In last month’s e-newsletter I briefly shared something the Lord gave me for the body of Christ, and now I’d like to go into more detail, and also share what Peter meant when he said*, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God”, because they are connected. *I Peter 4:17
First, my understanding and what I was thinking
Context is everything, so I need to share both my understanding of the early church and what I had been thinking at the time when He broke in and told me what the Spirit is saying to the body of Christ – so here is a brief overview of my understanding and what I was thinking about:
When we read Acts 2 through chapter 7 we wonder at the outpouring of those days. Some 3,000 people heard Peter’s explanation of them speaking with languages they had never learned; this was the outpouring marking the start of the last days as told by Joel.* They were a close-knit group, the body of Christ all contained in Jerusalem, all Jewish, and at this point faith in Jesus was considered just another aspect of Judaism. *Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28-32
Even back then the Jewish faith was multi-faceted, ranging from the Essenes who strictly kept the law and were all about the end times and Messiah, to the holiness-movement Pharisees with their own laws they exalted above the Word, to the liberal Sadducees who didn’t believe in angels and spirits, to the political Herodians. At first, so what’s another sect of Judaism; believing this man Jesus was Messiah?
The first year and a half
Over the next 18 months they met in homes, going from house to house and praying, eating together, and learning from the apostles about this faith, and they were so giving and united there were no needs among them. Scripture doesn’t say directly, but implies Peter’s shadow* falling on a sick person healed them. *5:15
But their numbers continued to increase, with modern estimates of 10,000 believers – and the authorities had to act. In Acts 7 they arrested and put on trial Steven, one of the leaders, with the whole chapter given to his trial and execution. Chapter 7 closes with the statement that the executioners laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul, from Tarsus.
Acts 8 opens with these words: “And Saul approved of them killing him. And on that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Let that sink in. 10,000 believers in Jerusalem and everyone but the apostles moved out of town immediately to neighboring Samaria and Judea because of the persecution inside the city.
The time from the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, to Acts 8:1 when they all left town, was no more than 18 months to 2 years. Acts 8:1 says all the believers moved to Judea and Samaria, where chapter 8 picks up the fact Philip went to Samaria and preached Jesus, and so many people were healed and delivered the whole city had ‘great joy’. And whereas Philip was strictly an evangelist*, the apostles Peter and John came to Samaria to lay hands on the new believers that they would receive the Holy Spirit. *Acts 21:8
Enter Saul of Tarsus – the future Paul, the sent one
Acts 9 is the telling of Jesus appearing* to Saul of Tarsus as Saul had decided to expand his persecution of the believers to Damascus, Syria, and how after his conversion Barnabus introduces him to the apostles**. *9:17, 26:16; **9:26-27
Acts 10 is informational about the Roman, Cornelius, seeing an angel who tells him to look for Peter, who will tell him what he must do*. When Peter arrives and is telling them about Jesus, just at the point of His resurrection, which one must believe in order to be saved, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them for they all start talking in unlearned languages, to the astonishment of the Jewish men accompanying Peter. Peter would later say**, “God who knew their hearts, gave them the Holy Spirit even as He did us…”. **Acts 15:8
(*Angels are not allowed to preach the gospel, which is why the angel had to tell Cornelius to find Peter – for the simple reason Jesus died for people, not angels, so they don’t have the privilege of sharing the gospel or using the name of Jesus. That is why Jude 9 says Michael, the greatest of all angels, told Satan, “The Lord rebuke you”. For a person to say ‘the Lord rebuke you’, however, is an insult to Jesus, for unlike angels, we have been given the name and even commanded to use the name of Jesus against demons.)
Greeks believe – additional information 8:1 didn’t tell us
In Acts 11:19-26 we are told that when the disciples left Jerusalem in 8:1 because of Saul’s persecution, some actually went beyond Judea and Samaria to Phonecia on the coast and to the island of Cyprus, and some Cypriats now born again, traveled to Antioch (Syria) and told Greeks about Jesus.
The apostles, upon hearing of Greek believers in Jesus, sent Barnabus to Antioch to check on these Greek believers, which was a brand new issue to consider, as up until now with the exception of Cornelius’ household, the church was Jewish and had never reached out to the pagan Greeks.
We are told in 11:23-24 the new believers are relieved upon meeting Barnabus, for he had the good sense to first see what the grace of God had done*, and then responded to God’s work by encouraging them all to continue in the Lord. Barnabus also remembered Saul of Tarsus, and how when the Lord appeared to him outside of Damascus, told him he was called to the Gentiles**, so Barnabus left Antioch to find Saul in Tarsus, and returned with him. Verse 26 says they stayed a year to teach these new believers, and we were first called Christians at Antioch. *11:23, **26:17
What I was thinking about
Now you are caught up in my understanding, which led me to think about the changes the now apostle Paul brought to the body of Christ when he began teaching during that year in Antioch. The time between Pentecost in Acts 2 until Paul starts teaching in Acts 11:26, was about 10 years.
Over those 10 years, up until Paul taught in Antioch, there had been no formal teaching of what the faith meant. The first gospel stories of Jesus were being written down and passed around, but no one was teaching the people what it all meant. They knew Jesus, and they could draw from what Jesus said, but no one had taught the specifics of how to apply one’s faith to daily life.
Paul had not yet written the Romans about righteousness and the law and being dead to sin. He had not yet written the Corinthians about the gifts of the Spirit and how we are all members of one body of Christ. He had not yet written the Ephesians about the new creation and growing up in Christ and laying aside the old man to walk in the newness of the Spirit. He had not written the Galatians about legalism and how there is nothing but the new creation, all are equal in Christ and they could fulfill the law by walking in love and the Spirit. He had not yet written to the Philippians about how Jesus left heaven to become man and having suffered death for us all, was given the name above all names.
All those letters and all that massive revelation would come from his mouth and pen over the next 20 years – but up to that point no one had those revelations, there is no record of any teacher, until Paul.
The things we take for granted had not yet been taught. Even Peter, in his last letter, in his closing words* before his execution, acknowledged that even then, some of what Paul taught was hard to understand. If Peter said that at the end of his life, can you imagine the newness and strangeness of Paul’s teaching at the start? *II Peter 3:15-16
It is no wonder during Paul’s 1 year teaching at Antioch that such a difference was made that we disciples in Jesus were first recognized as a separate class of people – we are Christians.
Think about those 10 years of no teachings, just people running around with the Holy Spirit knowing nothing. If you lived through the 1970′s Charismatic renewal, you have a taste of what it was like – many who had newly received the Holy Spirit needed to be locked up for awhile because in their great zeal without knowledge, they did more damage than they did good. For next week: What the Lord said about how those 10 years before Paul relate to the last 10 years in our time for the body of Christ, and judgement.