Purpose of this Session
AD30 – AD63 – Origination
Acts begins with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in AD30, and follows the early history of the saints of God through the ingathering of Jews, the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, the opening of the doors to the gentiles, and the missionary journeys of Paul between AD33-63.
There is no escaping the clear supernatural nature of the early ministry of the church. It is a story of God and His people working together, bringing clear proof and demonstration of Christ’s resurrection to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. This should not be a surprise, as the church is not a ‘natural’ community of people, but a supernatural Body, born of the Spirit.
“As Genesis is the book of beginnings for the natural human race, the Book of Acts is the book of beginnings for God’s supernatural human race…The church consists of a new race of beings…To the spiritual Christian in the Church, the supernatural is to be natural. It is to be expected, not the unexpected; the normal, not the abnormal.”
Dr. Bill Hamon, ‘The Eternal Church’, published by Destiny Image, ISBN: 0-7684-2176-4
These supernatural gfts and manifestations were intended for the whole church age, but, as we shall see, were lost amidst a man-made religion bearing the same name as the real Christianity.
Hamon rightly speaks of two churches, both very present throughout our discussion: The Spiritual Church and The Structural Church.
The Structural Church involves the buildings, policies, programs and politics of the Church. Coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit, these things can help the progress of the Spiritual Church, but often they have overtaken and robbed the Church of its virility and vitality.
The Spiritual Church consists of those things that cannot be produced without the supernatural intervention of God’s Spirit. It is the mystical Body of Christ, consisting of every born-again believer on the planet. It is a nation within the nations. It is the entity described in the Apostle’s Creed, “one, holy, apostolic, catholic (universal body of Christ) church.”
AD30 – AD100 - The Early Church
During this time all of the New Testament books and letters were completed. By the end of the AD60’s all except John of the original Apostle’s had been martyred. During the first 40 years of the newborn church believers had spread across the world. There are records of Christian ministers in that time preaching to every known country in the world. Paul testified by the Spirit that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ “was preached to every creature under heaven” (Col 1:23).
Little is recorded of the period between AD68-100. We know that in AD70, following a hopeless uprising by the Jewish people in AD66, Jerusalem fell to Rome, and that the temple then standing was absolutely destroyed. Jesus had prophesied this occurrence, saying that not one stone would be left on top of another (Matt 24:2). During the destruction of the city, the temple caught on fire, causing the gold to melt between the blocks of the building. Soldiers afterwards took the temple apart stone by stone to retrieve these precious metals. Jesus also warned his followers to flee the city when they saw signs of its imminent destruction. Prior to this fateful time, thousands of Christian’s fled the city, taking with them the gospel. Josephus, the Jewish historian, calculates that over a million Jews perished in the sack of Jerusalem.
By AD100 the third generation of Christian’s were actively preaching the message of Christ. The church was still a vigorous and powerful Body, though the moral standards and purity of doctrine was less that in earlier years. The later epistles and the book of Revelation indicate that heretical teachings were already plaguing the church. Nevertheless, the church was growing and becoming the spiritually dominant creed in many places. In AD112 Roman officer Pliny wrote to the Emperor, stating that in the provinces of Asia Minor, the temples of the heathen gods were almost forsaken, and that Christians were everywhere a multitude. This period also saw the death of John, the last of the original twelve.
AD100 – AD313 – Years of Persecution
From its outset the newborn church suffered persecution, but in the years following AD100 the Christian religion was forbidden in the Roman Empire and its followers outlawed, stripped of the rights of citizenship, and at times hunted down and slaughtered like animals. Christians were viewed as enemies of the peace, anarchists unwilling to submit to the culture and norms of Roman society. Their ‘exclusive’ religion was viewed with suspicion by vicious and insecure emperors and Christians were misrepresented as sworn and dangerous enemies of the state.
Strong persecution was not continual, but sporadic, but at times systematic and severe persecutions sought to wipe out the church entirely. Believers were crucified, fed to wild animals, stripped and starved, abused and beaten to death. Every horror conceivable in the minds of men was unleashed upon the church. Persecuted yet pure (none would claim allegiance to the church unless truly regenerated and connected vitally to Christ), the church continued to grow and spread despite the persecutions. Many came to faith as they witnessed the noble and unflinching deaths of believers who refused to renounce Christ. Polycarp, the disciple of John, was killed in AD115. When commanded by the Roman governor to renounce Christ, he simply answered, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ and He has done me nothing but good; and how could I curse Him, my Lord and Saviour?” He was burned to death.
Prior to this time localised persecutions had been carried out by Nero and Domitian. Following AD100 however, empire-wide persecutions began.
- Persecution under Nero (c. 64-68). Peter and Paul martyred.
- Persecution under Domitian (r. 81-96). John banished to Patmos.
- Persecution under Trajan (112-117). Christianity is outlawed but Christians are not sought out.
- Persecution under Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180). Martyrdom of Polycarp.
- Persecution under Septimus Severus (202-210). Extreme persecutions led many to believe this man was the anti-Christ. Martyrdom of Perpetua.
- Persecution under Decius (250-251). Christians are actively sought out and killed.
- Persecution under Valerian (257-59).
- Persecution under Maximinus the Thracian (235-38).
- Persecution under Aurelian (r. 270–275).
- Final severe persecution under Diocletian and Galerius (303-313). During this time Bibles were burned. Christians were rounded up, herded into buildings, and burned alive. Diocletian declared the end of the Christian superstition. Ironically, within 70 years of his statement, Christianity was declared the state religion!