This lesson in the current manual covers the early transition from the ministry of the Savior to the ministry of the apostles. While the lesson title and purpose statement focus on the Holy Ghost, the Pentecost is only one of the themes included in this lesson. Below are several lessons from Obert C. Tanner’s seminary text, The New Testament Speaks. Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1935, covering the same scriptural chapters. Because the various sections of the current lesson are only loosely related to each other (the connection is through chronology far more than through doctrinal application), most teachers will probably choose to focus on one or another part of the lesson rather than on the whole, and these 1935 chapters may help you expand your coverage of the chosen section.
The Early Beginnings of the Christian Church.
Conditions within the Roman Empire at the Time of Christ. The Roman Empire of the first century proved to be a great benefactor to the millions of people that were within its wide boundaries. Evils existed in its economic, social, and religious life, but it had done ever so much to better the conditions of its masses. Augustus and later emperors established peace within the boundaries. With peace came police protection, highways, communications, a common culture, and a common language.
The fundamental principles of life that Jesus taught were great mainsprings of progress, and conditions within the empire were fundamentally such that the growth of the Christian movement was greatly aided.
During this period there were numerous religious orders and philosophies – Jews, Epicureans, Stoics, Emperor worshipers, cults from India, Persia, and the Greek mysteries; yet they failed to satisfy the deep religious cravings of the common man. People were thirsting for something that would allow them worthy fellowship one with another, and at the same time provide something worthy of their own personal belief and devotion. Christianity supplied that need.
Sources of Our Knowledge of the Apostolic Age. In some respects, our sources of information for the early beginning of the Christian movement are very meager. These limitations are apparent, when it is realized that we know nothing of the activities of nine of the apostles that Jesus personally trained and sent forth to the world. Little is known of John, other than that he was quite a friend of Peter’s. If he founded any churches or preached among the people, history does not tell us. And it is from Peter only, of the Twelve, that we get a little historical material relative to his work and activity in behalf of the message of the master.
however, it is not to the accounts as left by the original apostles that we are indebted for our information concerning the so-called apostolic age (30 to 65 A.D.). The earliest history of this period is given in Acts, the New Testament epistles, and apocalyptic writings. The gospels indirectly help interpret this period, as do the early Christian writings of such men as Clement, and the roman history as given by Svetonius and Factus.
It is to Paul, whose activity is chronicled in the Book of Acts, and his various epistles, that the greatest value is attached as far as the growth of the apostolic church is concerned.
The Spread of Christianity in the First Century. The conversation of Paul was one of the most significant events for Christianity. His conversion probably took place in the early thirties, but his training occupied a good many years, and it was not until about the year 47 A.D. that he and his companions set out on the first missionary journey.
Until this time, Christianity had not been considered as an entirely separate movement from the Jewish religion. Everybody thought of it as a “Jewish sect,” and there is evidence that the Christian church in Jerusalem was known as the Sect or Synagogue of the Nazarene. But at this time, when large numbers of Gentiles began coming into the church, it was decided that they did not need to conform to the rites and ceremonies of the Jews. This caused a breach with Judaism, and many of the Christian Jews opposed such action.
Paul and his companions had gone right into the heart of the Roman Empire. The great apostle to the Gentiles seemed to like to go to the most important cities to do his work. From the principal cities of Asia Minor, he went to Macedonia and Greece, where he planted Christianity in all the most important cities, and then finally in Rome, the capital city of the world. Christianity thus became known throughout the world.
It is difficult to know what the strength of the Church was in numbers because of lack of census material in those days, but there must have been a very large group of Christians before the death of Paul.
Christian Persecution. Jesus had had difficulties with the leaders of organized religion in his day. He had tried to do and teach new things and they naturally opposed him. His followers also encountered opposition. Our records tell us that Saul of Tarsus was one of those who persecuted the Christians. the first persecutions of the Christians during the apostolic period, and the ones in which Paul figures, took place in the thirties, and were directed against the Hellenistic group of Christians of which Stephen was a conspicuous member. During this particular persecution, the regular Jewish Christians of Palestine were not molested. But the next persecution, which came in the forties, reached them as well, and a definite plan to destroy the leaders resulted in the execution of James and the imprisonment of Peter. Peter’s life was saved by escape from prison and flight from Palestine.
This persecution was a gesture on the part of Agrippa I to win the favor of the Jews by punishing the Christians. The final stage of the persecution of Christians by the Jews in Palestine came at the time of the uprising against Rome (66 to 70 A.D.), at which time the Christians refused to join the revolution against Rome and consequently they were thought of as traitors to Judaism. The Christians finally fled the country and gathered in Pella in the Decapolis.
