THE NEW COVENANT CHURCH

 Part I: THE SECOND GREAT PENTECOST

Biblical Period 12

Lesson # 27

 

Gracious and loving Father,

Your led Your Old Covenant people by the light of Your presence in the Glory Cloud but the manifestation of Your glory is so much greater for Your New Covenant children to whom You gave the third person of the Trinity at Pentecost when You filled and indwelled Your people, writing You Law upon their hearts and giving them Your divine power to transform the world! We thank You Lord for the gift of Your Holy Spirit for it is by the power of the Unnamed Servant'the Holy Spirit in the celebration of the Mass that Your Covenant people'the Bride, are brought to the Bridegroom'Christ, in the Most Holy Eucharist.  In this miracle we eat the glorified flesh and drink the precious blood of our Savior as He told us we would in John chapter 6 and in doing so become joined physically and spiritual to the Bridegroom in the consummation of a beautiful intimacy that joins us to His divine power, as St Peter wrote, "By his divine power, he has lavished on us all the things we need for life and for true devotion, through the knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness [2 Peter 1:2]." Lead us in our study of the birth of the New Israel, the Catholic Church, and give us the courage to live the promises of Christ and gratefully accept His gift of salvation.  We pray in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and the Unnamed Servant' God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts of Apostles 1:8 [New American translation]

 

"For Yahweh says this: Shout for joy Jacob!  Hail the chief of nations!  Proclaim!  Praise!  Shout, 'Yahweh has saved his people, the remnant of Israel!' "

Jeremiah 31:7

 

"They went forth to the ends of the earth, spreading the good news of the good things which God has sent to us, and announcing the peace of heaven to men, who indeed are all equally and individually sharers in the gospel of God.  Matthew also issued among the Hebrews a written Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the church.  After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.  Luke also, the companion of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him.  Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord who reclined at His bosom, also published a Gospel, while he was residing at Ephesus in Asia." St. Irenaeus, disciple of Polycarp, disciple of St. John the Apostle [Against Heresies 3.1.1]

 

"Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." St. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch, martyred 107/110AD, Letter to the Church at Smyrna

 

"The Church of God that sojourns in Smyrna, to the Church of God that sojourns in Philomelium, and to all the dioceses of the holy and Catholic Church in every place..." from the Epistle of the Church at Smyrna, preface, ca. 155AD

 

The readings for this week: Period # 12, The Birth of the New Covenant Church

The New Covenant Church

Acts 2:1-41; Matthew 16:13-20

Peter's Homily before the Sanhedrin

Acts 4:1-31

The Church faces persecution

Acts 6:8 – 8:1

The Witness in Samaria

Acts 8:4-40

The Conversion of Saul

Acts 9:1-19

Peter's Ministry in Judea          

Acts 9:31-11:18

The Mission of Barnabas and Paul

Acts 13:1-14:28

The First Great Council

Acts 15:1-35

St Paul's 2nd and 3rd Missions

Acts 15:36-28:31

The Destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Old Covenant 9th of Ab [Av], 70AD

Hebrews 8:6-13 and 9:8

The Early heresies and the Protestant Reformation

 

The Great Councils

 

                                   

 

The New Testament book, Acts of Apostles [the article "the" is not in the oldest text titles] is the bridge between events recorded in the Gospels and the universal mission of the New Covenant Church.  This book continues the story St. Luke began in his Gospel and covers the thirty-year period after Jesus' Ascension.  Like his gospel account this book is also addressed to Theophilus, whose Greek name means "one who loves God." While the dedication to "Theophilus" may be a general dedication to all Christian readers, Theophilus may also have been a wealthy Christian convert who helped to finance Luke's book.  It was common during this period for authors to dedicate their work to a patron who bore the burden of the expense of publishing a literary work. 

 

Luke, St Paul's disciple and "beloved physician", is unique among all the Holy Spirit inspired writers.  He is believed to be the only gentile, other than Job, to write a sacred text.  In the book of Acts of Apostles St. Luke give us a unique historical account of the early years of the Church, full of references to contemporary Jewish, Greek and Roman history, culture and geography.  That Luke is the author of this work is attested to by early Christian writers including St. Irenaeus of Lyons [martyred c. 180 AD].  Luke is also named as the author of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts of Apostles in the Muratorian Canon, the earliest known list of the New Testament books believed to have been composed not later than the end of the second century AD.  Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in his 4th century History of the Church identified Luke as a physician who was a gentile convert from Antioch in modern Syria [see Ecclesiastical History, III.4.6], a tradition also attested to by St. Jerome [see preface to Jerome's Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew]. There is also internal evidence within the book of Acts that helps to identify Luke as the inspired writer.  The best evidence is found in those passages of the book written in the first person plural [see Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1- 28:16].  These passages were obviously written by a companion of St. Paul. We know from St. Paul's letters that Luke was his companion and trusted aide on the second missionary journey [see Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24], and that Luke was also with Paul from Troas to Jerusalem [Acts 20:5 forward], and later with him from his "house arrest" in Caesarea Maritima by the Roman governor to his incarceration in Rome [see Acts 27:1 forward].  By eliminating everyone mentioned in Acts by name, it is St. Luke who is left as the only one who could have been St. Paul's companion and the author of the book [see Acts 16:10 forward].

 

Luke gives the reader a uniquely detailed historical perspective. Luke's unique observations and analysis are evident in both his gospel account of the Incarnation and birth of the Messiah and in his detailed account of the birth and early mission of the Universal Church.  

 

He could not have written Acts earlier than Paul's imprisonment in Rome in AD 62 or 63 nor could the work have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD since no reference is made to that catastrophic event.

 

SUMMARY OF THE BOOK OF ACTS OF APOSTLES

BIBLICAL PERIOD

#12: THE CHURCH

FOCUS

Witness in Jerusalem

Witness in Judea and Samaria

Witness to the ends of the earth

COVENANT

THE NEW COVENANT IN CHRIST

SCRIPTURE

1:1----------3:1-------------8:5--------------------13:1-----------21:17---28:31

DIVISION

Birth

of the Church

Progress

of the

Church

Expansion

of the

Church

Paul's 3

missionary journeys

Paul's

trials

 

 

 

TOPIC

 

The faithful remnant of the Old Covenant becomes the New Covenant Church

 

Samaria [Israel] comes into the New Covenant

 

The Gentiles are reunited with the Family of God

Simon-Peter's apostolic mission

 

Philip the deacon's mission

Paul's conversion and apostolic mission

LOCATION

Jerusalem

Judea and Samaria

The world

TIME

30 years [from 30 AD - c. 60 AD]

 

 

TIME LINE: AD

World Empire: The Roman Empire ----------------------------------------------------------

[Roman Province of Judea]

30 _______35_______42________49_________62______64_______66_______70

-Jesus'        -James             -Peter           -Council of         -James        -  fire           -Jewish         -Romans

Crucifixion,     son              founds           Jerusalem         Christian             destroys        Revolt         destroy

Resurrec-,    of Zebedee Church          -2nd mission          Bishop              Rome           against         Jerusalem 

     tion,            martyred    in Rome            of Paul                  of             -Christian      Rome        and the

 Ascension    -Church in            -Paul (AD 49-52)          Jerusalem     persecution                      Temple

 -2nd Great    Antioch, Turkey     1st                     - Paul 3rd     martyred        by Romans

Pentecost      founded by Peter   mission       mission (AD53-58)                                         -67? Peter and

                                                      (AD 44-49)                                                                  Paul martyred in Rome

 

For forty days after His resurrection Jesus continued to appear to His Apostles and disciples, ministering to them and teaching them to prepare them for their universal mission to convert the world to the New Covenant faith [see Acts 1:3].  He instructed them not to leave Jerusalem--but to wait.

