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World Chronology, Lesson 25. Founding of the Christian Church (33 AD)

There are three tasks for this lesson:

  1. Study the Lesson.
  2. Complete the Reading Assignment.
  3. Complete the Memory Work.
  4. Complete the lesson Exam.

Lesson

Thus far in World History, we have ascended from the depths of the Fall of Man, to the heights of the Resurrection of the Son of God. This leaves us with a sad reality: our study of world chronology will never get any happier. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ is the most glorious event that will ever take place in human history–until that same Jesus returns at the end of time to judge the world and remove all death, suffering and evil forever. From the day of His resurrection until the day of His return, we must look back to the greatest of men and look forward to His return. St. Peter spoke beaut25ifully of this to the Christians in his day:

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”

It is clear then that we who know Jesus and have believed in Him are all in a state of “waiting”, looking forward to the end of time, when world chronology will itself be history. Nevertheless, since the resurrection of Christ, many extraordinary people have lived and many incredible events have taken place. While we wait for Our Lord, let us enjoy the journey–and make sure that we are doing what He commanded us to do.

The Kingdom of God

During the life of Our Lord, He gathered a team of followers together, who we know as theApostles. Jesus lived with these twelve men and personally taught them. He did so not because He came from Heaven to teach twelve men, but because He planned to teach the entire world. Jesus Christ did not come into the world simply to offer Himself as “the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”, but to become the founder of a new world–the Kingdom of God.

Jesus spent most of His time on earth teaching men about the kingdom that would come, for men had many false thoughts of it. Many believed (and still do believe) that God would remove all of the bad men and women from the world and create a new kingdom for His people, but Jesus said it would not be so. Some believed that all of the followers of Jesus would depart from among the bad men and start a kingdom of their own somewhere else, but Jesus said it would not be so. The kingdom of God was not to begin with a divine war against men or by a move to a new land. The kingdom of God was to be built on love, in peace and prove itself to truly be God’s kingdom by its miraculous victory over the devil and all of his evil followers. Reading the Gospels, you will find many wonderful descriptions of the Kingdom of God given by Our Lord and this is where we truly learn of it.

However, Jesus taught that a king should never enter into battle with an enemy without first making sure his army was strong enough to win. Of course, Jesus took care of this through His own life of obedience, poverty, suffering and death. Our Lord suffered not for His own sake, or because His enemies were very great, but because His kingdom needed strength for battle. This strength would not come through swords or powerful bombs, for His kingdom’s enemy was not the bodies of men or their buildings, but the devil and his angels–spiritual enemies. Therefore, to gain the strength needed for His kingdom, Our Lord had to gain for us the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus explained this as His disciples tried to prevent His suffering while He lived. He said:

“It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you…I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”

Forty days after Jesus rose from among the dead (Easter Sunday) He ascended into heaven (Ascension Day). Ten days after His ascension, he fulfilled His promise and sent the Holy Spirit from heaven to fill, enlighten and empower His Church. This took place on Pentecost, which we celebrate fifty days after Easter. This event–which is one of the most important events in world history–is described by St. Luke, who wrote a history book of his own called, “The Acts of the Apostles”:

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Thus, in 33 AD, the Kingdom of God was established on earth as the Lord Jesus clothed the Church with heavenly power to do His will, while He sat as eternal King and High Priest at the right hand of God in Heaven.

 

Jesus giving the keys to St. Peter, in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy's World Chronology course.
Above: This painting, “The Delivery of the Keys”, was produced by Pietro Perugino around 1480 AD in the Sistene Chapel in Rome–at the request of Pope Sixtus IV. It shows the Lord Jesus Christ appointing St. Peter as the head of the Christian Church on earth.

The Church and its Leaders

The kingdom founded by Jesus was surely a spiritual kingdom that will last forever, but it was made up of living people. The followers of Jesus Christ have been referred to by many different names and images throughout history. They have been called Christ’s sheep and He their shepherd. They have been called His bride and He their husband. They have been called His body and He their head. They have been called His servants and He their Lord. Most commonly, they have been called His Church, which is an English translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means a congregation, gathering or assembly.