But the Christians were not only persecuted by the Jews. As they went out into the Roman provinces and began to make converts and to build up churches, they were also persecuted by the Gentiles – those who were neither Jews nor Christians.
The cause of the Gentile persecution is usually rather difficult for people of our generation to understand, but it will become clear as soon as we understand the religious situation of the Gentiles, where the Christians were trying to make their home. In one of the Roman provinces, a man might belong to two, three, or a dozen different religions without thinking it out of the way. The gods of these pagan peoples were not “jealous gods,” and they did not object to peoples’ belonging to other religions as long as they did not neglect any of the things necessary to maintain the good will of their own particular gods.
The emperors and other officials of Rome thought it a good thing for the gods of all of the various peoples within the realm to be properly worshiped, so that all these gods would be friendly to the Empire. if the divine favor of all the gods concerned could be assured, the future of the Empire was much more certain, they thought.
This kind of situation sounds extremely strange to us, yet it was the common thing and not the uncommon in those days. But the Jews and Christians had been taught that there was only one God, and that He would be displeased if they were to worship any but Him. Thus, when Gentiles were converted to Christianity, they were asked to cease worshiping their former gods and worship only the True God. The roman officials in the provinces did not object to the Christians worshiping their own God, but they did object to their ceasing to worship the state gods, which they thought were responsible for the prosperity of the state. It was largely because Christians refused to continue the worship of their former gods that brought down persecution on their heads. With the leaders who were responsible for the persecution, it was not so much a religious question as a political one. If the gods of the state were not worshiped, they would be angry and would cease to make the crops grow, and the state would not get on well. The Christians thus became traitors to the state by refusing to court the favor of the state gods, according to the point of view of the Roman officials.
Perhaps this explanation will be sufficient to show why the Christians were occasionally in trouble. As long as the Roman provinces were prosperous, there was not much said about the Christians because of their refusal to offer the customary sacrifices to the heathen gods, but when a depression came, as it occasionally did, and they began to look about to see the cause, it was usually had to the door of the Christians, because they felt that the Christians had displeased the state gods by their refusal to do proper worship.
Persecutions against the Christians were of a local nature during the first century. There was no policy of the Empire to weed our Christians as such, in order to destroy them, but in certain local sections they suffered considerably.
Church Government in the Latter Part of the First Century. During the early years of the apostolic period Jerusalem was the chief city of Christianity. Gradually, as Antioch and other cities grew prominent in their Christian work they displaced Jerusalem in importance until, after the fall of Jerusalem (70 A.D.), it ceased to play any important role in the Christian world.
At the close of the first century, it would be difficult to try to say where the capital city of Christianity was. The apostles had all died, and we have no record that others had been appointed to succeed them. Each city seemed to be entirely independent of all others, with a Bishop as the supreme head of the church in each of the important cities, and also responsible for the affairs of the people close by. The only bonds uniting these various independent units of the Church were the bonds of love and brotherhood.
How certain of these cities gradually assumed leadership under their bishops is a story too long to be told here, but it finally resulted in the supremacy of Rome and Constantinople, the former’s Bishop rising to the official position of Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, and the latter’s becoming the head of the other branch of the Catholic Church.
The Book of Acts.
Authorship. Tradition of the early Christian Church held that Luke, a physician and companion of Paul, was the author of the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke. Modern New Testament authorities generally agree that the tradition is correct. “Detailed studies of each word and phrase have demonstrated that the same literary characteristics recur throughout these books. The preponderance of medical terms, and marked interest in miracles of healing, and the evidence at every turn of the exact knowledge which only a physician could possess, distinguish Acts and the Third Gospel from all other New Testament writings. this remarkable unity of literary style and medical interests points clearly to Luke, the physician, as their common author. The direct statements in Acts strongly confirm this conclusion.” [Kent, The Work and Teachings of the Apostles, p. 4.]
Time. the date of the Book of Acts is not known. Kent thinks it was written between 80 and 95 A.D. Some scholars place its date a few years earlier. From Acts 1:1 it is evident that it was written some time after the Third Gospel.
Purpose. It seems quite evident that Luke wrote his second volume, “The Acts of the Apostles,” for the same reason that he did his first volume, “The Gospel According to Luke.” In Luke 1:1-4, the author says: “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye witnesses, and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.”
