Persecution

The rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem reached a point where the number of people joined together couldn’t be counted. Luke simply said, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). The growth of the church in Jerusalem was so expeditious that word of what was going on there began to spill over into neighboring cities. Luke recorded that “there came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one” (Acts 5:16). The scene probably resembled the early days of Jesus’ ministry. After he was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus went to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, where he cast out demons and Luke reported, “the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about” (Luke 4:37).

Along with the rapid growth of the church, came the persecution that Jesus experienced when he was on Earth. Peter’s boldness in preaching the message of Jesus’ resurrection against their warning upset the religious leaders and made them intent on stopping his ministry. When they were found preaching in the temple after their escape from prison, Jesus’ disciples were asked, “Did not we straitly command you that you should not teach in this name? and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us. then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, we ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:28-29). Peter and the other apostles’ bold declaration that their allegiance belonged only to God stirred up the wrath of the religious leaders that were questioning them. Their emphatic statement that, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 5: 30) made it obvious that the apostles intended to work in direct opposition to the religious authority they were being challenged by.

Luke reported that when the religious leaders heard Peter and the other apostles’ declaration of independence, “they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them” (Acts 5:33). Although the apostles were only physically beaten and then released (Acts 5:40-41), the atmosphere in Jerusalem most likely returned to one of hostility and resentment toward Jesus. A more pronounced situation of conflict arose within the church and Luke said, “there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1). As a result of this conflict, seven men were identified to oversee the activities of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:3). Among those chosen, was a man named Stephen (Acts 6:5). Luke said, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). Because of his immediate fame, Stephen was falsely accused of speaking blasphemy and brought before a religious council to be judged. False witnesses that testified against Stephen, stated, “For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:12-14).

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