The Churches Of Judea

by Jeff Asher

The exact time of the establishment of the Judean churches is not stated in the book of Acts. Their mention in the New Testament is tied to the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:26-31) and the movement of the Apostles out of Jerusalem after the first persecution ended (Acts 8:1; 9:32). In particular Lydda, Joppa and Saron are mentioned in order to introduce the next great phase of the commission's fulfillment -- the Gospel going to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-5).

Since Christ had planned the advance of the Kingdom in connection with the great commission (Acts 1:8), these churches must have been established shortly after the great Pentecost conversions and before the sending of Philip into Samaria (Acts 8:1, 4-5). If Saul was converted in 36 A.D. (see Harmony of the Life of Paul, by Frank Goodwin, p. 7), then these churches must have been established about a year after Pentecost (Acts 9:1, 31).

Their Growth

Peter's visit into Judea seems to have been much like the one he and John made into Samaria in order to confirm the churches (Acts 8:14), and the one like Paul and Barnabas made when returning through Galatia (Acts 14:23). The post-persecution period of the Judean churches was a time of edification and multiplication (Acts 9:31). This would have been the time when the first converts were maturing and advancing in the churches and new converts were being readily made (Acts 9:35, 42). Thus, about two years after their establishment we have opportunity for the apostles to have visited these churches and ordained elders in every city.

Their Suffering

The persecution against the church grew in direct proportion to the success of the gospel. The more converts that were made the more severe the retaliation of the High Priest and those in league with him. At first, it was threatening and intimidation (Acts 4:21). Then it was beating and imprisonment (Acts 5:18, 28, 40). After that, the violence escalated to mob assault and murder (Acts 6:9-15; 7:58). Finally, there was an organized, government-sanctioned persecution against the church in Jerusalem, Judea and wherever there was a synagogue (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2; 22:4-5, 19; 26:11).

The churches of Judea were most certainly the objects of this persecution (1 Thes. 2:13-16). However, their suffering was not limited to physical abuse from religio-political authorities. Their suffering began long before their attack.

It was the Judean Christians that bore the brunt of the responsibility for those Jews "out of every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:8-11). These are the saints who sold their possessions and parted them to every man, as he had need (Acts 2:45; 4:34). These are the saints that bore the responsibility for their brothers and sisters as they suffered (Hebrews 10:32,33). When the Lord chose to identify an outstanding saint among the Judean brethren, it was a woman "full of good works and almsdeeds" (Acts 9:36). However, poverty and duress was not all they endured. God allowed them to undergo the trial of famine and pestilence (Acts 11:28). Their suffering was so complete that they were reduced to charity in order to survive (Acts 11:29). Their affliction was an opportunity by which the kingdom increased.

Their Faithfulness

These precious saints of the Lord endured and remained faithful throughout their troubled history. They were under great pressure from their unbelieving countrymen to return to the bondage of the Law of Moses (Heb. 10:39; 12:1-5). However, their latter faith flourished even as it did in the beginning.

When the aged warrior Paul was arrested and imprisoned at Jerusalem and later in Caesarea, they sacrificed in order that he might be more comfortable (Heb. 10:32-34). Then later, as turmoil in Judea increased because of the conflict with the Roman state these saints heeded the words of Jesus and fled "to the mountains" (Matt. 24:16). They resisted the "false Christs" and the "false prophets" (Matt. 24:24). Sadly, they watched as Jerusalem fell to the sword, but their faith saved them (Matt. 24:13).

Their Comfort

Luke records that they achieved all these things "in the comfort of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 9:31). That comfort which the Holy Ghost gave them was the assurance "that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance ... great recompense of reward" (Heb. 10:34-35). Whatever these saints gave up in the service of Christ, whether houses, lands, reputation or even life itself was returned to them in coin of far greater value. As in the words of Paul, "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life" (Rom. 2:7, 10