The Christian congregation grows rapidly despite persecution
TEN days after Jesus ascended to heaven, about 120 of his disciples gathered in a house in Jerusalem at the time of the Jewish Festival of Pentecost, 33 C.E. Suddenly, a noise like that of a rushing breeze filled the house. The disciples miraculously began speaking in languages that they did not know. What could explain these strange events? God had given holy spirit to the disciples.
Outside, there was a crowd because visitors had come from many lands for the festival. They were astounded to hear their own languages being spoken fluently by Jesus’ disciples. Explaining what had happened, Peter referred to the prophet Joel’s prophecy that God would “pour out” his spirit, which would impart miraculous gifts to those receiving it. (Joel 2:28, 29) This powerful evidence of holy spirit made it clear that an important change had occurred: God’s favor had shifted from Israel to the newly formed Christian congregation. Those who wanted to serve God acceptably now had to become followers of Christ.
Meanwhile, opposition grew, and enemies threw the disciples into prison. But during the night, Jehovah’s angel opened the prison doors and told the disciples to continue preaching. At daybreak, they did just that. They entered the temple and began to teach the good news about Jesus. Their religious opposers were furious and ordered them to stop preaching. Undaunted, the apostles replied: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:28, 29.
Persecution escalated. Certain Jews accused the disciple Stephen of blasphemy and stoned him to death. A young man—Saul of Tarsus—looked on, approving of the murder. He then went to Damascus to arrest anyone who followed Christ. As Saul traveled on the road, a light from heaven flashed around him and a voice said: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Blinded by the light, Saul asked: “Who are you?” The voice answered: “I am Jesus.”—Acts 9:3-5.
Three days later, Jesus sent a disciple named Ananias to restore Saul’s sight. Saul was baptized and began preaching boldly about Jesus. Saul came to be known as the apostle Paul and became a zealous member of the Christian congregation.
Jesus’ disciples had been declaring the good news of the Kingdom of God to Jews and Samaritans only. An angel now appeared to Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman army officer, telling him to send for the apostle Peter. Accompanied by others, Peter preached to Cornelius and his household. While Peter was speaking, holy spirit came upon those Gentile believers, and the apostle directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus. The way to everlasting life was now open to people of all nations. The congregation was poised to spread the good news far and wide.