The first community of faith
in Yeshua (Jesus) started on the day of Shavuot (Pentecost). There was an
original core of 120 Jewish believers (Acts 1:14), made up primarily of
native-born "Israelis" from the Galilee (Acts 1:11; 2:7)
A careful reading of the Gospels and Acts reveals a social, almost ethnic
tension between the Galilean disciples of Yeshua and the more religious
Jews of the Judean and Jerusalem area (Matthew 26:73, Mark 14:70, Luke
22:59; 23:6, John 7:1; 7:52). That tension between the "Galileans" and
the "Judeans" finds significant parallels in the tensions between
Messianic and Orthodox Jews today.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out, the core group immediately
encountered a larger group of 3,000 (Acts 2:41). These people had come
from outside of Israel to visit Jerusalem for the Holy Days. "And
there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation
under heaven" (Acts 2:5). These were what we would call "diaspora"
However there were also people from other ethnic backgrounds: "...
both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs" (Acts 2:11). (Crete is a
European island close to Israel.) So within the whole group there were:
- "Israeli" (Galilean) Jews
- Diaspora Jews
- Proselytes to Judaism
- Europeans (Cretans)
The multi-ethnic international "church" or "ecclesia" developed later as
the gospel spread into Asia Minor and Europe. However, the pattern of
different types of branches grafted together (Romans 11:17) was already
apparent and built into the foundation of the ecclesia from the first
day. This mix of different languages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds
caused stress within the community (Acts 6:1).
As the international visitors returned home, the gospel spread into their
nations. Each national group searched for their own identity, and even
name. "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch"
(Acts 11:26). The Jewish disciples within Israel had not sought a
separate "branding" because they saw themselves as an integral part of
the Jewish community around them - not as starting a new religion.
As the number of churches among the Gentiles grew, two identities
developed. Among the nations, they were referred to as "the churches
of the Gentiles" (Romans 16:4); while, the Jewish believers were
called the "remnant of Israel." "I have reserved for Myself in
Israel ... a remnant called by grace" (Romans 11:4-5). The
international council of apostles (Acts 15) determined that these two
groups could develop their own congregational subcultures.
Not only did the gospel spread into Europe, but it also penetrated the
communities of "Orthodox" Jews in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of
religious Jews came to faith and gathered around Jacob (James). They
maintained their own lifestyle, faithful to the Torah and Rabbinic
customs, in a somewhat different way from the original Galilean
disciples. "Many myriads of Jews have believed and they are all
zealous for the Law...and they walk according to the customs ..."
This multi-ethnic diversity is a natural outgrowth of the original
commission to preach the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the
ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). As the gospel is returning from the ends of
the earth to Israel today, there is an amazing restoration of conditions
somewhat parallel to those of the first century: Messianic Jews in Israel
and the Diaspora; and Christians from every tribe, tongue and nation
(Revelation 7:4, 9).
Recently we were privileged to take part in Dan and Anja's
wedding. Anja has been overseeing our translation work at Revive for
the past 7 years and serves as our European coordinator. Dan has a
B.A. in theology and is a certified tour guide in Israel. The
wedding was attended by some 75 "not-yet-believers", who all sensed
the joy, love and presence of God throughout the ceremony.
Pray that the light of Yeshua would continue to shine through Dan