‘A Door Leading to Activity Opens’
“A large door that leads to activity has been opened.”—1 Cor. 16:9.
OVER nineteen hundred years ago a new era dawned. It opened up marvelous opportunities that to this day have not been closed. The Most High God, by means of his firstborn Son, extended to people of all tribes, nations and races the privilege of serving him with never-ending life in view.—Acts 14:15; 17:30; Titus 3:4, 5; 1 John 5:13.
2. (a) With whom had Jehovah God dealt exclusively for centuries before our Common Era? (b) Why did only the Jews know the One whom they were worshiping?
2 For centuries before the time of Jesus’ coming to the earth Jehovah God dealt exclusively with the Israelites, or Jews. They alone “were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” (Rom. 3:2) Only natural Israelites or Gentiles associating with them in worship could gain an understanding of Jehovah’s revealed purpose. That is why Jesus could say to a Samaritan woman: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know.” (John 4:22) The Samaritans accepted the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses, but rejected the rest of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. Hence, their knowledge of the true God Jehovah was defective. They did not know him to the extent that he had revealed himself. However, Jews who accepted all the Hebrew Scriptures as inspired of God and who endeavored to worship according to the way outlined in those Scriptures certainly knew the One whom they were venerating. They worshiped according to the divinely designated arrangement centered at the temple in Jerusalem.—Deut. 12:5, 6; 1 Ki. 14:21.
3. (a) To what change in worship did Jesus Christ point when speaking to a Samaritan woman? (b) What evidence is there in the Hebrew Scriptures that there would, in time, be a change in the arrangement for pure worship?
3 However, in speaking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus indicated that a change was at hand. He said: “The hour is coming when neither in this mountain [Gerizim, regarded as sacred by the Samaritans] nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father.” (John 4:21) Foregleams regarding such a change had already been provided in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jehovah God, by means of his prophet Jeremiah, had declared that a new covenant would replace the old Law covenant. (Jer. 31:31-34) Through the inspired psalmist David, the Most High had revealed that the high priestly office would be bestowed upon one not of the line of Aaron. This one would be a king-priest as was Melchizedek of ancient Salem. At Psalm 110:4 we read: “Jehovah has sworn (and he will feel no regret): ‘You are a priest to time indefinite according to the manner of Melchizedek!’” This change in the priesthood also called for a different sacrifice. This, too, had been pointed to prophetically. Psalm 40:6 tells us: “Sacrifice and offering you did not delight in; these ears of mine you opened up [“but a body you prepared,” Septuagint Version]. Burnt offering and sin offering you did not ask for.”
4. Why can acceptable worship be rendered only through Jesus Christ?
4 From the Christian Greek Scriptures we learn that Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant, that he is the king-priest according to the manner of Melchizedek and that his perfect human body constitutes the divinely acceptable atoning sacrifice. (Heb. 7:15-28; 8:6; 9:15; 10:1-10) Accordingly, acceptance of Jesus Christ as the sole means to approach the Father became essential for all desiring to worship in the right manner. The Son of God said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Along with this change in worship came the grand opportunity for individuals to become part of the new nation of spiritual Israel, with “citizenship” in the kingdom of the heavens.—Phil. 3:20.
5. What did Jesus’ disciples have to do in order that others might learn about the way to worship God acceptably? (Rom. 10:10-15)
5 But how would people learn about this? The answer is found in the commission that Jesus Christ gave his disciples after his resurrection from the dead: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) Yes, there was a work to be done in proclaiming and teaching God’s truth to others. During the three and a half years that Jesus Christ taught publicly, the apostles and other disciples had been trained to do that important work. On account of this vital activity, other opportunities opened up to those who were able and willing to make themselves available for service.
THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION BEGINS FUNCTIONING
6. When did the Christian congregation have its start, and how did Jehovah show that he was no longer using the Jewish congregation?
6 Came the day of Pentecost of the year 33 C.E. That date marks the start of the Christian congregation. Unmistakable evidence was then provided that the congregation God was now using consisted of his Son’s disciples. On that day, the Most High, through the Lord Jesus Christ, poured out the holy spirit on about 120 disciples assembled in an upper room of a house at Jerusalem. This outpouring of the spirit was preceded by “a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze.” That noise attracted the attention of many Jews and proselytes, causing them to assemble in the vicinity of the house where the disciples were located. These disciples, empowered by the holy spirit, began speaking in foreign languages “about the magnificent things of God.” The Jews and the proselytes who had come to Jerusalem from distant places were simply amazed to hear their native tongues being spoken by Galileans.—Acts 2:1-12.
