The Church of God began with what is often called the “Apostolic Era,” and this period lasted until about AD 98. This was the first phase of the “Ephesian Era.” Christ inspired the apostle John to describe this era in Revelation 2:1-3: “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; these things says he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them which are evil: and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars: and have borne, and have patience, and for My name’s sake have labored, and have not fainted.”
The Beginning of the Church—The Apostolic Era
Some background: The story of the Church of God began on the day of Pentecost, AD 31. When talking for the final time to His disciples, just prior to His ascension, Christ described the significance of that event in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Then, Acts 2:1 reads, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” God then sent His Holy Spirit to 120 disciples, which was witnessed by many thousands gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. So moving were the events and so convicting was Peter’s sermon that 3,000 were baptized into the Church on that day. The number soon increased to 5,000 (Acts 4:4).
The apostles performed wonders and signs from the outset. Many devout Jews were converted in the beginning months. The Church enjoyed unity of doctrine and fellowship. Its only opposition at this early stage were threats from the religious establishment. Feeling themselves threatened by such powerful miracles and wonders by the apostles, certain officials called Peter and John before their council and asked by what power they had done a miracle of healing a lame man (Acts 4:7). With great boldness, Peter told them that the miracle was done in the name of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified and God had raised up. The council then called for a private conference, in which they acknowledged among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For that indeed a notable miracle has been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it” (vs. 16).
In this instance, the apostles were only threatened before being released.
Upon being reunited with the brethren, they gave account of the threats against them. The Bible records that the brethren then prayed in one accord and with great fervor. Verses 29-30 continue: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto Your servants, that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching forth Your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of Your holy child Jesus.” After their prayer, “the place was shaken,” that is, the ground trembled with an earthquake. “…and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (vs. 31).
The record is that God was with the early Church in tremendous—and miraculous—power.
Later, the apostles were imprisoned. Through another extraordinary miracle, an angel opened the prison door and directed them to continue to speak and teach in the temple. This carried over into the next day and the religious leaders sent the authorities to detain them again. But these men had to be careful to treat the apostles with respect because “they [the authorities] feared the people, lest they should have been stoned” (Acts 5:26). The majority of Jews in Jerusalem, though not converted, stood in awe of the apostles, again because of the many miraculous healings that they performed.
Respite, Then Persecution
The advice of Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the law, gave the apostles some precious additional time to continue preaching the gospel in Jerusalem: “…Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it; lest haply you be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
As the apostles were released, this time they were threatened and beaten. Yet, they departed “…rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His [Christ’s] name” (Acts 5:41). Such was the zeal of this first era.
After the arrest and martyrdom of Stephen, the first intense persecution arose against the Church at Jerusalem. Except for the apostles, the brethren fled to various regions of Judea and Samaria. But this scattering resulted in the spreading of the gospel beyond the regions that had been covered at that time. Things were beginning to develop. Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, was called and converted, and prepared for his special commission. He was miraculously transformed from a vicious persecutor of the Church into a special instrument that God would use mightily.
Within the first few years of the Church’s development, God had revealed to the apostle Peter that the door was opened for Gentiles to be called, and he personally baptized the first Gentile converts. (This was the Italian Cornelius of Acts 10, with his family.) This occurred as Paul was being specially trained, during a three-year period, by the resurrected Christ in Arabia (Gal. 1:15-18).
In AD 42, the apostle James, John’s brother, was killed by Herod, and Peter was miraculously delivered from prison by an angel. And the momentum of the Church was strong in spite of dangers of persecution. The posture of the Church at this point is best summarized by this brief description in Acts 12:24: “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”
By AD 45, Paul and Barnabas had begun their first journey to preach in Cyprus and southern Asia Minor. This yielded great success with terrible hardships, such as Paul’s stoning at Lystra. Quite possibly, he was raised from death in this incident. So bold and determined was Paul, that he returned to Lystra, as well as the other cities, to reassure the new converts and prospectives. Acts 14:22 explains that he was “…confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
The council at the Headquarters Church in Jerusalem, in AD 49, is related in Acts 15. Verse 6 shows the apostles and elders gathered to consider the matter of circumcision. Peter led the council in their discussion and the decision was pronounced by James, Christ’s brother, and accepted by all present as the judgment bound on Earth and in heaven. The Church was still in unity, despite serious clarifications that would yet have to be made. It is significant that this council was the last time all or most of the apostles came together. The rest of the book of Acts describes Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.
Before addressing where the twelve apostles went, some observations must be made concerning the work among the Greeks. These were the people that Christ selected to preserve the New Testament Scriptures through the turbulent decades and centuries that lay ahead. Here are some of the reasons. Unlike the Jews, the Greeks were not under persecution. They were in a position to remain in their own homeland indefinitely, as they have done for millennia.
