The Ekklesia expands in all directions
Isaiah 54:1-3 – Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.
The remarkable spread of the good news
There are many noteworthy aspects to the dramatic way that the early ekklesia (church) spread:
- It happened rapidly and spread out from Jerusalem to the surrounding regions, reaching to Rome and beyond within one generation.
- The Biblical sources used had been in place for centuries with New Testament additions arriving well after converts had been made throughout the civilized Western world, many of which were letters written to gatherings of believers (ekklesia).
- Members of the ekklesia were all spiritual converts, not “cultural Christians” who had been raised in the faith.
- Manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of signs and wonders accompanied the proclamation of the Word, as exemplified in the following passage describing some of the immediate “acts of the apostles” about which the Book of Acts was compiled by Luke in about 63 AD (see chart above for outline).
Acts 3:1-13 – Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
The only way to fully appreciate the ongoing dynamic of the dissemination of the new message of the forgiveness and new life to be found in the crucified and resurrected Savior is to read Luke’s account in the Book of Acts. It’s an amazing adventure story that’s filled with specific content about the behavior of the early church, a narrative quite unlike anything a person could imagine or make up on their own and well worth reading over and over again, if just to marvel at its unique social and spiritual dynamic. Click here to review an outlined chronological summary of events covered in Acts along with contemporaneous historical events and a timetable of the authorship of the 27 books of the New Testament (4 Gospel accounts, 21 Epistles (or Letters), plus Acts and Revelation). As thorough as this outline may appear to be, however, nothing can compare with the effect of reading Luke’s account itself.
The following map depicts the apostle Paul’s third and final missionary journey at the close of the Book of Acts. A number of sites where the message of Christ was proclaimed with the successful establishment of a viable ekklesia are marked and labeled. At the close of this journey, he was imprisoned in Rome where the narrative in the Book of Acts ends. He subsequently was released, traveled to Spain, and returned. His last epistle was written to Timothy in Ephesus in 67 AD, just prior to his execution by Emperor Nero. The last passage in Acts, quoted below the map, was in about 62 AC and gives a clear picture of where Paul’s thoughts and ministry were at the time.
Paul in Rome, AD 62
Acts 28:17-31 – After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Rebellion in Judea
The destruction of the Temple in 70 AD
In a brutal response Judea’s rebellion against Rome in 66 AD and in fulfillment of many prophesies, some spoken by Jesus, Jerusalem was overtaken and utterly destroyed in 70 AD by Roman armies under the leadership of Titus, the son of Nero’s successor Vespasian, thus ending centuries of Jewish temple worship.
Fall of Masada in 73 AD
The final calamity of the First Jewish-Roman War was the siege and fall of the Jewish fortress at Masada in 73 AD, a blow considered to be heroic by some and ignominious by others. As described in a History.com article, “After several months of siege without success, the Romans built a tower on the ramp to try and take out the fortress’s wall. When it became clear that the Romans were going to take over Masada, on April 15, 73 AD, on the instructions of Ben Yair, all but two women and five children, who hid in the cisterns and later told their stories, took their own lives rather than live as Roman slaves.”
By continuing to use the Up and Down buttons in the middle you can navigate directly through our timelines. For each timeline we have been taking a detour using the side buttons to investigate events and topics noted in the currently active charts. In this detour we are looking on our side excursions more closely at the remarkable start, expansion, growth and effects of the Ekklesia or Church over the centuries since the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.