditions suggest that Bartholomew (aka Nathaniel) preached in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Phrygia and the shores of the Black Sea. 2

1 Hippolytus 2 “The Twelve – A Study of the Apostles” by: James Korthals

Hippolytus (2nd & 3rd C)

Philip preached in Phrygia (Turkey). 1

Judas also called “Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus” (Matt 10:3) “preached to the people of Edessa, and to all Mesopotamia, and fell asleep at Berytus, and was buried there.” 1

According to Nicephorus, Matthias preached the gospel in Judea and then went to Ethiopia. The Synopsis of Dorothea says he preached the gospel to barbarians and cannibals in the interior of Ethiopia and that he went to Cappadocia. 2

1 Hippolytus 2 “The Twelve – A Study of the Apostles” by: James Korthals

This excerpt from Pliny the Younger’s (governor of the Roman province of Bithynia) letter to emperor Trajan about AD 110 indicates that, only 80 years after the crucifixion of Christ, Christianity had spread to the point that it was causing a notable stir in the Roman Empire:

The matter seems to me worthy of your consultation, especially on account of the numbers of defendants. For many of every age, of every social class, even of both sexes, are being called to trial and will be called. Nor cities alone, but villages and even rural areas have been invaded by the infection of this superstition.

Pliny was in a rather distant and out-of-the-way province on the north coast of modern Turkey, and he shows us that just a few generations after its beginning, Christianity had ‘invaded’ every level of society.

Paul wrote of the following about preaching the gospel:

“… I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)

Rom 15:18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— 19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.

What a testimony of a man who was able to say, “Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

Can we say the same?

When the Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, they replied, “… we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20

The good seed

In what is known as “The Great Commission”, before his ascension Jesus instructed His disciples:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:18-20)

“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (1982), it is estimated that by AD 100 the number of Christians in the Roman Empire had grown to 1 million out of a population of 181 million (0.6%).

The good seed

Many envy the early Church because of the mighty miracles and the phenomenal growth. However this came at a cost that most today (in the Western Church that is) would not be prepared to pay:

In a day when many in the West believe that the mark of a true Christian is prosperity rather than persecution, it’s interesting to contrast this with the early church. The author of Hebrews refers to persecution, public insult, imprisonment and confiscation of property as characteristic of the early believers.

Heb 10:32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (http://www.Lockman.org)


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