 

 

Question: What is significant about the 40-day period?

Answer: It may have been a literal 40 days that Jesus taught His disciples but there is also a deeper meaning to the 40-day period.  In Sacred Scripture the number 40 has special significance as a period of testing or consecration and salvation.  In the Old Testament the 40 days or 40-year periods are times during which God prepares or effects important stages in His plan.

Question: Can you think of some significant periods of time in Scripture using the number 40? 

ü      The great flood of Noah's time in Genesis chapter 7 has several 40-day periods 

ü      Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai to receive God's revelation of the Covenant in the birth of the Old Covenant Church [see Exodus 24:18]

ü      the Israelites journeyed across the desert wilderness for 40 years on their way to the promised land

ü      Elisha walked 40 days and nights to reach his rendezvous with God on Mt. Sinai [1 Kings 19:8]

ü      Jesus fasted 40 days in preparation for His public ministry

 

Question: For what reason did Jesus tell the disciples to wait in Jerusalem?  See Acts of Apostles 1: 4-5.

Answer: He promises that they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.  Some scholars have called Acts "the Gospel of the Holy Spirit".  Nearly every page of Acts is concerned with the ministry of the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity in the Church as He guides, directs, teaches and strengthens the lives and works of the early Christian community. 

 

The Apostle's and disciples question to Jesus in Acts 1:6 indicates that they are still thinking in terms of an earthly political messiah who will restore the Davidic dynasty. 

 

Question: What is Jesus' very patient reply in Acts 1:7-8?

Answer: He very lovingly explains to them that God's plan of Salvation in human history will unfold according to God's plan and timing, but when the power of God the Holy Spirit comes upon them they will have a better understanding of God's plan and will be able to fulfill the mission Christ now gives to them.

 

Question: What is this mission?  See Acts 1:8b; this is a repeat of Jesus' instructions when He taught them in Matthew 28:19-20 and is known by the faithful as "the great commission" which is the mission of all New Covenant believers: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.  And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time."

Answer: This is the apostolic mission of the Church, to carry the Gospel first to Jerusalem than to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  This is in fact the outline of the Book of Acts. All of Christ's work of salvation proceeds from God the Father's love and reaches its completion in the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus received from His Father unlimited power and His disciples now wield this same power in His name through God the Holy Spirit by baptizing and bringing believes into the universal [catholic] family of God. 

 

Question: In Acts 1:9-11 Jesus is lifted up into the heavens in a cloud.  What prophecy often referenced by Jesus is fulfilled here and what is the connection to Old Covenant sacrifices?

Answer: The Glory Cloud is a theophany [manifestation] of God but Jesus being carried on a cloud into heaven to God the Father is also the vision of Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14 "I was gazing into the visions of the night, when I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, as it were a son of man.  He came to the One most venerable and was led into his presence.  On him was conferred rule, honor, and kingship, and all peoples, nations, and languages became his servants.  His rule is an everlasting rule which will never pass away, and his kingship will never come to an end."  Jesus rising on the cloud is also symbolic of the essence sacrifice rising from the altar in the cloud of smoke into the presence of God.   Jesus, the perfect sacrifice as been accepted by God the Father.

 

Question: What promise do the angels give in Acts 1:11?

Answer: Jesus will return one day to the Mt of Olives.  The angels are referring to the Parousia, the Lord's Second Advent when He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  We know for certain that the Christ is coming again.  We repeat this promise every time we say the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.  However, we do not know the day of the hour of His coming and so we must always be prepared: "But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father alone." [Matthew 24:36].  "At the signal given by the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet [shofar] of God, the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and only after that shall we who remain alive be taken up in the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air.  This is the way we shall be with the Lord for ever." [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].

 

In Acts 1:12-26 the Apostles and disciples obey just as Jesus has commanded them.  They return to Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives and go to the Upper Room where they join in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus and Jesus' kinsmen, two of which will become the first two Christian Bishops of the New Covenant Church in Jerusalem [James and Simon]. 

 

Question: How many faithful believers were there gathered in prayer in the Upper Room with the Virgin Mary?  According to 2 Chronicles 5:13 how many priests participated in the dedication of Solomon's Temple?

Answer: Acts 1:15 tells us that there were about 120 gathered in prayer in the Upper Room and there were also 120 priests gathered for the dedication of Solomon's Temple. 

Question: What is significant about this number?  What connection is there between the gathering in the Upper Room, the 120 priests assembled at Solomon's Temple, and the building of Solomon's Tempe ca. 1000 years earlier? [construction on Solomon's Temple was begun 970 years earlier in circa 970BC, and this gathering of believers is praying in the year ca. 30AD = 1,000 years]. 

Answer: The number 120 is a significant number.  120 = 12 x 10; in the symbolism of numbers in Scripture this is perfect government times perfection of order.  It is also the legal number under the Old Law for the formation of a faith community as well as the number of the representatives present in the Old Covenant Court of Law, the ruling body of the Old Covenant people, the Great Sanhedrin.  Even more significant is the fact that this group in the Upper Room is the embryonic New Covenant Church waiting to be "born again" –filled and indwelled by God the Holy Spirit.  And Mother Mary is participating in that birth just as she participated in the birth of the Messiah! Each member of the Old Covenant Church waiting in prayer in the Upper Room would become a building block of the New Covenant Church but then the bodies of each believer would also become--in 10 days time-- the "temples" of the Holy Spirit when God would take possession of these individual "temples" on the Feast of the Second Great Pentecost. This group of the 120 members of Christ's royal priesthood of the New Covenant in prayer forms the initial construction of the New Covenant Church'a 1000 years from the first construction of Solomon's Temple'it is an amazing coincidence'if it is a coincidence???  The number 1000 symbolizes an abundance of perfection of order [also see Revelation 20:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, &7].

 

The Birth of the New Covenant Church –The Creation of the New Israel

 

Please read Acts 2:1-41:

The New Covenant believers waited and prayed for 9 days in the Upper Room, this is why we pray a "novena", a prayer with a single intention, for 9 days. 

 

Question: The 10th day was 50th day after Jesus' Ascension. What feast fell on the same day as Jesus' Ascension and what feast followed it?  See Leviticus 23: 5-20 or the chart The Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant.

Answer: Jesus' Ascension was on the first day after the Sabbath of the week of Unleavened Bread [also called Passover week], which was the Feast of Firstfruits.  Firstfruits always fell on a Sunday [the day after the Jewish Sabbath, which was Saturday].  Fifty days after Firstfruits [counting as the ancients counted with the first in the series being #1] was the Pilgrim feast of Weeks also called the Feast of Shelters or in Greek Pentecost, meaning 50th day.  This feast also always fell on a Sunday [please note that today Jews no longer count the Feast of Weeks as 50 days from the day after the first Sabbath of Passover week but instead from Nisan 16 so that it does not always fall on a Sunday].

 

Question: What was special about this feast?  See Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Deuteronomy 16:1-16; 2 Chronicles 8:13.

Answer: It was a "pilgrim feast" meaning that 3 times a year at the time of the feasts of Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Tabernacles every man 13 years and older must appear before God at His Temple in Jerusalem.  There were Jews from all across the known world in Jerusalem for this feast on the day God the Holy Spirit came to the New Covenant Church [see Acts 2:9-11].

 

Question: What did this feast commemorate?  See Exodus 19

Answer: It commemorated God coming down in fire at Mt. Sinai to give the 10 Commandments and to establish the Covenant with Israel, the Church.

