The Early Apostolic Period A.D. 33 to 70
Much of the biblical Apostolic Period has been chronicled very carefully by Luke, who was a physician and friend of Paul. He has chronicled this material into what is now the Book of Acts. This book takes us from the ascension of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70.
Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Yet, he instructed them not to leave Jerusalem until they received “the promise of the Father” – the gift of the Holy Spirit – who would empower them for ministry. Ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, this promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers who were gathered in the Upper Room waiting.
Peter preached a powerful message to those who were in Jerusalem and told them that they needed to repent of their rejection of Jesus. His sermon on the day of Pentecost resulted in three thousand baptisms. Although the preliminary church was off to a very good start, there was much hardship ahead for those who would bring the gospel to the world.
Preliminary Expansion of the Church (Acts Chapters 1 – 8)
This first target area for apostolic witness was Jerusalem. Luke records three sermons that Peter preached there. The first was to the Jerusalem visitors in Acts 2: 14-40; next was to those who observed the miraculous healing of the lame man in the temple area in Acts 3: 12-26; and lastly to the Jewish religious leaders in Acts 4: 8-12.
Acts 4:33 summarizes the thrust of this early ministry: “And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…”
Early efforts of Peter and John and other members of the Twelve met with opposition from many of the Hebrew priests and elders and the Roman-appointed civil rulers in Jerusalem. This did little to diminish their zeal, though, especially after seven deacons were appointed that included Stephen and Philip, the Evangelist. After that, we learn “that the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly… (Acts 6:7),
The wonders and signs that the Holy Spirit did through Stephen further enraged the religious establishment, and he was brought before the council and accused of blasphemy against the God of Moses. After he passionately witnessed to all of them, he was stoned to death by order of the officials, who saw his message as a threat to their power.
Stephen’s martyrdom was the first in a series of persecutions against the new Christians in Jerusalem, and it caused many of them to flee and scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Most of the people left except the Apostles, who stayed in Jerusalem.
Because of this persecution, it caused the Gospel to spread even further and faster than it was before. One of the most well-known evangelists from that time was Philip. He was the key figure in bringing the gospel to Samaria, and later to the cities of the Judean coastal plain.
Expansion of the Church (Acts Chapters 9 – 27)
Peter and Philip were the initiators of the preliminary expansion of the church throughout Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. God soon raised up a new powerful witness through Saul of Tarsus, though, who would later become known as the apostle Paul. He would proclaim the message of the resurrected Christ throughout the entire Mediterranean region.
The Preparation of Paul (Acts Chapters 9 – 12)
After Stephen was martyred, Saul of Tarsus became fiercely involved in the persecution of the new church in Jerusalem. Pretty soon, he was not content with just persecuting the local Christians, and he obtained authority from the Sanhedrin to travel to Damascus to arrest the Christians there and bring them back to Jerusalem for prosecution.
Damascus is the oldest continuously occupied city in the ancient Near East. It is located at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, about 60 miles to the northeast of the Sea of Galilee. It was an oasis on a barren stretch of the Via Maris as it passed from eastern Syria to Galilee. This town was a very strategic site and was the hub of the entire area.
Saul was on his way to Damascus when he was blinded by his confrontation with God. Three days later – through the ministering of Ananias – Paul was formally converted and took up his new role as missionary. After he preached in Damascus, he then spent time in Arabia before going back through Damascus on his way to Jerusalem for the first time since he had been converted.
He went to the Apostles and told them what had happened to him on the road to Damascus. Then saw that he was genuinely converted because of his boldness in speaking in the name of the Lord throughout Jerusalem.
A death plot against Paul forced him to go back to Tarsus, his hometown in Cilicia, where he remained until his call to teach the church at Antioch in Acts 11: 25-26.
Below is a picture of the window in Damascus where Paul was let down out of so that he could escape the city and not be killed.
Antioch was founded in 300 B.C. as the capital of Seleucid Syria. It was the most prominent of all Syrian cities during the Roman period. It was also the third largest city in the Roman Empire, only after Rome and Alexandria. It also served as capital of the Roman province of Syria.
The city was located on the Orontes River about 15 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. It was a center of trade and commerce, with Seleucia serving as its seaport. The church at Antioch had a strong heart for missions and soon became the center for evangelizing the Roman world. Paul’s three missionary journeys began at Antioch, a city where “the disciples were for the first time called Christians” in Acts 11:26.
Below is a picture of Antioch today. It is nestled between Mount Silius and the Orontes River, which can be seen at the very bottom of the picture.