Kent suggests that there were three other very practical reasons why Luke wished to get his point of view before more people. First, he wanted the Gentiles to understand that through the influence of the Spirit of God and the help, especially of Paul, that Christianity had been successful in overcoming the narrowness of certain Judaizers, so that they (Gentiles)( could become good Christians in spite of what certain Jews said. Secondly, Luke attempted to show that it was Judaism and its narrowness, and not Christianity, which caused the extreme hostility between the two faiths. Third, Luke wished to ave the Gospel well received by the officials in Rome and throughout the entire Empire. He emphasized Paul’s Roman citizenship and tried to uphold the idea that the trials and persecutions that had come to the Christians were not brought upon them by the Romans, but rather by the narrow Pharisaic Jews and heathens, who hated them to the point of outward persecution. There is also a general theme that runs through the entire Book of Acts, which attempts to prove and show that the spirit which Jesus possessed did come and inspire his followers, to the extent that what they did was the result of his spirit directing them.
Questions for the Chapter Review
1. Explain how the conditions in the first century A.D. favored the spread of Christianity.
2. What are the main sources of our knowledge of the Christian movement after the resurrection of Christ?
3. Review very briefly the growth of the Christian movement up to the time of Paul’s death.
4. Explain the main reason for the Christian persecutions.
5. Describe the church government in the latter part of the first century.
6. Who wrote the book of Acts? What evidence have we to prove the authorship of this book? When was it written?
7. Why did the author of Acts write this book? Give the three practical reasons, suggested by Kent, which the author of Acts probably had in mind when he wrote his book.
THE GATHERING OF THE DISCIPLES AT JERUSALEM
(THE DAY OF PENTECOST)
The Choice of Matthias. (Acts 1:12-26.)
From the brief records it appears that only one or two of the apostles were able to follow their Master during the last hours of his trials and persecution. Most of them were scattered, discouraged, and disheartened because of his death. But this condition did not last long. As calmness came to their minds, they began to unite again. Their repeated religious experiences with the risen and glorified Jesus stimulated them all to action. they gathered together again for the common purpose of testifying to their people, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. One of their first acts was to select some one to fill the vacancy left by the ill-famed Judas.
Most of the followers of Jesus completely failed to catch his message. They were lost. Others expected that he would return to them soon again, and they prepared to wait. Following his example, these people often went to the temple to pray and to discuss their many hopes and sorrows. It was out of such situations that the Christian Church began to grow into a unity. In such group meetings, likely in private, they not only prayed, but they continued the ceremony of breaking bread and observing a common meal, similar to the Last supper. Such gatherings were important, for they helped to focus the disciples’ attention on the things that Jesus would have them do. In selecting the new apostle, they likely took into consideration that whoever it was, he should have a personal testimony of the ministry and resurrection of the Master.
It is reported that the group, before carrying out the old custom of selecting by lots, first “prayed, and said, thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen. * * * And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”
The Coming of the Spirit. (Acts 2:1-13.)
The coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the beginning of the apostolic age. Its importance lies in the fact that on that day, the few Christian disciples, perhaps one hundred twenty in all, became aware of the Holy spirit that was to guide their activity.
the Feast of Pentecost always brought large crowds from all sections of Jewish life. It was celebrated fifty days after the feast of the Passover (Lev. 23:15-16), and was sometimes called the Feast of harvests. Hence, about seven weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus, this great event took place. At the time of Christ, many Jews were living in all the important commercial cities of the Roman world. Being merchants, they had gone wherever trade was good. In cities such as Alexandria, they formed a large part of the population. Although they lived far away and spoke the language of the country where they resided, they still looked to Jerusalem as the center of their religion. When opportunity came they went there to celebrate the great festivals; and if they prospered financially, many retired to Jerusalem in their old age to spend their last days near the temple.
Those who were followers of Jesus came also to Jerusalem, and undoubtedly they grouped together and told each other the religious experiences that they and their friends had had concerning the risen Christ. It was natural that their spirits were renewed, and that they became enthusiastic over their past relationship with the Master. Under such conditions, the spirit, which they had been promised, came to them. The event was an outstanding one in the lives of these people. Nearly all of those in attendance felt the power and influence of the spirit over them.
Peter’s Sermon. (Acts 2:14-36.)
To the Oriental mind there must be an explanation for all events. Some attempted to explain these experiences at the Feast by saying that the men were intoxicated. It was the best explanation that men passing by could give to a scene, where the disciples not long before, sad and dejected, were now free and happy. these disciples knew that the promise of the Spirit had been fulfilled. Their hearts were overflowing with joy and happiness.