 

Question: At approximately 9AM, the hour of prayer and the sacrifice of the first Tamid lamb [see Acts 2: 15], what miracle occurred as the New Covenant believers prayed in the Upper Room?

Answer: God the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of fire to fill, indwell, and give new life to the New Covenant Church.  This was the second Great Pentecost!  The Upper Room was the Mt. Sinai of the New Covenant.

 

Question: St. Luke mentions that our Lord's mother joined the disciples in prayer in the Upper Room [Acts 1:14].  What is important about her presence with the community of believers on this day of the second Great Pentecost?

Answer: Mary, who conceived Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit now takes part in the birth of the Church.  As she prays with her children God the Holy Spirit hovers over the New Covenant community in tongues of fire giving life to the mystical body of Christ at the dawn of a new creation.  Mary will become the symbol of the New Covenant Church'both Virgin Bride and fruitful Mother.  See CCC # 721-726

 

According to tradition the location of the Upper Room in Jerusalem is above the tomb of the great King David.  On the occasion of the second Great Pentecost a huge crowd of people were gathered outside the building that housed the Upper Room and the tomb of King David.  They may have been drawn by the roaring sound of the wind [Acts 2:2] or perhaps they had come to pay homage to the tomb of Israel's great king since according to Jewish tradition the Feast of Pentecost was the time of David's birth as well as his death.  That it was believed that the tomb of David was located there is indicated in Simon-Peter's many references to David in his homily.  You can almost see Peter gesturing to David's tomb in Acts 2:29 as he speaks of how the resurrected Jesus is greater than David the king: "Brothers, no one can deny that the patriarch David himself is dead and buried: his tomb is still with us." 

 

That day Jews from all over the known world heard the Apostles' testimony of Jesus the Messiah, each in his own dialect [see Acts 2:11]. 

Question: The miracle of understanding Peter and the Apostles' testimony "as in one language" was a reversal of what Old Testament miracle? See Genesis 11:1-9.

Answer: The division of languages at the Tower of Babel when the one people of the earth were scattered and their languages confused.  When the Fathers of the Church wrote about this passage they frequently mention the contrast between the confusion of languages that came about at the scattering of the people at Babel as punishment for man's desire to reject God's sovereignty in favor of their own and the reversal of this confusion on the day of the second Great Pentecost when men were again united in their understanding of the message of God through the work of God the Holy Spirit.

 

Question: When the crowd accuses the Apostles of being drunk who is it who steps forward to defend the New Covenant Church?  On what authority does this man speak?

Answer: Simon-Peter speaks with the authority Christ has given him as the chief minister of the King of kings.  In Matthew chapter 16 Jesus promised Simon primacy over the whole Church and it was at this time that Jesus changed Simon's name to Kepha, meaning "rock" in Aramaic, Petros [in the masculine] in Greek [see John 1:42].  This promised supreme authority is given to Peter after Jesus resurrection [see John 21:15-18].  The Old Testament roots of the position of Vicar to the King is seen in Isaiah 22:20-23 where Yahweh invests Eliakim with the authority of the King of Judah and he becomes "a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah.  I shall place the key of David's palace on his shoulder; when he opens no one will close, when he closes, no one will open." Just as in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus promises Simon-Peter "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bond on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

 

Question: What are the two keys Peter has received as Vicar of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth?  How do these "keys" of authority relate to Adam in the first covenant?

Answer:  Adam was given complete dominion over God's "kingdom", Eden and the earth [see Genesis 1:28-29].  Adam was in a sense, God's first High Priest and covenant mediator.  As the keeper of Eden, Adam controlled the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  In essence, the control of these supernatural trees gave Adam the "keys" to supernatural life and to spiritual death and the by-product of spiritual death which was physical death.  Adam, therefore, had control over both death and the grave, Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in the Greek

Question: To whom did Jesus, the High Priest and King of the New Covenant, give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth'the Church?  See Matthew16:13-20

Answer: To Simon-Peter and to his successors.  With these keys, the Church, led by Christ's Vicar (Prime Minister) will have the mission of rescuing the elect from death's dominion, from the death of the soul, to lead them into the Kingdom of Heaven just as Jesus rescued the dead souls trapped in Sheol [the grave] after His resurrection. See 1 Peter 3:18-19 and John 5:26-28 (for further references for 'sheol' see  Gen. 37:35; Num 16:33; Deut 5:26; 52:6; Is. 14:9; 38:18; 1Sam2:6, 8:19; Ps. 6:5; 16:10-11; 49:15; 88:4-5, &11-12; 89:6; 115:17; Ez. 32:17-32; Amos 9:2; 2Mac 12:38f; Wis. 3:4-5 and CCC # 633).

 

 

This supreme power and authority is given to Simon-Peter for the good of the Church and because the Church is to last until the end of time when Jesus comes again, this authority will be passed on to Peter's successors, the Bishops of Rome, the Fathers of the Universal Church, or Papas = Popes down through history.

 

In Acts 2:16 Peter begins his great Pentecost homily by quoting the prophecy of the Prophet Joel in Joel 3:1-5. 

Question: What does this prophecy predict?

Answer: Peter identifies this prophecy as not concerning the end of time but the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth and end of the Old Covenant.  The inspired writer of Hebrews writes of the end of the Old Covenant in the coming of Christ in Hebrews 8:6-13 by quoting the Prophet Jeremiah's prophecy of a New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and concluding "As it is he has been given a ministry as far superior as is the covenant of which he is the mediator, which is founded on better promises.  If that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no room for a second one to replace it.  [...] By speaking of a New Covenant, he implies that the first one is old.  And anything old and aging is ready to disappear."  It is time that the wine of the New Covenant is place in the new wineskins of the New Covenant in Christ [see Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; and Luke 5:37-38]!

 

Question: Moved by Peter's words the Jews who through Peter's words have come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah cry out to Peter to tell them what they must do.  What does Peter tell them they must do in order to be saved from this "accursed generation"?  See Acts 2:37-40

Answer: Peter tells the people they must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and then they will receive new life in the Holy Spirit.  The answer is the same for all of us down through history to the present day, for Jew and Gentile alike.

 

Question: How many Jews receive Jesus as their Savior that day? Is there a connection to Exodus 32:28?  See Acts 2:41

Answer: Three thousand.  In the rebellion of the golden calf 3,000 perished and were lost to the Old Covenant Church, now 3,000 sons of Israel are reunited to the New Covenant children of God.

 

Please read Acts 4:1-31: Peter's Homily before the Sanhedrin

Peter and John go to the Temple at the first hour of prayer [at about 9AM when the first Tamid lamb is offered in sacrifice] to witness to the crowds of Jews who have come to pray.  After healing a man crippled from birth [who was about 40 years old], Peter delivers another stirring homily bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus and to the promise of salvation to all who repent their sins and come to believe in Jesus the Messiah. 

 

Both Peter and John are arrested and taken before the same Jewish Law court that condemned Jesus. The members of the court threaten the Apostles and command them not to continue to make statements or to teach in the name of Jesus.

Question: What is Peter's response?  Is this the same man who denied Jesus 3 times?  What has caused this dramatic change in Peter?

Answer:  Peter boldly tells the court that he refuses to keep silent.  This is not the same man-- he has been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Please read Acts 6:8 – 8:1: The Church faces persecution

Acts 6:7 "The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith."

Jesus' first command was that they witness of Him in Jerusalem [Acts 1:8].  Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit the members of the New Covenant Church had spread their message throughout the entire city and to all levels of society and even priests were being converted to the New Covenant in Christ!  This last group of conversions was bound to elicit a violent reaction from the opposition.

