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EARLY CHURCH HISTORY 101 (Lesson 4)

The Bible records many miraculous historical events. One of the most miraculous, or downright mind-bending if you were there, was the Ascension of the Lord. Some say it defies belief. Believers say He defied gravity.

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INTRODUCTION   LESSON 1   LESSON 2   LESSON 3

LESSON 4

ACTS 1:9-12

9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. [1]

Luke reports the event in an understated matter-of-fact manner. The likelihood is strong that he wasn’t there so he must have received the information from those who were. Since he wrote The Acts of the Apostles about thirty years after the Ascension, it is most probable that many of the firsthand witnesses had already passed on. Nevertheless, I don’t believe Luke would have relied on secondhand information, no matter how credible. Who might have provided their testimony? There was a large group there, not only the eleven apostles. Some of them probably later traveled into the far reaches of the Greco-Roman world. The apostle Paul, whom Luke spent much time with, would certainly have known many who were there that day.

Regarding the Lord’s departure, it must have been hard on everybody. Maybe the thoroughly unique and otherworldly method He chose took some of the edge off. He knew He would still be with them, though in spiritual form. But His disciples likely felt that an unseen floor had dropped away. They spent almost every day of the last few years with Him. He taught them everything they knew. They would miss Him terribly. We have all had such heartfelt goodbye moments, sometimes involving those we would never see again.

As they stood there on the Mount of Olives between Bethany and Jerusalem peering up into the sky at the Lord’s strange private rapture, the disciples were enthralled with an event never possibly experienced before, lost in their goodbyes, and momentarily overcome with loss. How would they manage without Him?

Then the two angels suddenly showed up with more of the matter-of-fact narrative as if the Ascension were a mere ho hum event. “Why are you guys still standing there looking into the sky?” With that statement they announced yet another event, one stranger than the first.

He’s coming back.

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

EARLY CHURCH HISTORY 101 (Lesson 2)

The Gospel of Luke is the only one which sets the scene regarding the Lord’s last morning before ascending to heaven. He adds more detail in the opening of Acts. We now continue with the narrative:

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INTRODUCTION   LESSON 1  

LESSON 2

ACTS 1:4-5

4 Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Many Christians are familiar with the incident in which the Lord appeared to two men on a road west of Jerusalem on the day of His resurrection. That afternoon they were heading to the small village of Emmaus, about seven miles away, when the Lord Jesus approached and began walking with them. Luke is the sole gospel writer to record the full story, though it is also briefly mentioned in Mark 16:12. After an eventful evening the two men quickly returned to Jerusalem and met with the apostles and the others, excitedly telling them what happened. While there the Lord again appeared to all of them and began His final instructions. It was then that we have the only occurrence in the gospels of “the promise” as mentioned above: 

49 “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” [Luke 24:49]

In both books Luke records the Lord’s commandment that His disciples remain in Jerusalem to await the big event. It will happen in a matter of days. Before they can be His witnesses they must receive His power and anointing. He called it an immersion in the Holy Spirit (from the Greek baptizo, meaning “to submerge or overwhelm”). Though the specific terminology “promise/Father” is recorded nowhere else but these two verses to this point, there are several other gospel references. The first time Luke mentions it is in the following when he also pairs the two baptisms:

15 Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, 16 John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” [Luke 3:15-16]   

One of the most profound events referencing the baptism in the Holy Spirit is recorded in the Gospel of John. It is in Jerusalem at the temple on the final day of the feast of Sukkot in the fall of the year. From it we can gain a greater understanding of the significance and timing of the baptism:

37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. [John 7:37-39][1]

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

EARLY CHURCH HISTORY 101 (Lesson 1)

After writing his gospel, “about all the things Jesus began to do and teach,” Luke begins Acts by recalling the morning of the Ascension when the Lord gave final instructions to His chosen apostles.

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INTRODUCTION

LESSON 1

ACTS 1:1-3

1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. [Acts 1:1-2]

Luke refers here to the Gospel which bears His name as the first of a two volume work. Though many accounts of the Lord’s life and teachings had previously existed in various forms and lengths from which to draw, Luke set out to write the definitive gospel. He would attempt to write the story sequentially, “in consecutive order,” fill in any gaps, and put the previous accounts into a workable whole. All agree that he did a masterful job. He would do the same with The Acts of the Apostles, though would also act as his own historical eyewitness on many occasions, which was not the case previously.

The “beloved physician” was a man of culture. As he did in the introduction to his gospel, he refers to an eminent associate named Theophilus, who likely lent his assistance and donated funding for the project. This man, whom Luke refers to in his gospel as the equivalent of “your excellency,” was probably a Gentile believer who held a relatively high office. Acts begins as if a letter to a friend recounting the life of the Lord Jesus until His Ascension into heaven. Luke uses the final instructions of the Lord to His close disciples as a starting point for his second volume, which draws in the reader and sets the tone for an energizing new phase of ministry in which all believers would participate in taking the Gospel to the entire world.

