43 The Early Christian Church
by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com, December 2013
But this spake he of the
Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy
Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified. John
Jesus won the crucial covenant victory at Calvary. Satan
lost all further credibility with the angelic host in heaven.
Furthermore, sin, sinners, and Satan and his evil angels were to be
destroyed. If this is true, why then did Jesus not return immediately to
earth and fulfill the promise of restoration, beginning His reign of
righteousness in an earth made new?
One must remember that God
can save sinners for eternity only by love and persuasion. God must
demonstrate that grace alone is sufficient to save. Under the outpouring
of the Holy Spirit, the early church made an excellent beginning. The
church was glorious in its first love. After the outpouring of the Holy
Spirit on Pentecost, three thousand souls joined the church on that one
day, and then “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be
(Acts 2:47). This was the beginning of the Christian church. It
would quickly showcase the people’s love and the Holy Spirit’s grace and
power as the church spread throughout the Roman Empire. This was the
period when the power of Christ crucified and risen again appealed to
many.The Covenant Confirmed
Jesus’ willing sacrifice on
the cross was the foremost victory for Christ in the great controversy
between Christ and Satan. If Christ won that victory, then why has He
not come before now? Why has there been such a long delay?
easy for humans to think this way. We are impatient. We want to see
suffering brought to an end. Yet, one must consider the circumstances as
God sees them-
The Gospel to the World
Is the church ready? Are the people ready for
Jesus to come? God is patient and is willing to wait that more people
might be saved (2 Peter 3:9; cf. Gen. 15:16).2.
Satan showed his
cruelty, deception, and murderous design at Calvary. The power of grace
to change people’s lives was yet to be shown (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Peter 1:22,
As the early church fell into division and heresies, the
church was “in the wilderness” for 1260 years. God is now working to
truth and power within the church before Jesus returns.
In the far-reaching plans of God, He must be shown to the entire
human race and to angels as who He is: righteous, merciful, and just and
true in all His dealings (Ps. 85:9, 10; Rom. 3:4; 14:11; Rev. 15:3).
At Calvary, the plan of salvation,
initially believed in prolepsis (in anticipation), was now a fact. Jesus
confirmed the pardon for sins anticipated in the animal sacrifices and
justified human beings by His true and effective sacrifice. He fulfills
His promise of salvation in the covenant (Heb. 9:15). Jesus’ ministry
was in Palestine, a relatively small country. The gospel of pardon and
salvation must be taken into all the world.
While on earth, Jesus
laid plans to build His church. He trained twelve men as His disciples.
They knew what Jesus taught and became like Him in attitude and zeal.
They formed the core of the new church. Jesus had definite requirements
for His followers, and He took the time to teach these to His disciples.
At Sinai, God gave to Israel the Ten Commandments as a guide to make
of them a holy nation. Animal sacrifices illustrated forgiveness through
the coming Messiah. People knew the ten-commandment law before Jesus
came to this earth. Now He taught that every person must, by God’s
grace, love God and love his or her neighbor, obeying God’s commandments
from the heart. Only thus could a person please God and become part of
“an holy nation.” Simply put, Jesus’ requirements are: Take up your
cross daily and follow Me.
To follow Jesus required commitment.
He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take
up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23 adds “daily”). To
follow Jesus means-
Suffering, Persecution, Even Death
• trusting Him, having faith in Him,
following His example, and keeping close to Him
• giving up one’s
personal plans and doing the will of God1
• being willing to take
on an unpopular cause and face hostility, opposition, and even death
• accepting poverty like Jesus, who had “not where to lay
• Moses gave us an example, “choosing rather to suffer
affliction with the people
of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin
for a season” (Heb. 11:25). Christians today must still follow in the
footsteps of Jesus, who “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb.
12:2) so He could do God’s will. It was a call to join the army of God
and accept His discipline.
Even as Jesus faced persecution and opposition, those who followed
Him would face the same.3 This is a planet in rebellion. The war that
began in heaven continues on this earth. The devil, “as a roaring lion,
walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Even John the
Baptist, cousin and forerunner of Jesus, suffered persecution,
imprisonment, and death. The fellowship of suffering is a gift.
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the
fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.
Jesus knew that the church faced long years of
opposition, persecution, and death. Why would an all-powerful God permit
His people to suffer and die? Here, are some thoughts:
1. We live
in a world temporarily ruled by Satan.
2. Sin-depraved human
nature, and even the righteous acts that humans do, are, too often, for selfish
3. The fires of affliction can reveal the true beauty in
It required courage to be a Christian in the
first century. It still requires courage. Knowing there would be
hardships, Jesus’ promised His presence, “Lo, I am with you alway, even
unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20).Lay Up Treasure in
A person must deny self to follow Jesus. He said to the
rich young ruler to “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor,
and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matt.
19:21). To follow Jesus means to put Him above all material
considerations. Jesus asks that we commit even our goals and purposes to
Him, “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he
hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
While a man must be
attentive to and support his family, he must not let his family come
between himself and Jesus (Luke 14:26). If a man loves God first, he
will love his family more. A man’s example of faithfulness to God, even
under opposition, will be a help to his family, too.New Birth,
New Creature, New Nature
When Nicodemus came at night, “Jesus
answered and said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the
kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Paul also said, “If any man be in Christ, he
is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). To be a Christian means living an
entirely new life. Following this change, there must be growth in grace.
Peter wrote, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious
promises: that, by these, ye might be partakers of the divine nature” (2
Peter 1:4). To live as a Christian is not a passive experience.
