Zealous Witnesses of Jehovah on the March!
JEHOVAH’S first-century witnesses were a people of bold and zealous action. They eagerly carried out Jesus’ commission: “Go . . . make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
But how do we know that Christ’s early followers took that commission seriously? Why, the Bible book Acts of Apostles proves that they were zealous witnesses of Jehovah, truly on the march!
BENEFITS AND OTHER FEATURES
Similarity in language and style between the third Gospel and the book of Acts indicates one writer—Luke, “the beloved physician.” (Colossians 4:14) Among its unique features are the conversations and prayers preserved in Acts. About 20 percent of the book consists of speeches, such as those given by Peter and Paul in support of the true faith.
The book of Acts was written in Rome about 61 C.E. Apparently that is why it does not mention Paul’s appearance before Caesar or the persecution Nero waged against Christians about 64 C.E.—2 Timothy 4:11.
Like Luke’s Gospel, Acts was directed to Theophilus. It was written to bolster faith and report on the spread of Christianity. (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1, 2) The book proves that Jehovah’s hand was with his loyal servants. It makes us aware of the power of his spirit and strengthens our confidence in divinely inspired prophecy. Acts also helps us to endure persecution, moves us to be self-sacrificing Witnesses of Jehovah, and builds up our faith in the Kingdom hope.
As Paul’s associate, Luke recorded their travels. He also spoke to eyewitnesses. These factors and thorough research make his writings a masterpiece as far as historical accuracy is concerned.
Scholar William Ramsay could therefore say: “Luke is a historian of the first rank: not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
PETER—A FAITHFUL WITNESS
The God-given work of declaring the good news can be carried out only in the power of Jehovah’s holy spirit. Thus, when Jesus’ followers receive holy spirit, they will become his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and “to the most distant part of the earth.” At Pentecost 33 C.E., they are filled with holy spirit. Since it is only 9:00 a.m., they surely are not drunk, as some think. Peter gives a thrilling witness, and 3,000 are baptized. Religious opposers try to silence Kingdom proclaimers, but in answer to prayer, God enables his witnesses to speak his word with boldness. Threatened again, they respond: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” The work goes on as they continue to preach from house to house.—1:1–5:42.
Reliance on Jehovah’s spirit enables his witnesses to endure persecution. Hence, after the faithful witness Stephen is stoned to death, Jesus’ followers are scattered, but this only spreads the word. Philip the evangelizer pioneers in Samaria. Surprisingly, the violent persecutor Saul of Tarsus is converted. As the apostle Paul, he feels the heat of persecution in Damascus but escapes the Jews’ murderous designs. Briefly, Paul associates with the apostles in Jerusalem and then moves on in his ministry.—6:1–9:31.
Jehovah’s hand is with his witnesses, as Acts goes on to show. Peter raises Dorcas (Tabitha) from the dead. Responding to a call, in Caesarea he declares the good news to Cornelius, his household, and friends. They are baptized as the first Gentiles to become Jesus’ disciples. The “seventy weeks” thus end, bringing us to 36 C.E. (Daniel 9:24) Shortly thereafter, Herod Agrippa I executes the apostle James and has Peter arrested. But the apostle experiences angelic deliverance from prison, and ‘the word of Jehovah goes on growing and spreading.’—9:32–12:25.
PAUL’S THREE MISSIONARY TOURS
Blessings flow to those who expend themselves in God’s service, as Paul did. His first missionary tour begins at Antioch, Syria. On the island of Cyprus, the proconsul Sergius Paulus and many others become believers. At Perga in Pamphylia, John Mark departs for Jerusalem, but Paul and Barnabas press on to Antioch in Pisidia. In Lystra, Jews foment persecution. Though stoned and left for dead, Paul recovers and carries on in the ministry. Finally, he and Barnabas return to Antioch in Syria, ending the first tour.—13:1–14:28.
Like its first-century counterpart, today’s Governing Body resolves questions with guidance by the holy spirit. Circumcision was not among the “necessary things,” which include “abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.” (15:28, 29) As Paul begins a second missionary tour, Silas accompanies him, and they are later joined by Timothy. Prompt action follows a call to step over into Macedonia. At Philippi, witnessing results in an uproar and imprisonment. But Paul and Silas are released by an earthquake and preach to the jailer and his household, and these become baptized believers.—15:1–16:40.
Jehovah’s servants should be diligent students of his Word, like Paul and the Scripture-searching Beroeans. On the Areopagus in Athens, he gives a witness about Jehovah’s creatorship, and some become believers. So much interest is manifested in Corinth that he remains in that city for 18 months. While there, he writes First and Second Thessalonians. Parting company with Silas and Timothy, the apostle sails to Ephesus, then embarks for Caesarea, and travels on to Jerusalem. When he returns to Syrian Antioch, his second missionary tour has ended.—17:1–18:22.
