6. Early Church: Events

Course: New Testament Survey - Acts to Revelation

Lecture: Early Church: Events


We want to deal with earliest Jewish Christianity now, and we want to deal with the earliest chapters of Acts. We’re talking about earliest Jewish Christianity, and I want us to notice the first action of the church – the very first thing of the church. Usually when we talk about the Book of Acts and ask about the first thing that happens, people say “Pentecost.” Well, not quite. If you look at the earliest chapter of the Book of Acts, the first thing that the church does is to recognize that there is a gap in the apostolic fellowship. We read that they are all of one accord together, and then in in Acts 1:15, “In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, ‘Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’ (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) ‘For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’ So one of the men who have been accompanying us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken from us – one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

Now that’s a very important understanding of the early church as to its identity. In the Gospels Course, we talked about the symbolism of the twelve. Twelve – there are certain numbers in Judaism that ring a bell. Twelve, seven, forty, etc., they have all sorts of symbolic significance. Twelve symbolizes the twelve descendants of Jacob which symbolize the people of Israel, because his twelve sons are the twelve tribes of Israel. Now in the time of Jesus, when Jesus gathers together twelve, that’s a symbolic act, because there were no longer twelve tribes of Israel. Back in 722 [BC], when the Assyrians defeated the northern nation of Israel, those ten tribes were taken into captivity and lost. Only two and a half tribes remained – the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, which was the southern kingdom, those that remained faithful to David, Solomon, and their descendants. The northern tribes Issachar, Dan, Naphthali, Zebulun, and so forth, they were taken away into captivity, and are the lost tribes of Israel. From 722 BC on, they are considered the lost tribes of Israel.

Now, people (Gentiles) moved in to that northern area, and they began to inter-marry with the remaining descendants of the ten tribes and they became known as the Samaritans (half-breeds, who became less and less Jewish and so forth). But the promises of the prophets were that there would be a glorious day coming when these tribes would be re-gathered. And when Jesus says the Kingdom of God has come, and he gathers around him the twelve tribes, this is a symbolic act: the Kingdom of God has now arrived. The first fruits of the kingdom have been realized, and the promises of Israel, the re-gathering is taking place.

So, if that’s true, their [i.e., the apostles’] identity can’t be symbolic with eleven, so you need twelve. And the result is that Judas’s betrayal means that he must be replaced and so they put forward two: Joseph who is called Barsabbas, who is named Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ”Lord who knows the hearts of all men, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was enrolled with the eleven disciples (the eleven apostles). So now you have again the symbolism of the twelve taking place – the apostolic band symbolizing the arrival of the Kingdom of God that remains intact.

Now, why was Matthias elected? What was his requirement? The first requirement and the only requirement was that he had to be an eye witness. But why was he chosen? What were his apostolic gifts? Was he a great preacher or evangelist, good counselor, good at church organization, good fund-raiser? No, it’s irrelevant. What he serves is to fulfill the symbolism – the twelve – that’s what important. It’s the only thing he’s important for – he fulfills the twelve and the Kingdom of God has come, the start of the new age has begun, and the Messiah has brought his kingdom.

The term “apostle” can have a range of meanings. One of those meanings is “the twelve apostles”. There are others that can mean “a witness of the resurrection, who has been called”. Paul fits in that category, but he doesn’t fit in the symbolism of the twelve. I’ve heard people say that was a bad mistake that the church made – Paul should have been the twelfth. Well, does Luke think it’s a bad mistake? Notice Luke mentions that they pray before. And when Luke says they pray before, what happens is right. As far as he’s concerned, that’s fine. And Paul is kind of a unique person in that way. He’s an eye witness of the resurrection, but he’s not one of the twelve in that sense. The significance, then, of this act, is that it symbolizes the establishment of the unity of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God has come, and the church is very much aware that it represents the realization that the Kingdom of God has come, and this is something new and unique.

So when we talk about the relationship of the church and Israel, there is continuity that is emphasized. But there are some unique differences, and eventually those differences are going to cause a split. But that won’t come right away – that will come later with a man named Stephen, one of the twelve. But let’s hold off on that. Some Jews are going to think more broadly than other Jews. Some Jews are perfectly content to live as Jews and to have this resurrection faith in Jesus, but some Jews are also aware that there’s a world out there that is not kosher, and wonders how to reach them, and that’s going to bring up some consequences. But we’re going to hold off on that.

The next event that takes place is Pentecost, and we don’t make a big deal of that in our churches as much, but in Europe, for instance, in Germany, “Pfingsten“ is a big holiday (Pentecost)– they make much more of it. In this event, it’s all prepared there to stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit has come upon them, and that fulfillment of the promise comes at Pentecost. Beginning at Chapter 2, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on teach one of them and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?’” And you have the various languages and so forth. “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” In other words, they were drunk. “But Peter, standing with the eleven,” (remember when we talked about Peter and my understanding that Peter is the rock upon which the early church was going to be founded – here is one of the roles he has here. He’s no Pope, but he’s going to have a leading role.) He lifts up his voice and addresses them, “Men of Judea, and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. [he’s going to explain this phenomenon.] For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.” It’s only 9 AM; they’re not drunk. Now he doesn’t mean that if it’s 9 PM they could be drunk; he’s just saying common sense – it’s too early for them to be drunk – there has to be another explanation. This is the explanation; this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. And he quotes Joel, “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” So this is fulfillment of Old Testament – continuity. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’” And he goes on and he says that David died and was buried, and therefore this doesn’t refer to David, but it refers to the Christ Jesus whom you crucified.

And then the people say, “What are we going to do?” Peter replies, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are for off, everyone the Lord has called.” Now, this event at Pentecost is referred to in the first chapter of Acts as the Baptism with the Spirit, or the Baptism in the Spirit. In 1:4, where Jesus charges them not to depart from Jerusalem, ”… but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So at Pentecost now the event takes place, and the Spirit now comes in fulfillment of the promises, and people notice what’s going on, and wonder how they can be saved. And they’re told, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”