The Early Church
As told in the Acts of the Apostles
The beginnings of the church
When all the disciples are gathered together, about one hundred and twenty in all, Peter recalls the fate of Judas and the need to replace him to restore the number of apostles to twelve. Through prayerful casting of lots, Matthias is chosen and becomes the twelfth apostle.
On the day of Pentecost all the disciples are gathered together, are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in tongues. Peter addresses the crowd, telling them how Joel prophesied the event they are witnessing, then preaches Jesus as the true Messiah, after which about three thousand souls become believers.
The apostles go on to preach daily, healing the sick, casting out demons and converting many. The fellowship of believers begins to grow and many of them sell their possessions, sharing what they have with the needy amongst them.
One day, when Peter and John go to the temple to pray, they are confronted by a man who has been lame from birth and heal him. Peter explains to onlookers how the man was healed through the power of Jesus, and calls them to repentance. Many are converted, making the number of believers now around five thousand. Because they are preaching the resurrection, which the Sadducees do not believe in, Peter and John are arrested. Next day they appear before the Sanhedrin to whom they answer defiantly and are threatened by them. Returning to the brethren, they give thanks to God and are again filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling them all to continue to witness with boldness.
Among those selling their possessions for the needy are Ananias and his wife Sapphira, but they are deceitful in their giving, which is considered to be an offence against God. They are separately rebuked by Peter then struck dead by the Holy Spirit, bringing fear to the whole church.
The apostles’ working of many miracles angers the Jewish rulers -
Stephen and his martyrdom
The church has now grown so much that it becomes necessary to appoint seven deacons to assist the apostles. One of these is Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen preaches in the synagogue where none are able to overcome his wisdom and teaching. He is falsely accused of blaspheming and is brought before the Sanhedrin. During his lengthy defence he is interrupted, taken outside and stoned while a young man named Saul looks on.
A great persecution of the church follows in which Saul plays a major roll. With the exception of the apostles, the church is scattered abroad.
Philip, another of the chosen seven, preaches in Samaria, healing the sick and casting out demons. Among those baptised is Simon, a sorcerer.
Peter and John are sent to Samaria by the apostles at Jerusalem to investigate. They confirm the converted with prayer and the laying on of hands, and the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Simon the sorcerer offers money for the ability to confer the Holy Spirit, but is rebuked by Peter and repents.
Peter and John continue to preach in the villages of Samaria a while before returning to Jerusalem.
Instructed by an angel, Philip then travels towards Gaza where he preaches the Gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch, then baptises him in nearby water.
The Spirit of God then carries Philip to Azotus where he preaches there and in all the cities until he comes to Caesarea.
During his zealous persecution of the church, Saul, the notable witness at Stephen’s stoning, is challenged by Jesus on the way to Damascus and converted. He loses his sight and spends three days without food or drink before his sight is restored by Ananias, who was sent by God to lay hands on him. Saul is then filled with the Holy Spirit.
Saul now preaches Christ, but his life is threatened by the Jews and he escapes and goes to Jerusalem. After initial concerns because of Saul’s reputation, the disciples’ minds are put to rest when Barnabas confirms his conversion. However, the Hellenistic Jews are unconvinced and plan to kill him, so he flees and returns to his home at Tarsus.
The churches, now being freed from persecution, were edified, walked in fear of the Lord and multiplied.
Peter goes to Lydda where he heals a man of the palsy, an act which brought about the conversion of all at Lydda and the district of Saron.
Farther on at Joppa, Peter raises Tabitha from death, bringing about the conversion of many at Joppa.
Peter stays at Joppa for many days, during which time an angel tells a centurion at Ceasarea, called Cornelius, to send men to Joppa to fetch Peter. The next morning, while they are travelling, Peter has a dream of a sheet being lowered with all kinds of animals in it, both clean and unclean, which he is instructed to kill and eat. This happens three times before the men sent by Cornelius arrive to deliver their message. Next morning they return to Ceasarea, accompanied by Peter who takes six men with him as witnesses. There, inspired by his dream, Peter preaches Christ to Cornelius and his friends. The Holy Spirit descends on them all, after which they speak in tongues and praise God to the astonishment of the witnessing Jews. Peter has them baptised and agrees to stay with them for a few days.
