Dr. John Hartmann

Proclaiming the Whole Counsel of God

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Persecution furthers the Gospel Mission

September 4th, 2011 · No Comments

The persecution that began with the death of Stephen marks a major turning point in the narrative of the Book of Acts, as the Gospel now spreads beyond Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria, and ultimately to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Those scattered go into new regions preaching the Gospel of salvation in Jesus. This sets up the next five parts of the narrative in Acts, as follows:

  1. Philip the Evangelist brings the gospel to Samaria and the cities of western Judea along the Mediterranean coast (Acts 8:5-40). After this, Philip settles in Caesarea, a port city on the Mediterranean coast, and the seat of Roman government for the whole region of Judea. Though he disappears from Luke’s narrative almost as quickly as he appears, Philip re-emerges about 25 years later (21:5-10), still living in Caesarea, the father of four daughters who possess the gift of prophecy. He now is designated “Philip the Evangelist”, which suggests that he had carried on a great work of evangelism in the cities of Judea, with Caesarea as his base, throughout the years 32-57 AD.
  2. The Conversion and Early Ministry of Paul in Damascus, Jerusalem, Syria and Cilicia (Acts 9:1-31). Paul’s conversion was due to a dramatic vision of the risen Lord that he received on the road leading to Damascus. His first three years of ministry were in Damascus, from which he finally was forced to flee because of a plot of the Jews against his life. He then came to Jerusalem, where he met Barnabas, Peter, and James the Lord’s brother, and also engaged in debate with Hellenistic Jews in those synagogues where Stephen used to minister. Paul again was forced to flee because of a plot of the Jews against his life, and, after visiting in Caesarea, was finally sent off to Tarsus in the province of Cilicia. Paul then disappears from the narrative for about the next eight or nine years, until Barnabas seeks him out and brings him to Antioch (11:19-26; date about 45 AD). During this time he ministered throughout the regions of Syria and Cilicia (Galatians 1:21). With his conversion (32 AD) the church ceases to be persecuted and enjoys rest, though only for a season (Acts 9:31).
  3. The ministry of Peter at the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, which opens a door of faith to the Gentiles that will be fully sanctioned by the leadership of the Jerusalem church (9:32-11:18).
  4. The Jew-Gentile church in Antioch Syria, where God does a great work, and from which emerges the Gentile mission led by the apostle Paul, and the controversy about whether believing Gentiles must be circumcised and bear the yoke of the Law of Moses in order to be saved (11:19-26)
  5. The relationship between Antioch and Jerusalem, and the persecution instigated by Herod Agrippa, which results in a leadership shift in the Jerusalem church (from Peter to James the Just, the Lord’s brother), and the ongoing triumph of the Word of God (11:27-12:25).

This study sets up a further analysis of the narrative of Acts in the weeks to come, as we seek to understand the nature of the early Christian gospel mission, and, in particular, the ministry of the apostle Paul to the Gentiles. Today we covered parts 1-3, and will pick up on this again in the weeks to come.

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