The original “Church” was the assembly of Jesus and His twelve disciples. While He was with them, Jesus prepared them to lead the Church after He would have ascended to Heaven. Of the twelve men He chose, Peter, also known as Simon, to be their leader and thereby the leader of the entire Church on earth until his death. Jesus made this official on one occasion when He asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”. The disciples silently thought about this great question, but Peter answered boldly and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Peter’s strong response led Our Lord to make this famous announcement:

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Now, English doesn’t make Our Lord’s message as clear as Greek does–the language used by St. Matthew who recorded these words. We must look at two important lines to understand the importance of what Jesus said.

First, in Greek, the name for Peter is Petros, which means “Rock”. What Jesus said therefore was, “You are ‘the Rock’, and upon this ‘rock’ I will build my Church.”

Second, let us consider the importance of the saying, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” He who holds the keys to a door is the only one who can open or close it. Whatever benefits lie behind that door are held in the power of him who holds the key. When the key holder locks the door, no man can open it until he does so. The man who holds the key determines who is allowed in and who is not. This, then, is a symbol of power and authority. The one who holds the keys, which here are the keys of the kingdom of heaven!–is the man with the greatest authority in that kingdom.

By his own authority, Jesus gives the highest authority among His followers to Peter. He says “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Again, there is more to this passage in the original Greek than we can find in English. In English, the word “you” may signify one person or more than one. English leaves us to question whether Jesus meant, “I will give you (Peter) the keys” or “I will give you (my disciples) the keys”. Thankfully, the Greek language of St. Matthew makes this clear for us. In Greek, Jesus uses the word, “soi” which is a singular form, and not the word “humin” which is the plural form. Therefore, we may know for certain that Jesus gave to Peter authority over the other disciples and over His entire Church. Peter was named Prince of the kingdom of God!

The Church’s Mission

The disciples already knew what this mission was, for when Jesus first called them, He said to them, “I will make you fishers of men.” However, it was after Jesus Christ had risen from among the dead and before He returned to heaven that He spoke to His disciples and explained to them the mission of the Church in the clearest possible terms:

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

When we look at this command, known as “The Great Commission“, we can draw out a few important points:

  • Christ has the right to rule the world.
  • The disciples were to make more disciples.
  • All disciples were to be baptized.
  • All disciples were to obey Christ’s commands.
  • The Church was to spread to all nations.
  • Christ promised to work through the Church until the end of time.

Thus, the Church began in Jerusalem, a group of disciples led by twelve apostles. The world at the time was ruled by Rome, which was called “the Eternal City”, whose emperor was honored as the “king of kings”. In the midst of this Empire, however a new kingdom was established, whose king sat not in Jerusalem or Rome, but in Heaven and who was truly the King of the kings. Jesus Christ called all men in all nations to obedience and threatened disobedience with eternal damnation.

The Church’s Early History

We learn of the early history of the Church from the writings of St. Luke, who played a key part in that history. After Pentecost, St. Peter took charge and preached to the men of Jerusalem. On the Church’s first day of work, over 3,000 new disciples were made–imagine how many baptisms there must have been on that day!

Great miracles were done by the Apostles as the Holy Spirit worked through them as Jesus said He would. Sick and crippled men were healed, dead men were brought back to life, and much more. The Jewish leaders who hated Christ tried to arrest and imprison the Apostles, but angels came from Heaven to set them free. One of the most violent enemies of the Church was a Jewish scholar named Saul. This man supported the killing of the Church’s first martyr St. Stephen. Saul traveled through Israel hunting out the Christians to have them imprisoned and put to death. However, on one of his journeys, Saul was stopped by a blinding vision from heaven–the Lord Jesus Himself!–who asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul, blinded and trembling, asked, “Who are you?”. The answer was one that must have terrified him–“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul was miraculously converted to Christianity at that moment and became one of the Church’s greatest missionaries. Today, we call him St. Paul and he is recognized as an Apostle for his work even though he was not one of the twelve.

While we can imagine the joy and excitement known by the Apostles as the Church grew in numbers, we must also realize that the earthly strength of the Church grew as well. The Church grew in wealth as many of the disciples, wanting nothing more than to support the Church’s mission, sold their lands and possessions and gave the money to the Apostles to use in their ministry. Disciples opened their homes and businesses to the Apostles and allowed them to move freely through many lands.

As the numbers of disciples increased, the need for more leaders and workers grew as well. In each place where disciples were made, a local “church” was established. There were churches in Jerusalem, Rome, Corinth, and many other cities and the letters of the New Testament are addressed to these different churches as local parts of the universal “Church” of all Christians. St. Luke tells us that at one point, the Apostles were taking care of so many poor widows and orphans that they couldn’t get all of the daily work done! The Church then decided to create a new position that would care for the needs of the poor and allow the Apostles to focus on their own responsibilities of praying and teaching. These men were called diaconoi (“servants”), whom we call deacons in English.