When Peter returns to Jerusalem, he gives an account to the brethren of all that happened. They then glorify God for having granted repentance and eternal life to the Gentiles.
The church at Antioch
Hearing that the Gospel is preached to the Gentiles at Antioch, the Jerusalem church send Barnabas who, confirming their faith, decides to fetch Saul from Tarsus. The two spend a year together in Antioch teaching people about Christ. It is here that converts are first called Christians.
A prophet from Jerusalem foretells a great famine in Judea. In response, a collection is made for the brethren there and delivered by Barnabas and Saul.
Herod Agrippa begins to persecute the church and kills John’s brother, James. He then imprisons Peter, but he is later freed by an angel. Herod makes a speech to the people in his royal apparel and receives praise as if he is a god. He is consequently smitten by the angel of the Lord and dies a miserable death.
Having delivered the offerings raised by the church at Antioch, Barnabas and Saul return from Jerusalem, bringing with them John Mark, Barnabas’ nephew.
Paul’s first missionary journey
Through prayer and fasting, the Holy Spirit appoints Saul and Barnabas from among the teachers at Antioch to go and preach to the Gentiles. They leave Antioch, taking John Mark with them, and travel to Cyprus. Elymas, a Jewish sorcerer, opposes them and is struck blind by Saul, now called Paul, bringing about the conversion of Sergius the deputy.
Paul and his company leave Paphos and sail north to Perga in Pamphylia. At this point, John Mark decides to leave them and Paul and Barnabas continue north to Antioch in Pisidia without him. Here Paul preaches that Jesus is the Christ, as he does in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, all the while meeting with opposition from the Jews, including inciting the stoning of Paul at Lystra. They then retrace their steps through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, confirming the disciples and ordaining elders in every church. They also preach the word in Perga, returning to Antioch where they now remain for a long time.
A dispute arises because some Jewish preachers are insisting that converts should be circumcised and follow Moses’ law. Paul and Barnabas refer the problem to the elders at Jerusalem with James, Jesus’ brother, now a leader at Jerusalem, responding with a requirement that the only burden to be placed on the Gentiles is that they abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication. A letter is written to be dispersed among the churches informing them of the decision.
Paul’s second missionary journey
Paul now chooses to revisit the churches planted during his first missionary journey. However, he refuses to take Mark with him, taking Silas in his place and leaving Barnabas and Mark to go their own way. He first travels to the churches at Derbe and Lystra, and then Iconium where Timothy, respected amongst the churches, is invited to join them. After travelling on through Asia Minor to Troas, Paul is directed by a vision to cross the sea to Macedonia. It’s at Troas that Paul is joined by Luke before making the crossing. Paul preaches at Philippi where Lydia is converted and offers them her hospitality. A sorceress, who had been bringing her masters much gain by soothsaying, is cleansed of an evil spirit by Paul. Her masters' loss results in Paul and Silas being beaten and thrown in prison, only to be liberated by divine intervention. Their release leads to the conversion and baptism of the prison keeper and his household. Having declared he is a Roman citizen, and unlawfully treated, the magistrates are forced to personally oversee their release, but they then have to leave the area, taking Timothy with them but leaving Luke in Philippi.
Churches are planted at Thessalonica and Berea, although not without opposition from the Jews who incite a mob at both locations. Paul has to leave and travels to Athens accompanied by some brethren, but without Silas and Timothy who stay at Berea. The brethren return to Berea with a message for Silas and Timothy to join Paul as soon as possible.
