Paul and the Acts of the Apostles

The Early Church

The Church is a present-day phenomenon that was completely hidden from the Old Testament prophets. The ”400 years of silence” between the Old and New Testaments was foretold in detail by the prophet Daniel. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were foretold in great detail through hundreds of prophecies found in the Old Testament. The sequence of events detailing the end of this world is foretold in detail through the Old Testament prophets. The Church, however, was a mystery to the Old Testament prophets, and was not revealed until Jesus began speaking of it during his earthly ministry.

Influences from the Roman Empire

By God’s design, the Church was born in the midst of one of history’s great and powerful empires—the Roman Empire. With its influence of iron stretching from the Atlantic in the west to Asia in the East, Rome ruled the known world. It was within system that Jesus was born and ministered, and it was by means of Rome’s most cruel of human experiences—crucifixion—that the Lord Jesus would die.

In Church History in Plain Language, author Bruce Shelley begins his book:

CHRISTIANITY is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.

“Dear dying Lamb,” believers sing,

“thy precious Blood

Shall never lose its power,

Till all the ransomed Church of God

Be saved to sin no more.”

Crucifixion was a barbarous death, reserved for agitators, pirates and slaves. Jewish law cursed “everyone who hangs on a tree” and the Roman statesman, Cicero, warned: “Let the very name of the cross be far, not only from the body of a Roman citizen, but even from his thoughts, his eyes, his ears.”[1]

Just as any seedling needs a suitable environment to take root and grow, so Rome provided such a culture for the early church. Rome provided an effective means of transportation for the gospel to spread from Palestine to the outer reaches of the Empire via the Roman Roads; Rome provided a civilization and rule of law that allowed citizens easy access to a multitude of countries and provinces; and, in an ironic twist, Rome provided the persecution under Nero that would cause the Church to explode in growth throughout the empire and ultimately to the ends of the world.

Pentecost

While Jesus spoke of the Church during His ministry, it was at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit fell on the believers gathered in Jerusalem and the Church was born. Men like Peter, who only a short time earlier had denied Christ to a small group of people, now stood in front of large crowds and boldly proclaimed Christ’s death and resurrection. Moreover, Peter proclaimed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (Acts 2:32). During this one sermon 3,000 people were saved when Peter encouraged them to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38).

The Early Christians

The early Christians formed a tight community within Jerusalem. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowshipped together, to the breaking of bread and prayer. There was a sense of awe; and many signs and wonders were performed among them. They had all things in common, and sold their belongings and shared with anyone in need. They exemplified a spirit of unity as they spent time at the temple and from house to house. Moreover, the Lord added to their numbers daily, and the church expanded from Jerusalem throughout Judea. (Acts 2:42-47)

Persecution of the Early Church

While the early Christians lived for the most part in harmony, there was a lot of strife between the Christians and the Jews. Early on, the Church found itself the target of riots and persecution. At first, some of the apostles were arrested and held then released. One day, however, a disciple by the name of Stephen began preaching at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Soon a riot broke out and before it was over, the crowd had stoned Stephen to death. He was the first of many to die because he was a Christian. (Acts 7:54-60) The persecution only intensified from this point forward. A young man named Saul of Tarsus brought down a reign of terror on the Christians as he arrested and hauled off to prison many who claimed the name of Christ. The persecution only caused the church to spread, however, as the Christians fled away from Jerusalem, into Judea, and now into Samaria. (Acts 8:1)

The Spread of the Gospel

While the persecution intensified, so did the spread of the gospel. One of the most incredible examples of the gospel’s influence came when news began to spread that the feared persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus, believed in Jesus Christ. Few accepted the news at first, but a man named Ananias was obedient to the Lord and went to Saul, laid hands on him, and Saul received the Holy Spirit. Saul was baptized and he immediately began to preach the gospel. (Acts 9)

Starting about A.D. 50, Paul (formerly called Saul) was sent on a series of missionary journeys that would carry the gospel throughout Asia Minor and into Europe. The Church started as a small group of people meeting in Jerusalem in A.D. 33-34 and spread throughout Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world, just as Jesus had commended. (Acts 1:8)

Key Individuals Influenced by the Spread of the Gospel.

Who were some of the key individuals influenced by the gospel? The most significant man would be the Apostle Paul. No man (apart from the Lord Jesus) had more influence or contributed more in the form of his instruction and writings to the Church than the Apostle Paul. His life is a picture of transformation, from a man who persecuted and killed Christians to a man Jesus used more than any other to build His church.

Another significant individual to hear the gospel message was a Roman centurion Cornelius who lived in Caesarea. Prior to the conversion of Cornelius to Christianity, the Church was made up of Jewish Christians. Cornelius proved to be the first Gentile to accept Christ. When the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius, the Jewish believers were amazed to see a Gentile filled with the Spirit. (Acts 10)

As the gospel spread outside of Palestine, more and more Gentiles received Christ. One example was a woman named Lydia, who lived in the city of Thyatira. The Lord opened her heart to the truth of the gospel as proclaimed by Paul, and she believed, becoming the first citizen of the European continent to believe in Christ. (Acts 16:14-15)