It was Peter who explained this condition. In putting forth his views, Peter preached the first Christian sermon in public, of which we have record (excepting, of course, those given by the Master). To show that this experience was the result of the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter refers to Old Testament prophecy (Joel 2:28-32). From what is said in this prophecy, he accounts for what had taken place at the outpouring of the Spirit.
Then in terms that are characteristically Peter’s, he bears his testimony that Jesus is the Messiah. to prove his contention, he used three points: first, that Jesus was early approved by God to be the Messiah; second, that God had fulfilled a prophecy when He raised Jesus from the dead; and third, that the Spirit which God had given to Jesus had now come to them, his disciples.
In summary, Peter’s sermon strikes the keynote of all apostolic preaching, that is, that Jesus is Christ and Lord.
The Conversion of Three Thousand. (Acts 2:37-41.)
It is doubtful if the entire sermon of Peter’s is recorded in Acts, for Luke wrote his book, acts of the apostles, forty or fifty years after the sermon was delivered. As recorded, the sermon takes about three minutes to read. Undoubtedly we have only a short extract of it, as the records show that it caused three thousand people to formally join this new gospel, which was rapidly becoming a church organization.
Among those who listened, many no doubt were conscience-stricken and sorrowed at the story of Jesus’ suffering. Peter’s great conviction that he was speaking the truth, also caused many to accept the Savior as the Christ. But though some of them may have been converted by his arguments, the real cause of this great conversion was the power of the Spirit of God. The counsel which Peter gave them is of great importance. To him, the way to salvation was not hard to understand. Following the faith which they had demonstrated, they were to repent of their sins, then their baptism in the name of Jesus would be followed by the “gift of the Holy Ghost.” Peter told them to be baptized in the name of Jesus, whereas the Savior had instructed them to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (Matt. 28:19) As explained above, no doubt the full text of Peter’s sermon is not given.
The number of converts (three thousand) seems large, but it is to be remembered that many of the listeners were Jews of the Dispersion. They were living in foreign lands, and had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Pentecost. These Jews were more open-minded than those who lived in Palestine, and would more readily accept Jesus as the Messiah. No doubt these newly made Christians, when they returned home, helped greatly in the spread of the new religion.
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. Explain the cause of the gathering together of the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus.
2. Tell the story of the selection of Matthias as one of the twelve Apostles.
3. When was the Feast of Pentecost held? why?
4. What was the importance of the coming of the Spirit to the few early Christian disciples? Give an account of this event.
5. Who preached the first recorded Christian sermon in public after the death of Jesus? How complete is the account of this sermon? What was its chief message?
6. How many were converted to the Christian faith on this day? Account for the conversation of so many.
7. Learn Acts 2:37-39.
THE EARLY CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Conditions among the Disciples. (Acts 2:42-47.)
During the very early years of the Church, there appears to have been no formal organization. In characterizing those who were disciples, Luke uses the term “believers,” which likely applied to those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Naturally, such believers accepted the apostles as their first teachers.
Many of them went to Jerusalem to live. Here they could practice the teachings of Jesus in everyday life. However, there were no important natural industries in Jerusalem by which they might support themselves. Nor was Jerusalem well situated on avenues of commerce. As a result, these early Christians became extremely poor. It was at this time that they put into practice a principle of charity, which the Gospel of Jesus was to proclaim to the world. “And (they) sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” It was an expression of charity that was stimulated by the belief that they belonged to a brotherhood of mankind, and that they were followers of the Master Jesus.
For reasons not well known, this condition did not last long, for in Romans 15:26 we find that Paul took up a collection for the poor Saints in Jerusalem.
Peter Heals a Beggar at the Gate Beautiful. (Acts 3:1-10.)
One of the most notable differences, as one continues from the gospels to the Book of Acts, is the comparative absence of miracles.
Thus, we find in the Book of Acts but three signs (miracles) performed by the apostles, and they were performed by Peter.
In ancient times, as well as modern, there were many beggars in Jerusalem. Perhaps this cripple took his place at the door of the temple, because experience had taught him that those who went there were in the mood to help the poor. The eastern gate of the temple, the most beautiful of the nine, was the principal entrance to that sacred building. It was made of Corinthian brass, and because of that was sometimes called the Corinthian gate. Being the most beautiful of all the gates, even though the others were covered with silver and gold, it came in time to be known as the “gate of the temple which is called beautiful.”