 

Question: Which group of Jews lied about the deacon Stephen causing his arrest?  What was the charge against Stephen?

Answer: The "freedmen" were a group of Jewish slaves who had been freed by Rome and had formed their own synagogue in Jerusalem.  These men lied about Stephen charging him with blasphemy, the same charge by which Jesus was condemned [Matthew 26:59-61].  Stephen was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin.

 

Question: How does Stephen defend himself?

Answer: He doesn't defend himself against the charge instead he goes on the offensive and gives a brilliant homily reviewing the history of Israel's relationship with God.  Stephen uses the history of Israel to show that the Old Covenant people had constantly rejected God's message, had rejected the prophets God sent to call them to repentance, and now had rejected the Messiah Himself, Jesus the Son of God.  Jesus' rejection was just one more example of Israel's long history of rebellion against God. 

 

Question: On the other hand Stephen gives a clear testimony of Yahweh's continued faithfulness, despite the continued failures of His chosen people.  What promise made to them through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 does Stephen tell them was fulfilled in Jesus [see Acts 7:27]?

Answer:  that "From among your own brother s God will raise up a prophet like me."  The Jews originally thought this prophecy was fulfilled in Moses' successor Joshua, but Stephen tells them Moses was prophesying about the coming Messiah.  Peter also quoted this verse in referring to Jesus in Acts 3:22.

 

Question: What is the result of Stephen's witness of Christ to the Sanhedrin?

Answer: The court condemns Stephen to be stoned to death.  He becomes the first Christian martyr. 

 

In the moments before his martyrdom Stephen's faith is rewarded by being given the vision of the glory of God and Jesus the Messiah standing at God's right hand. 

Question: Stephen's words in 7:36 upon seeing the vision recall what prophecy and what words of Jesus?

Answer: The prophecy of Daniel in Daniel 7:13-14.  His words are similar to Jesus' words spoken before the Sanhedrin in Matthew 26:64 "But I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." [also see Mark 14:62, and Luke 22:69].

 

Question: Who is it who stood by the coats of the witnesses as Stephen is stoned?  See Acts 7:59

Answer: Saul, an officer of the court who will become St. Paul [see Acts 13:9 ff].  The false witnesses mentioned in 6:13-14 were required by law to initiate the execution of the sentence but this is more a lynching than a legal judicial process.

 

Stephen's death is the beginning of a period of intense persecution by the Old Covenant authorities. Acts 8:3 indicates that Saul of Tarsus was given the responsibility for arresting Christians by the Sanhedrin.

 

Question: What was the result of this intense persecution?  See Acts 8:1.

Answer: Everyone except the Apostles scattered to the country districts of Judea and Samaria causing as a result the second stage of expansion of the Church as Jesus commanded in Acts 1:8. 

 

St. John Chrysostom wrote: "Far from diminishing the boldness of the disciples, Stephen's death increased it. Christians were scattered precisely in order to spread the word further afield.  Observe how, in the middle of misfortune, the Christians keep up their preaching instead of neglecting it" [Homilies on Acts, John Chrysostom, 18]. 

 

God does not send suffering but sometimes He does allow it and turns it to a greater good.  St Leo the Great in his homily on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul taught that what comes from God cannot be destroyed, in fact the adversaries instead end up contributing to the consolidation and progress of God's plan: "The religion founded by the mystery of the cross of Christ cannot be destroyed by any form of cruelty.  The Church is not diminished by persecutions; on the contrary, they make for its increase.  The field of the Lord is clothed in a richer harvest.  When the grain which falls dies, it is reborn and multiplied " [St. Leo the Great, Homily on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul].

 

Please read Acts 8:4-40: The Witness in Samaria

This section of Acts recounts the ministry of Philip in Samaria.

Question: Who is Philip?

Answer: This disciple is Philip the deacon not Philip the Apostle of Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 3:1 & 6:14; John 1:43-48; 6:5,7; 12:21-22; and 14:8-9.  Philip the deacon [see Acts 6:3-5] was a Greek culture Jew who was "full of the Spirit and wisdom" and who was chosen as one of seven deacons to help with the food distribution program in the Jerusalem New Covenant community.

 

Question: Who were the Samaritans to whom Philip was ministering?

Answer: The Holy Land was divided into 3 regions: the Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle and Judea in the south.  Samaria occupied the land that had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel before the Assyrian conquest in 722BC.  After the conquest Assyria had taken the majority of the Israelite population into exile in the east and had imported 5 tribes of foreigners into the lands of Israel which had been renamed "Samaria".  These 5 foreign groups adopted a perverted worship of Yahweh and intermarried with the Israelites who were left behind.  To the devout Old Covenant Church of Judah these people were despised half-breed apostates [see 1 Kings 17:5-41].  Even Jesus had rebuked these people telling the woman of Samaria in John 4:22 "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know; for salvation is from the Jews" but He also commanded that they spread the Gospel there, in effect, reuniting the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah that had been separated since the 10th century BC into one kingdom: the Kingdom of Heaven on earth = the universal Church.

 

Question: In Acts 8:14 why was it necessary for Peter and John to go to Samaria when Philip had been so successful with his ministry?

Answer: Here we see Peter, the Vicar of Christ and John his bishop exercising the authority they have over the Church.  They go to Samaria to confirm Philip's work and to complete Philip's baptism of new converts by the laying on of hands and communicating the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the new believers.  Here we have the example of both baptism and confirmation as two distinct sacramental rites. 

 

Question: Jesus commanded in John 3:5 that to receive eternal life one must be born of water and the Spirit.  What takes place at baptism?

Answer: The most important effects of Christian baptism are the remission of original sin, the infusion of initial grace by which the believer is reborn into the family of God receiving the gift of divine son/daughter-ship, and the forgiveness of any personal sin.  It is the first of the sacraments and has therefore been called "the door of the Church." See CCC # 405, 977-78, 1213-16, 1265].

 

Question: How is the sacrament of Confirmation different from Baptism?

Answer: The Sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace.  By the sacrament of Confirmation baptized believers are strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit; they are "more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obligated to spread and defend the faith by word and deed." CCC# 1285

 

In Acts 8:26-40 Philip baptizes the first Gentile convert from outside the Holy Land, an important court official of the Ethiopian Queen Candace.  This official was what the Jews called a "God-fearer", a Gentile who believed in Yahweh but had not converted to the Old Covenant faith.

Question: What means does Philip use to bring about this man's conversion? 

Answer: Philip found the man reading Scripture and took advantage of this opportunity to explain the "good new" of Jesus Christ in the light of Old Testament prophecy. 

 

There are those who think the Old Testament is not relevant for Christians today but Philip used his knowledge of Scripture, and inspired by God the Holy Spirit was able to lead this Gentile to Christ. 

Question: Could you do the same if you found someone confused by what he or she was reading in Scripture?

 

Question: Why was Philip suddenly transported away from Samaria to another city?

Answer: Azotus is the Old Testament Gentile city of Ashdod, one of the ancient Philistine cities.  This is the beginning of the mass conversion of the pagan Gentiles.

 

Please read Acts 9:1-19: The Conversion of Saul

Contrasted with the open hearts of the Samaritans and other Gentiles to the Good News of Christ's gift of salvation Luke now reminds us of the hard-heartedness of the Old Covenant people who refused the Messiah.  There was no better example of this stubbornness than the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus.  But God knew how to melt the hard heart of Saul because Saul for all his anger against followers of Jesus was really seeking the "truth", and that "truth" is Christ [see John 14:6].

