The Jewish experience of relative independence under the Maccabean Hasmonean dynasty was short-lived, as a new power from the west, Rome, swept through the world and the Jews found themselves once again under foreign rule awaiting the promised messiah. It is into this historical and cultural setting that Jesus Christ is born in the quiet town of Bethlehem in the hill country of Judea.
After fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s lethal command, Jesus and the Holy Family return and settle in Nazareth. With his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus’ public ministry begins and in three short years many in Judea and Galilee hear his teaching and preaching, and experience his healing power. But his message of repentance and the establishment of the kingdom of God will threaten the Jewish authorities who, rather than rejoicing at the coming of the long-awaited Davidic king and messiah, pressure Pilate to condemn Jesus to his death. Jesus offers his life as a willing sacrifice, atoning for sin, and opening the gates of heaven.
The life of Jesus will divide this period into its four acts. Act one describes the historical setting into which the new Davidic king is born. Act two describes Jesus’ public ministry and key aspects of Jesus’ teaching throughout Judea and Galilee. Act three focuses on Jesus’ passion and death, which climaxes the story of Israel. Act four recounts Jesus’ resurrection and his encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The period of The Church follows the continuing story of Scripture in the Acts of the Apostles. Additionally, some of St. Paul’s letters will be briefly discussed, particularly as they correspond to his missionary journeys as recorded in the book of Acts.
If the cross is the coronation of Jesus as the messianic king, and if Jesus’ resurrection marks the momentous beginnings of a new creation, then the story of Jesus’ kingship needs a kingdom, and the first day of the new creation can only mean more work lies ahead. Who becomes a king without intending to rule and build a kingdom? What does the first day of a new creation mean if not the tilling of creation’s garden so that it bears much fruit? This is precisely the story that the Acts of the Apostles intends to tell.
Through his Church, Jesus extends his kingdom to the end of the earth, and all who are baptized into Christ are made new creations bearing the abundant fruit of life in the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, sets out the three sections of this period when he recalls Jesus’ words to the apostles, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Act one of this period will focus on Jesus’ sending of his Spirit and the apostles’ witness to those in Jerusalem. Act two will see the scattering of the early Christians due to persecution with the result that the gospel reaches into Judea and Samaria. Finally, act three will highlight the Church’s mission to the Gentiles and the expansion of the gospel to the end of the earth.
While this final period of the story of Scripture recounted in the Acts of the Apostles draws to a close, God’s story does not. It looks forward, as is clear in the book of Revelation, to the time when the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven and all that began anew in Christ Jesus will be fully realized. As history works towards that glorious moment, God calls each of us, just as he called Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Mary, Peter, and Paul, to say “yes” to his invitation to enter into his covenant and take up our role in his story as witnesses to Jesus Christ.
Let Us Pray
Dear heavenly Father,
You sent your only Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah, to fulfill all your promises: Give me new life in him.
The Church carries on your work in the world: Make me a faithful ambassador of your love.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
For Further Reading
This is the final post in our series, The Bible in a Week. You can find previous posts in the series here.
This post is taken from Walking with God: A Journey through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins.
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