In this chapter, we have passed through the mists of time and reached the top of the mountain. From our vantage point we have viewed the early Christian Church throughout the Roman world passing through many trials.
If the devil could have destroyed the church, he would have done so, but praise God those faithful men and women “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Revelation 12:11.
Satan’s anger will increase at the end of this world’s history, and fierce persecution will rise again. The enemy will “make war with the remnant” of the seed of the symbolic ‘woman’, those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
Until that time, we must look to Jesus, the “Author and Finisher of our Faith.” As we hold Him up high, and higher still as we see the day of His return approaching, we will be changed into the same image. Hebrews 12:2. 2 Corinthians 3:18.
Jesus is the precious Pearl; the Pearl of great price.
The men who attended the Feast of Pentecost are said to have come from “every nation under heaven”. Acts 2:5. Obviously this refers to the ‘known world’, as there are nations beyond who did not have representatives.
China was known to exist way beyond the mountains, but it was shrouded in mystery. Probably no one from Israel thought much about China. It was simply where the ‘silk tree’ grew!
Silk was traded along the Silk Road with the nations of Europe, India, Egypt, Arabia and Persia. This road crossed the known world from far in the East to the Mediterranean.
Silk had been produced by the Han Dynasty in Chang’an (now Xian) Western China, from the second century BC until the 14th century AD. It wasn’t until the seventh century that the secret of silk was discovered -- it did not grow on a tree after all!
China has a very long history, way back to only a few hundred years after the tower of Babel.
Ancient Chinese characters were written on bone or shells, and these give evidence that the nation understood the truths of the Bible. They worshipped Shang Ti (or Shang Di) who is believed to be the God of Israel. 3
Eventually the Chinese were overcome by Confucianism and they lost the identity and worship of the true God.
During these early centuries the minds of the general population could not comprehend people living in the realms beyond. As far as ‘civilisation’ was concerned, those over the mountains were simply barbarians.
Of course they were wrong.
However, it is possible some of their ignorance has been passed on to us!
Living our day to day lives, it is easy to not think much about the existence of anyone else on earth. Of course, in the 21st century, it is a little different, but it is not too far back that many of us knew very little about the daily lives of men and women in the remote places of earth.
And if we go back into history, how much do we really know of nations two thousand years ago? What about during the first few centuries after Christ?
Do we understand how far the gospel penetrated? It is possible we are still ignorant.
The historian has said it well. “Behind the mountains of our knowledge, of our civilization, of our activity – behind the mountain, let us also say, of our ignorance, of our prejudice, of our contempt, is to be found nearly a third part of Christianity – one professing the Christian faith…. It is important we remember they are there….
The lights and shades of our foreground which we ourselves occupy… cannot be rightly represented without bearing in mind the enormous, dark, perhaps unintelligible masses which form the background that closes the retrospect of our view.” 4
It was in the East, although not as far as China, that the earliest scenes of the Christian religion took place – Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria. Perhaps we have not thought of these cities as being in the East, but they are where Christianity began. Jerusalem we know of course, but Antioch and Alexandria? In general we do not know very much.
However, while these cities are important, the Church of the East was not a church of cities and villages, but of “mountains, rivers, caves and dens of the earth. These natural forests were their sanctuaries.” 5
Saul “… made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison.” Acts 8:3.
It was a terrible time for God’s people, but they were on fire for Jesus and nothing would stop them. As they were scattered “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria”, they “went everywhere preaching the word.” Acts 8:4.
Philip visited Samaria and preached Christ. “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did… and there was great joy in that city.” Acts 8:6-8. Philip’s mission was a wonderful success.
He was also told by the Spirit to join himself to a chariot ridden by a man of great authority from Ethiopia, Africa. As the apostle ran alongside, he heard him reading from the book of Isaiah.
Philip called out, ‘Understandeth thou what thou readest?’ Acts 8:30.
The man replied, ‘How can I, except some man should guide me? Come into the chariot and sit with me.’ Acts 8:30.
After Philip had explained the passage and identified the Messiah, the man of Ethiopia was baptised.
Philip was whisked away, and the treasurer under Queen Candace continued on his way rejoicing. It is believed Philip later went to North Africa, perhaps Ethiopia. He may have been re-acquainted with this man of authority.
The Bible tells us the apostles also went to Phenice, Antioch, Cyprus, Tarsus, Selucia, Phapos, Perga, Caesaria, Lydda, Joppa, Seleucia, Salamus, Pamphylia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Atalie, Syria, Cilicia, Mysia, Macedonia, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Achaia, Ephesus, Troas, Coos, Rhodes, Patara, Phyonicia, Ptolemais, Galatia, Colossi, Myra, Lycia and Melita.
History has many traditions about the missionary activities of the apostles that are not always accurate, but they are certainly possible.
Bartholemew is believed to have gone to Armenia and India with Thomas.
Most writers agree that Thomas worked in India. One colony of the ancient Nestorians call themselves ‘the Christians of Saint Thomas’. Thomas is also believed to have gone to China, then called the Yellow River. 1
The Chaldean Christians, who were given the name Nestorians by their opponents, trace their descent to the missionary work of Thaddeus, who worked in Syria and Mesopotamia.
Matthew is believed to have gone to Parthia, Persia and Ethiopia.