7. How could Jews and proselytes become members of the Christian congregation?
7 The apostle Peter then explained to the assembled throng that God’s spirit had been poured out in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Continuing, he showed that Jesus, whom they had impaled, had been resurrected from the dead and that he was indeed the Christ, King David’s Lord, seated at the right hand of God. What was the response to Peter’s words? The account tells us: “When they heard this they were stabbed to the heart, and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: ‘Men, brothers, what shall we do?’” Peter answered: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the free gift of the holy spirit.” About 3,000 persons acted on this encouragement.—Acts 2:14-41.
8. What arrangements were made to enable those who had come to Jerusalem from distant places to remain so as to benefit from the teaching of the apostles?
8 These new believers and the many others who came into association with the Christian congregation thereafter had much to learn. The apostles, who had been personally trained by Jesus Christ, were certainly in the best position to teach them. But the apostles could not travel to all the distant parts of the earth from which Jews and proselytes had come to Jerusalem. In order to be able to devote themselves to the teaching of the apostles, therefore, the new converts extended their stay in the city. They were assisted to do so when many of their fellow believers voluntarily sold their possessions and turned over the funds to the apostles for distribution to needy ones.—Acts 2:44, 45; 4:34, 35.
9. As the Jerusalem congregation grew in size, what appointments were made, and why?
9 The growth of the Jerusalem congregation opened up opportunities for others besides the apostles to serve in caring for the needs of all. Very early in the history of the congregation we read of young men who evidently rendered manual services for the apostles. They may have been regularly on hand for running necessary errands. (Acts 5:6, 9, 10) What fine training for the future these young men were receiving by being in close association with the apostles! In time, the relief work became just too much for the apostles to supervise. When a problem arose in connection with the distributing of food to needy widows, the apostles realized that it would be inappropriate to slight their teaching responsibilities to look after this less important matter. Hence, they invited the brothers in the congregation to select from among themselves seven qualified men to handle the daily distribution of food. After having prayed, the apostles appointed these men by the laying on of hands. All seven were men of outstanding spiritual qualifications, “full of spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:1-6) Also, as the congregation grew, the apostles must have appointed capable men “full of spirit and wisdom” to serve along with them as elders in caring for the spiritual needs of the disciples.
CONTACT MAINTAINED WITH NEW CONGREGATIONS
10. (a) What effect did a severe outbreak of persecution against the Jerusalem congregation have on the spread of the “good news”? (b) How did the body of elders at Jerusalem maintain contact with other congregations?
10 Soon after the establishment of the congregation at Jerusalem a great persecution arose against it, forcing most of the disciples to leave the city. Those who were scattered seized the opportunity to spread the “good news.” As a result, congregations sprang up in such cities as Samaria and Antioch. (Acts 8:1, 4-8; 11:19-21) When news about these congregations and their needs reached Jerusalem, arrangements were made, doubtless by the body of elders there, to provide spiritual help. The apostles Peter and John were sent to the city of Samaria and, as they returned to Jerusalem, made it a point to declare the “good news” in many Samaritan villages. (Acts 8:14-17, 25) We also read of Peter’s later visiting congregations at Lydda and Joppa. (Acts 9:32-43) It was from Joppa that Peter, at the direction of God’s spirit, went to Caesarea, there to open up for the first time to uncircumcised Gentiles—Cornelius, his household and intimate friends—the opportunity to become disciples of Jesus Christ.—Acts 10:23-48.
11. Why did Barnabas go to Antioch, and how did he get help for building up the congregation there?
11 The Jerusalem congregation sent the disciple Barnabas to Antioch, where he did much to encourage his fellow believers. (Acts 11:22-24) Since he needed help in advancing true worship in that city, Barnabas took the initiative to search for Paul in Tarsus and to invite him to share in the work at Antioch. This was probably some twelve years after Paul, a former persecutor of Christ’s followers, had become a believer. Together, Paul and Barnabas spent a year with the Antioch congregation. (Acts 11:25, 26) During this time prophets from Jerusalem would visit the Antioch congregation. (Acts 11:27) One of these prophets, Agabus, foretold a great famine. This prompted the Antioch congregation to organize relief measures for the brothers in Judea and then to send Paul and Barnabas with their contribution to Jerusalem. (Acts 11:28-30) Accompanied by John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, the two men returned to Antioch.—Acts 12:25.