Though the Greeks, as a nation, were not converted, they had the intent and capability of preserving and protecting the New Testament. The Greek people treasured these manuscripts partly because this was akin to a heritage. Of course, even the briefest overview reveals that many scriptures addressed Greek converts—in Greek territory. The Greeks were to preserve, and meticulously copy, these manuscripts through the centuries. God’s Church was to be under constant persecution and would be in no position to do this. The Greek nation was safe and secure and the best candidate for the task. But, preserving the New Testament was assigned to the Greek peoples rather than the Greek converts in the Church (Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course [ACBCC], les. 49, p. 7).
The Commission to the Original Apostles
We now focus on the twelve apostles’ ministries. Notice what Christ instructed them in Matthew 10:5-6: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
And again in Matthew 15:24: “But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then Jesus made this promise to the twelve disciples in Matthew 19:28: “You which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Now notice this greeting in James 1:1: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.”
The original apostles were sent to the lost tribes of Israel after initially working in the area around Jerusalem and in Judea during the formative years of the early Church. The remainder of the book of Acts only relates the accounts of Paul and his mission to the Greek and Roman areas. Shortly after James, John’s brother, was martyred, the apostles went to the lost tribes of Israel—their primary mission. And these pioneering servants spent most of the remainder of their lives in these areas.
James, Christ’s younger brother, also functioned as an apostle. We do know that a number of other men were later ordained apostles, with one likely filling the position that James (John’s brother, who was martyred) had held. We will encounter various reliable secular sources that name a number of other loyal servants who later went on to hold the office of apostle. Later in this chapter, a summary chart will address this subject.
Before considering the areas to which the lost tribes of Israel were dispersed, it is helpful to view the twelve apostles’ commission in a broader perspective. The book of Acts, along with the other manuscripts that were canonized into scripture, dealt primarily with the eastern Mediterranean area, extending from Judea, in the east, to Rome in the west, with the Greek world near the geographical center.
Most people have the misconception that this particular area comprised most, if not all, of the converted peoples of the first century Church. In view of the fact that, from the early AD 40s, the apostles departed to the lost tribes of Israel, an observation can be made. Over the next thirty years, about ten times the manpower of top leadership was devoted to these lost tribes, compared to the eastern Mediterranean. It is reasonable to project that no more than 20 percent or 30 percent of the first century Church were in these “traditional areas.” That leaves 70 to 80 percent from the areas of the lost tribes. Any account of history omitting this commission of the apostles is therefore terribly incomplete.
An obvious question at this point would be: If this is true, then why has it not been made known? The answer is anchored to the issue of why Israel’s identity was lost in the first place. It was God’s intended purpose to keep the identity of the lost tribes hidden through the ages. To document in Scripture exactly where certain apostles went, would have compromised this purpose.
Notice this from page 2 of Herman Hoeh’s 1964 article, “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”: “Luke was not permitted by Christ to include in Acts the final journeys of Paul’s life. It would have revealed the whereabouts of the children of Israel! It was not then God’s time to make that known. But the moment has now come, in this climactic ‘time of the end,’ to pull back the shroud of history and reveal where the twelve apostles went.”
(To better understand the “time of the end,” carefully read our booklets Are These the Last Days? and Revelation Explained at Last!)
Where the Lost Tribes Were Located
When Israel was first taken into captivity, they were relocated into the areas in and around Assyria and Media. Their domain came to include Parthia, Scythia and Armenia. Within a few centuries, many had already begun to migrate toward the northwest. At the time of the apostles, there were still many Israelites living in the original areas where their captors had placed them.
In fact, as the greetings in James’ letter acknowledged the twelve tribes scattered abroad, another reference addresses some of these Israelites, specifying their locations. I Peter 1:1 says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” All of these areas were non-Greek, and were located in northern (upper) Asia Minor. The greater area of Galatia, mentioned above, was in the north of Asia Minor.
The Greeks of southern Galatia were those whom Paul had previously ministered to. Paul had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit from entering Mysia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). This would have been an area heavily inhabited by Israelites, because their numbers were significant around the coastal areas of the Black Sea in Upper Asia Minor. But they were in a mode of transition toward the northwest. Hence, Peter addressed these Israelites in Upper Asia Minor as sojourners—or “strangers”—among the Gentiles. Paul’s commission at that time was to go to the Gentiles. But Peter and the other eleven were commissioned to go to the lost tribes. As coordinator, Peter traveled to many more areas where the Israelites were located than did any of the other apostles.
Regarding the areas of ancient Parthia to Armenia, notice this observation by the Jewish historian, Josephus: “…but then the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country [the ten tribes having never returned to their native Israel]; wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans [Judah and Benjamin], while the ten tribes are beyond [the] Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers” (Antiquities of the Jews, book XI, chap. V, sec. 2).
Although Josephus was well aware of the very large number of Israelites living from Parthia to Armenia, he would not have necessarily been aware that some of them had already migrated to the northwest.
