“The proconsul . . . became a believer, for he was astounded at the teaching of Jehovah.”
1-3. Why was it not easy for Jesus’ disciples to preach the good news in “all the nations”?
JESUS CHRIST gave his followers much work to do. He commanded them to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” They needed to preach the “good news of the Kingdom” to people “in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.”
2 The disciples loved Jesus and the good news. But they probably wondered, ‘How can we do what Jesus commanded us?’ First of all, there were only a few of them. Also, they were teaching people that Jesus is God’s Son, but people knew that Jesus had been killed. Further, many people thought that the disciples were “uneducated and ordinary.” (Acts 4:13) The Jewish religious leaders had studied in religious schools, but the disciples had not. And the message they preached did not agree with Jewish traditions that religious leaders had taught for hundreds of years. Since the disciples were not respected in Israel, they may have wondered if anyone in the mighty Roman Empire would listen to them.
3 Jesus had warned his disciples that they would be hated and persecuted and that some of them would be killed. (Luke 21:16, 17) Their friends and families would betray them. Also, some people who would call themselves Christ’s disciples would teach lies. And the disciples would preach in areas filled with crime and violence. (Matthew 24:10-12) So how would they be able to preach “to the most distant part of the earth”? (Acts 1:8) The disciples must have wondered how they could do this work despite all these difficulties.
4. What was the result of the preaching work?
4 Although the disciples knew that the work would not be easy, they obeyed Jesus’ command and preached in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and even in other countries. After about 30 years, they had traveled to so many places that the apostle Paul could say that they had “preached in all creation under heaven.” And people from many different nations became disciples. (Colossians 1:6, 23) For example, when Paul preached on the island of Cyprus, even the Roman ruler, or proconsul, became a disciple because “he was astounded at the teaching of Jehovah.”
Jesus promised that he would be with his disciples and that holy spirit would help them to preach
5. (a) What did Jesus promise his disciples? (b) What does a history book say about the first century?
5 The disciples knew that on their own they could not preach in all the earth. But they also knew that Jesus had promised to be with them and that holy spirit would help them. (Matthew 28:20) Other circumstances at that time may also have helped the disciples. In fact, one history book explains that the first century was probably the best time for Christians to begin preaching and that Christians later felt that God had prepared the way for them.
6. (a) What will we discuss in this article? (b) What will we discuss in the next article?
6 Did Jehovah change world events in the first century so that Christians could do the preaching work? The Bible does not say. But we know that Jehovah wanted his people to preach the good news and that Satan was not able to stop them. In this article, we will discuss some things in the first century that may have made it easier for the disciples to preach. In the next article, we will discuss some things that have helped us in recent times to preach the good news worldwide.
THE ROMAN PEACE
7. What was the Roman Peace, and what made it different from other times?
7 In the first century, a time of peace in the Roman Empire made it easier for the disciples to preach. This period was called the Roman Peace, or Pax Romana in Latin. During that time, the Roman government stopped any small rebellion. It is true that there were some wars, just as Jesus had prophesied there would be. (Matthew 24:6) The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in the year 70, and they fought small battles near the borders of the empire. But there was peace in most of the empire, and the disciples could easily travel and preach. This period of peace lasted about 200 years. One book says that in all human history, there has never been such a long period of peace that affected so many people.
8. How did the Roman Peace help the disciples?
8 About 250 years after Christ, a scholar named Origen wrote about this time of peace. He said that because the Romans ruled over so many countries, it was easier for the disciples to preach in all of them. People were not fighting to defend their own country, but they were living peacefully in their villages. So Origen felt that because of this, many had the opportunity to listen to the disciples preach about love and peace. Although the disciples were persecuted, they used that time of peace in the best way they could and preached the good news everywhere.
TRAVELING BECAME EASIER
9, 10. What were some things that made traveling easier for the disciples?
9 The Romans built over 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles) of roads that connected almost every part of the empire. The soldiers in the powerful Roman army could quickly travel anywhere on these roads to defend their territory and keep control over the people. Christians used these roads to travel through forests, across deserts, and over mountains in order to preach in many places.
The roads that the Romans built made it easier for the disciples to preach in many places
10 In addition to roads, the Romans also traveled by boat. They sailed along rivers and canals or over the sea to hundreds of harbors all over the empire. In fact, the Romans used over 900 sea routes. So Christians too could travel by boat to many places. They did not need legal documents, like passports, to enter different countries. Also, there were few robbers on the roads because they knew that the Romans would punish criminals harshly. And because there were many Roman military ships sailing on the sea routes, travelers were not afraid of being attacked by pirates. Although the Bible says that Paul traveled on boats that were shipwrecked and that he was in danger at sea at other times, it does not say that he was attacked by pirates. So traveling by road and by boat was usually safe.