The Life of the Apostle Paul

I. Background and Conversion (c. A.D. 5-40)

A. Born Saul of Tarsus in c. A.D. 5-9

B. Student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)

C. Roman Citizen

D. Strong Persecutor of the Early Church (Acts 8; Galatians 1:13-14)

E. Was a Pharisee

F. First mentioned as a witness to the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58)

G. Converted to Christianity following direct encounter with Jesus Christ (Acts 9)

II. Early Ministry (c. A.D. 40-48)

A. Damascus

B. Jerusalem

C. Tarsus and Antioch

III. Ministry in Asia Minor, Syria, Macedonia and Achaia (c. A.D. 48-58)

A. First Missionary Journey (Acts 13-14)

B. Saul’s name changed to Paul

C. Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15)

D. Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36-18)

E. Third Missionary Journey (Act 18:23-21:14)

IV. Imprisonment and Death (c. A.D. 59-64)

A. Paul arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 21)

B. Paul before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23)

C. Paul before Felix (Acts 24)

D. Paul before Festus (Acts 25)

E. Paul before Agrippa (Acts 26)

F. Paul travels to Rome; shipwrecked (Acts 27)

G. Paul arrives in Rome (Acts 28)

H. Paul is executed by Nero c. A.D. 64 (tradition)

Paul’s First Missionary Journey

(c. A.D. 48-50)

Origin of the Journey

Antioch, Syria
Missionary Team

Paul, Barnabas, John Mark
The Purpose of the Missionary Journey

Paul’s First Missionary journey marks the turning point in the early church. To this point, the gospel of Jesus Christ was centered in Jerusalem and Palestine. It is in Acts 13 that Paul begins taking the gospel to the Gentile world. Starting in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas travel northward into Asia Minor. Paul follows the same model of ministry in each location: starting first at the synagogue and then preaching to the Gentiles. Along the way, people are saved and churches are planted.

Places Traveled While on the Journey

Antioch, Syria

Seleucia

Salamis

Paphos

Perga

Attalia

Antioch, Pisidia

Iconium

Lystra

Derbe

The Missionary Message

The message of this journey centered on God’s preparation for Christ’s saving ministry through Old Testament times and on Jesus’ death and resurrection (13:16-41). This message met both glad reception (13:48; 14:1, 21) and bitter rejection (13:50; 14:2, 19)[2]
Scriptural Reference

Acts 13:1-14:28
End of the Journey

Antioch, Syria

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

(c. A.D. 50-53)

Origin of the Journey

Antioch, Syria
Missionary Team

Paul, Silas and later joined by Timothy
The Purpose of the Missionary Journey

On His second missionary journey, Paul was accompanied by Silas, and later joined by Timothy at Lystra. When Paul reached Troas, a city on the Aegean sea, he received a vision to go to Macedonia. Paul’s world-changing outreach to the continent of Europe was about to begin. In Athens, Paul preached about the “unknown God.” He stayed in Corinth about a year-and-a-half where he worked at his trade as a tentmaker while preaching every Sabbath. As the gospel was received, churches were planted. Upon his return to Caesarea, he went to Jerusalem to make a report of his work to the other apostles, and then returned to the Hellenistic Christian base at Antioch.
Places Traveled While on the Journey

Antioch, Syria

Tarsus

Derbe

Lystra

Iconium

Antioch, Pisidia

Troas

Samothrace

Neapolis

Philippi

Amphipolis

Apollonia

Thessalonica

Berea

Athens

Corinth

Cenchrea

Ephesus

Caesarea

Jerusalem

Antioch, Syria

The Missionary Message

Paul, Silas, and Timothy took the gospel to towns or cities that included Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth. The message was received warmly by some and coolly by others. In several instances there was extreme hostility. More than once Paul faced physical intimidation and outright violence.[3]

Scriptural Reference

Acts 15:36-18:22
End of the Journey

Antioch, Syria

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

(c. A.D. 53-57)

Origin of the Journey

Anticoh, Syria
Missionary Team

Paul, Silas, Timothy
The Purpose of the Missionary Journey

On his third missionary journey, Paul spent two-and-a-quarter years at Ephesus where he was joined by Apollos. As was his regular custom, Paul began his preaching in the synagogues. Once he had established a discipleship he moved to another meeting place where he could reach Gentiles as well. An enraged crowd in Ephesus, fanned by the silversmiths (who made idols), brought his residence there to a close, encouraging him to leave for Macedonia where he tried to patch up quarrels that had erupted in the Corinthian church. On his way home, Paul stopped at Miletas to bid farewell to the elders of the church at Ephesus.

Places Traveled While on the Journey

Antioch, Syria

Tarsus

Derbe

Lystra

Iconium

Antioch, Pisidia

Ephesus

Neapolis

Philippi

Amphipolis

Apollonia

Thessalonica

Berea

Athens

Corinth

Troas

Assos

Mitylene

Samos

Troggyllium

Miletus

Cos

Rhodes

Patera

Tyre

Ptolemais

Caesarea

Jerusalem


The Missionary Message

In Ephesus, Paul began his longest known continuous ministry in one particular location. Beginning in a synagogue, as was his custom (19:8), Paul preached until opposition forced the disciples to relocate in a lecture hall. Over a span of three years (roughly A.D. 54-57) Paul witnessed miraculous cures (19:11-12), the effect of demonic oppression (19:13-16), and the conversion of many who were formerly involved in occult practices (19:17-20).[4]
Scriptural Reference

Acts 18:23-21:26
End of the Journey

Jerusalem


[1]Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, Tex.: Word Pub., 1995), 3.

[2]Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbough, Encountering the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), p. 240.

[3]Elwell and Yarbrough, p. 242.

[4]Elwell and Yarbrough, p. 243.

    Chris Eller is a Christ Follower, Husband, Father, Pastor, Geek, Writer, Photographer, and Church Technology Consultant.

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