3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. [Acts 1:3] [1]

Luke reiterates the vast body of eyewitnesses who experienced the Lord’s living presence for almost six weeks after His resurrection. The apostle Paul said they were at least five hundred in number. These many accounts give conclusive proof of His resurrection as do manifold thousands of Jews embracing Him as Savior and Messiah. He was not a ghost but fully human and able to perfectly relate and communicate as He had before. God became manifest in flesh and remains so today.

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

EARLY CHURCH HISTORY 101 (Introduction)

 

Today begins a new teaching series entitled Early Church History 101. Each post will be based on passages from our only text book, The Acts of the Apostles. Your interaction and dialogue are encouraged.

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INTRODUCTION

Because this is an introductory course, I hope to post on as near a regular schedule as possible and keep the lessons fairly brief, hopefully interesting, and possibly compelling. I suggest engaging in your own research as you see the need.

Our goal is to become better acquainted with the beliefs, practices, and accomplishments of the Lord’s original Community. It served as a prototype and foundation of the Church Age which began at Pentecost in AD 32 and continues to the present. During this almost two thousand year period, the Lord Jesus never taught any subsequent transition or alteration which would negate or change the beliefs and practices of our early forebears. We in the present must therefore respect and seek to emulate their holy and courageous example as they worked in close cooperation with the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Early Church was sent into an often hostile world with the life-giving Good News in the opening salvos of a spiritual war destined to cover the planet. Their accomplishments were nothing short of miraculous.

The author of The Acts of the Apostles is Luke—Early Church historian, gifted writer, the beloved physician, oft traveling companion of the apostle Paul, and also author of his masterful “first account,” the Gospel of Luke. It is possible that Luke did not originally affix a title to Acts but the title we have is likely correct. However, based on the author’s chosen vocabulary and grammar, he clearly indicates that this historical record is a continuation of the ministry of the Lord, which means it could have been titled The Acts of Jesus. Some have suggested The Acts of the Holy Spirit.

Inserting Apostles in the title, however, serves primarily to indicate the Lord working through His original twelve (minus Judas Iscariot), but certainly was not limited to them. In fact, it was the entire Community through whom He worked, which includes each and every believer, though the apostles were the most spiritually mature at the time. Because they were His initial chosen ones who followed Him throughout His ministry and witnessed the Resurrection, they were the men primarily utilized in the early years. This was especially the case with the apostle Peter, whom the Lord powerfully anointed on that first Day of Pentecost in ancient Jerusalem to set the many authoritative precedents of the Early Church which continue until today.

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.

FELLOWSHIP

         The following is an excerpt from Real Christianity, The Nature of the Church © 2001 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.

 

FELLOWSHIP

         This word is taken from the Greek word koinonia.[1] It general, it means ministry within community. It denotes the active participation of each member in the body. Koinonia stresses body life, the functioning of each person according to the Lord’s will in a specific manner. This is how a person carries out his or her calling and finds personal fulfillment. By ministering to one another, each member can give and receive. Yet, such giving and receiving is not confined to the intangible, but to the material also. True fellowship is possible only within the body of Christ, which is expressed well in the following passage:

         For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

         For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be?

         But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it.

         But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. [1 Cor. 12:12–27]

         This excellent illustration goes a long way in explaining the comparatively curious lifestyle of the early church and why it appears so foreign to much of modern Christianity. Those people were the real deal. Their community life was not burdensome, however, nor was it strained, but quite the contrary. Because the Spirit of God was present and greatly welcomed, life flowed and brotherly love came naturally. And that was the key—since each member took on the nature of Jesus, care and compassion for one another was almost effortless. The community was quick to react to the needs of others. They lived to serve, to help, to build up, and to strengthen. Maturity was gained by helping others, and each matured by receiving help. The more one delves into the genuine love displayed by our forebears of the distant past, the more one should recognize how infantile and disorganized we are in the present.

         Our principles of organization are largely based on human perception and tradition. Many of our practices are never questioned. We simply continue onward with our faces pressed against the invisible barrier apparently constructed to restrict the invasion of heresy, but which actually forces our ignorance and disobedience. True fellowship recognizes the great worth of each person. It expresses a complete understanding of the fact that Jesus is the Owner and Creator of all things, and yields to His dominion. This is why the first Christians held all things in common. They were selfless. Jesus taught them to be always willing to give to one another and the less fortunate. And contrary to “sensible” thinking, they learned that proper giving would not exhaust their supply, but actually cause it to increase.


[1] Koinonia (koy-nohn-’ee-ah): Fellowship, community, joint participation, association.