12. (a) Why did Paul and Barnabas leave Antioch to open up new territories? (b) How did the new congregations that they established come to have bodies of elders? (c) How did the Antioch congregation learn about the activity of Paul and Barnabas?
12 Thereafter the holy spirit directed that Paul and Barnabas be set aside for special work. (Acts 13:1, 2) In harmony with the spirit’s guidance, Paul and Barnabas traveled through Cyprus and parts of Asia Minor, preaching the “good news” and establishing new congregations. On revisiting these congregations they appointed elders to care for the spiritual needs of the disciples. (Acts 14:21-23) Returning to Antioch, they ‘gathered the congregation together and related the many things that God had done by means of them and that he had opened to the nations the door to faith.’—Acts 14:27.
13. (a) Why did a problem arise in the Antioch congregation respecting Gentile believers? (b) Why was it logical for the matter to be decided at Jerusalem?
13 Then a problem arose. Certain brothers from Judea came to Antioch, insisting that non-Jews who embraced Christianity had to be circumcised and charged to obey the law of Moses. Otherwise they could not gain salvation. (Acts 15:1) Where could this matter be settled? The most logical place would be Jerusalem, as that was the congregation with which the apostles were associated. Moreover, it was from there that the work of preaching and making disciples had spread out to all the many places where congregations were then located. Hence, the elders of the Jerusalem congregation occupied the position of a central body to which other elders could direct inquiries. So we find that Paul and Barnabas were sent to the “apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding [the circumcision] dispute.”—Acts 15:2.
14. (a) How did the central body of elders at Jerusalem go about resolving the circumcision issue? (Acts 15:6-21) (b) How were other congregations informed regarding the decision that was reached? (Act 15:22-29)
14 The central body of elders, including the apostles, thoroughly discussed the matter. Testimony was presented showing that God himself had accepted the non-Jews in their uncircumcised state, pouring out his spirit upon them. It thus became clear that the bringing of the Gentiles into association with the Christian congregation fulfilled Hebrew Scripture prophecy. A decision was reached and written up in letter form. (Acts 15:6-21) This letter stated:
“The apostles and the older men, brothers, to those brothers in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the nations: Greetings! Since we have heard that some from among us have caused you trouble with speeches, trying to subvert your souls, although we did not give them any instructions, we have come to a unanimous accord and have favored choosing men to send to you together with our loved ones, Barnabas and Paul, men that have delivered up their souls for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are therefore dispatching Judas and Silas, that they also may report the same things by word. For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!”—Acts 15:23-29.
15. How did the decisions of the central body of elders at Jerusalem and the visits of faithful brothers help the congregations?
15 Through such letters from the central body of elders at Jerusalem and the visits of various faithful brothers, the congregations were built up and strengthened to continue declaring the “good news” and helping fellow believers to remain firm in the faith. (Acts 15:30-32; 16:4, 5) Additionally, inspired letters from Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John did much to fortify the disciples spiritually.
16. (a) What opportunities for service did the Christian era open up for all disciples, both men and women? (Matt. 28:19, 20; Gal. 2:9; 6:10; 1 Tim. 5:10; Titus 2:3-5) (b) What other opportunities for service opened up to capable men who made themselves available?
16 Truly, the beginning of the Christian era opened up grand opportunities for service. All disciples, both men and women, had the privilege of proclaiming the “good news,” and of encouraging fellow believers and helping them in time of difficulty or in spiritual ways. Evangelizers were needed to get the “good news” declared in new territories. There was also a need for capable brothers who could spend time in visiting and working with congregations for a period of time to strengthen them and to share in making appointments of elders and congregational servants. Since a heavy load of responsibility fell on these traveling brothers, they were helped by young men who could run errands for them and in other ways render personal services. What about today? Are opportunities of this kind still open?
[Picture on page 333]
Peter explains the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy to assembled Jews and proselytes
[Picture on page 336]
When Gentiles were taken into the Christian congregation, the central body of elders gave directions to maintain unity