Traditions of Peter’s activities are abundant. These include Pontus, Galatia, Betania, Asia, Italy, and of course Rome. Some say this is where he was crucified.
Andrew is said to have gone to Asia, Turkey, Greece and further north to what later became Russia.
Paul, as the “apostle to the Gentiles, after founding Syrian Christianity, was called to plant the gospel among the Galatians, in the very heart of the large Celtic branch of the human family. The Celts of Galatia were the same family, and spoke the same language as the Irish, Scotch, British, Welsh and French.” 2
Joseph of Arimathea is traditionally believed to have gone to Great Britain and founded the Christian church in Glastonbury, Wales.
There is no question, Christianity spread far and wide. At one time, the apostles were accused of “turning the world upsidedown.” Acts 17:6.
But what was beyond the mountains?
During the many years of persecution, Christians lived in the mountains, not just the later known Waldensians, Catheri, Hussites, Huguenots, Moravians and others, but early Christians suffered under the Emperors of the Roman Empire.
In the symbolism of Revelation’s seven churches, it was the church of Smyrna that suffered the cruelty of Diocletian. Jesus said to them, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Revelation 2:10. 6
But persecution began long before the fourth century.
Although not every Emperor became persecutor, there were enough through the centuries to make life tenuous. How can we forget Nero’s horrific four-year persecution of Christians in the first century.
There was also Domitian, Trajan and Hadrian. Emperor Marcus Aurelius put Polycarp to death. When he was taken to the arena and the crowd realised it was Polycarp, there was an uproar. The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp, then tried to persuade him to apostatise.
‘Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar.’…
Polycarp replied, ‘Eighty six years have I served him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?' 7
When Emperor Septimus Severus began his persecutions the church was gaining power and making converts. This produced an anti-Christian feeling among the pagans in Rome, Carthage, Alexandria and Corinth. Students at the College in Alexandria were martyred, including Perpetua, a young noble woman of Carthage, who was still nursing her baby.
Under Emperor Decius Christians were actively sought out and required to offer public sacrifice. For this act, they would receive a libelli (certificate) to prove it. A certificate could be gained by bribery, but many Christians refused to do this. Many bishops in Rome, Jerusalem and Antioch were martyred. 8
The bishop of Smyrna chose to purchase a certificate. It became a subject of debate in the churches as to whether those who chose to buy certificates could remain members of the church. Some churches refused these brethren, saying they had dishonoured Christ and were lost.
Emperor Valerian followed the decree of Decius. In AD257 the punishment was exile and all clergy were required to sacrifice. A year later, the punishment was death. Cyprian and Sixthus II were martyred under Valerian.
Cyprian said a person who had purchased a certificate should be rebaptised and admitted into the church. At the time a plague broke out and he began a relief program. Many blamed the plague on Cyprian because of his stand for those who had lapsed. Cyprian was arrested and beheaded. 9
Sixthus was a bishop of Rome who did not believe in rebaptism, but tolerated those who had lapsed. He was forbidden to hold services, but during a secret worship service, soldiers broke in and beheaded him. 10
According to a letter written by Dionysus, the Bishop of Corinth, “… men and women, young and old, maidens and matrons, soldiers and civilians, of every age and race, some by scourging and fire, others by the sword, have conquered in the strife and won their crowns.” 11
When we think of persecution, our minds generally think of the Dark Ages under Papal dominion, but well before the Pope of Rome had power to begin his evil work, others were following the example of Saul and “causing havoc” in the churches.
When the fifth seal is opened and we see men and women “slain for the word of God” do not forget to include the martyrs of the first centuries. They are crying out to have their blood avenged. Revelation 6:9.10.
Ye are My Witnesses
Before Jesus ascended to heaven He said to His disciples, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty men and women received the promised blessing. They hurried from the upper room to where the multitudes were gathered and began to speak of Jesus in other languages.
“And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” Acts 2:7.8.
This was the beginning of the prophesied witness.
On this day, representatives of the world were gathered to celebrate the feast – devout men out of “every nation under heaven.” Acts 2:5. There were Pathians, Medes, Elamites, Cretes, Arabians; men from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene and Rome.
‘They are drunk’, cried one.
Peter stands up and says in a loud voice, “These are not drunken as ye suppose… but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…. I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh… on your sons and your daughters… your young men… your hand-maidens… and they shall prophecy.” Acts 2:14-18.
Peter continues. “God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts 2:36.37.
“Repent and be baptised.” Acts 2:38.
“… and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41.
Christ had sent His Spirit from heaven as a token that He had received all authority in heaven and on earth. This power was now available to all who surrendered their lives to Jesus, that He might be glorified through them before all nations. When these men returned home, they shared the good news of salvation with their families, neighbours, and friends.
A mighty work was done in Judea, Parthia, Media, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia, Asia, Rome, Crete, Cyrene, Libya, Egypt, and Arabia.
The Christians of Judea and Jerusalem remained “stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship…” As a result, “… the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Acts 2:42.47.
“The Word of God increased… and a number of priests were obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:7. “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” Acts 5:14.
At another time Peter preached in the temple area and “many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” Acts 4:4.
It was the same in the rest of the world. The people were stirred, either to believe or reject the message.
Not long after, persecution began in Judea and Samaria.
Nicaea and the World