As Paul showed, house-to-house witnessing is a vital part of the Christian ministry. The apostle’s third tour (52-56 C.E.) largely retraces his second journey. Paul’s ministry stirs up opposition at Ephesus, where he writes First Corinthians. Second Corinthians is written in Macedonia, and he writes to the Romans while in Corinth. At Miletus, Paul meets with the elders of Ephesus and speaks of how he taught them publicly and from house to house. His third tour ends upon his arrival in Jerusalem.—18:23–21:14.
Persecution does not seal the lips of Jehovah’s faithful witnesses. So when mob violence breaks out against Paul at the temple in Jerusalem, he boldly witnesses to the seething rioters. A plot to murder him is frustrated when he is sent to Governor Felix at Caesarea with a military guard. Paul is kept in bonds for two years as Felix holds out for a bribe that never comes. His successor, Festus, hears Paul appeal to Caesar. Before heading for Rome, however, the apostle makes a stirring defense before King Agrippa.—21:15–26:32.
Undaunted by trials, Jehovah’s servants keep on preaching. This surely was true of Paul. Because of his appeal to Caesar, the apostle sets out for Rome with Luke about 58 C.E. At Myra in Lycia, they transfer to another ship. Though they are shipwrecked and land on the island of Malta, later another vessel takes them to Italy. Even under military guard in Rome, Paul calls people in and declares the good news to them. During this imprisonment, he writes to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, Philemon, and the Hebrews.—27:1–28:31.
EVER ON THE MARCH
The book of Acts demonstrates that the work begun by God’s Son was carried on in faithfulness by Jehovah’s witnesses of the first century. Yes, under the power of God’s holy spirit, they witnessed zealously.
Because Jesus’ early followers prayerfully relied on God, His hand was with them. Thousands thus became believers, and ‘the good news was preached in all creation under heaven.’ (Colossians 1:23) Indeed, both then and now, true Christians have proved to be zealous witnesses of Jehovah on the march!
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CORNELIUS THE CENTURION: Cornelius was an army officer, or a centurion. (10:1) A centurion’s annual wages were about five times those of an infantryman, or some 1,200 denarii, but could be much higher. Upon retirement, he received a grant in money or land. His military attire was colorful, from a silver helmet to a kiltlike garment, a fine woolen cloak, and decorated greaves. A centurion’s company theoretically consisted of 100 men, but at times there were only 80 or so. Recruits for “the Italian band” apparently came from among Roman citizens and freedmen in Italy.
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PRAYER ON A HOUSETOP: Peter was not being ostentatious when he prayed alone on the rooftop. (10:9) A parapet around the flat roof likely hid him from view. (Deuteronomy 22:8) The roof was also a place to relax and escape street noise in the evening.
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SUPPOSED GODS IN HUMAN FORM: Paul’s healing of a lame man made residents of Lystra think that gods had appeared as men. (14:8-18) Zeus, the chief Greek god, had a temple at that city, and his son Hermes, the messenger of the gods, was noted for eloquence. Since the people thought that Paul was Hermes because he took the lead in speaking, they viewed Barnabas as Zeus. It was customary to crown false-god idols with garlands of flowers or of leaves of cypress or pine, but Paul and Barnabas rejected such idolatrous treatment.
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THE JAILER BELIEVES: When an earthquake opened the prison doors and loosened the bonds of the inmates, the Philippian jailer was going to do away with himself. (16:25-27) Why? Because Roman law decreed that a jailer was to suffer an escapee’s penalty. The jailer apparently preferred to die a suicide rather than experience death by torture, which probably awaited some of the prisoners. However, he accepted the good news, and “he and his were baptized without delay.”—16:28-34.
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AN APPEAL TO CAESAR: As a Roman citizen from birth, Paul had the right to appeal to Caesar and be tried in Rome. (25:10-12) A Roman citizen was not to be bound, scourged, or punished without a trial.—16:35-40; 22:22-29; 26:32.
Musei Capitolini, Roma
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TEMPLE KEEPER OF ARTEMIS: Upset over Paul’s preaching, the silversmith Demetrius incited a riot. But the city recorder dispersed the crowd. (19:23-41) The silversmiths made small silver shrines of the most sacred part of the temple in which the statue of the many-breasted fertility goddess Artemis was located. Cities competed with one another for the honor of being her ne·o·koʹros, or “temple keeper.”
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TROUBLE AT SEA: When the ship carrying Paul was battered by the tempestuous wind called Euroaquilo, ‘they were hardly able to get possession of the skiff at the stern.’ (27:15, 16) The skiff was a small boat that was usually towed by a vessel. A ship carried cables that could be passed around the hull to undergird it and spare it strain caused by the working of the mast during storms. (27:17) These mariners cast out four anchors and loosened the lashings of the rudder oars, or paddles, used to steer the vessel. (27:29, 40) The ship of Alexandria had the figurehead “Sons of Zeus”—Castor and Pollux, regarded as patrons of sailors.—28:11.