In Part 1 we began with the birth of Yeshua to about 70 AD and the Faith was predominantly Jewish. From 70 to 110 AD, “Gentile” Christianity begins after Jerusalem falls and the believers were scattered. There was no central authority for believers and anti-Semitic hatred was prevalent in the Roman world.
About 110 to 135 AD, the Gnostics developed their belief system within a Christian context and these concepts were popular in these early Christian years. The period from 200 to 300 AD was what is called “pre-Constantinian” and this leads us up to the period of Constantine. In the first century, we have seen that the believers were Jewish and were very zealous for the Torah (Acts 21.20).
This is a far cry from the impression teachers want you to have today. That means all the writers of the New Testament were Torah observant Jews. Their writings could not possibly be “anti-Torah” but that is what people will twist their words to say. Enemies of the first century believers were mainly the chief priests. Paul was commissioned by them and they were not Torah observant.
We talked about Cornelius becoming a believer and how the doctrine concerning Gentiles coming into the faith changed. Anyone who seriously studies the Scriptures is familiar with Josephus and his works. He has been misunderstood by many and he needs to be reevaluated in light of his culture and the politics of the time. His book “Wars of the Jews” was written within several years of the fall of Masada, the last Jewish stronghold in the Jewish revolt in the first century.
There have been many things written about him but the best one that will help you understand Josephus is from Biblical Archeology Review in an article called “Will the real Josephus please stand up” from Sept/Oct 1997. It illustrates some things we need to see. The Roman Empire had a void, people were burned out from all the Roman gods and they were looking for truth in the God of Israel. Because of the Jewish wars with Rome, anti-Semitic attitudes were inflamed and to be a Gentile proselyte to Judaism was even worse.
We have already mentioned the God-fearers and they were just like any other group. Some really believed in Yeshua and some didn’t. Pagans became God-fearers and kept the festivals of God, ate kosher and kept Sabbath. They didn’t get circumcised or do what the Jewish people did, but they really believed in the God of Israel and his Torah as it applied.
By 66 AD, some of these Roman God-fearers were beginning to feel uncomfortable among the Jewish people and the Romans. The Jews thought they were spies and the Romans thought they were spies, so there was a lack of trust from both sides. There are many other elements at work in the first century that will affect how things will play out. By 70 AD, things have really become tense.
Titus defeats the Jews at Jerusalem and the believers fled to Pella. The Jewish population saw them as traitors and afraid to fight. So, to be a Jew in the Roman Empire was not very popular. The very foundation of the Faith was being shaken. The God-fearers are losing their strong base in the faith and they are left on their own. The same things happen today. People have left good Messianic teaching congregations for a job and they move away. They find that there are no good, teaching fellowships where they are at and this begins a downward spiral. They hear that what they believe is wrong, but they don’t know the Scriptures well enough to defend themselves. They see Christian churches prosper and they begin to think that “maybe they are right.” Their family and friends may be the worst protagonists.
So, they start to compromise and they back off and a cycle begins, leading them away. This was what was happening in the first Jewish revolt. This war “pulled the rug” from under these believers. Jewish believers eventually came back to Jerusalem, but the base was gone. James and Paul are dead, the Apostles were scattered or dead and you wonder why God allowed this.
The keys to understanding this is found in the Scriptures. In Jer 7.12 the Lord tells the people to go to Shiloh, where the Mishkan once stood. The Mishkan was in Shiloh at one time and the people thought that the Lord would never judge Israel because the Mishkan was there, he would never allow anything to happen to it, but he did.
The people in Jeremiah’s time thought the same thing. They didn’t think that the Lord would allow the Temple to be destroyed either, but he did. They thought they were “righteous” and the Lord would not allow such a thing. So, the people in the first century thought the same thing. But here is the heart of the matter. God allows failure to show us that we have a “heart problem” can’t do things without him. We can’t solve our problems without him. Satan will even be bound in the Messianic Kingdom to show man that he is not the product of his environment. It will be a perfect time but man still rebels against God.
You probably could not find a better man of God than Moses (other than Yeshua), but he rebelled. Now, the Faith has been scattered and there will be influences that are going to change the whole landscape spiritually. So, the general situation is this. Rome was burned out on their “gods” and that is why they added new ones. New religions brought in their gods and the Romans accepted them, usually if they predated Rome. New Temples were built and new ceremonies added. The Empire was worshipped, and eventually the Emperor.
If you did not believe in these gods and rulers, you were considered an atheist and a traitor. The Roman world was one of superstition. Just like today, paganism was big business. When gods changed, idols changed so new ones were made and sold. Greek philosophy and teachers were big, especially in the upper class. These Hellenistic teachers have found their way into Christian Seminary textbooks through various “church fathers” and their teachings. Having studied and graduated from several Christian schools, their influence and the influence of Hellenistic thought was seen daily.
Stoicism is called the noblest type of ancient pagan thought. It had great influence and its base was Tarsus, the home of Paul. It taught that the universe was materialistic and that all that was “real” was material. The concept of the “logos” was developed and the God of wisdom and life was within us. We can follow the God within, and people can be the “offspring of this God.” The “logos” was the aim of Stoicism but only a few attain it.
This was popular in the first half of the first century, the time Yeshua lived. The Cynics wanted to have a non-materialistic world. They were burned out with the Romans and their materialism. This asceticism would greatly influence Christian monasticism. There were several eastern religions making an impact in the Empire also.
Cybele was the “great mother” goddess in Asia Minor. The cult of Isis and Serapis in Egypt was strong and Mithraism from Persia began to make waves in the Roman army and spread wherever the army went. This cult was based on “sun worship” called “sol invictus”, the invincible sun. Emperors embraced Mithraism and they thought of themselves as “Mithra on earth.” It reached its peak right before Constantine came to power. All of these various cults had secret rituals and offered “sacraments” that cleansed from sin. Some bathed in water, others used the blood of bulls, but initiates were seen as “born again.”
Early Christian doctrines concerning the sacraments were heavily influenced by these cults. As Christianity developed, borrowing from many religions, but especially Mithraism, Judaism was seen as the “parent” and Christianity was seen as the child who has “repented” from the legalism of Judaism. Christianity was seen as moving away from Judaism because it was being consumed in the wrath of God.
In one seminary book it said that the true Israel, the real people of God, were the Christians. This is a common theme in Christian theological books and commentaries. This ministry has many examples of this. In these books you will see the development of the story of Peter going to Rome, which is very important by the second and third century because they had to establish this apostolic link to the new “faith” of Christianity and to “legitimize” Rome.
The Scriptures say that Peter was in Babylon (1 Pet 5.13) which makes sense because many Jews lived there and that is to whom he ministered (Gal 2.8). Paul, on the other hand, was sent to the non-Jews because he was the greatest Torah teacher of his day and they needed to learn the Scriptures (Acts 9.15; Gal 2.7), and we know he went to Rome. But, we have only started presenting the development of Replacement Theology, and we will pick up here in Part 3.