Jerusalem, 30 to 40 A.D.
‘All power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore out into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.’ 1
‘For behold I am with you all days, even until the end of the world.’ On Thursday 18 May in the year 30 our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven. His Apostles now quietly waited for the power from on high which they needed for the huge task which lay ahead. In each church late each Saturday evening thereafter, the table of the Lord was spread and before Him were gathered his Apostles and elders, while before His sanctuary knelt or stood praying His people. All were gathered in the full knowledge that He, the Christos Kyrios (‘Messiah and Lord’) was fully present there as the living bread from Heaven, the Eucharist, in their midst. What was the meaning of this new word ‘church’? Where had it come from? A ‘church’ is a formal ‘ingathering’, ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’ (qahal in Hebrew, ekklesia in Greek). Because of Christ’s sacrificial Presence in the Eucharist, each church was and is primarily a temple. Yet because of the sermons, Scripture readings and teaching which take place there, it was and is also like a synagogue. This new name of ‘church’ was given by our Lord for His new temple-cum-synagogue into which He gathered His followers.* 2
In Jesus, God had come among men. And He had come to stay. Indeed neither of the Apostolic Gospels (St. Matthew and St. John) mentions the Ascension. As Apostles, Matthew and John knew that the Incarnation was not temporary but permanent. Jesus remains among us in the Eucharist. Only in the later Gospels by non-Apostles, St. Mark and St. Luke, do we find mention of the formal departure (the Ascension) of the visible Jesus. The Apostles knew that their actions and teaching sacramentally continued those of Jesus Himself. Thus St. John later wrote of how ‘the whole world’ could not contain a record of Jesus’ actions, and St. Luke, opening his Acts wrote of how Jesus ‘began to do and teach’ until His Ascension. 3
On Pentecost Sunday (28 May, 30), some 3,000 Jewish pilgrims joined the newly born Church. As St. Luke’s list shows, they had come from almost every country of the eastern Mediterranean and west Asian world. But most of these newly baptised Jewish Christians could not remain in Jerusalem to live; they were pilgrims and would soon need to return to their faraway homelands. How were they to practise and preach their newfound faith? How were they to defend it? How were they to explain their faith that a recently crucified man whom most of them had never met had in fact returned from the dead and was in fact the long-awaited Messiah of Israel? How were they to withstand all the scoffing and hard questions which anyone accepting such apparently impossible claims must face and answer? 4
In short, all Jewish Christians from the beginning stood in dire need of a written summary of the Life and teachings of Jesus. While it is certain that literate disciples had kept notes of His words, actions and sermons, the fact
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...