 

St. Paul writes about his conversion experience in 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8; and Galatians 1:15 and 16.  Jesus the Messiah was at the center of his conversion experience.  He did not see merely a vision of Jesus but he had a personal encounter with the risen, glorified Christ Himself [Acts 9:17] circa 35 AD. 

 

Question: In this encounter Jesus accuses Saul of persecuting Him.  Why doesn't Jesus accuse Saul of persecuting the New Covenant Church?

Answer: Because the Church is the body of Christ on earth. When one persecutes the Church one persecutes Christ: the Church and Christ are One! [see Matthew 25:40-45].

 

Question: What 4 step process completes Paul's conversion in his encounter with Jesus in Acts 9:3-5?

Answer: First he acknowledged Jesus as Lord, then he confessed his sin, he surrendered his life to Christ, and finally he pledged his obedience.

 

Question: If Paul accepted Jesus as the Messiah why was he struck down with blindness?

Answer: Paul would learn through his suffering to "look" with the eyes of faith.  Faith in Christ brings many blessings but obedience to the will of God can also bring great suffering.  Paul would suffer greatly for his obedience of faith [see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27]. When God did not spare His Son or His Son's mother from suffering why should we expect that we should not suffer for our faith?  God calls us to commitment and obedience.  God does not promise that our faith journey will be without suffering but He does promise that our Savior will unite with us in our suffering and if we persevere in faith and obedience our reward will be great in the end.  For examples of courage in the face of suffering read the stories of the great saints of the Church.

 

Please read Acts 9:31-11:18: Peter's Ministry in Judea

The city of Joppa was an important harbor city on the Mediterranean Sea.  It was the town into which the cedars of Lebanon had been sent to be used in the construction of Solomon's Temple in 2 Chronicles 2:16 and it was the city from which the Prophet Jonah set off on his ill-fated voyage.  It was in this city that Peter repeated Jesus' miracle of raising the dead when through the power of the Holy Spirit he was able to restore this faithful believer to life.  In healing the crippled and raising the dead the Apostles are repeating the miracles of Jesus; it is what Jesus promised the Apostles in John 14:12.

 

Question: Why is it significant that Peter stayed with Simon the tanner?

Answer: Tanners came into daily contact with dead animals, which made them continually ritually unclean under Old Covenant law.  Normally an orthodox Jew would not have stayed in such a place but Peter was already realizing that the outer signs of purification under the old law had given way to an internal condition of purity required by the "new" law of Jesus Christ.

 

Caesarea Maritima, mentioned in Acts 10:1, was located 32 miles north of Joppa.  It was the most important Judean port city on the Mediterranean Sea and it was the administrative capital of the Roman province where Pontius Pilate the Roman governor resided [until 36 AD when he was recalled to Rome].  Caesarea will become the first Judean city to have Gentile New Covenant believers who will be members of a non-Jewish faith community.

 

Question: What is the significance of the Roman officer's experience with the angel?

Answer: God will actively work to bring about the salvation of those who sincerely seek Him [see Hebrews 11:6].  This Roman officer was the commander of 100 soldiers.  He was a God-fearer who believed in the God of the Jews and whose good works were evidence of the sincerity of his faith.  Roman officers served in the provinces for a time and then were returned to Rome.  Cornelius' conversion would be a major step to the expansion of the Gospel into Europe.

 

Question: What was the significance of Peter's vision in Acts 10:9-16?

Answer: According to the Law of Moses in Leviticus 11 certain foods were unclean and could not be eaten.  These laws made it difficult for Jews to eat with Gentiles without risking defilement.  In Peter's vision God instructs him that he should not look upon the Gentiles as inferior and not deserving of salvation but as those worthy of redemption.  Peter understood that it was his responsibility to go with the soldiers and to share the message of salvation with Cornelius and his family.

 

Question: What supernatural event occurred while Peter was sharing the Gospel with the Roman Gentiles?  See Acts 10:44-47

Answer: They experienced another Pentecost.  In the Pentecost that celebrated the birth of the New Covenant Church the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples who were all Jews and Israelites.  Now He has come to the Gentiles.  The Roman officer and his family are baptized on Peter's instructions without first becoming Jews through circumcision.

 

Question: Was the New Covenant community in Jerusalem pleased with Peter's baptism of the Romans?

Answer: Initially they were appalled but when Peter explained the vision and the message of the angel the Jerusalem church accepted Peter's pronouncement "I realized then that God had given them the identical gift he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God's way?" [Acts 11:17] and were prepared to welcome the Gentiles into the Covenant family.

 

According to Bishop Eusebius' history of the Church [4th century] Peter left Jerusalem circa 35 AD and spent 7 years building up the New Covenant Church at Antioch [modern day Antioch, Syria where the term "Christian" was first used], before leaving for Rome and fulfilling what Jesus had prophesied in Matthew 16: 17-19.  Like the Old Covenant prophet Jonah who was sent to convert Nineveh, the capital city of the world super-power, Peter would be sent to Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire from which he would be called to spend the next 25 years converting the world.

 

Please read Acts 13:1-14:28: The Mission of Joseph Bar [son of] Nabas and Paul

In the beginning of his letter to the Galatians St Paul, a Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin, writes of his experiences after his conversion on the road to Damascus.  After escaping from the Jews who saw his conversion to the New Covenant faith as a traitorous act deserving death, he traveled to Arabia and spent 3 years there. Upon his return Paul journeyed to Jerusalem to see Peter, the leader of the Church.  He reports in Galatians 1:18 that he spent 15 days with Peter where he probably received Peter's blessing to preach the Gospel.  From then on Paul used all his energy and learning to preach the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. He will return to Jerusalem with a delegation from the church at Antioch in about 41 or 42AD [see Acts 11:27-30].  The Apostle James, the brother of John Zebedee, will be the first Apostle martyred in 42 AD.  In 2 Corinthians 11:22-12:7 Paul recounts the sufferings he bore for Christ during his years preaching the Gospel and tells of his plea to God to remove the suffering of the "thorn in my flesh", ending with God's response that "My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness." [2 Corinthians 12:8].  God's sufficient grace would lead Paul to establish many Christian Churches in Asia Minor and in Greece, earning him the title, "Apostle to the Gentiles."

 

In chapter 13 the Book of Acts begins its focus on the ministry of St. Paul to the Gentiles and the expansion of the Church through Paul's 3 missionary journeys which will fulfill the last phase of the commission Jesus gave the Apostles at the Ascension: to take the Gospel to "the ends of the earth."  On the first journey Paul and Bar Nabas, a Levite from Cyprus who has converted to the New Covenant faith, are sent by the Church at Antioch, Syria to establish faith communities in:

·        Cyprus [13:4-13]

·        Antioch in modern Turkey [13:14-50]

·        Iconium [13:51-14:5]

·        Lystra [14:6-20]

They return to the church at Antioch [14:21-25] and report of the first missionary journey [14:26-28]

 

Question: At each stop on the journey where do Paul and Bar Nabas preach first before taking the Gospel to the Gentiles?

Answer: They always carry the Gospel message to the Jews first.  As the chosen people of the Old Covenant they deserve the status of firstborn sons and deserve to be the first to hear the message of salvation.

 

14 years after his conversion St Paul records in Galatians 2 that with Bar Nabas and Titus he journeyed to Jerusalem to confer with the leadership of the Church concerning "the Gospel that I preach among the Gentiles."  In approximately the year 49AD the Church began to address the issues concerning the Gentile converts.