The chart “Where the Twelve Apostles Went” lists most of the apostles, with the locations of their ministry. The sources (which are not exhaustive) are listed on the right, with the order of listing according to locations—east to west.
Besides these eight men, there were three other apostles’ ministries, whose locations were only preserved through tradition. (Remember, James, John’s brother, was martyred in AD 42 before the others were sent to the tribes of Israel, leaving only eleven original apostles.) When specific documentation is lacking, there always remains a reasonable doubt. However, the destinations of these men were to remain concealed to the world. Perhaps some did a better job of retaining their anonymity with the outside world than did others. One of these apostles, not specifically documented, was John. He reappears after having been absent from the eastern Mediterranean from about the AD 40s until the AD 90s, having spent this last period on the island of Patmos, recording the book of Revelation.
According to French tradition, Mary, Christ’s mother, lived the rest of her life in Gaul (France). John had been assigned the responsibility to provide for her (John 19:26-27) after Jesus’ death (ACBCC, les. 49, p. 10). It is likely John spent the intervening decades in France, since many Israelites lived there.
The other two apostles linked to a particular area only by tradition were Jude (also named Libbaeus Thaddaeus) and Matthias, added to replace Judas. Jude was claimed to be in Parthia, while Matthias was to have been in Dacia (modern Romania). The source for this information and the chart is “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”, Hoeh, pp. 3-7.
Apostles in Britain
Now examine some amazing statements that all have to do with the commission of the apostles. We begin with several from The Incredible History of God’s True Church, by Ivor Fletcher, chapters 4 and 5, pertaining to the first century Church in Britain. The first statement mentions two of the original apostles, plus Paul, and two loyal servants who were also later ordained apostles. Sources below indicate that Aristobulus was already in that office by the time he arrived at his assignment in Britain. This most likely could have also been the case with Joseph of Arimathea. A number of sources give strong indication of his eminent position of authority and Paul’s responsibility in this region and elsewhere.
Consider the following: “The true Christian Religion was planted here [Britain] most anciently by Joseph of Arimathea, Simon Zelotes, Aristobulus, by St. Peter, and St. Paul, as may be proved by Dorotheus, Theodoretus and Sophronius [highly acclaimed historians of that period]” (Remains of Britain, William Camden, 1674, p. 5). In this particular quote, the names of these servants were apparently arranged in the chronological order of their service in Britain.
There are many (often long) accounts documenting the works of Joseph of Arimathea in Britain. Only two shorter quotes are given here. Cressy, in his Church History of Brittany, writes: “‘Joseph was buried near the little wattle church he built [at Glastonbury].’ The lid of the sarcophagus said to have contained his remains bore the simple inscription: ‘To the Britons I came after I buried the Christ. I taught, I have entered my rest.’”
The next quote, by Bishop Godwin, in his Catalogue of Bishops, is an ideal summary quote about the story of Joseph: “‘The testimonies of Joseph of Arimathea’s coming here are so many, so clear, and so pregnant, as an indifferent man cannot but discern there is something in it.’”
The following source helps to establish the time frame of the early Church in Britain in which Joseph of Arimathea played so vital a role: “It is the opinion generally received among our later writers, as one of them tells the world, ‘That the conversion of the British nation to the Christian faith was performed towards the latter end of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,’ i.e. about thirty seven years after Christ’s nativity” (Antiquities of the British Churches, by Stillingfleet, p. 1).
The date referenced here would have been late AD 34—the beginning of the gospel to Britain! Fletcher observed that the above information had proved to be quite an embarrassment to the Roman Catholic Church, since Paul’s arrival in Rome was not until about twenty years later.
Here are two quotes on another first century servant of Christ in Britain. In his Church History of Brittany, Cressy writes, “St. Aristobulus [Romans 16:10], a disciple of…St. Paul in Rome, was sent as an Apostle to the Britons, and was the first Bishop in Britain, he died in Glastonbury, A.D. 99.”
The Church in the Far East
Most do not realize that the apostles even spread the truth to the Far East. Eusebius recorded that the apostle Thomas was sent to Parthia (Ecclesiastical History, bk.3, ch.1). As the apostles were dispatched to the lost tribes of Israel in about AD 42, they initially ministered to the tribes of Israel and afterward to the indigenous peoples of these regions who were also coming into the Church. It was recorded that Thomas was martyred in AD 72, after being in the Far East for about 30 years. During that time, he brought the true gospel not only to the region of Parthia, but to other locations as well.
Even before the arrival of Thomas, the Far East had already been represented by various Jews and other Israelites from Parthia and nearby Media on the Day of Pentecost AD 31, when the New Testament Church was first established (Acts 2:8-9). Although the gospel was first brought to these eastern peoples during the Ephesian era, the Church in those areas was not persecuted later during the Smyrna and Pergamos eras in the same way that had occurred in the Western regions, where the Roman Catholic system was strong. However, being in Satan’s world, persecution was inevitable and emerged from other sources. By the late 1500s, late in the Thyatiran era, the tentacles of the Roman System did bring persecution to the Far East. The following was primarily obtained from Truth Triumphant by B.G. Wilkinson (ch.19-22).
