FIRST POSTED ON 15 MARCH 2020.
Shalom Aleichem and welcome to my Shabbat blog!
Let us consider the first 70 years of the Church, during which time the entire New Testament was written.
Christianity actually began as a Jewish religion. The first believers were Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews present in Jerusalem for the Pentecost who heard the Gospel in their own dialects. At that time, there was a wider shift in influence in Jewish society from Hebrew to Greek-speaking Jews. These Hellenistic Jews, who came from outside the Promised Land, were even more “Jewish” than the native-born Jews in their insistence on Temple worship and following to the Jewish customs. They were the ones who stoned Stephen, the first martyr or believer who was killed for Christ, for undermining traditional Judaism. The Apostle Paul was one of these Jews, born in what is today South-Central Turkey, who actively participated in Stephen’s death and led the subsequent persecution of the Church. Even among believers, these Jews would later become the “Judaizers” that harassed the Gentile Christians, insisting that they be circumcised and become Jewish converts before they could be accepted into the Faith.
Looking back however, we clearly see the Spirit at work in the growth of the early Church, for had it not been for the persecution then, the Church would not have been scattered and forced to bring the Gospel throughout Judea, Samaria and beyond. Even then, we see the Apostles staying put in Jerusalem, while Philip the Evangelist only went as far as Samaria - the Samaritans being half Jews - and to the Ethiopian eunuch, who was likely a Jewish convert (References). It took the conversion of Paul - “a Hebrew of Hebrews” and therefore one most qualified to challenge the Judaizers - to fulfill Jesus' commandment for the Gospel to go beyond Israel and the Jews to those living throughout the known world then. Paul became God’s Apostle to the Gentiles - His chief evangelist and theologian of this new and distinct Christian faith (References).
The next major development in Christianity was the convening of the Jerusalem Council in 50 AD. As Paul embarked on the first of his missionary journeys to bring the Gospel across the Roman Empire, many Gentiles came into the Faith. However, they would soon be harassed by the Judaizers mentioned earlier. The Jerusalem Council overruled these Judaizers and upheld the central Christian doctrine that we were all saved (justified) by grace through faith in Christ alone and not through circumcision or following the laws of Moses as a Jewish convert. As a result, Christianity broke out of its Jewish shell to become a distinct faith that will one day transform the Jewish people and nation according to God’s eternal plan and will. This truth - justification by faith in Christ alone - would also rescue the Church during the Protestant Reformation from spiritual bondage.
A final significant event that shaped Christianity was the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in 70 AD. This marked the end of Israel as a nation and the beginning of the “Times of the Gentiles”. It set into motion God’s timetable to bring in the summer harvest of the fullness of the Gentiles as the Spirit, through the Church, moved across the nations. But now that God has brought Israel back to life in 1948, we can expect the end of the summer harvest soon.
What remained were the events that marked the closing years of this Age of the Apostles, a time of persecution under the Roman authorities and emergence of false doctrines such as Gnosticism, which denied that Christ really came as a human being and advocated instead salvation through the pursuit of Gnosis or “special knowledge.” This period gives us a taste of what it will be like in the end times as widespread tribulation and apostasy sweep over the Church and the world with the rise of the end-time Babylon/Rome and Rule of the Antichrist seen in the book of Revelations.
As we reflect on these early developments in the Church, we are reminded of how God is always sovereign and His will is always done often in spite of our weaknesses and failings and even our outright disobedience and rebellion. It was so with Israel, and it remains so with the Church. May this knowledge comfort us as we faithfully await the return of our Lord and King.
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