 

Please read Acts 15:1-35: The First Great Council

In the year 49AD the New Covenant Church had undergone a great change in the 19 years since Christ's Ascension.  In the beginning the New Covenant Church was completely Jewish/Israelite [the Galileans are Israelite as opposed to those disciples from Judea who are Jews]--the leadership and the community was entire composed of the faithful remnant of Old Covenant believers.  But as the Church has expanded out from Judea and Samaria more and more Gentiles have come into the New Covenant family until it is obvious that soon the Gentiles will become the majority in the Church.  Anxious to preserve the Jewish identity of the Church some members with a Pharisee background--propose that the Gentiles should first convert to the Old Covenant through the rite of circumcision before being welcomed into the New Covenant community.  This is the young Church's first great doctrinal issue and it is decided that it must be addressed in a council that is composed of all the leadership of the New Covenant Church.  A council is called in Jerusalem in 49 AD.  This council is seen as the first general council of the Church that will become to prototype of the series of great councils of which the Second Vatican Council is the most recent.

 

Question: What was the major issue concerning the conversion of the Gentile Christians?

Answer: It concerned the rite of circumcision. Representatives who were Pharisees from the church at Jerusalem where James, kinsman of Jesus was Bishop, insisted that unless the baptized Gentiles were circumcised and obeyed the Law according to Moses they cannot be saved.

 

Question: In consultation with the Apostles and the elders of the Church what did Peter propose?

Answer: Relying on his personal revelation in connection with the conversion of the Gentile Roman officer Cornelius [see chapter 10], Peter concludes that it is grace by which the baptized believer is saved and therefore circumcision and the Law itself have become irrelevant and have been superseded by the Gospel and faith in Christ Jesus. 

 

St Paul certainly agreed with Peter's view when he wrote in Galatians 2:15-16 "We who were born Jews and not gentile sinners have nevertheless learnt that someone is reckoned as upright not by practicing the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ; and we too came to believe in Christ Jesus so as to be reckoned as upright by faith in Christ and not by practicing the Law: since no human being can be found upright by keeping the Law."

 

James, Bishop of the New Covenant Church in Jerusalem supports Peter.  In Galatians 2:9 Paul identifies James and one of the "pillars of the Church" together with the Apostles Peter and John.  James, the kinsman of Jesus was respected as a holy man even among the Jews.  When he was martyred in 62 AD by the current High Priest, both Jews and Christians called for the removal of the High Priest from his office.  It was a request the new Roman prefect obliged. 

 

Question: James uses Scripture to support Peter's position. What additional suggestions does he make?

Answer: He suggests that the Gentiles abide by the Noachide Law of Genesis chapter 9 which was to be observed by all men at a time before there was distinction between Jew and Gentile.  These laws include abstaining from food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, eating the meat of strangled animals [not having been bled], and from consuming blood [see Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23].  He also suggested that a letter concerning the judgment of this council be sent to the churches in Asia.

 

This council represents the teaching authority of the Church as found in the Magisterium which consists of the Bishop of Rome and the Bishops of the Universal Church.  See CCC # 880-885.

 

Please read Acts 15:36-28:31: St Paul's Second the Third Missions

St. Paul's second missionary journey began without Bar Nabas. They disagreed over John Mark, Bar Nabas' cousin who would become Peter's secretary in Rome and the writer of Peter's account of Jesus' mission in the Gospel According to Mark.  Later Mark would found the first Christian community in Alexandria, Egypt.  Agreeing to form two separate missions, Paul takes Silas as his partner.  Silas was a member of the Jerusalem community and had been selected by the Jerusalem council as one of the two men to represent the Church by taking the council letter and decision back to the church at Antioch [see 15:22].  Silas is also mentioned in 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; and 1 Peter 5:12.  This second mission began approximately three years after Paul's first mission ended. 

 

Question: Where do Paul and Silas preach the Gospel on this second mission?

Answer: Paul and Silas set out to visit the churches Paul had founded in the first mission journey, but this time they set out by land rather than by sea taking the Roman road through Cilcia and the Cilcian Gates--a gorge through the Taurus Mountains.  Next they travel northwest. In Asia Minor they preach and found churches in Derbe and Lystra, and Iconium.  The Holy Spirit told them not to go into Asia and so they obediently turn northward into Mysia to the harbor city of Troas.  Crossing into Greece they found churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth before returning home to the church in Antioch, Syria.

 

Question: Who joins the mission in Lystra?  See Acts 16:1

Answer: A young disciple named Timothy whose mother is Jewish but whose father is a Gentile.

 

Question: If Paul believes that circumcision is unnecessary for a baptized believer why does he circumcise Timothy?

Answer: It is always Paul's goal to witness to the Jews and since Timothy's mother is Jewish he is legally Jewish.  Paul asked Timothy to be circumcised to remove some of the stigma he may have had with Jews in order to be more effective in reaching the Jews with the Gospel.  The lesson is that sometimes we may have to go beyond the minimum requirements in order to reach our goal of evangelization.

 

Question: When does Luke join the mission?

Answer: Luke probably meets Paul in Troas.  The "we" sections of Acts begin in chapter 16 and continue through chapter 28 [see 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16].  Acts is primarily written from a third person viewpoint but in these passages there is an abrupt change to the first person which indicates that Luke was personally present and was traveling with Paul.  Luke may have been a Hellenistic Jew but scholars generally considered it likely that he was a Gentile-Jewish convert.  In Colossians 4:10-14 St Paul lists three fellow missionaries who are circumcised.  In that list he includes Luke's name with two Gentiles, and in Colossians 4:14 Paul identifies Luke as "dear friend Luke, the doctor" and as one of his "fellow workers" in Philemon verse 24.

 

St. Paul's missionary efforts dominate the last half of the book of Acts.  From 58-60 AD St Paul is held in house arrest by the Roman governor Felix who was married to the Jewish princess Drusilla, the youngest daughter of King Herod Agrippa I.  During his trial Paul uses the opportunity to share the Gospel with this Roman and his Jewish wife.  Paul never misses an opportunity to share the message of Christ's gift of salvation [see Acts 24.

 

Question: When the new governor arrives, what appeal does Paul make when the governor asks him if he is willing to be tried for his crime of blasphemy in Jerusalem?  See Acts 25:10-12

Answer:   As a Roman citizen he claims his right to be tried in Rome by Caesar.

 

Before being sent to Rome Paul has the opportunity to share the Gospel with King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice.  This man is the last Jewish King of Judah.  Although he is a descendant of Herod the Great who was not Jewish, Agrippa is considered to be Jewish through his great-grandmother Herod's wife Mariamme the last Hasmonean princess of Judah.

 

Question: What is Herod Agrippa's response?  See Acts 25:28-29.

Answer: Herod is moved by Paul's testimony but does not yield to Christ. 

 

Neither Festus the Roman governor nor Herod Agrippa find any fault with Paul and would release him if he had not appealed to Caesar.  Paul's appeal to the Emperor cannot be ignored or annulled because Festus accepted it publicly in front of Paul's accusers.

 

The book of Acts end with Paul's arrival in Rome and mentions that he spent two years in house arrest there from about 60-62 AD.  During his years of imprisonment Paul was not idle.  While in prison in Caesarea he taught and preached to any who came to him and he served Christ in the same way during his imprisonment in Rome: "He welcomed all who came to visit him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ with complete fearlessness and without any hindrance from anyone."

 

Paul was released from prison and resumed his missionary work.  In AD 64 a huge fire engulfed the city of Rome destroying a majority of the city.  The Christians became the scapegoats for the terrible disaster and thus began the terrible period of Roman persecution.  Both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred sometime between 64 or 67 AD.

