“The Word of Jehovah Went On Growing”
“He is sending his saying to the earth; with speed his word runs.”—PSALM 147:15.
1, 2. What assignment did Jesus give to his disciples, and what did it involve?
ONE of the most astounding prophecies in the Bible is found at Acts 1:8. Shortly before he ascended to heaven, Jesus told his faithful followers: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth.” What an enormous undertaking this would prove to be!
2 To proclaim God’s word throughout the earth must have seemed a daunting assignment to that handful of disciples who received it. Consider what was involved. They would have to help the people to understand the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) Bearing witness to Jesus also required sharing his powerful teachings with others and explaining his role in Jehovah’s purpose. Furthermore, the work included making disciples of people and then baptizing them. And this was to be done worldwide!—Matthew 28:19, 20.
3. Of what did Jesus assure his followers, and how did they respond to the work given to them?
3 Nevertheless, Jesus assured his followers that holy spirit would be with them in carrying out the work that he had given to them. Thus, despite the magnitude of the assignment and the relentless and violent efforts of opposers to silence them, the early disciples of Jesus successfully did what he had directed. It is a fact of history that cannot be denied.
4. How was God’s love manifest in the commission to preach and teach others?
4 The worldwide preaching and teaching campaign was an expression of God’s love for those who did not know him. It gave them the opportunity to draw close to Jehovah and receive forgiveness of sins. (Acts 26:18) The commission to preach and teach also manifested God’s love for those bearing the message, since it allowed them to express their devotion to Jehovah and display their love for fellow humans. (Matthew 22:37-39) The apostle Paul so valued the Christian ministry that he referred to it as a “treasure.”—2 Corinthians 4:7.
5. (a) Where do we find the most reliable history of the early Christians, and what growth is described therein? (b) Why is the book of Acts meaningful to God’s servants today?
5 The most reliable history of the preaching activity of the early Christians is found in the inspired book of Acts, written by the disciple Luke. It is a record of astonishing and rapid growth. This growth of the knowledge of God’s Word reminds us of Psalm 147:15, which says: “[Jehovah] is sending his saying to the earth; with speed his word runs.” The account of the early Christians, who were empowered by holy spirit, is both exciting and highly meaningful to us today. Jehovah’s Witnesses are engaged in the same work of preaching and disciple making, only on a much larger scale. We also face problems similar to those faced by Christians in the first century. As we consider how Jehovah blessed and empowered the early Christians, our faith in his backing is strengthened.
Growth in the Number of Disciples
6. What phrase concerning growth occurs three times in the book of Acts, and to what does it refer?
6 One way to examine the fulfillment of Acts 1:8 is to consider the expression “the word of Jehovah went on growing,” a phrase that occurs, with slight variations, only three times in the Bible and all of which are found in the book of Acts. (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20) “The word of Jehovah,” or “the word of God,” in these passages refers to the good news—the stirring message of divine truth, a living, powerful message that changed the lives of those who accepted it.—Hebrews 4:12.
7. To what is the growth of God’s word linked at Acts 6:7, and what happened on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E.?
7 The first reference to the growth of God’s word occurs at Acts 6:7. There we read: “Consequently the word of God went on growing, and the number of the disciples kept multiplying in Jerusalem very much; and a great crowd of priests began to be obedient to the faith.” Here, growth is linked to an increase in the number of disciples. Earlier, on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., God’s holy spirit was poured out upon about 120 disciples gathered in an upper room. The apostle Peter then gave a stirring talk, and of those who listened, some 3,000 became believers on that very day. What commotion there must have been as thousands of people made their way to the pool or pools in and around Jerusalem to be baptized in the name of Jesus, the man who had been impaled as a criminal some 50 days earlier!—Acts 2:41.
8. How did the number of disciples increase in the years following Pentecost 33 C.E.?
8 That, of course, was only the beginning. The continued efforts by Jewish religious leaders to crush the preaching activity were in vain. To the frustration of those leaders, “Jehovah continued to join to [the disciples] daily those being saved.” (Acts 2:47) Soon, “the number of the men became about five thousand.” After that, “believers in the Lord kept on being added, multitudes both of men and of women.” (Acts 4:4; 5:14) Of a later period, we read: “Indeed, the congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace, being built up; and as it walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit it kept on multiplying.” (Acts 9:31) Some years later, possibly about 58 C.E., reference was made to “many thousands of believers.” (Acts 21:20) By then, there were also many Gentile believers.
