From the Book

Jesus AND HIS TIMES - Reader’s Digest Association


The quotations below are from the book, Jesus and His Times by Reader’s Digest Association. It is an interesting book giving many details about what life was like during the time of Jesus Christ. It also included some interesting comments by the Board of Consultants for the book, who are in no way associated with Dispensationalism.


Editor: Kaari Ward

Principal Adviser and Editorial Consultant

Thomas L. Robinson, Department of Biblical Studies, Union Theological Seminary

Board of Consultants

David Graf, Department of History, University of Miami

George MacRae, The Divinity School, Harvard University

Bruce M. Metzger, Princeton Theological Seminary

Nahum M. Sama, Professor Emeritus, Department of Near Eastern and Judiac Studies, Brandeis University

Gerald Sheppard, Department of Biblical Studies, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

Copyright © 1987 The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.


Seeds of Christianity- page 275

At first the Apostles and their growing band were but one among many Jewish sects that flourished during the first century A.D. They were distinguished largely by the fact that they persisted in teaching in Jesus’ name. They did not call themselves Christians (it would be years before the term was coined), but simply followers of the Way. Their activities were centered in Jerusalem, and they continued to offer sacrifice at the Temple and to observe the laws of Judaism.

But they differed greatly from other sects in one important respect: they believed that, with the resurrection of Jesus, a new age had dawned- an age that would be the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel. And they expected Jesus to return, possibly at any moment, ushering in the kingdom of heaven. Their shared experience of the Holy Spirit was, to them, the undisputable sign that the transformation of the world had begun. It was a gift to be shared with everyone, and they were driven by an urgent need to share it while there was yet time.

These early believers in Jesus formed a community of strong mutual support, selling possessions and pooling the proceeds for sustenance while their leaders devoted their time and energies to preaching the Way. Their communal meals in remembrance of the Last Supper that the Apostles had shared with Jesus, were central to their lives. This daily breaking of bread together, during which stories of their absent yet ever-present Lord were retold, was probably-along with the baptism of new followers-the only ritual that set them apart. And even these two rites they shared, in form if not in content, with the Essenes and other Jewish sects.

Although the followers of the Way included Galileans, Judeans, and others whose primary language was Aramaic-as was true of the Twelve Apostles themselves-there were also many Hellenist Jews, Greek speakers whose roots were in the lands of the Diaspora. There Hellenist Jews were to be crucial to the development and spread of Christianity. For some the journey to Jerusalem for Pentecost that fateful spring had changed their lives forever. Some had come from cosmopolitan communities in Palestine, such as Caesarea, Sebaste, and Ascalon; others had come from the far off lands of the Diaspora. Some remained in Jerusalem, and others took the message of Jesus back home with them.

Another Herod- page 283

One of Caligula’s orders was to affect the future of Judaism and the rapid spread of Christianity in unforeseen ways. This was the appointment in A.D. 37 of his friend Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, as king over the lands that Herod Agrippi’s recently deceased uncle, Herod Philip, had ruled as tetrarch. Two years later, Caligula took the territories of Galilee and Perea from another uncle, Herod Antipas, and gave them to Herod Agrippa as well.

Herod Agrippa was visiting in Rome when Caligula was assassinated, and he aided the aging Claudius in solidifying his hold on the imperial throne. One of Claudius’ first official acts as emperor was to reward this loyalty. Herod Agrippa was appointed king over Judea and Samaria, giving him sway over most of the territory that his grandfather had ruled.

Raised in Rome but very conscious of his Jewish heritage, Herod Agrippa openly favored the Pharisees, and his support became more active as his power grew. This open espousal of the Pharisee cause, perhaps inspired as much by dreams of a resurgent Jewish nation as by religious persuasion, placed the power of his throne in opposition to the sects that the Pharisees viewed as radical.

Herod Agrippa soon began a persecution of the followers of the Way, presumably because he saw them as a threat to his ambitions for the Jewish nationalism. James the son of Zebedee was beheaded, and Peter was jailed; Acts 12:7-11 tells how “an angel of the Lord” appeared and released him from prison. Peter apparently went into hiding for a time, and the leadership of the Jerusalem community of believers fell to another James, identified by Paul as “the Lord’s brother.” His loyalty to Israel and his scrupulous observance of Mosaic law undoubtedly did much to keep the peace between the followers of the Way and the Jewish community in which they lived.

Herod Agrippa died in A.D. 44 while presiding over a festival of games in Caesarea. Soon after having been hailed as divine by the crowd, he had been gripped by a sharp pain-smitten by the Lord, says Acts, “because he did not give God the glory.”

Conference in Jerusalem- page 285

Before A.D. 50, the stresses that were inherent in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles reached the point of crisis. The emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome, possibly prompted by the activities of Christians- Suetonius, a Roman historian, later wrote that the Jews had been stirred up by an agitator named “Chrestus.” This expulsion certainly included Jews who were also Christians and indicates that the Roman authorities did not yet distinguish the Christians as a separate group.

Meanwhile, Jewish Christians from Judea had come to Antioch in Syria to teach that only those who were circumcised could be saved in Jesus’ name. From their viewpoint, since Jesus was the Messiah promised to Israel, there was no tension between the new faith and the Torah. Circumcision was, and must remain in their eyes, the sign of God’s “everlasting covenant” with Abraham. This direct contradiction of Paul’s teaching threatened to split the church in two, and so a conference of the Apostles and elders had been arranged in Jerusalem to settle the question.

Paul told the conference of the work he had been doing and persuaded them that he was, indeed, serving the will of God by opening the faith to all humanity. The members of the group gave one another “the right hand of fellowship,” and it was decided that Paul was to continue his missionary work among the Gentiles while Peter would lead the proclamation of the faith to the Jews. It was as much a compromise as decision, for the rift remained and would surface in the future. Soon, a confrontation with Peter, described later by Paul in Galatians 2, demonstrated that the question was far from resolved.

Peter came to Antioch and shared communal meals with Jews and Gentiles alike. But later, when Judeans came who followed the dietary laws, he “drew back,” probably insisting that Gentiles should also follow these laws if the two groups were to break bread in fellowship together. It may have been meant as a act of diplomacy, but Paul would have none of it. “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew,” he demanded, “how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”