Jerusalem: The Cradle of Missions
You and I are living in the prophetic time period in between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks of Daniel, or between the ascension and the Second Coming of Christ—both of these events taking place in Jerusalem. Following Christ’s ascension in Acts chapter one, individuals from all nations of the earth began coming to Christ, while the Jewish nation in turn was scattered into all lands. During this period in which you and I live, God is visiting the Gentiles to “take out of them a people for His name,” while at the same time Israel is now being restored back to her homeland. These are indeed exciting times for the student of prophecy and for those of us who take part in fulfilling God’s plan for mankind!
During the Lord’s earthly ministry, He called twelve Jewish men to serve with Him and prepare for the greatest Jewish revival the world had ever seen. “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 ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6)
Jesus plainly said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” in Matthew 15:24. However, we know by history and by Scripture that, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11)
Did Jesus abandon His own because they rejected Him? Absolutely not! In fact, Jesus taught that all this must come to pass in order for the gospel to be preached to all nations. “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)
The crucifixion of Christ was not intended to hinder Jewish, Roman or Gentile conversion but to provide for the salvation of both the Jew and the Gentile. It is important to note that, upon His resurrection, the command is then given to evangelize all nations. Our risen Lord gave very definite instructions to His disciples. It is no longer, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles,” but rather that the gospel now “should be preached…among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
Barely a week passed and the disciples began their mission in Jerusalem as commanded. Three thousand Jews converted to Christ under one sermon, which was preached by a converted Jew whose lips were recently stained with denials and curses.
Those added to the membership of the first church in Jerusalem were all Jewish. In the midst of opposition from priests, the Temple hierarchy and the unbelieving scorners, still we are told that multitudes of men and women were saved and added to the church—all of them Jewish converts. The Word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly. Even then the priests, who a few months previous had consented to crucify Christ, were now coming to Him by faith in “a great company.” Nothing could have been more precious to God than to see multitudes of Jewish people coming to Christ by faith in Jerusalem during a period of about twelve months after Pentecost.
Then, almost immediately, persecution comes to the Jerusalem believers. The deacon Stephen is the first martyr of the resurrected Christ. Thousands of Christians in Jerusalem were now driven out of their homes, and they were scattered abroad.
Christ’s command was clear enough—Jerusalem, Jerusalem’s surrounding countryside of Judaea, the next region north called Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth. It was never His intention that they remain in Jerusalem. The needs of others and the command of Christ should have constrained them voluntarily to go forth. But it was not until persecution arose that the Jerusalem believers went forth with the gospel. Not one missionary was sent forth from the church at Jerusalem before the persecution in Acts chapters seven and eight. Jerusalem has had her turn, and now Judaea and Samaria get theirs as the gospel is preached there with great results.
Some features of this persecution are deserving of special notice. Notice that they were all scattered except the Apostles. The most able and prepared men to carry the gospel remained at home. Another key point is that they did not go to the regions beyond, but only to the surrounding areas of Judaea and Samaria. Then, when they did go beyond their borders, they did not preach to Gentiles, but only to Jews. Those who went out and preached did not go forth as missionaries sent from their home church. They were scattered abroad and were trying to save their lives! But as they went, they preached the gospel.
Up to the time of Stephen’s martyrdom and the fiery persecution that followed, Jews were the only converts and converted Jews were the only preachers. Although that persecution sent Jewish converts by the thousands out of Jerusalem, it is clear that the most intense persecution did not subside and rest did not come until the gospel began to be preached to the Gentiles as well.
In a peculiar turn of events, the Lord not only uses the persecution for spreading the gospel, but He will then use the leading persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, to spread the gospel far and wide among both Jews and Gentiles. This very religious but persecuting Jew was “a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)
Strangely, the tables are turned: The persecutor of the church will become the persecuted; while the persecuted church will soon be at rest. But it is not until Christ’s command of world-wide evangelization is carried out that the church will have rest.
Notice carefully Christ’s command: Jerusalem, all Judaea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth. The command was to preach not only to the Jews but also to all creatures. Once the gospel began to be preached not only in Jerusalem, but also in Judaea, Samaria and beyond to the Gentiles instead of only to the Jews, then and only then had the churches rest throughout all the land of Israel. (Acts 9:31)
May we fulfill every priority of the commission of our Lord, following closely the directions given to the church: Preach the gospel to all nations. May we be obedient as we personally share in evangelizing the world—by personal service on the mission field, by prayer, by financially giving, or by doing all three.