“Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.” (Matthew 9:2-8)
How did the multitudes of Jews know to glorify their own God, and not a new deity from somewhere in the Roman Empire? Because their nation had preserved God’s words through his verified prophets.
“all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet [Isaiah], saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)
OK, so we need to back up to Isaiah’s prophecy in his day.
“in the days of Ahaz [pagan] king of Judah…the king of Syria and…king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it…And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind. Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz… And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not…If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God… But Ahaz said, I will not ask…Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the LORD himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel / God with us…” (Isaiah 7:9-14)
Isaiah’s preaching was rock solid founded on Moses’ preaching in his day.
“And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me / in my face…Behold, I send an Angel / God’s Messenger before thee, to keep / guard thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place [of peace and prosperity] which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name / attributes / power is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee…And ye shall serve the LORD your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.” (Exodus 20:1-3, 23:20-25)
So Isaiah is a bridge between Moses and the individual commonly known as Jesus Christ.
“The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly…the LORD bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many…And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and…shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. Associate yourselves [with the Adversary], O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces…Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence…to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold, I and the children [sons of the prophets] whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion…should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them…The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and uponhis kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 7-9)
And YHVH’s Savior’s preaching was a bridge between Moses’ and Isaiah’s and all the other prophets who preceded him and the apostles who he anointed to follow him.
“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these…These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 9:1-10:3)
“And [after Jesus had been dead for 3 days] behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it…And the angel and said unto the women [who had braved the Roman guards and the stench of death to minister to Jesus’ dead body], Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said…go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him…Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations [against fierce opposition], baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28)
The disciples who Jesus chose / messiahed to become his twelve apostles assigned to witness to Israel were a unique group with time-specific qualifications.
“of these men which
- have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
- Beginning from the baptism of John,
- unto that same day that he was taken up from us,
- must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
- That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell.” (Acts 1: 21-25)
- As a disciple of Gamaliel he was one of the Pharisees who hounded the Lord Jesus and, albeit as a spy, learned all of Jesus’ doctrine and companied with his disciples
- [After arresting him] The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me [no doubt looking eye-to-eye with Saul of Tarsus], what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.” (John 18:19-21)
- beginning from the baptism of John
- unto that same day that he was taken up from us – the leadership knew the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.
- must one be ordained / chosen
“Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)” I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)…Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me.” (Galatians 1)
“Am I am not an apostle?…have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?…the seal / proof of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 9:1-2)
The faith that Paul had once destroyed but then preached was the oracles of God committed unto the Jews.
“they came to…a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging [in the common debate style], that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” (Romans 3:1-3)
The proof of Paul’s apostleship is his followers strict adherence to the scriptures.
“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you…For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (I Corinthians 11:1-3, 23-26)
“ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God…For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification,
- that ye should abstain from fornication:
- That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified
- to love one another.
- And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
- That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.” (I Thessalonians 4)
In the first century, what became known as the Christian Church was unquestionably a minority sect ofJudaism.
“all the church…were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch…And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women…There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem…Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation.And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life…they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel…they doubted of them whereunto this would grow…And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said…Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins…When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them…
- For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
- After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.” (Acts 5)
As the capitol of the Empire, Rome had become home to a vast population of Jews who had been brought back as slaves after wars, or had emigrated voluntarily for economic opportunities. Think New York City.
As in Jerusalem, the large population of Jews in Rome presented both opportunities for expansion among the people, and suppression by the entrenched leadership who feared reprisal by Rome for any disruption to Roman law and order.
As the Jerusalem Assembly of God’s People was reaching the end of its life in the late 60’s, Paul attempted to transferred leadership of the body of believers in YHVH’s Savior from Jerusalem to Rome.
“And when we came to Rome…Paul called the chief of the Jews together…to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.” (Acts 28:16-31)
Paul only reluctantly transferred leadership from the Jews to Gentiles, detailed in his letter to the church in Ephesus, after he could not raise enough leadership among the Jews in Rome.