An important factor that helped in the spreading of the truth to the Far East was the Aramaic language. Aramaic and Greek were well-established languages in Judea and Syria. Josephus, the famous Jewish author in the days of the apostles, wrote his works first in Aramaic and later in Greek. This was because of the large Aramaic reading constituency in the East, including the Parthian Empire.
At this point, it is helpful to understand that the true Church in the eastern regions was sometimes referred to as the Syrian Church in order to distinguish it from the Roman Church of the west. The true Church’s doctrinal stance was correctly associated with Lucian’s position [described in a later inset] of Antioch, Syria, and labeled accordingly. Sometimes the term “Nestorian” was also used to identify the eastern true Church. Nestorius was a scholar of Syria who opposed the trinity, and the true Church in opposition to the trinity was thus labeled “Nestorian.” Another term often used was the “Church of the East,” although this included a larger set of believers beyond the true Church.
The book Early Spread of Christianity by Mingana reveals that the apostle Thomas’ travels and efforts in India were well established. Notice: “It is the constant tradition in the Eastern Church that the apostle Thomas evangelized India, and there is no historian, no poet, no breviary, no liturgy, no writer of any kind who, having the opportunity of speaking of Thomas, does not associate his name with India.”
In his work Christianity in China, Tartary, and Tibet, the author L’Abbe Huc presented some other interesting points: “The circumstances of St. Thomas having preached at all in India has been frequently called into question by writers deserving of attention; but we find it supported by so much evidence, that it seems difficult for an unprejudiced mind to refuse credit to a fact guaranteed by such excellent historical authorities. All the Greek, Latin, and Syriac monuments proclaim that St. Thomas was the apostle of the Indies [India] who carried the torch of faith into the remote regions where he suffered martyrdom. Some writers have affirmed that he prosecuted his apostolic labors as far even as China…”
In A History of the Holy Eastern Church by Neale, it states, “There is a constant tradition of the church that the gospel was first preached in India by the apostle St. Thomas…he arrived in Cranganor…where the most powerful among the princes who ruled in Malabar then resided. Having here wrought many miracles, and established a church, he journeyed southward to city of Coulan. Here his labors were attended with equal success and after traversing the peninsula he arrived at Meliapour, a town more close to the more celebrated city of Madras. Sailing from this port he preached Christianity in China…”
Briefly consider some additional interesting points, compiled from a variety of sources, providing links with the travels of the apostle Thomas and elements of the true Church having existed in China.
(1) The period of the imperial Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) was the most brilliant and prosperous of all the Chinese dynasties. In 1625, a remarkable stone was unearthed near the city of Changan that dated from the Tang Dynasty. This famous monumental stone provided evidence of the impact of true Christianity in China. Many who have written about this stone call it the Nestorian stone—relating this link to a larger set of believers, which included the true Church. The stone monument explicitly recognizes the head of the Church in the East, and names the patriarchs of the church located in Baghdad and in Persia. The Chinese called Christianity the “luminous religion,” a term that appeared in the stone. This stone is said to rank in importance with the Rosetta stone of Egypt or the Behistun inscription in Persia in its confirmation of recorded Chinese history.
(2) It is believed that the teachings of the Old Testament came to China by way of India, which had been evangelized by Thomas. One statement by an Ante-Nicene theologian and scholar, Arnobius, in about AD 300, was that China was one of the Oriental peoples among whom the Church was established (Against the Heathen, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6, p. 438).
(3) Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire states, “The Christianity of China, between the seventh and the thirteenth century, is invincibly proved by the consent of Chinese, Arabian, Syriac, and Latin evidence” (ch. 47, note 118).
(4) About 1284, two young Chinese scholars, Marcos and Sauma, made a historic journey by caravan across Asia to Persia (headquarters of the Church of the East at that time) and from there on to view Jerusalem. Their journey occurred about the same time as the famous travels to the Orient by Marco Polo, headed in the opposite direction (Truth Triumphant, B.G. Wilkinson, ch. 22).
(5) Marco Polo, of Venice, Italy, made his famous travels to the Orient from 1271 to 1295. As a devout Catholic, here are some of his observations, colored by his Catholic interpretation of the world:
“Mosul is a large province inhabited by various descriptions of people, one class of whom pays reverence to Mohammad, and are called Arabians. The others profess the Christian faith, but not according to the canons of the church, which they depart from in many instances, and are denominated Nestorians, Jacobites, and Armenians. They have a patriarch whom they call Jacolite, and by him archbishops, bishops, and abbots are consecrated and sent to all parts of India, Baghdad, and Cathay [China], just as the pope of Rome does in Latin countries” (The Travels of Marco Polo, Komroff, p. 29).
