In the book of Acts, we can see various examples of the expansion of the Gospel. Some of the examples seem more positive, meaning that the people are being obedient to Jesus’s call to be his witnesses and make disciples among all nations, while others seem to be negative examples, meaning that God will allow persecution and use it to accomplish his purposes.
Recently, we looked at a couple of examples of how God accomplished his plan.
Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Here is what he said:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8
Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes and then they will be his witnesses there in Jerusalem, then a little further out in Judea, a little further yet in Samaria, and then finally to the ends of the earth. This was Jesus’s plan for his disciples and his intent.
But approximately three years later, we have yet to see the disciples move out much beyond Jerusalem. It seems that they are still there in Jerusalem, working diligently, but not fully fulfilling God’s plan and Jesus’s command to move beyond Jerusalem, out of the city and to the ends of the earth.
It isn’t until chapter 8 that we begin to see this happen. Stephen has been arrested, having been falsely accused of blasphemy at the end of chapter 6, and then in chapter 7, we see him present his defense before the Sanhedrin.
By the time we reach chapter 8, the Jews have stoned and killed Stephen for blasphemy and a great persecution breaks out in Jerusalem. The church is broken up and scattered into the surrounding areas, most notably Judea and Samaria.
From there, we see that some from the church go south and an important official from Ethiopia believes in Jesus and is baptized, while others go north and start a new church in Antioch of Syria where the people would first be called Christians.
So what is happening in this situation? We see that God’s word goes out among the nations, just as Jesus said. Specifically, we see the fulfillment of Jesus’s word that the believers go into Judea and Samaria, but the Gospel will go even further as it moves into Africa as well as to the north into Syria, and ultimately launch discipleship movements amongst peoples of what is now Turkey, Greece, and several Eastern European countries.
In short, God uses the persecution amongst the believers in Jerusalem to disperse them into the places that he told them that he wanted them to go in the first place!
Now let’s look at a positive example. In Acts 13, we see the Apostle Paul go to the regions of Phrygia and Galatia in what is now central Turkey. Paul preaches in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia and makes some disciples, but is persecuted and not allowed to speak in the synagogue again. In the end, Paul is run out of town, but not before he makes a number of disciples who go on to spread the good news of the word of God throughout the region. Here is what it says happened at the end of Paul’s initial time in Antioch Pisidia:
The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.Acts 13:49
We don’t see that Paul continues to preach in the region, so how does the word of the Lord spread throughout the region? The new disciples are sharing with others! They are telling of what they have heard and have believed.
Now let’s look at who Peter addresses his first letter to as we see him write to the believers later in his life:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,1 Peter 1:1
To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia
This is amazing because the church has not only been telling others in their local city, area, and region, but we see that there are now believers throughout the entire area of what is now Turkey, including Pontus and Bithynia, regions where we don’t know of Paul or any of his leaders ever going. Great news! It appears that the church is continuing to fulfill the Great Commission where they are, expanding and reaching their own “Judea” and their own “Samaria”. In this way, God’s mission and Jesus’s commandment are both being fulfilled.
In the end, we can see that God is accomplishing his mission to reach all nations and fill the earth with his people who will, themselves, carry God’s message and plan for redemption to all people.