Paul opposes idolatry at Athens and gains some converts before moving on to Corinth. Here he meets Aquila and Priscilla who invite him to stay with them. Encouraged by Silas and Timothy now joining him, he teaches to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, but is opposed and so turns his attention to the Gentiles. Paul has a dream one night in which he is greatly encouraged by God, and consequently remains in Corinth for eighteen months. It is during his time at Corinth that Paul writes his epistles to the Thessalonians, and perhaps the Galatians.
The Jews rise against Paul and take him before the deputy Gallio, accusing him of persuading men to worship God contrary to the law. This attempt to have him convicted fails when Gallio dismisses it as solely a Jewish concern.
Some time after this, Paul takes his leave of the brethren at Corinth and sails to Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila as far as Ephesus. From Ephesus he goes to Jerusalem for Passover before returning to Antioch.
Paul’s third missionary journey
After spending some time back at Antioch, Paul again leaves and travels through Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Meantime, Apollos goes to the church at Corinth where they receive letters of commendation concerning him from Ephesus. Here at Corinth, Apollos teaches in the synagogue, converting many Jews to Christ.
While Apollos is at Corinth, Paul arrives at Ephesus where he preaches in the synagogues for three months, but many oppose him and he leaves the synagogue, spending the next two years preaching daily in the school of one Tyrannus. From here, the news of the gospel spreads to both Jews and Gentiles throughout Asia.
Demetrius, a silversmith and maker of silver shrines for the goddess Diana, his livelihood now under threat, incites a demonstration against Paul, but the town clerk intervenes and the crowd is appeased.
It is at Ephesus that Paul writes his epistles to the Corinthians.
Paul then travels through Macedonia, preaching along the way, and on to Greece where he spends three months before intending to sail to Syria. It is probably during this time in Greece that Paul writes to the Romans. Hearing that Jews would be laying in wait for him, he returns back through Macedonia accompanied by several companions. They then go ahead of him to Troas while Paul waits until he is joined by Luke. Paul and Luke then sail from Philippi and catch up with the brethren at Troas where they stay for seven days.
Paul then leaves for Athos by land while Luke and his companions go by sea, meeting with Paul at Athos from where they all travel together to Mitylene, eventually arriving at Miletus. Here Paul sends for the Ephesian church elders to say his last farewell to them before a sorrowful departure by ship to Caesarea. Travelling with his companions, and heading for Jerusalem, they stay at Tyre, Ptolemais and Caesarea along the way. Paul is warned twice not to travel on to Jerusalem where trouble lays ahead for him, but he insists he must go, saying he is prepared to die there for the name of the Lord Jesus.
They eventually arrive at Jerusalem where they lodge with a disciple Mnason.
Paul’s arrest and trial in Jerusalem & Caesarea
In Jerusalem, Paul is encouraged to go with four men in a purification process to show he is compliant with Moses’ law, but is later accused of taking Gentiles into the temple. In the tumult that follows, Paul escapes a scourging ordered by the chief captain when he announces he is a Roman citizen.
To avoid a conspiracy to have Paul killed, the chief captain sends him to Caesarea where he is imprisoned by Felix the governor of Judea, although allowed access to his companions..
After two years, Festus replaces Felix who asks Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem to be tried. He refuses and appeals to Caesar as is his right as a Roman citizen. Following later hearings before Agrippa, Festus and Agrippa agree that Paul could have been set free, but having appealed to Caesar, then to Caesar he must go.
To Rome and house arrest
Following a perilous voyage, Paul and his company are shipwrecked on the Isle of Melita (Malta) where Paul, having healed the governor’s sick father, stays for three months. They then set off again and Paul finally arrives at Rome where he is delivered to the captain of the guard.
Paul is placed under house arrest where he remains for two years. During this time he is able to preach the Gospel unhindered to all who come to him. He also writes his epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians, and possibly his letter to Philemon.
From his pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, we learn that Paul was released from prison. He was later imprisoned again and wrote his second, and final letter, to Timothy.