The information we have about the Church in China is very sketchy. But we do know that the truth was taught there and a significant number of converts had to exist as a result. Certainly, the true converts, as always, were vastly outnumbered by many sympathizers who appreciated the results of applying these right principles.
The reader is left to ponder these astonishing facts of true Church history!
Then, elaborating on the work of Aristobulus, the Greek Martyrologies inform us that “Aristobulus was one of the seventy disciples, and a follower of St. Paul the Apostle, along with whom he preached the Gospel to the whole world, and ministered to him. He was chosen by St. Paul to be the missionary bishop to the land of Britain, inhabited by a very warlike and fierce race. By them he was often scourged, and repeatedly dragged as a criminal through their towns, yet he converted many of them to Christianity. He was there martyred, after he had built churches and ordained deacons and priests [bishops or elders] for the island.”
Another dedicated servant of the early Church in Britain was Elvanus [also known as Elfan in Welch sources]. This brief quote summarizes his service: “Bale saith that Elvanus Avalonius was a disciple to those who were the disciples of the Apostles, and that he preached the Gospel in Britain with good success...” (Antiquities of the British Churches, Stillingfleet).
As mentioned, Peter, as chief coordinator, was required to travel to areas where the Israelites were located. The following quotes help to establish more documentation of Peter’s work, as well as that of other apostles. These next four quotes, with their original sources, are from “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”, Hoeh, pp. 4-6: “…Peter was…a long time in Britain where he converted many nations to the faith” (Antiquitates Apostolicae, Cave, p. 45).
Those converted to the faith in the British Isles were undoubtedly of the diverse tribes of Israel in and around that location. Continuing with Dr. Hoeh’s next statement, this one taken from page 137 of Cave’s book: “Andrew ‘went next to Trapezus, a maritime city on the Euxine [Black] Sea, whence after many other places he came to Nice, where he stayed two years, preaching and working miracles with great success…He next came to Sinope, a city situated upon the same sea…here he met with his brother Peter, with whom he stayed a considerable time…Departing hence, he went again to Amynsus and then…he proposed to return to Jerusalem.’”
Hoeh’s next source is Eusebius, who mentioned that the apostles “passed over to those which are called the British Isles.” He continued, “Some of the Apostles preached the Gospel in the British Isles” (Evangelical Demonstrations, book 3, ch. 7).
Here is the commission given to Paul before he was converted. It was actually given as Christ spoke to Ananias in a vision in Acts 9:15: “But the Lord said unto him, Go your way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:” Paul taught the Gentiles in Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. He appeared before kings and rulers before and during his two-year confinement at Rome. Paul’s window of opportunity to teach the Israelites was between his release in Rome in AD 61 and his arrest in AD 68. When he traveled to Spain, there were other destinations on his agenda.
Besides William Camden’s famous quote above, which placed Paul with other apostles in Britain, there are more accounts to consider. Theodoret, another of the Greek Church historians, writes the following: “That St. Paul brought salvation to the isles that lie in the ocean” (book I, on Psalm CXVI, p. 870). This was another common term for the British Isles.
The following four quotes from A True History of the True Religion, by Dugger and Dodd, chapter 20, help to illustrate the preponderance of sources attesting to the true gospel reaching the British Isles. The last three mention Paul.
“Chrysostom, A. D. 398, mentions ‘The Britannic Isles’ as having felt the power of the Word, and says, ‘To whatever quarter you turn—to the Indians or Moors or Britons, even to the remotest bounds of the West, you will find this doctrine.’
“Clement of Rome, A. D. 96, says, ‘St. Paul preached in the East and West, leaving behind him an illustrious record of his faith, having taught the world righteousness, and having traveled even to the utmost bounds of the West.’
“Jerome, A. D. 392, says, ‘St. Paul, having been in Spain, went from one ocean to another.’ ‘His diligence in preaching extended as far as the earth itself.’ ‘After his imprisonment he preached in the western parts.’
“Venantius Fortunatus, A. D. 560, says, ‘St. Paul passed over the ocean to the Island of Britain, and to Thule, the extremity of the earth’ (See page 23, History of Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, Vol. I).” (The reference to “Thule” could have meant Greenland and/or Iceland.)
Much has been seen of the evangelization of Britain by various apostles and the abundant success they had achieved there. Most of what we know regarding the evangelization of other areas occupied by the lost tribes of Israel comes from works like Cave’s Antiquitates Apostolicae. Here is another account of the apostles’ successful ministries in these other regions. It serves as a case-in-point, representative of the work in other areas. From ACBCC, Lesson 49, p. 10 we read: “About 112 A.D., Pliny the Younger, governor [or prosecuting attorney] of Bithynia, wrote to Roman Emperor Trajan that the temples of the old gods were almost forsaken and that Christians were everywhere a multitude!” Andrew and Philip were assigned to evangelize the tribes of Israel in Bithynia.