But basing one’s faith on the perennially unpopular Bible, living out the “good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” and associating ourselves with the unsociable and perpetually disenfranchised Jews has never been easy. There have always been easier paths to follow, either to fall in line with socially acceptable standards or to isolate from interaction with, therefore influence on, an ungodly world.
[Writing in 59 BC] “You know what a big crowd [the Jewish population in Rome] is, how they stick together, how influential they are in informal assemblies….” Cicero’s remarks…indicate misgivings about their separatist tendencies. “[T]he great section of Rome on the other side of the Tiber is occupied and inhabited by Jews, most of whom were…brought as captives to Italy [then] liberated by their owners… [T]hey have houses of prayer and meet together in them, particularly on the sacred Sabbaths when they receive as a body of training in their ancestral philosophy…
“with the proscription of the Egyptian and Jewish rites…a senatorial edict directed that four thousand descendants of enfranchised slaves…suitable in point of age, were to be shipped to Sardinia and there be employed in suppressing brigandage … The rest had orders to leave Italy, unless they had renounced their impious ceremonial by a given date.”
[In AD 41 The Emperor] Claudius…ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings”….[and then] “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome…” [Another Roman historian writes] Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because in their resentment against Christ they were continually creating disturbances…’
Paul addresses Christians in the city…in the late 50’s…[indicating] the development of Christianity in Rome…years before Paul’s direct contact with the people there. Christians such as Prisca and Aquila had returned to Rome after having been banished from the city…
From Paul’s greetings in Romans 16, we can discern the existence of several gatherings of Christians in the city…[S]ome of the individuals are identified as Jews…while many of the remaining are likely Gentiles…mirrors the shared identity the Jews felt in spite of their participation in separate synagogues…
Acts 2:10 includes visitors from Rome in the list of people who witnessed the events of Pentecost…
Once Jewish Christians reached Rome, they would have had relatively unhindered ministry access in the synagogues, since no Jewish controlling authority could step in to quickly and definitively oppose the propagation of the message.
A competing theory promotes Peter as the carrier of the gospel to Rome…More likely, relatively obscure Christians made contributions to the church’s establishment…“It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law … One ought…to praise their faith; because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ.”
And sure enough, both the Jews as a whole and the sect of believers experienced too much direct persecution in Rome to be in a position to lead anything, the prime examples being Paul and Peter.
In 63 B.C., the Romans conquered Judea…the Jews refused to pay homage to Roman gods. Rome gave in and…recognized Judaism as a legal religion, allowing Jews to worship freely…
Rome had good reasons to tolerate the Jewish religion. First, it was a well-established religion with a long history. Most important, Rome wanted to keep the people of Judea from revolting. Neither of these reasons applied to Christianity. This new offshoot of the Jewish religion had little support at first among the people of Judea…
[W]hen Rome first became aware of Christianity around A.D. 30…[t]hinking this sect might weaken the always bothersome Jewish religion, Emperor Tiberius asked the Senate to legalize the Christian faith and declare Christ a Roman god. But the Senate refused. Instead, it pronounced Christianity to be an “illegal superstition,” a crime under Roman law.
[In] A.D. 64, a fire began in…the great arena in Rome…and for six days consumed much of the city, including Emperor Nero’s palace.
Immediately, the rumor spread that Nero himself had caused the great fire to clear space for a new palace…
Fearful that Roman mobs would turn on him, Nero cast about for a scapegoat…an unpopular small religious minority, the Christians.
Christians made an easy target for scapegoating. The common people of Rome believed rumors about Christians…because they…withdrew from normal social life. Many pagans feared that the gods would become angry and punish the Roman people since Christians refused to participate in the old religious rituals…
Since the Christian religion was still illegal, it was easy to order mass arrests, trials, and executions. The Christian martyrs suffered horrible deaths. Roman historian Tacitus described Nero’s methods of execution:
Dressed in wild animal skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight. Nero provided his Gardens for the spectacle, and exhibited displays in the Circus…
For many years, Christians lived with the uncertainty that another persecution could erupt at any time.