Story 12 of 12: THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH
After receiving the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter and the other apostles went out to spread the good news. They performed miracles in Christ's name, baptized households, and formed churches. They were persecuted by the Romans and Jews who had not accepted Jesus. Stephen was the first martyr, stoned to death for his “blasphemous” faith.
One of those persecuting them happened to be both a Pharisee and a Roman citizen named Saul. But when the risen Christ appeared to him, he was renamed Paul and became the great apostle to the Gentiles, embarking on three journeys to the newly found churches, writing them letters of instruction in their new Christian faith!
Meanwhile Peter and the other apostles met in Jerusalem to discuss early church matters such as appointing successors and whether new converts had to observe the old Jewish Law as part of becoming Christians. When Paul checked in with Peter and the other apostles to have his mission to the Gentiles approved, he made sure that Peter did not impose Judaism on new converts!
Paul's main message was that just as all of us, Jewish or not, are under the dominion of sin, so are all of us now freed by putting our trust in Christ. Recalling that the Jews of the old covenant were instructed by God to sacrifice animals as atonement for their sins (since no one could keep the law perfectly), now it was understood that this was only in preparation for the ultimate sacrifice of God’s own Son, whose death on the cross atoned for all of our sins. From now on anyone the believers in Jesus would be saved, adopted as God's own children. This salvation from sin was a free grace to be accepted in faith, not earned by the works of the Law. Paul knew that the idea of a suffering Messiah would be a stumbling block for Jews and Gentiles. He found himself persecuted and beaten, but was glad to endure this suffering to build on what Christ had started - the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, made of all believers in Christ, a "communion of saints" praying for one another in his name.
Other apostles wrote letters as well. James clarified that faith is made complete by good works, for without works faith is dead; Peter warned against some of the false gospels that were floating around; and John gave two easy criteria for detecting such false teachings: (1) if they deny Jesus to be the Son of God in the flesh and (2) if they claim to love God while hating their neighbor.
The famous closing letter describes a series of apocalyptic visions of the end times, in which Jesus shows John the apostle a future time of great tribulation, a battle between God’s armies and the followers of a beast. This beast would fight the children of a woman whose child the beast wanted to devour, but couldn't get to in time. This would then be followed by the final judgment, a Day of the Lord when God would call his Bride, a new Israel, to join him forever in a heavenly Jerusalem, where every tear would be wiped away. And "Until that day," Jesus told John, “Let the sinner keep sinning and the upright keep being upright. I am coming soon.”
Mary, Peter, and the other apostles receive the Holy Spirit, and the Church is born.
Peter went out proclaiming to the house of Israel that it was this Jesus whom was crucified who was the long awaited Messiah ("annointed one"). If only, as Paul states so passionately, the Jewish people could see that the peace Christ brings is nothing less than the reconciliation between God and man after what was lost since the Fall at the beginning of our story.
The fact that the prophesies of peace on earth have not been fulfilled led to the belief in a second coming, when Jesus would return. So while Jews wait for a Messiah, Christians wait for his return.
Being "all things to all people", Paul also presented Jesus to the Gentiles as the fulfillment of their search for the "Unknown God" that Greek philosophy came to find more believable than their pantheon of gods.
What do we all have in common, Jewish or Gentile?
Why was belief in Jesus a stumbling block to Jews and Gentiles?