Who had insight into the changes Christianity would bring?

who had insight to the changes Christianity would bring

Stephen, in his defense, when he was arrested, reveals his understanding of God’s purposes.  He was brought before the Sanhedrin under this charge —

“This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” – Acts 6:13-14

When Stephen answered by referring to Isaiah 66:1-2, he reflected the same radical change Jesus communicated to the Samaritan woman at the well —

 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. – John 4:23

With the outbreak of persecution, many Jewish Christians were forced to flee Jerusalem.  For these people, the Temple now ceased to be the focal point of their worship; the gospel was extended geographically.

Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. – Acts 11:19

These Christians still believed that Jesus was exclusive Jewish property.  From their perspective, they were the “heirs” of the gospel. But there was a turning point —

However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles[a] about the Lord Jesus. – Acts 11:20

This was of greatest significance. This indeed was a turning point.   God blessed their efforts —

 The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.  Acts 11:21

This fact triggered the movement of the gospel into the Gentile world as the apostolic teams of Paul, Barnabas and others set out from Antioch.  Acts 13 – 28 records the spread of the gospel into the Gentile world.

There was one exceptional case, before Antioch and Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, where the gospel spilled over from its Jewish mold into a Gentile’s home.  This was the apostle Peter’s visit to the home of Cornelius, a Roman military officer —

He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. – Acts 10:2

Peter visited Cornelius under coercion by the Holy Spirit.  He even told his Gentile host —

“You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. – Acts 10:28

But God had put Peter through a special preparation which helped him.  Peter overcame a major mental block and when he heard Cornelius’ story, he received fresh insight that caused him  to exclaim —

“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.  In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. Acts 10:34-35

God ratified his message by sending the Holy Spirit —

The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. – Acts 10:45

But Peter found himself in trouble when he returned to Jerusalem —

 But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said. – Acts 11:2-3

Peter explained all that had happened —

When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”  Acts 11:18

Paul grew to realize that the gospel of grace was for all peoples and that there was no difference between Jew and Gentile.  It was a message he preached on his first missionary journey with Barnabas when God —

Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too.  Acts 14:27

Many Gentiles turned to Christ at this time and the gospel was sown into the Gentile soil.

Some Jewish Christians did not agree with Paul’s message —

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” – Acts 15:1

These people went about “correcting” the gospel Paul preached believing he had left out the need for circumcision.  At the Jerusalem Council —

But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.” – Acts 15:5

It is important to notice the process and the basis on which conclusions were drawn as the apostles and elders considered the issue.  After much discussion and debate, Peter recalled the Cornelius episode and the lessons that came from the experience —

God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. – Acts 15:8-9

Then Peter put his finger on the core issue —

So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? – Acts 15:10

Paul and Barnabas spoke next —

 Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. – Acts 15:12

Finally James spoke up, quoting from Amos.  Echoing Peter’s observation —

“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” – Acts 15:19

 

 

Early Christianity and the Church

 

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