In seeing the lame beggar, Peter may have recalled the many healings that Jesus performed. He may never have remembered of his giving alms, but always something of greater value, something that would allow the individual to live a more abundant life. Then, too, he remembered the Master’s command to restore the sick to health.
To the man who asked for gold, Peter replied: “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Peter acted as an agent working in the name of the Master. In doing os, there stood before him a human soul, once borne down with bodily ills, now sound and strong, a proof of God’s interest, not only in giving spirit life, but also in restoring bodily health to one who by faith was able to receive it.
Peter’s Address to the People. (Acts 3:11-26.)
One is not surprised at the amazement that swept over the crowd of worshipers gathered at Solomon’s Porch. They beheld a man whom they had always known as a cripple and a beggar, now standing before them well.
In Peter we also begin to see the rock that Jesus spoke of. he is now being molded into a man of strength, a rock of such stability and strength of character that it has the power to withstand the forces of men and of nature.
As the people stood amazed at what had taken place, Peter seized the opportunity to gain the attention of the people so that he could draw many of them to him. He tried to kindle in their souls a hope of the Master’s return. First, he gave them to understand that it was not through any power of his, or his friend John, that the lame man walked; but rather through the power of Jesus. then he boldly charged his hearers and the rulers who took part in the crucifixion, that they had been guilty of violating the law when they did not comply with the judgment of Pilate, who found nothing against Jesus. Peter asserted that Jesus was the Christ of Old Testament prophecy. Before closing, he testified that he and others had witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, whom they had crucified.
To soften this bold charge, Peter told the people that they had crucified the Savior without knowing who he was. “It was to you that God first sent his servant after he had raised him from the dead, to bless you by making every one of you turn from his wickedness.” Peter wanted the people to realize that Jesus was their personal friend, and that through his influence, he would assist them in freeing themselves from evil habits and false ideals.
The Sanhedrin Attempts to Suppress the New Movement. (Acts 4:1-21.)
The words of Peter bore fruitful results. Many were impressed with his teachings and the number who were “believers” was increased to five thousand. Indeed, there were more reasons than one for the Sanhedrin’s attempting to check the growth of the new Christian movement. Likely the Sadducees, who were members of the Sanhedrin, greatly objected because of the doctrine of the resurrection they were teaching. Greater than that, however, was the fact that these two men were spokesmen for the hated and crucified Galilean.
Peter and John were imprisoned, and on the following day they were given a hearing by the same group that gave Jesus a hearing. excitement must have run high among the officials. “Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.”
In the first appearance before the council, they were asked to account for the manner in which the lame man was healed. The effect of the spirit of Christ upon one is rarely seen more pronounced than it was upon Peter, as he stood before the Sanhedrin. “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom he crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.”
There was little for the Sanhedrin to say. The man that was cured stood near by. They saw him and could not deny it. necessarily, they had to hold another conference and confer secretly together.
Their problem was difficult. At last they decided that in order to keep the doctrine from spreading among the people, they would warn Peter and John. “Let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.” As Goodspeed translates it: “to say nothing to anyone else at all about this person.”
Such threats were of no value. They were possessors of the spirit and were not to be frightened. They answered the threat: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
All that could be done to these fearless defenders of the faith was to threaten them more. When the apostles were released, they returned to their regular gathering place and gave thanks in prayer and asked for a continuance of the Holy Spirit. Those that were at the gathering were filled with the Holy Spirit. It was as another pentecostal meeting to them. Their courage was strengthened, so that they continued to vigorously proclaim the message.
The Spirit among the Early believers. (Acts 4:32-36.)
There is no better evidence that the “believers” of the early apostolic days were true followers of the Master, than that they “were of one heart and of one soul … Neither was there any among them that lacked.” Many disposed of their property so that they could care for those who were in need. Barnabas, a Jew, who came from the Island of Cyprus, owned some land. We are not told that he sold it all, but he did sell some and gave the proceeds to the common fund. He seemed to have been very sincere in his gift, and in his efforts to help out. We shall find later, in the great missionary enterprises, that he was one of the most active workers.
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. Describe the conditions among the first disciples in Jerusalem. Why were many of them in poverty? How did the disciples meet this condition?
2. Tell the story of Peter’s healing the beggar at the “gate of the temple which is called Beautiful.”
3. What were some of the main points of Peter’s speech at Solomon’s Porch? how did this speech reveal the rock-like character of peter? Explain how Peter accused the people openly of crucifying Jesus, without offending them to his own danger.