9. How would you describe the early Christians?
9 This numerical growth was largely by conversion. The religion was new—but it was dynamic. Far from being passive church members, the disciples were fully devoted to Jehovah and his Word, having sometimes learned the truth from those who were viciously persecuted. (Acts 16:23, 26-33) Those who accepted Christianity did so as the result of a reasoned, conscientious decision. (Romans 12:1) They were educated in God’s ways; the truth was in their minds and hearts. (Hebrews 8:10, 11) They were willing to die for what they believed in.—Acts 7:51-60.
10. What responsibility did the early Christians accept, and what parallel do we find today?
10 Those who embraced Christian teaching recognized their responsibility to share the truth with others. This directly contributed to further numerical growth. One Bible scholar said: “Communicating the faith was not regarded as the preserve of the very zealous or of the officially designated evangelist. Evangelism was the prerogative and the duty of every Church member. . . . The spontaneous outreach of the total Christian community gave immense impetus to the movement from the very outset.” He further wrote: “Evangelism was the very life blood of the early Christians.” The same is true of genuine Christians today.
11. What type of growth is described at Acts 12:24, and how did this take place?
11 A second reference to the growth of God’s word is found at Acts 12:24: “The word of Jehovah went on growing and spreading.” Here the phrase is linked to geographical growth. Despite governmental opposition, the work continued to prosper. The holy spirit was first poured out in Jerusalem, and from there the word spread quickly. Persecution in Jerusalem scattered the disciples to regions throughout Judea and Samaria. The result? “Those who had been scattered went through the land declaring the good news of the word.” (Acts 8:1, 4) Philip was directed to witness to a man who, after being baptized, took the message to Ethiopia. (Acts 8:26-28, 38, 39) Quickly the truth took root in Lydda, the Plain of Sharon, and Joppa. (Acts 9:35, 42) Later, the apostle Paul traveled thousands of miles on sea and land, establishing congregations throughout many Mediterranean countries. The apostle Peter went to Babylon. (1 Peter 5:13) Within 30 years after the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost, Paul wrote that the good news had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven,” possibly referring to the then-known earth.—Colossians 1:23.
12. How did opposers of Christianity acknowledge the geographical growth of God’s word?
12 Even opposers of Christianity acknowledged that the word of God had taken root throughout the Roman Empire. For example, Acts 17:6 relates that in Thessalonica, northern Greece, opposers cried out: “These men that have overturned the inhabited earth are present here also.” Further, at the beginning of the second century, Pliny the Younger wrote to Roman Emperor Trajan from Bithynia concerning Christianity. He complained: “[It] is not confined to the cities only, but has spread its infection among the neighboring villages and country.”
13. In what way did geographical growth reflect God’s love for humankind?
13 This geographical growth was an expression of Jehovah’s deep love for redeemable humankind. When Peter observed the holy spirit manifesting itself in the Gentile Cornelius, he said: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) Yes, the good news was and is a message for all peoples, and the geographical growth of the word of God gave peoples everywhere an opportunity to respond to God’s love. In this 21st century, the word of God has spread to literally all parts of the earth.
Growth That Prevailed
14. What sort of growth is described at Acts 19:20, and over what did God’s word prevail?
14 The third reference to the growth of God’s word occurs at Acts 19:20: “In a mighty way the word of Jehovah kept growing and prevailing.” The original Greek word that is translated “prevailing” conveys the idea of “exerting strength.” The preceding verses relate that many in Ephesus became believers, and a number who practiced magical arts burned their books before everybody. Thus, God’s word prevailed over false religious beliefs. The good news also prevailed over other obstacles, such as persecution. Nothing could stop it. In this we again find a striking parallel to true Christianity in our time.
