Prison and Persecution: The Gospel Goes On

persecution

When Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, it’s hard to imagine that they knew what challenges waited for them. Very shortly after the ascension of Jesus, the church was persecuted and scattered. Christians were literally meeting in a cave in Antioch of Syria (which ended up becoming the sending church for Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys).

Peter clearly had in mind preaching to Jewish people. But that idea got flipped on its head when God sent him to Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile. When more persecution came, James the brother of John was killed with the sword. This alone would have been a devastating blow to the disciples, because James was one of the “inner circle” during Jesus’ ministry.

As if James’ death wasn’t bad enough, Peter was imprisoned. “He (Herod) killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:2, 3 ESV). We don’t know why Herod kept Peter alive and not James, but clearly Herod was most likely going to put on a show for the Jewish people before killing Peter. Luke records a miraculous escape for Peter, then Peter appears to a group of people praying at Mark’s mother’s house. He told them to “tell these things to James and the brothers,” then he left and went somewhere else.

Peter did not shrink back. Neither did the other disciples. They boldly preached the word of God, because Jesus told them that they would be his witnesses. This is an amazing example of the boldness that we need to have today. The Gospel will go on, but we need to be willing to step up and share it.

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

Christians First in Antioch

Antioch

It can’t be overstated how hostile Paul was to the church. He was a hardcore Pharisee who persecuted Christians. The persecution was so strong in Jerusalem that many fled north to hide out in Antioch of Syria. In fact, the first church that met there met in a cave. The cave where they assembled is still very much in tact today.

God works in powerful ways, and after Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he went to Tarsus. Barnabas visited the church in Antioch and, “when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:23 ESV). Luke records that a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas went looking for Paul in Tarsus to bring him back to Antioch.

Luke records, “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were fist called Christians” (Acts 11:26). It amazing that God sent Paul to teach people at a church that was started because of his persecution! These very people Paul was teaching were the same people who left everything to flee from Paul’s persecution.

The disciples were fist called Christians “Christ-followers” at Antioch. Antioch would quickly become the most important church for spreading the gospel across the Roman Empire, because it was the hub church that sent Paul and his companions out on all the missionary journeys.

Photo courtesy of Volkan Hatem at Wikki Commons.