To keep the Ten Commandments, we must love God and love our neighbor as
ourselves.4 Keeping the commandments reveals the love of God in our
heart (John 14:15; John 15:10). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass
from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18). Love and freedom can
exist only within the boundaries of God’s law. Laws guide every aspect
of biological life on the planet. Why should we think that human
behavior should be any different?What Is Love?
arises from the deep emotions of the heart. It is the positive,
attractive aspect of the emotions. Rightly understood, love is the
underlying focus of all righteous Christian actions. Godly Christian
love is a primary motive. Those possessing such love will love the
unlovely. They will take in the unpleasant, ungrateful, and the wicked.
They will even take in their enemies. True Christian love is not a soft
sentimentality, for it may require applying discipline or a firm
response. Love always requires doing what is best for all involved at
The Old Testament teaches love, though the New
Testament emphasizes love even more. This is probably because the
increased emphasis was needed to unite people through love in a society
that was divided into many disparate groups. Because of this increased
emphasis, some have placed love in opposition to law, discipline,
obedience, doctrine, and “works” of all types. They frequently ask: Does
love not accept everyone? Does it not care for everyone? Does it not
help everyone to be happy? Does it not avoid offending anyone?
answer to these questions is “yes, yes, yes, yes” and “no, no, no, no.”
We accept all people for who they are, but we do not accept the sins
that they may still commit. We care for the needy whenever we can, but
we also expect the needy to work and help themselves wherever they can.
We want everyone to be happy and joyful in the Lord, yet we must mourn
for the sins they commit. A Christian will never purposely offend
anyone, but he may need to help a brother see his wrongdoing to save his
Jesus taught that love must support the keeping of His
commandments”--If ye love me, keep my
commandments” (John 14:15). Love is
central to Christianity, and it must be strong. The faith and love of
the early church led believers to face persecution and death, preach the
Word everywhere, and sell all that they had to help support and
establish the church. Does God expect less of us today?
Presence Through the Spirit
The requirements of Jesus listed
above are all done through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sent the
Holy Spirit, and the church “went forth conquering, and to conquer”
(Rev. 6:2). Within a generation, the church had spread throughout the
Roman Empire. Less known is the spread of the gospel to India, central
Asia, and even to China and Japan through the Church of the East.5
The fundamental promise of the everlasting covenant is: “I will be
to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb. 8:10). Before
Jesus ascended, He met with the disciples in Galilee. There He gave them
the Great Commission to spread the gospel to the world and concluded
with the promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the
world” (Matt. 28:20). This was a covenant promise; God’s people would
yet become a “kingdom of priests.”
In His promise to be with His
church “unto the end of the world,” Jesus made a personal commitment. He
ascended to heaven in the human nature that He will retain for
Because of this, He cannot be in all places at one time.
However, the Holy Spirit, who does not have the limitations of humanity,
now represents Jesus over all the earth. The power of grace, the direct
influence on human hearts, comes through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit
converts the heart and helps a person partake of the divine nature.7
Why is the Holy Spirit needed? There were many things that Jesus did
not tell the disciples, and they needed further instruction through the
Holy Spirit. Even after three and one half years, they still did not
fully understand His mission. Some of the things the disciples could not
• The disciples could not believe what Jesus
plainly told them about His being rejected, suffering, and dying.
• They did not understand that the Jewish nation would be rejected
as the chosen people of God.
• They did not know that the
restoration of the throne of David was a future event (and would ask
about it just before the Ascension, Acts 1:6).
• It was difficult
for some to put the sacrifices and ceremonies aside as no longer needed.
• They did not see the gospel going to the Gentiles.
were all things that were needed for the salvation of humankind. The
Holy Spirit was more than a subjective, emotional experience. The gifts
of the Spirit are varied and practical (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11-13). The
Holy Spirit came as a teacher, to bring the disciples into the full
light of truth (see John 14:26; 16:1-16).
The apostles needed time to
integrate the teachings of Jesus into their thinking and to understand
and believe all that He taught,
testing them by experience and making
them a part of their lives. The Holy Spirit guided them in this process.
Believers from a Jewish background needed to recognize that Jesus
fulfilled the purpose of the sanctuary services and that the believer’s
faith was to be in Him, not in ceremony and ritual.Endnotes
Christ is our example. Thus, Jesus’ disciples must be willing to
follow Him (Matt. 4:19; 9:9; 16:24; John 13:15; Phil. 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21;
1 John 2:6) and accept poverty as He did (Matt. 19:21; 8:20). They were
to be holy because He is holy (1 Peter 1:15, 16), not living according
to the flesh (1 Peter 4:1). The prophets are also a worthy example
Jesus says: “Follow Me” (Matt. 4:19, 21, 22;
8:22; 9:9; 16:24; 19:21; Mark 2:14; 8:34; 10:21; Luke 5:10, 11, 27, 28;
9:23, 59; 18:22; John 1:43; 10:27; 12:26; 21:19).3.
should expect opposition and persecution (Matt. 5:10, 11; 10:18; Mark
13:9; Acts 5:41; 9:15, 16; Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 4:9; 2 Cor.1:7; Phil. 1:29;
3:10; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Peter 3:14; 4:13).4.
are fulfilled through love to others (Matt. 5:44; Luke 10:27; John
13:34; 2 John 1:5).5.
The gospel spread to eastern nations
through the Church of the East, headquartered in Antioch of Syria (B. G.
Wilkinson, Truth Triumphant [Ringgold, GA, TEACH Services, Inc., 2005],
pp. 21-26, 34-44, 331-364). See also http://en.wikipedia.
Jesus will have the marks of the
crucifixion throughout eternity (Hab. 3:4, NIV; Zech. 13:6). When Jesus
comes again, He will have the glorified humanity that the redeemed will
enjoy (1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2).7.
See John 14-16
for more on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.