CHURCH HISTORY | PART 2 | Keith Sharp
Shortly before the Lord ascended to the Father, He gave the Great Commission, commanding, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). As He was about to ascend, in reply to the apostles’ question when the kingdom of God would come, the Lord promised them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Church Begins
The kingdom, the church (Matthew 16:18-19; Hebrews 12:22-24,28), came with power (Mark 9:1), when the Holy Spirit came (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:1-4). On that day, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles preached the gospel of the risen Lord for the first time to “Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5). Thus, three thousand souls from throughout the world (Acts 2:5-11) believed, repented, and were baptized (Acts 2:36-41), and the church of Christ had its beginning (Acts 2:47).
The Gospel to Jerusalem
As recorded in Acts chapters 2 – 7, the church, through the preaching of the apostles, and later others, enjoyed phenomenal growth in Jerusalem. Believers were “added to the church daily” (Acts 2:47). “Many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). “Believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Why was there such tremendous growth of the church? Because of their mutual love and godliness, the church “had favor with all the people (Acts 2:44-47). Furthermore, “Daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42).
The Gospel to Judea and Samaria
Following the stoning of Stephen, there was a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and the disciples “were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). In fact, “those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only” (Acts 11:19). During this period (Acts chapters 8 – 12), the gospel was carried to Africa (Acts 8:26-39), and the first Gentiles were converted to Christ (Acts 10:1 – 11:18).
The Gospel to the End of the Earth
Beginning in Acts chapter thirteen, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and ordinary Christians carried the gospel throughout the world. Paul and Barnabas traveled to Cyprus and Asia Minor in Paul’s First Evangelistic Journey (Acts 13:1 – 14:28). Later Paul and Silas traveled as far as Macedonia and Greece in Southeastern Europe preaching the gospel (Acts 15:39 – 18:22) and returned in another preaching trip (Acts 18:23 – 21:17). After his arrest and imprisonment, Paul was taken as a prisoner to Rome, where he even converted some in Caesar’s household (Acts chapters 27 – 28; Philippians 4:22).
In 33 A.D. the Lord commanded, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Around A.D. 60-62 the apostle Paul declared that the gospel had been preached “in all the world” (Colossians 1:5-6) “to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23).
The great church historian Philip Schaff wrote:
“There were no missionary societies, no missionary institutions, no organized efforts…; and yet in less than 300 years from the death of St. John the whole population of the Roman empire … was nominally christianized” (History of the Christian Church. 2:20).
The first century church, each and every disciple, was absolutely committed to taking the gospel to the lost. If we are to be like them, so must we.