In a related context from the source cited directly above, p. 11 reads, “When the gospel first reached each new region, there were those God had prepared to receive it. Church growth was spectacular. Soon, however, the first rush was over. Real conversions now came much more slowly, as the number of Christians in relation to the population of each region tended to reach its ‘saturation point.’ And now, side by side with success and growth, came increasing persecution.” This was an insightful observation. It must have repeatedly been the case, as the gospel was taken to the scattered regions where the lost tribes of Israel were located.
John Replaces Peter
After Peter’s death, John was eventually directed to return to the eastern Mediterranean area to oversee the Church. We now focus on certain events that occurred in the 90s about the time he wrote his three general epistles.
One account relates that the Roman Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) summoned John to Rome. He asked him about the tradition that Christ was to reign as king and would abolish all other governments. Although Domitian had certainly heard of the account of the execution and resurrection of Christ, he was investigating what appeared to be some type of seditious movement. John was questioned as to how and when Christ planned to establish His future reign.
Here is John’s reply: “You shall also reign for many years given you by God, and after you very many others; and when the times of things upon the earth have been fulfilled, out of heaven shall come a King, eternal, true, Judge of the living and the dead, to whom every nation and tribe shall conform, through whom every earthly power and dominion shall be brought to nothing, and every mouth speaking great things shall be shut” (“Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian,” pp. 560-562, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts and Donaldson).
Shortly after this event, Domitian banished John to the Isle of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea. Here he received the Revelation and the command to record it. One reason Christ allowed John to be imprisoned there may have been to give him enough time for his task. Isolated, he would be in a position to concentrate, undistracted to receive the visions and to meticulously record all the details of this great prophecy.
Upon his release, John resided in Ephesus for the remainder of his life. He is the only apostle known to have died of old age. According to tradition the Romans attempted to have him executed by immersion in boiling oil, but God miraculously preserved his life. This supposedly occurred before he was banished to Patmos and is recorded in the writings of Tertullian, whose contributions will be discussed in the next chapter.
While at Ephesus (now the Headquarters of the Ephesian Era), John was assisted by Philip and Polycarp (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 774). This Philip, now an apostle, had been a deacon and later an evangelist. He is often confused with the original apostle Philip, who had been martyred in AD 54. At this late stage of John’s life, much of his focus was upon the training of Polycarp, who would be leading the Church at the outset of the Smyrna Era.
The Apostolic Era Ends
SUMMARY CHART OF KNOWN FIRST CENTURY APOSTLES
John’s death, in about AD 100, ended the apostolic era and what constituted most of what is considered the Ephesian Era. We have covered some of the details of where the apostles served and aspects of their work. Polycarp introduces the Smyrna Era, but we need to backtrack and summarize certain events of the Ephesian Era, and consider their implications.
For continuity, we have focused on the apostles in a general way, and concluded without interspersing other events. We will consider some of those other events in the next section. But first, this summary chart of the first century apostles is of interest. The secular references in the chart below do not carry the same authority as Scripture, but do lend much credence.
Lazarus and others may have been appointed to apostle, but little is recorded of their later lives. Lazarus, whom Christ brought back to life, labored in southern France starting in about AD 35 (according to Cardinal Baronius and others), as Joseph of Arimathea had returned to Britain.
Persecutions and Upheaval
It is important to observe certain trends and events during the growth of the first century Church. Since it was considered to be just another Jewish sect, its growth went unnoticed by the Roman authorities. The early Church certainly appeared to be Jewish to the Romans. It kept the Sabbath and the Holy Days and abided by many of the same Scriptures as the Jews. Although Roman law forbade the establishment of any new religion, by the time they recognized it as different from Judaism, it was too late. The roots of true Christianity had become firmly established.
(The source documentation in the balance of this chapter are: (1) ACBCC, Lesson 49; (2) Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [One vol. abridgement unless otherwise noted], Edward Gibbon, ch. 15; (3) AC Church History Lecture series, 1987, lecture 5 by K. Stump.)
First-century Jewish historian, famous for his works Antiquities of the Jews and War of the Jews; captain in the Jewish army; captured by the Romans; compiled his historical works as a prisoner of war.
Chapters 25 to 28 of Acts relate Paul’s imprisonment in Rome as a result of trumped-up charges by fellow Jews in Jerusalem. Upon realizing that justice would be denied him, and after waiting two years in Caesarea, Paul appealed his case to Rome, exercising his rights of Roman citizenship. Upon arriving in Rome after the perilous Mediterranean voyage, Paul was placed under house arrest to await trial in about AD 59. He was released two years later, since no formal charges were filed against him at that time. This brings us to when he traveled to Spain to bring the gospel to the Gentiles (as well as some Israelites who had settled along the sea routes). Not only did Paul make at least one trip to Britain, he also taught in various other western regions as previously noted in earlier quotes.