4. How many people had joined the Christian community at this time?
5. What were some of the probable reasons of the Sanhedrin for seeking to suppress this new movement?
6. Tell of the hearing given to Peter and John by the Sanhedrin. What was the result?
7. What evidences have we of the Christ-like spirit among the early believers? Give an example.
EVENTS IN THE CHURCH AT JERUSALEM
The Story of Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-11.)
This story stresses the seriousness of a dangerous sin – hypocrisy. The sin is especially dangerous in that only God and the individual himself are able to know of it.
In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, they agreed between themselves to deceive. they hoped to receive full honor for their membership and devotion among the “believers,” without paying the proper price. We are not told how Peter became aware of what had been done by this man and wife. When approached by Peter, they realized that their sin was uncovered.
Healing the Sick. (Acts 5:12-16.)
The “believers” were as one great family. They worshiped together. They were united by a spirit of helpfulness, good will, and generosity, and all seemed to be aware of a great mission that lay before them. It is interesting to note that the strength of this early Christian group, as we have it recorded, was not in its ritual or ceremonial forms, which many present-day churches stress as the main evidence of their divinity, but rather their power was in their love for one another, their spirit of helpfulness and service, their desire to care properly for the spiritual and social needs of its members. Their strength lay in the fact that they carried over into their lives that unique brotherhood that Jesus strove to develop during his ministry in Galilee.
The successful healings of the apostles, especially of healing the lame man by Peter, caused extraordinary excitement on the part of multitudes, “so that people would carry their sick out into the streets, and lay them down on beds and mats to have at least Peter’s shadow fall on some of them as he went by.” [Goodspeed text.] However, the Gospel of life and light was, and must be, more than a power of physical healings, particularly as these people now came to regard it.
Continued Opposition from the Rulers. (Acts 5:17-42.)
The second attempt of the Sanhedrin to suppress the apostolic movement was, in some respects, similar to the first. This time, however, all the apostles were imprisoned and, as Luke relates, were miraculously delivered from jail. A student may wonder why they were delivered, only to be retaken again at daybreak.
All the apostles were taken before the Sanhedrin. Peter became their spokesman and boldly informed the Sanhedrin that in preaching they “obey God rather than men.” He again charged them with the death of Jesus, and informed them that their threats meant little. His words so inflamed the Sanhedrin with hatred, that their measures of punishment may have become extreme, had it not been for the learned Pharisaic scholar, Gamaliel, who sought tolerance on the part of the rulers toward the new movement. to convince them that a policy of non-intervention was the proper course, he wisely informed the Sanhedrin that, in the cases of Judas of Galilee and Theudas, followers soon arose and likewise soon disappeared. The same would happen to this new Christian movement if it were of men, but if it were of God it would be useless to try to stop it. The Sanhedrin was convinced, yet they hated to give up their old ideas of how to suppress the movement. They accepted his reasoning, but were so inconsistent that they beat the apostles before they discharged them. Apparently the beating had little or no effect, for “they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
The Appointment of Seven Men. (Acts 6:1-7.)
Sometimes history would have it appear that hatred and prejudice are more powerful than the strength of kindness and brotherhood that is instilled by religion. The group that was early guided by the spirit of helpfulness and generosity, was soon plunged into difficulty. Race hatred became powerful between the Palestine and the Hellenistic Jews. the Hellenists were Greek-speaking jews who were born and had likely spent much of their lives outside of Palestine. they were considered to be more open-minded and more receptive to new truths than were the Jews of Palestine. It appears they were also better educated. With this information, one can understand why Christianity later became a movement influenced by the Greek mind, rather than by the Jew of Palestine. The cause for the first break between the two elements in Christianity was that the Hellenistic group felt that “their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Their poor were not treated so well as those of Jewish nationality.
As a result of the complaint, seven men, most of whom were Hellenists, were appointed to take care of those who were in need. The apostles realized that the increasing size of the church membership was such that they could no longer care for the members as they had before. Little is said of those who were selected, except the first one. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.” They were set apart in the ancient Jewish manner, an ordination made in the synagogue by laying on of hands, which was symbolic of a bestowal of blessings that may be either physical or spiritual.
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. What was the grievous sin committed by Ananias and Sapphira? What was the effect of their death upon those within and without the church?
2. Explain the power and influence found in the early Christian believers.
3. Relate the second imprisonment of the apostles. How did it differ from the first?
4. By what reasoning did Gamaliel convince the rulers not to take serious action against the apostles? What were the results of this continued opposition by the Sanhedrin?
5. Why were seven men appointed to take care of the material needs of the Christian community? Who were the Hellenists?
6. How were the seven men set apart?