The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,
of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
Until the day in which he was taken up,
after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments
unto the apostles whom he had chosen:
To whom also he shewed himself alive
after his passion by many infallible proofs,
being seen of them forty days,
and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
And, being assembled together with them,
commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem,
but wait for the promise of the Father,
which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
ACTS 1: 1-4
The Synoptic Gospels proclaim the rising of the Christ and his transformation into a ‘spiritual body.’ The birth of the church came after Christ’s ascension at the beginning of the feast of Shavuot or ‘Pentecost’. When the apostles gathered on the day of Pentecost, the house was filled with wind and fire and they started speaking foreign languages. On coming out, the Jews were amazed to see these Galileans speaking the native languages. On proclamation of Christ’s resurrection to the dumbfounded Jews, a substantial number of such Jews converted to Christianity.
The Apostolic Church was exclusively Jewish as in the beginning it did not allow Gentiles to be baptised. Only later Apostle Peter declared that the gospel could be received by the Gentiles too without the additional requirement that they be bound by the Law of Moses. Gospels state that Apostle Peter had a vision in which Christ commanded him to take food of all kind, whether Kosher or not. Peter baptised a Roman centurion, Cornelius, and this was the beginning of Gentiles being baptised into the new faith.
But it was Saul (later known as Paul) who actually popularised the still infant Messianic sect to the large population of Gentiles and pagans. A ‘Hellenized’ Pharisee from Tarsus in Asia Minor, he was at one point inimical towards this very sect. But his transformation from a persecutor to the greatest missionary of Christianity is a game-changing event in the history of Christianity. According to Christian texts he was blinded by a blazing light and his vision was restored by a Christian named Ananias which led to his becoming a missionary of Christ. A tireless preacher, he changed the course of history forever. Bringing into the fold vast numbers of Gentiles led not only to the continuation of this infant sect but also, though gradually, it was successfully seen as a separate sect from the Jews. His equal treatment of Jews and Greeks was an exemplary step. The common participation of the Jews and Gentiles in Abraham’s faith made them inheritors of God’s covenant with Abraham. Their obedience to the Mosaic Code was not compulsory. This theology of Paul led to the tremendous growth of Christianity and the church became a force which transformed the world.
The early Christians used to meet on Sundays, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. They used to sing Psalms, glossolalia, prophecy etc. But this new ‘mystery religion’ had numerous pagan critics. The Roman authorities gradually started looking at them with disdain and suspicion. The protection (legal immunity) which Jews had was no more available to the followers of this new religion which led to the Roman authorities taking brutal steps to control this new found menace.
The followers of Christianity had to compulsorily honour the Gods of the Roman Empire and offer prayers to the Gods for the Empire’s welfare. On refusal death penalty was the sole punishment. This led to the start of the endless pagan persecutions, the first one being the infamous ‘Nero’s purge’. Gradually theses persecutions were aimed at extermination of Christians finally culminating in making ‘professing Christianity’ a capital offence. Christians were hunted down and those who did not denounce their faith were put to death. It continued till the third Century A.D. Emperor Decius even issued an edict requiring every citizen to make a sacrifice at a pagan altar, refusal of which again led to capital punishment. Such anti Christian laws and policies of the Empire continued but surprisingly could not limit the growing popularity of Christianity.