By Britt Gillette
Why did the early church grow so fast? What made Christianity spread so far in such a short amount of time? And if we found out, could we use that knowledge to spark a modern day revival?
Over the years, many people have studied the early church with many books written and theories proposed as to what made it so effective. Some of the factors noted over the years include a unified faith, love for one another, love for oneâ€™s enemies, a genuine sense of community, empowerment by the Holy Spirit, worship, fellowship, service, instruction, persecution, a sense of mission, sharing possessions, eating together, praising God, and more. There’s no doubt that these elements all played a substantial role in the church’s ability to grow like wildfire. But alone, do they really explain why early church evangelism was so effective?
I don’t think they do. With the exception of empowerment by the Holy Spirit, countless movements and religious sects throughout the centuries have exhibited some or all of these characteristics. But few, if any, witnessed the rapid and massive growth of Christianity. So if that’s the case, what made early evangelism so powerful and effective?
I think the answer is clear. Early evangelism was so effective because of one particular element found in the scriptures. And it’s an aspect of God’s Word often neglected by contemporary Christians. In fact, not only was this element part of the early church, it was the absolute center of the message it preached to the world. So what was this element of scripture? In case you haven’t figured it out from the title, I’m talking about bible prophecy.
The early disciples constantly used fulfilled bible prophecy when preaching the message of the crucified and resurrected Jesus. In fact, they presented fulfilled bible prophecy as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. Don’t believe me? Go read Chapter 5 of the Book of Acts. It tells us in plain language what message the early church preached. It says that every day, whether in the Temple or while traveling from house to house, the disciples preached this message: “The Messiah you are looking for is Jesus” (Acts 5:42).
Go ahead and read that again. Because some people would have us believe that people want to hear self-help messages. That the primary way to spread the Gospel is to instruct people on what the Bible says they need to do to have a better marriage, better relationships, a prosperous life, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with those messages in and of themselves. But the primary message the early church preached was much different. Over and over and over again, they preached the message: “Jesus is the Messiah.” And that message alone that has the power to change hearts.
Jesus Is The Messiah
Think I’m off base? Go read the Gospel of John. What was Philip’s reaction when he met Jesus? He immediately went to find Nathanael and told him “We’ve found the Messiah – the one Moses and the prophets wrote about. His name is Jesus!” (John 1:45). Again, notice what he said – the one Moses and the prophets wrote about.
As Jews, Philip and Nathanael knew the Messianic prophecies. They expected the arrival of the Messiah, and they expected the Messiah to fulfill all of the Messianic prophecies. The only person to fulfill all the Messianic prophecies is Jesus, and that message has been central to Christianity since its earliest days. The early church consistently presented it as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. Think it’s a mere coincidence that their message had such great impact? I don’t.
The Book of Acts
But don’t take my word for it. The Book of Acts catalogues the explosive growth of the early church, and if you read through it, you’ll see the disciples using fulfilled bible prophecy to make the case for Jesus as the Messiah over and over again.
For instance, on Pentecost, Peter used prophecy to convince the crowd that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied by David (Acts 2:25-36). The result? His words “pierced their hearts” (Acts 2:37) and those who believed in Jesus that day numbered 3,000 (Acts 2:41). This wasn’t an isolated incident. Peter preached that the life of Jesus fulfilled what the prophets had written about the Messiah (Acts 3:18-24). And later, Peter said “Jesus is the one the prophets testified about” (Acts 10:43).
On the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, Philip encountered an Ethiopian eunuch riding in a carriage. The eunuch was reading Isaiah 53:7-8 – a Messianic prophecy – but he didn’t understand what he was reading. Philip offered to interpret the passage, and explained the Good News of Jesus. The result? The eunuch immediately believed and was baptized (Acts 8:26-40).
Paul routinely used the Messianic prophecies to spread the Gospel everywhere he went. The following passage is indicative of the methods he used:
“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, ‘This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah’.” Acts 17:2-3 (NLT)
Notice the phrase, “as was Paul’s custom.” It’s clear that this wasn’t a one-time act. Instead, this was Paul’s typical method for preaching the Gospel. And what was his method? He “used the scriptures to reason with the people,” “explained the prophecies,” and proved that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul used this same method earlier in Antioch of Pisidia. There, he entered a synagogue and preached that the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus “fulfilled the prophets’ words” and “all that the prophecies said about him” (Acts 13:27-31).
When Paul and Silas visited the synagogue in Berea, the Bible tells us that the people there listened to them. They then searched the scriptures day and night to see if what Paul and Silas were telling them was true (Acts 17:10-12). Did you catch that? They searched the scriptures to verify what Paul and Silas were teaching. Why? There’s only one reason. Paul and Silas were teaching that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, that Jesus is the Messiah.
Over and over again, the Bible tells us that Paul “testified that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 18:5). And Paul himself said, “I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen” Acts 26:22 (NLT). And when making the case for Jesus as Messiah, Paul asked King Agrippa, “Do you believe the prophets?” Acts 26:27 (NLT). The Bible then tells us that, using the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets, Paul tried to persuade them about Jesus from the scriptures (Acts 28:23-24).
Other early Christians relied on the Messianic prophecies as well. One such Christian was Apollos. The Bible tells us, “He refuted the Jews with powerful arguments in public debate. Using the Scriptures, he explained to them that Jesus was the Messiah” Acts 18:28 (NLT). Again, other than the Messianic prophecies, what scriptures could he possibly use to explain that Jesus is the Messiah?
Why It Matters
So why does this matter? Because fulfilled bible prophecy is proof that Jesus is the Messiah. This is the central message of Christianity. Without it, everything else is worthless.
If Jesus is not the Messiah, what good is fellowship? If Jesus is not the Messiah, then what good is kindness? What good is worship, sharing, community, or faith?
All of these are fruits of the vine, and the vine is Jesus Christ. If He is not the Messiah the prophets wrote about, if He was not crucified and resurrected, and if He was not sacrificed to pay for our sins, then all hope is lost. Everything else is meaningless.
Fortunately, that’s not the case. He did give His life for us. And bible prophecy testifies that Jesus is the Messiah, a fact that gives life to every aspect of Christian living. And we need to shout it from the rooftops.
If you’re a Christian, let me ask you this… Do you know the Messianic prophecies? If you don’t know them, you need to learn them. As Christians, we’re expected to always be prepared to give an answer for why we put our hope in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). When someone asks the reason for your hope, what will you tell them? When a lost soul asks for “proof” or “evidence” that Jesus is the Messiah, are you prepared to tell them about the Messianic prophecies? About the astronomical odds of any man fulfilling them? That only one man did?
I hope so. Because the Messianic prophecies authenticate the Christian claim that Jesus is the Messiah. After all, I can make any claim. I can claim god is a rock or god reincarnated himself in the body of a newborn child. I can make any number of wild and fantastic claims. But what credibility would those claims have? None. But when I claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, it isn’t an empty claim. Fulfilled bible prophecy proves it. There’s power in God’s Word, and the Messianic prophecies fulfilled in the life of Jesus bring that power to bear on the hearts of the others. I’m convinced that’s why the early church was so successful, and armed with bible prophecy, I believe we can repeat their success in our day and time.