[See the Chart on the missionary work of the Apostles].

 

THE WRITING OF THE GOSPELS and other New Testament books

 

Some scholars date the writing of the Gospels past the eyewitness period of Christ's ministry but conservative Catholic scholars like Dr. Scott Hahn [professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville] and the scholars of the Navarre commentaries favor a date for the Gospels and possibly all of the other New Testament books being written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. None of the books of the New Testament mention the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  Since much of the New Testament concerns the tension between those Jews who refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah it would be amazing if not incredible if these works were completed after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and that those terrible events would not have been addressed by the inspired New Testament writers as a judgment on those who rejected the Messiah.  As for the order in which the Gospels were written and which Gospels are inspired we have the historical testimony of the disciples of the Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers.  St. Irenaeus clearly states that Matthew's Gospel was the first written followed by Mark and Luke, and finally the Gospel of St. John [see quote in introduction]. 

 

An early Church document known as the Muratorian Fragment supports Irenaeus' testimony.  Scholars have speculated that the author of the original Mauratorian document may have been Clement of Alexandria, Melito of Sardes, Polycratres of Ephesus, Justin Martyr, or possibly Hegesippus or Hippolytus --all either Apostolic fathers or early Church theologians.  Scholars do agree that the document was probably written not later than 155AD.  The document contains the earliest known list of the canon of the New Testament and lists the writing of the 4 Gospels in the same order as St. Irenaeus' list with Matthew as the first Gospel followed by Mark and Luke and last of all the Gospel according to St. John.

 

In his 4th century History of the Church Bishop Eusebius quotes the Apostolic Father Origen concerning the Gospels. Eusebius, History of the Church, book 6, chapter 25: "In the first of his books on the Gospel according to Matthew, in which he defends the canon of the Church, Origen bears witness that he knows only four Gospels. He writes as follows: 'As to the four Gospels, which alone are indisputable in the Church of God under heaven, I learned from tradition that the first to have been written was that of Matthew, who was formerly a tax-collector, but later an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  It was prepared for those who were converted from Judaism to the faith, and was written in Hebrew letters.  The second was that of Mark, who composed it under Peter's guidance. [.....]  The third, the Gospel which was praised by Paul, was that of Luke, written for gentile converts. Last of all, there is that of John.'"

 

There can be no argument that the Gospels were written by circa 80-90 AD.  Christian documents going back to the end of the first century show that especially the Gospel of Matthew was widely known and quoted.  These early documents include the Didache [the first Catechism of the Church], written between 80 and 100AD; the First Letter of Pope St. Clement of Rome [martyred c. 96AD]; the Letter of Barnabas, written c. 96AD; the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred c. 107AD; and the writings of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and disciple of St. John, martyred c. 155AD. 

 

Considering the historical information available the Navarre scholars conclude that: "We know that St. Matthew wrote his (Aramaic) Gospel before the other evangelists wrote theirs; the estimated date is around the year 50.  We do not know the date of composition of the Greek text, which is the one we have.  Nor do we know whether the Greek editor was St. Matthew himself or some other early Christian." [Navarre Bible Commentary: St. Matthew, page 17. In June 1911 the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Rome stated that the original text of St. Matthew, whether written in Aramaic or Hebrew [St. Jerome stated in the 4th century that he had used a copy of Matthew's Gospel written in the language of the Hebrews from the library in Caesarea] is to be dated prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and indeed prior to St. Paul's journey to Rome [in c. 60AD].  The commission concluded that in the view of the agreement among the Apostolic Fathers and ancient ecclesiastical writers and the unanimous tradition of the Church from the beginning, our Greek copy of Matthew's text, the only Matthew text we now have, is substantially identical with the original Matthew written in the language of the Jews. [from the Pontifical Biblical Commission Replies, 19 June, 1911; see Navarre Bible Commentary-St. Matthew; page 17 ].

 

 

THE GREAT JEWISH REVOLT AND THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM

 

"Jesus left the Temple, and as he was going away his disciples came up to draw his attention to the Temple buildings.  He said to them in reply, 'You see all these?  In truth I tell you, not a single stone here will be left on another: everything will be pulled down.'" Matthew 24:1-2

 

Jesus to His disciples speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem: " 'Then you will be handed over to be tortured and put to death; and you will be hated by all nations on account of my name.  And then many will fall away; people will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise; they will deceive many, and with the increase of lawlessness, love in most people will grow cold; but anyone who stands firm to the end will be saved.  This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed to the whole world as evidence to the nations.  And then the end will come. [...] In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place.'"

Matthew 24:9-14, 34

 

"...by this the Holy Spirit means us to see that as long as the old tent stands [the Temple in Jerusalem], the way into the holy place is not opened up; it is a symbol for this present time." Hebrews 9:8 

 

By the middle of the first century the Apostles and disciples had spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Judea to Asia Minor to Rome and from Rome into all the provinces of the Roman Empire as far away as India, literally fulfilling Jesus' prophecy and spreading the Gospel to the ends of the known world.  In 66 AD the Roman province of Judea revolted against the Roman Empire.  The revolt was incited by the slaughter of the Jews of Jerusalem who had come to protest the cruel treatment of the current Roman governor.  The first century Jewish historian Josephus records that about three thousand six hundred men, women and children perished.  This was followed by a massacre of 20 thousand of the Jews of Caesarea and 50 thousand in Alexandria, Egypt.  This terrible injustice ignited a Jewish revolt that would rage for 3 and a half bloody years, climaxing in the siege and final destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple on the 9th of Ab [Av] in the summer of 70 AD, and resulting in the deaths of a million Jews, the survivors being sold into slavery and disbursed into the gentile world.  This was literally the end of the world for the Old Covenant people and fulfilled not only the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew chapter 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, but also the prophecy of the judgment that would befall Israel is she rejected God which is found in Moses' last homily to the Children of Israel before entering the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 28:49-68. 

 

Deuteronomy 28:49 "Against you Yahweh will raise a distant nation from the ends of the earth like an eagle taking wing: a nation whose language you do not understand, a nation grim of face, with neither respect for the old, nor pity for the young." [...] verse 63 "For not having obeyed the voice of Yahweh your God, just as Yahweh used to delight in making you happy and in making your numbers grow, so will he take delight in ruining you and destroying you.  You will be torn from the country which you are about to enter and make your own.  Yahweh will scatter you throughout every people, from one end of the earth to the other; there you will serve other gods made of wood and stone, hitherto unknown either to you or to your ancestors.  Among these nations there will be no repose for you, no rest for the sole of your foot.."
 

