The Western World of Paul’s Time

FAMINE. During the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54), Agabus predicted a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. There are records of frequent famines at that time. Josephus reports a great famine in Judea during the procuratorships of Cuspius Fadus (A.D. 44-46) and Tiberius Alexander (A.D. 46-48).

In A.D. 47, the Antioch church took steps to alleviate the food shortage among their Jerusalem brethren. Barnabas and Saul were delegated to take the gifts to Jerusalem, which they gave to the Christian elders, an indication that all the apostles had left Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30). God was using hardships to bring Gentile and Jewish brethren to a oneness in the church. It became abundantly clear that God is no respecter of persons.

Now the Jerusalem saints depended upon Antioch saints for survival. A shift of power was taking place, the church was about to become predominately Gentile and Antioch would be its headquarters. The kingdom of God with its special blessings was passing from Jerusalem. The remnant of Jewish believers would not save the city from destruction in A.D. 70.

Although God watches over His people, it does not mean life will be a bed of roses. Trouble will come to us as it came to the church in the first century. There was no panic or despair in their ranks. God used times of suffering and difficulty to strengthen the disciples. They developed a “tough faith.”

In spite of persecution and famine, the word of God continued to increase and spread.

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark (Acts 12:24-25).

JOHN MARK. The young cousin of Barnabas becomes the second member of Paul’s inner circle. A Byzantine tradition says that the house of Mark’s mother was the place of the Last Supper and the gathering place of early Christians. For some reason, at Perga, Mark left the first missionary journey and returned to Jerusalem—a move that eroded Saul’s confidence in him.

When plans were laid for the next missionary journey, Paul argued vehemently with Barnabas against taking Mark again. The disagreement was so sharp, the group split up, and Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus.

Mark eventually made his way to Rome, where he became a companion of Peter—indeed, Peter calls him “my son Mark.” Early Christian writers Papias and Irenaeus say Mark “handed down to us in writing the things Peter had proclaimed” about Jesus. This Gospel of Mark may have been the first published account of the life of Jesus.

Later, Mark and Paul resolve their rift, for Paul called Mark his “fellow-worker” and told Timothy “to get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

Church historian Eusebius says Mark eventually went to Alexandria to become its first bishop. Tradition claims Mark was martyred there; in the ninth century, his relics were carried off as war booty to Venice, where they are said to rest in the Cathedral of St. Mark.

TRANSITIONS. The transition from Judaism to Christianity was vested in Saul of Tarsus, not in Peter or James. Right up to the time that Jesus Christ died on the Cross, God’s way of revealing Himself and walking with His people was through Judaism. Jesus Himself had been part of the old system. But the curtain of the Temple had been torn and the link between the Temple and God ended. Little by little, the followers of Jesus separated themselves from the Temple and all Jewish religious observances.

The transition from Law to Grace would occur under the trusteeship of the apostle to the Gentiles. Through Paul, all Christians would see that God had not called them to law, but to a relationship with Christ.

The difficulties involved in these transitions could not have been easy for a man who was proud of being a Jew. When Peter visited Antioch, he at first followed the custom established by Saul, and ate with the Gentile converts. But when more rigid Jews came from Judea, he gave it up and persuaded Barnabas to do the same. This inconsistency led to a severe rebuke from Paul (Galatians 2:11-21).

This rebuke must have occurred prior to the Apostolic Decree at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) or else he would have used the Decree to bolster his argument in his Letter to the Galatians.

No more important thinking in the entire world was being done over the past fifteen years as Saul’s pondering of faith. It had begun to take shape. He was ready! The on the job training period was completed—visions, revelations, sufferings, travels, success, failure, preaching and teaching had served well to mold this vessel of clay filled with treasure for God’s use.

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