15. (a) What did one Bible historian write about the early Christians? (b) To whom did the disciples give credit for their success?
15 The apostles and other early Christians proclaimed God’s word with zeal. Concerning them, one Bible historian observed: “When men have the will to speak of their Lord, they find no shortage of ways in which to do it. Indeed, it is the motivation of these men and women which impresses us more than their methods.” Still, those early Christians recognized that the success of their ministry did not depend on their efforts alone. They had a divine commission to carry on their work, and they had divine support to accomplish it. Spiritual growth comes from God. The apostle Paul acknowledged this in his letter to the congregation in Corinth. He wrote: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow. For we are God’s fellow workers.”—1 Corinthians 3:6, 9.
Holy Spirit at Work
16. What shows that the holy spirit empowered the disciples to speak with boldness?
16 Recall that Jesus assured his disciples that holy spirit would play a role in the growth of God’s word and that holy spirit would empower the disciples in their preaching activity. (Acts 1:8) How did this happen? Not long after the spirit was poured out upon the disciples at Pentecost, Peter and John were summoned to speak to the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land, whose judges bore responsibility for the execution of Jesus Christ. Would the apostles tremble with fear before such an imposing and hostile assembly? Not at all! Holy spirit empowered Peter and John to speak with such boldness that their opponents were filled with wonder, and “they began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.” (Acts 4:8, 13) Holy spirit also caused Stephen to witness boldly to the Sanhedrin. (Acts 6:12; 7:55, 56) Earlier, the holy spirit had moved the disciples to preach with boldness. Luke reports: “When they had made supplication, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were one and all filled with the holy spirit and were speaking the word of God with boldness.”—Acts 4:31.
17. In what other ways did the holy spirit assist the disciples in their ministry?
17 Through his powerful holy spirit, Jehovah, along with the resurrected Jesus, directed the preaching activity. (John 14:28; 15:26) When the spirit was poured out on Cornelius, his relatives, and his intimate friends, the apostle Peter recognized that uncircumcised Gentiles could qualify to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:24, 44-48) Later, the spirit played a key role in appointing Barnabas and Saul (the apostle Paul) for missionary activity and in directing where they should and should not go. (Acts 13:2, 4; 16:6, 7) It directed the decision-making process of the apostles and older men in Jerusalem. (Acts 15:23, 28, 29) Holy spirit also guided the appointment of overseers in the Christian congregation.—Acts 20:28.
18. How did the early Christians express love?
18 In addition, holy spirit manifested itself in Christians themselves, producing godly qualities, such as love. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Love moved the disciples to share with one another. For example, following Pentecost of 33 C.E., a common fund was established to meet the physical needs of the disciples in Jerusalem. The Bible account says: “There was not one in need among them; for all those who were possessors of fields or houses would sell them and bring the values of the things sold and they would deposit them at the feet of the apostles. In turn distribution would be made to each one, just as he would have the need.” (Acts 4:34, 35) This love extended not merely to fellow believers but also to others, both by sharing the good news and by other acts of kindness. (Acts 28:8, 9) Jesus said that self-sacrificing love would identify his followers. (John 13:34, 35) Surely the vital quality of love drew people to God and contributed to growth in the first century just as it does today.—Matthew 5:14, 16.
19. (a) In what three ways did the word of Jehovah grow in the first century? (b) What will we examine in the next article?
19 In all, the expression “holy spirit” occurs 41 times in the book of Acts. Clearly, genuine Christian growth in the first century was closely linked to the power and guidance of the holy spirit. The number of disciples increased, the word of God spread over a wide area, and it prevailed over religions and philosophies of that era. This first-century growth finds its parallel in the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. In the next article, we will examine the equally dramatic growth of God’s word in modern times.
Do You Recall?
• How did the early disciples grow numerically?
• In what way did the word of God spread geographically?
• How did the word of God prevail in the first century?
• What role did holy spirit play in the growth of God’s word?
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Philip preached to the Ethiopian, spreading the good news geographically
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Holy spirit directed the apostles and older men in Jerusalem
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Upper right corner: Reproduction of the City of Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple-located on the grounds of the Holyland Hotel, Jerusalem