As the Church spread through foreign cities and countries, the Apostles chose men out from those cities and ordained them as priests (presbyteroi) and bishops (episcopoi). For example, as St. Paul and his fellow missionaries traveled, St. Luke tells us in Acts 14:

“They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith…They appointed priests for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.”

Thus, by 100 AD, the Church grew to include thousands of disciples in churches throughout the world and had established the offices of Apostles, Bishops, Priests and Deacons. We can also find in the early history of the Church the development of what we know today as the seven sacraments. We obviously can find the sacrament of Baptism in Scripture, along with Confession, the Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick. We also find Confirmation and Matrimony in the Church’s early history, though they are not yet organized very clearly for some time. Remember, Jesus said to His disciples, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” There were many things that could only be understood with experience, as the Church grew and spread through the world. In due time, the fullness of the Faith became more clear and the Church’s teachings and practices were brought to perfection.

The wisdom and power needed by the Apostles was given to them as Christ promised and the Church successfully began to carry out its mission not only in Jerusalem, but also throughout all Israel and in many foreign lands. Looking through the book of Acts, we find the Church reaching to Rome, Corinth, Athens, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Galatia, Ethiopia and many other places. The Apostles faithfully carried out their Lord’s command, and He faithfully kept His promises to them. In Acts 17, the Apostles were described as men who had “turned the world upside down”. Indeed they did.

Summary

In our last lesson, we learned of the blessed life of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. In this lesson, we have studied the foundation of the Christian Church. We learned of the people who made up the Church in its earliest days, led by St. Peter and the Apostles under him, along with the bishops, priests and deacons that were appointed over time. We see that the success of the Church in carrying out the mission given to her by Christ was nothing less than miraculous. In fact, it really was filled with miracles! The power of God ensured the Church’s success and in all that the Church did, God was glorified in all nations through Jesus Christ.

Of course, as the kingdom of God expanded, the Devil was forced to fight back with the lies and violence that his kingdom is built on. In our next lesson, we will study the persecution of the Church by the kings of the earth as it threatened the wealth, power–even worship–they received from their subjects in many places. Be prepared to learn of history’s greatest heroes, whose stories are incredible.

Reading Assignment

Directions:  The story of the early Christian Church is recorded for us by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles.  It is required that you read the book in its entirety for Lesson 25.  The reading should be easy and enjoyable, understanding how wonderful the early Church  was.  Pay attention to the people, places and events in the book and expect to find some simple questions about the book on your lesson exam.  A full study of the Book of Acts will be made in the CLAA’s Biblical Studies course.

  • Read St. Luke’s History of the Acts of the Apostles
    Note:  The Book of Acts is found after the Gospel of John in any Bible.

Memory Work

  • The Ancient World (4000 BC – 750 BC)
  • Ancient Egypt begins (3000 BC)
  • Life of Noah (2950 BC – 2000 BC)
  • Life of Abraham (2000 BC – 1780 BC)
  • Hebrew Exodus (1450 BC – 1410 BC)
  • Trojan War (1200 BC)
  • Life of King David (1000 BC – 960 BC)
  • The Temple of Solomon (circa 960 BC)
  • City of Rome Founded (753 BC)
  • Homer Writes the Illiad & Odyssey (750 BC)
  • The Classical World (750 BC – 500 AD)
  • Assyrian Captivity (722 BC)
  • The Prophet Daniel in Babylon (600 BC – 535 BC)
  • Babylonian Captivity (586 BC)
  • Esdras the Scribe (530-450 BC)
  • The Roman Republic (509-31 BC)
  • Classical Greece (480 – 323 BC)
  • Conquests of Alexander the Great (336 – 323 BC)
  • The Hellenistic World (323 – 146 BC)
  • The Punic Wars (264 – 146 BC)
  • The Life of Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BC)
  • The Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD)
  • The Life of Jesus Christ (5BC – 33 AD)
  • The Christian Church Founded (33 AD)
  •  The Medieval World (500 AD – 1500 AD)
  •  The Modern World (1500 AD – present)

Exam

  • World Chronology, Lesson 25 Exam