Meanwhile, in AD 64, a great fire in Rome, which raged for six days, destroyed ten of the city’s fourteen precincts. Thousands of citizens were killed. Many historians conclude that the Emperor Nero was responsible for it, and Roman authorities suspected Nero’s guilt. But shrewd politicians, looking for someone to blame, found the perfect scapegoat in the Christians. Some had noted that they had spoken of the world being destroyed by fire. The Christians considered this fire as punishment from God upon the wicked and expected the imminent return of Christ. (Remember, they did not have the benefit of the book of Revelation at that time.) They understandably refrained from helping to extinguish the flames. Their actions placed them as prime suspects for those seeking a scapegoat. (Nero by Weigall and Annals by Tacitus.)
English historian and scholar who wrote the multi-volume work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; perhaps the most often quoted historian in regard to the true Church.
This event led to the first governmental persecution against the true Church of God. Some of the brethren were martyred by lingering torture, while others were devoured by wild beasts in the arena. The new Church at Rome—about three or four years old—was virtually destroyed. Granted, those in the Roman congregation had received the mighty witness of Paul and others to help strengthen them against the times ahead. Perhaps some were more spiritually prepared for this time of brutal persecution. Yet, they had precious little time to ready themselves for such upheaval. Most likely, some were able to escape from Rome. We will later observe true Christians, hundreds of years later, claiming those original brethren in Italy as their predecessors. It is certain that those who died in the faith, without recanting, were triumphant—as were those that were able to successfully escape this persecution.
Although some of the apostles were brought before the emperor for trial and execution after this time, only scattered remnants of the Roman congregation existed. The reason for Paul’s return to Rome in AD 68 could well have been to confirm and encourage the surviving remnants of the congregation. The later persecutions brought against “Christians” at Rome, over the next two and a half centuries, were primarily aimed at the counterfeit church. The true Church had been scattered and driven from Rome by the time of Emperor Domitian (ACBCC, lesson 49, p. 12).
As mentioned, Paul was arrested and brought to trial in Rome. The Roman authorities found him guilty of crimes against the state and sentenced him to death. A similar fate befell Peter that same year. Though the loss of these two dynamic leaders was devastating, Christ was overseeing His Church. He allowed for this period of initial growth, though it was destined to decline. These called out ones now had to be tested through long periods of resisting false teachers and suffering persecution—often to the bitter end!
The renewed anti-Christian sentiment and resulting persecution were considered by many at the time to be the result of the Jewish rebellion in AD 66. The main cause of their rebellion was not their unpredictable fanaticism, as claimed by the Romans. The scandalous, unscrupulous Roman procurators in Judea perpetrated and encouraged outrageous provocations against the Jews. Their action of plundering the temple and looting the priests’ ornamental garments, along with other sacred treasures, proved to surpass the breaking point, and the inevitable revolt had begun (Wars of the Jews, Josephus, book II, chapters XIV-XVI). Remember! The Romans considered Christians to be nothing more than a Jewish sect, and took revenge against them and the Jews.
The City of Ephesus
In Judea, in AD 66, the Roman army, under General Cestius, came in sight of the walls of Jerusalem and could have easily taken the city at that time. For some unknown reason, Cestius stopped his momentum and turned back. Then the Jews took heart. Cestius had lost his chance. The Roman army later regained their momentum under General Vespasian. Their advance was suddenly halted, however, as Vespasian raced to Rome to successfully contend for the emperorship. Upon his departure, his son, Titus, assumed command.
These two delays were not random events. God’s headquarters Church was still in Jerusalem. Of course, it was only a matter of time before Rome’s mighty armies would inevitably defeat Jerusalem. Christ, who oversees His Church, was guiding and altering events to allow His people space to vacate Jerusalem before the city was taken (ACBCC, les. 49, p. 11).
Josephus gave a detailed account of various miraculous signs that occurred at the time of Pentecost of AD 69. He related that many had witnessed, shortly before Pentecost, what seemed to be formations in the clouds around Jerusalem that took the form of troops and chariots surrounding cities. “Moreover,” recorded Josephus, “at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner court of the temple...they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a multitude, saying, ‘LET US REMOVE HENCE’” (Wars of the Jews, book VI, ch. V, sec. 3).
God’s people did remove themselves from Jerusalem and Judea at that time. But without God’s intervention, they would have never been able to leave, since their fellow countrymen would have considered them as traitors for abandoning their own people during this crucial time. They had to exit in full view of many Jewish fighters, before crossing the Jordan River. Then they had to contend with Roman soldiers who were patrolling the regions east of the Jordan, as their legions were methodically advancing from the east. The new exiles proceeded, with God’s protection, northeast to the little town of Pella. Within days, after God’s people had escaped from Jerusalem, the Romans pushed into Judea and shortly set up the siege. After slightly over a year of much horrible suffering and starvation, the city fell to the Romans. The temple was destroyed.