THE GREEK LANGUAGE
11. Why did the disciples use the Greek language?
11 Many places that were ruled by the Romans had been conquered years before by the Greek ruler Alexander the Great. So people in those places had learned to speak a form of Greek known as Koine Greek. As a result, the disciples could preach to them in that language. And they could even quote to them from the Hebrew Scriptures because these had been translated into Greek. Many people knew about this translation, called the Septuagint, which was translated by the Jews living in Egypt. Bible writers also used Greek to write the rest of the Bible. Greek had a large vocabulary, so it was a good language to explain deep Bible truths. And the Greek language helped the congregations to communicate with one another and be united.
12. (a) What is a codex, and why was it easier to use than a scroll? (b) When did most Christians start using books?
12 What did Christians in the first century use to teach the Bible? First, they used scrolls. But scrolls were not easy to use or carry. Every time Christians wanted to find a scripture, they had to unroll a scroll and later roll it up again. Scrolls usually had writing only on one side. The Gospel of Matthew filled one whole scroll. Then people started using the codex, which was the first kind of book. A reader could open a book and easily turn the pages to find a scripture. Historians say that Christians quickly started using books and that after the year 100, most of them were using books.
13, 14. (a) What protection did Paul have because he was a Roman citizen? (b) How did Christians benefit from Roman law?
13 Christians in the first century benefited from Roman law. For example, Paul was a Roman citizen, and the law often protected him when he traveled. When Roman soldiers arrested Paul in Jerusalem and were about to whip him, he told them that he was a Roman citizen. He reminded the commander that a Roman citizen should not be whipped without a proper trial. So “the men who were about to interrogate him under torture backed away from him; and the military commander became afraid when he realized that [Paul] was a Roman and that he had bound him in chains.”
Christians used Roman law for “defending and legally establishing” their right to preach
14 The fact that Paul was a Roman citizen affected how he was treated in Philippi. (Acts 16:35-40) And when an angry mob wanted to harm some Christians in Ephesus, a government official calmed the mob down and warned the people that they were breaking Roman law. (Acts 19:35-41) Later, when he was in Caesarea, Paul demanded to use his right to appear before the emperor in Rome. There, he defended the good news. (Acts 25:8-12) So Christians used Roman law for “defending and legally establishing” their right to preach.
JEWS LIVED IN MANY COUNTRIES
15. Where did many Jews live in the first century?
15 Something else may have helped Christians in the first century to preach in all the earth. At that time, there were Jews in many countries, not just in Israel. Why? Hundreds of years earlier, the Jews were taken captive to Assyria, and years later, others were taken to Babylon. Later, when the Persians were ruling Babylon, there were Jews living throughout the Persian Empire. (Esther 9:30) By the first century, when Jesus was on earth, there were Jews living throughout the Roman Empire, such as in Egypt and other parts of North Africa, as well as Greece, Asia Minor (Turkey), and Mesopotamia (Iraq). It is thought that of the 60 million people living in the empire, over 4 million of them were Jews. Even though they were scattered in many places, the Jews kept their religion.
16, 17. (a) Because there were Jews in so many countries, how did people who were not Jews benefit? (b) In what ways did the Christians follow the example of the Jews?
16 Because there were Jews in so many countries, many people who were not Jews knew about the Hebrew Scriptures and learned what the Jews believed. For example, they learned that there is only one true God and that those who serve him must obey his laws. They learned that the Hebrew Scriptures were from God and contained many prophecies about the Messiah. (Luke 24:44) So when the Christians preached the good news, both Jews and those who were not Jews already knew about some of the things the Christians were preaching. Paul wanted to find people who would listen to the good news. He often went into synagogues, where Jews worshipped, and used the Scriptures to reason with them.
17 The Jews regularly met together to worship, either in synagogues or outdoors. They sang songs, prayed, and discussed the Scriptures. The Christians followed their example, and today we do the same in our congregations.
JEHOVAH HELPED THEM TO PREACH
18, 19. (a) What did the circumstances in the first century help Christians to do? (b) How does this article make you feel about Jehovah?
18 The first century was a unique time in history. In the Roman Empire, there was peace, many people could speak the same language, and the law protected the people. It was easier to travel, and people in many countries knew about the Jews and the Hebrew Scriptures. All these things helped Christians to continue doing the work that God gave them.
19 About 400 years before Jesus came to earth, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote that it is very difficult for people to get to know the Creator and that it is impossible for them to tell everyone in the world about him. But Jesus said: “The things impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) It is clear that the preaching work has been possible because of Jehovah’s help. He wants “people of all the nations” to hear the good news and get to know him. (Matthew 28:19) The next article will explain how the good news is being preached worldwide today.