Have you ever wondered when the Christian church got started? Or maybe more specifically, how long it took to set the church in motion after Jesus Christ ascended to heaven?
Not as long as you might think.
Challenge 4 in the Military Bible Challenge digs into the church first and last – where it started, and where it’s going. The book of Acts, written by Luke, describes the birth and formative years of the Christian Church. The book of Revelation, written by the apostle John, includes a description of the last days of the Church on earth. They each emphasize God’s sovereignty throughout history, and that he has a plan for his people.
Like the apostles, we too will experience the promises and the trials that the early church faced as we too are part of the Christian church today. Yet God, in His sovereignty, has a plan for us as He did for the disciples all those years ago, and we look forward with hope to what God is still going to do.
Final Instructions: The Start of the Church
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1:8 (ESV)
Jesus’ final instructions (Day 1) to His disciples are no small order—testify about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, to all the world. Yet in His love and grace, He began the instructions with the promise of reinforcements, assuring the disciples that the Holy Spirit will rest upon them and guide them in His stead.
With His final instructions given, Jesus ascended into heaven before the disciples’ eyes. Two angels stood by as the apostles saw Jesus disappear into the clouds, reassuring them that Jesus would return.
The disciples now had some choices to make. Obey Jesus’ instructions immediately, put them off for a later time, or disregard the Great Commission completely. They chose to be obedient. After returning to Jerusalem, they met in an upper room along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and prayed as they awaited the Holy Spirit.
The early church was born.
Defector: Saul’s Conversion to Apostle Paul
God in His sovereignty chooses some of the most interesting people to carry out His work— including enemies of the church.
Saul of Tarsus (later to become Paul), was not exactly apostle material. In fact, as a Pharisee (Jewish leader), he devoted his life to hunting down and killing Christians. Yet, God had a plan for Saul as He does for each of us.
On a road in Damascus (Day 7), continuing his mission to hunt down Christians, Saul was stopped abruptly by a brilliant light and a voice calling down from the heavens. It’s none other than Jesus, who asked Saul why he is persecuting Him, followed by instructions He gives to Saul—offering him a second chance.
Saul would become Paul—considered by many to be the greatest apostle in the New Testament. His conversion to Christianity would greatly shape the early church as he led many to Christ. He would also write nearly half (12 of the 27 books) of the New Testament. God always has a plan for His people, even for those that we would least expect.
Passage of Lines
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
John 15:18 (ESV)
Just as Jesus’ ministry faced constant opposition and persecution, His apostles faced the same fate as the early church grew.
During the reign of King Herod (Day 9), many Christians were tortured and killed. Unfortunately, the 12 apostles were not immune to the persecution. James, one of the original disciples of Jesus, was put to death by the sword. Seeing that this act pleased the Jews, Herod also had Peter arrested and imprisoned. Although the Bible doesn’t specifically reveal Herod’s ultimate intentions, it’s assumed that Peter was to be put to death after the Passover in front of the people. Things looked bleak for the church.
Yet all hope was not lost. While chained in prison, Peter still had the love and devotion of the church, whom the Bible says prayed earnestly to God for his sake—and their prayers were answered. In the middle of the night, not long before Herod planned on bringing him out, an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter. His chains fell off his hands and he and the angel passed by all the guards in the prison unnoticed and the gate leading to the city opened on its own. Peter was free.
Arriving at the house of Mary, the mother of John, he showed himself to those gathered there who were praying. They were of course amazed as he shared how the Lord rescued him that evening. Herod on the other hand was not as enthusiastic. Upon discovering Peter was missing, the guards were examined and put to death.
During a speech that Herod delivered to the people of Tyre and Sidon an angel of the Lord struck Herod down and he died after being eaten by worms. The reason? The people listening to Herod exclaimed he had the voice of a god rather than a man. However, he did not rebuke the people for this comparison nor did he give God the glory.
The cost of being a Christian can be great, even to death as James experienced. And yet, God can also choose to save us even from certain death— which allowed Peter to continue to share the Gospel boldly wherever he went.
God’s Will for the Church Be Done
The early church certainly dealt with its share of struggles—from persecution, torture, imprisonment, and death. And yet, God remained sovereign throughout the acts of the apostles and the message of Jesus Christ spread throughout the world.
Go to the History of the Church section of the Military Bible Challenge to read other accounts of the early church—both the struggles and the victories. Throughout each account, the Bible still shows how God took care of His church as He does today.
“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, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)