The Final Stages of Ephesus
The Pella congregation still called itself the Jerusalem Church. A period of declining zeal seemed to characterize the Church at this stage. The Nazarenes, as they were now called by the world, were at a low ebb, partly due to the disappointment of their great expectations for the imminent return of Christ, after the escape from Jerusalem surrounded by armies.
This period of AD 70s marked the time when the organized preaching of the gospel was virtually halted. Certainly, most of the ministries in distant areas among the lost tribes of Israel still had momentum—from Britain to Parthia and beyond. But now, the organization and sense of unified mission that came from Headquarters was missing. Persecution and upheaval in Judea, in particular, crippled the momentum of the Church. By this time, many of the original apostles had been martyred, as were Paul and others.
But Christ was still guiding His Church. He would continue to infuse life into it and to prevent it from dying. After the death of James, Christ’s brother, in AD 62, Simon son of Cleopas (Luke 24:18; John 19:25) replaced him at the Headquarters Church at Jerusalem. He led the Church during the flight to Pella and continued to lead it for another 38 years. Here was a truly incredible individual who was already nine years old at the time of the physical birth of Christ. This man was a long-time disciple and also a relative of Christ who had personally known all of the original apostles. After a long life of faithful service, Simon was crucified at the age of 120 years in the year AD 107 (Ecc. Hist., bk. 3, ch. 32).
Many Leaders—Then Infiltration
After Simon’s death, thirteen Jewish leaders presided over the Jerusalem-Pella Church in rapid succession. In AD 135, the Jews were defeated in their second revolt since the Church’s inception. After putting down this rebellion, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, renaming it Aelia Capitolina, and forbidding Jews to enter the city.
At this point, the Jerusalem-Pella congregation came under the control of an Italian “Christian” by the name of Marcus. Under his dominant persuasion, the majority of the congregation renounced the Law of Moses—including the Ten Commandments. This defection gained them admittance to Jerusalem by the Roman authorities. Here is what Edward Gibbon wrote about the few who refused to follow Marcus:
“…the crimes of heresy and schism were imputed to the obscure remnant of the Nazarenes which refused to accompany their Latin bishop…In a few years after the return of the church of Jerusalem, it became a matter of doubt and controversy whether a man who sincerely acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, but who still continued to observe the law of Moses, could possibly hope for salvation…[the followers of Marcus] excluded their Judaising brethren from…the common offices of friendship, hospitality, and social life” (The Decline and Fall, Gibbon, ch. 15, p. 149). (Emphasis: Italics here and in all remaining quoted references is ours.)
The majority of the Church, who were so willing to give up the truth they once embraced, proceeded to shun and condemn those who held fast to what they had all formerly believed. Those “Nazarenes” who chose to remain loyal to the teaching of the apostles were accused of being divisive—deemed guilty of creating “schisms.” We will see that this pattern reappears much later, near the book’s conclusion.
“Nazarenes” came to be a contemptuous label given by the world to true Christians, especially in Judea. This term later came to include all who still acknowledged and kept the precepts of the Law of Moses—meaning the Law of God, including the Ten Commandments and Holy Days.
As early as about AD 57, the Jews had accused Paul before Felix (the Governor in Caesarea), calling him a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). The name “Nazarenes” is derived from Nazareth, where Christ had lived, and simply meant “Christian.” For keeping the Law of God, the Nazarenes were looked upon with wonder by the world:
“Nazarenes, an obscure Jewish-Christian sect…they dated their settlement in Pella from the time of the flight of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, immediately before the siege in A.D. 70; he characterizes them as neither more nor less than Jews pure and simple, but adds that they recognized the new covenant as well as the old, and believed in the resurrection, and in the one God and His Son Jesus Christ…born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rose again, but adds that, ‘desiring to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other.’ They used the Aramaic recension of the Gospel according to Matthew, which they called the Gospel to the Hebrews, but, while adhering as far as possible to the Mosaic economy as regarded…sabbaths, foods and the like, they did not refuse to recognize…Paul or the rights of heathen [Gentile] Christians” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Ed, Vol. 19, p. 319).
Now read Revelation 2:4-5. Concerning the latter part of the Ephesus Era, it states: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love. Remember therefore from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent.”
At this point, we bring the review of the Ephesus Era to a close. The era that opened with so much power and zeal declined toward the end—by about AD 100. The further the Church was removed in time from the influence of the original apostles, the more it drifted into apostasy. Part of the reason was the counterfeit movement that was gathering steam throughout the Ephesus and Smyrna Eras of the Church. The main reason was the loss of the first love, as stated in Revelation 2. Since the Ephesus Era did not repent and do the “first works,” the candlestick was moved to the next era. Yet, Christ would have never set that standard before them, had it not been attainable.
We will pick up the Smyrna Era with Polycarp leading the Church. Events in Britain during this era will also be discussed. But, to understand the subtle opposition that continually faced those of the Smyrna Era, we must review the development of the counterfeit church in the next chapter.