With the destruction of the Temple which came 40 years after the Ascension of Christ, the Old Covenant had come to an end and the New Covenant Church founded by the faithful remnant of Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah became the "new Israel" with her geographic center not in Jerusalem but in Rome where the successors of the Jew Peter the Fisherman of Capernaum served the King of Kings as His early Vicar or Minister of ministers.  Just as God had given the first generation of the Sinai Covenant 40 years to adjust to the covenant obligations of the Sinai Covenant, Jesus also gave the last Old Covenant generation 40 years to come into the New Covenant in Christ before He removed the most visible symbol of the Old Covenant--the earthly Temple.  It was what the inspired writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote in Hebrews 9:8-4 "By this the Holy Spirit means us to see that as long as the old tent [the Temple] stands, the way into the Holy Place is not opened up; it is a symbol for this present time.  None of the gifts and sacrifices offered under these regulations can possibly bring any worshipper to perfection...[...]Bulls' blood and goat's blood are incapable of taking away sins..." Forgiveness of sins can only come from the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

 

There is no record of a single Christian community being hurt during the Jewish revolt.  The Christians all heeded the prophecy of Jesus concerning the warnings of the destruction of Jerusalem in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John [see Matthew chapter 24; Mark chapter 13; Luke chapter 21; and the Revelation of St. John [study available through Agape Bible Study].  At the beginning of the revolt in 66AD Simon, the Christian Bishop of Jerusalem [who had succeeded his kinsman James when he was martyred], led the Christian communities eastward across the Jordan River to safety in the Roman province of Perea.  After the end of the revolt in 73 AD Simon petitioned for the return of the Christian community and the Roman Emperor Vespasian allowed the Christians to return to the Holy Land. Unfortunately this short period of relative peace during the reigns of Vespasian and his son Titus was followed by a period of renewed Roman persecution during the reign of the next emperor, Domitian, son of Vespasian and younger brother of Titus.   Roman persecution became a bitter burden to Christians as the Church suffered during waves of persecution followed by periods of relative peace.  In spite of the suffering and the danger the Church continued to grow and the Eucharist was celebrated across the Roman world.

 

 

Questions for group discussion:

In c.150-155 AD St. Justin Martyr wrote a description of the celebration of the Lord's Day Mass in Rome in a letter to the pagan Roman Emperor Antonius Pius: "On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles (Gospels) and the writings of the prophets (Old Testament texts) are read, as much as time permits.  When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.  Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves [....] and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.  When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss (kiss of peace).  Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.  He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.  When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'AMEN!'  When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the 'Eucharisted' bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent." 

 

"And this food is with us called Eucharist, and it is not lawful for any man to partake of it but him who believes our teaching to be true, and has been washed with the washing which is for the forgiveness of sins, and unto a new birth, and lives as Christ commanded.  For it is not as common bread or common drink that we receive these, but as by God's word Jesus Christ our Savior became flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food made Eucharist by the world of prayer that comes from Him is both Flesh and Blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.  For the Apostles in the memoirs which they composed, which are called Gospels, have thus recorded that they were given command--that Jesus took bread and gave thanks and said 'Do this in remembrance of Me; this is my Body'; and took the cup likewise and gave thanks and said, 'This is My Blood,' and gave of it only to them..." [St Justin, First Apology, 65-67circa 155AD].

 

Questions: In reading St. Justin's account of the Liturgy of the Lord's Day what do you notice about this 2nd century Eucharistic celebration that is similar to your modern celebration of the Eucharist?

Answer: Meeting on Sunday, readings from the Scriptures of both the Old Testament and the Gospels, a homily that follows the readings, prayers of the faithful, kiss of peace, the bread and the wine mixed with water, the words of consecration, the great "Amen" followed by communion, and the Eucharist being taken to the sick.

 

Question: What are the differences between the Old and New Covenants?  Why is it that some of the Old Covenant Law, like the 10 Commandments, is retained but other ordinances like the animal sacrifices, the food restrictions, the purity laws, and the old holy days are abandoned?

Answer: From the Old Covenant we retain priests, an altar of sacrifice, incense, prayer, praise, worship, liturgy, but we acquired new sacraments and feast days instituted by Christ.  As to the Law of Moses, Jesus said He did not come to do away with the Law but to transform and fulfill it.  Those parts of the Law that He fulfilled like the various classes of sacrifices, the purification laws which taught holiness before the coming of the Holy Spirit and the sacramental nature of the Old Covenant feasts were no long applicable to the New Covenant since the sacrifices associated with the Old Covenant were imperfect and were replaced by Jesus' perfect sacrifice on the Cross.  In the New Covenant we apply His sacrifice for the salvation of the world in the celebration of the Eucharist where the same sacrifice that was offered on the Cross 2,000 years ago is once again present on the altar.  The 7 Sacraments and other Holy Days of Obligation replace the Old Covenant religious laws and obligations. What was retained, however, was the moral law in its entirety which included the 10 Commandments and the other articles of the moral law [ie, restrictions against homosexuality, incest, sacrifice of children, divorce, etc.].

 

Question: One of the major themes of Genesis was the dispossession of the firstborn sons in favor of the younger sons.  In Exodus Moses is told by Yahweh to tell Pharaoh "This is what Yahweh says: Israel is my firstborn son."  Compare that statement to Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32.  If the nation of Israel is God's "firstborn" son, what status are the Gentile nations? 

Answer: The Gentile nations are the younger son'restored to the Father.  But this does not mean that the older son is entirely abandoned. Even thought only a faithful remnant of Jews accepted Jesus as the Messiah and founded the New Covenant Church, St. Paul teaches in Romans that the Jews still have a part in Salvation History for God is always faithful to His Covenant. Even though salvation is only offered through Jesus Christ for "Only in him is there salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved"[ Acts 4:11-12]; St Paul teaches in Romans 11:1"What I am saying is this; is it possible that God abandoned his people? Out of the question!" And continuing in verses 7 & 12"What follows?  Israel failed to find what it was seeking; only those who were chosen found it and the rest had their minds hardened. [...]..their failure has brought salvation for the gentiles, in order to stir them to envy. And if their fall has proved a great gain to the world, and their loss has proved a great gain to the gentiles'how much greater a gain will come when all is restored to them!" In some way that is not yet clear to us, the Jews, our older brothers in the Covenant, still have a role to play in God's plan of Salvation History!

 

Please continue with Part II of The New Covenant Church in Salvation History: Lesson 28 and consult the various charts and handouts including the Chart of the Missionary work of the 12 Apostles after the Ascension in the Resources section.

 

References and recommended reading:

1.      Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture vols I-III, Joseph T. Lienhard editor [InterVarsity Press, 2001].

2.      Feast of Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger –Pope Benedict XVI, [Ignatius Press, 1986].

3.      Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger-Pope Benedict XVI, [Ignatius Press].

4.      Mystery of the Kingdom, Edward P. Sri, [Emmaus Road Purblishing, 1999].

5.      One Holy and Apostolic, Kenneth Whitehead, [Ignatius Press, 2000].

6.      The First Christian Centuries, Paul McKechnie, [InterVarsity Press, 2001].

7.      The Works of Josephus, [Hendrickson Publishers, 1987].

8.      Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, Joachim Jeremias, [Fortress Press, 1969].

9.      The Feasts of the Lord, Kevin Howard, Marvin Rosenthal, [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997].

10.  Offerings, Sacrifices and Worship in the Old Testament, J.H. Kurtz, [Hendrickson Publishers, 1998].

11.  The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, Alfred Edersheim, [Hendrickson Publishers, 1994].

12.  Church History, Fr. John Laux, M.A. [Tan Books, 1989].

13.  Ancient Israel, edited by Hershel Shanks, [Biblical Archaeology Society, 1999].

14.  Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J. [Bruce Publishing Company, 1965].

15.  St. Jerome Commentary, Catholic Logos Software System

16.  Many Religions - One Covenant, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, [Ignatius Press, 1999]

17.  Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible, Jon Levenson, [HarperSanFrancisco, 1987].

18.  Our Father's Plan, Dr. Scott Hahn, [St Joseph Communications, 1997].

19.  Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, [William Morrow, 2001].

19. Homilies on Acts, St. John Chrysostom

20.  The Navarre Bible Commentary - Acts of Apostles, Gospel of Matthew

21. Catechism of the Catholic Church

22. Making Sense Out of Scripture, Mark Shea

23. Hail, Holy Queen, Dr. Scott Hahn

24. Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion, Dr. Mark Miravalle

25. Church History, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea

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