During the first century of this era, about 2000 years ago, there were a number of interesting events involving Christianity:
• The writing of the Bible ceased
• Christianity was evangelized throughout the Roman world
• Christians were martyred for their beliefs
• The practice of Judaism was forced to change
• The pre-Christian sin atonement ceremony stopped working
This article will explain the significance of these events, and show how they reaffirm the Christian acknowledgement that Jesus truly is who he said he was. In fact, each of these events would be difficult to explain if Jesus wasn't who he claimed to be.
During the first century of this era, Jesus announced that he was the fulfillment of scripture. And the writing of the Bible, which had spanned as many as 1,500 years from the lifetime of Moses until the death of John the Apostle, had come to a close.
Jesus, who is the subject and purpose of the New Testament, proclaimed in Matthew 5:17, John 4:25-26, and in other verses, that he was the Messiah promised by the Old Testament writers. In effect, he was announcing that the process of writing the Old Testament was already finished.
Why is this significant? Because, if Jesus was not who he said he was then he would have had no way of knowing, for sure, that Malachi would be the last and final book of the Old Testament.
After all, Malachi never said he was writing the last and final book. And for that matter, none of the Old Testament writers ever said that the Old Testament / pre-Messiah era would come to an end before the first century, or that it would not continue into the first century or beyond.
The fact is, though, the history of the writing of the Bible reaffirms Christianity:
• The Old Testament, and its 39 books, were written over a period of time spanning as many as 1,000 years, from the time of Moses through the time of Malachi. Malachi lived about 400 years before Jesus. The Old Testament has hundreds of prophetic verses that spoke of a future Messiah.
• The New Testament, and its 27 books, were written during the first century, during the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus. The New Testament was written by people who acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah.
• History has never provided us with another messiah or new testament that was ever widely embraced by people over a sustained period of time.
Was it just a coincidence?
If Jesus was not the Messiah, or if God was not controlling the writing of the Bible, then we could expect a lot of different scenarios involving the writing of the Bible. For example:
• If Jesus was not the Messiah who was being promised by the Old Testament prophets, then why didn't God continue to raise up prophets, as he had already done for many centuries, and let us know who the real Messiah was?
• If the New Testament was not the true continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament, then where is the real New Testament and why hasn't it become widely accepted as being the word of God?
• And if there was no God controlling the writing of the Bible, well, then anything could have happened. We could have dozens or hundreds of competing Old Testaments. We could have dozens or hundreds of internationally, or nationally, or regionally, or locally accepted messiahs, scattered throughout the world, each claiming to be the fulfillment of scripture.
During the first century of this era, there were evangelists who claimed to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. These people, including Paul and the Apostles, were willing to travel throughout the Roman world, by land and by sea, to evangelize a religion that wasn't legally recognized by the Roman government.
Paul, in particular, was willing to travel thousands of miles to evangelize in the name of Jesus, whom Paul claimed to have seen with his own eyes, to people throughout western Asia and southern Europe.
And, as we learn from the Bible's book of Acts, he continued to travel and evangelize even after being beaten and flogged, shipwrecked and injured, arrested and imprisoned, pursued by mobs and threatened with death.
Why is this significant?
Many of first evangelists were in the unique position of being able to know, because of what they had seen with their own eyes, whether Jesus truly had been resurrected. We can't interview them today. We can't interrogate them. And we can't hook them up to a polygraph test. But, we can look at their actions in the context of history and realize that something incredible must have been motivating them:
There was a risk in being an evangelist:
• There was a risk in evangelizing Christianity. It wasn't legally recognized by the Roman government. We know this from secular history and we know this from Acts 16:20-21, in which Christianity is described from a Roman point of view as "customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice."
• Many of the first evangelists were Jewish, and Jews were sometimes treated with prejudice within the Roman world. We see examples of this within the writings of Tacitus, a first-century Roman historian. We also see two possible examples of prejudice directed against the Jewishness of Paul in Acts 16:20 and in Acts 19:34.
And there was a risk in becoming a Christian:
• Christianity, at least initially, was so new that it often meant that converts would be breaking away from the beliefs of their parents, their siblings, their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers and their employers.
And Christianity was very different:
• Christianity is inflexible, exclusive, and non-syncretic, whereas the religions of the ancient world were very willing to change, include and combine.
• The Roman world was full of fertility-cult religions and other practices that grew out of traditions from Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Christianity was very different than what people were accustomed to.
Despite these and other obstacles, the first-century evangelists were able to promote a religion to people who had never encountered a religion like Christianity before. And these evangelists were able to do this through evangelism, a method of promotion that many people had never encountered before.
The first-century evangelists provided the foundation on which Christianity later became the first religion to spread to each of the world's inhabitable continents. Even today with the widespread use of worldwide mediums of television, radio and the Internet, Christianity continues to be the only religion with a truly significant and influential presence on each of the continents.
With these things in mind, consider the following Bible verses:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, - Matthew 28:19
... It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. - Isaiah 49:6.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations... - Matthew 24:14a.
The events of the first century began a process by which two words would become uniquely associated with Christianity: evangelism and martyr. The first century provided us with examples of people who were willing to evangelize at the risk of martyrdom.
Of course, dying for a cause is not unique to Christianity. But what is unique to Christianity is the extent to which the martyr is willing to die for a belief, and for a belief alone, without also seeking to gain some tangible worldly benefit, such as the advancement of a political agenda.
Consider the example of Stephen, from the book of Acts. Stephen was professing his faith at the time of his death. And it was the act of professing his faith that brought about the events leading to his death. Aside from these details, here are others that distinguish his death:
• His death did not help his homeland.
• His death did not advance a political cause.
• His death did not force others to change.
• His death did not protect the people he cared about.
• His death did not harm his enemies.
While some causes can be extremely noble, the fact is, Stephen's death did not offer any tangible worldly benefit, of any kind. He died because he was a believer in Christ. Period. And Stephen was not alone in this regard.
Early Christian historians maintained that several early Christian evangelists died in the name of their faith, including Peter and Paul, who are described as being executed in Rome. Another notable example comes from Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, who wrote that James the Just was executed in Jerusalem.
In addition to these accounts, there are others from a variety of non-sacred and non-canonical sources, some of which might be reliable and some of which might not be, that claim that nearly all of the original Apostles were martyred.
During the same century in which Christianity emerged, Judaism was forced to change, to extremes unrealized in previous history.
During the first century, the people of Israel staged an uprising, a war for independence from the oppressive Roman Empire. The war ended in 70 A.D., about 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Towards the very end of the war, the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, setting it on fire and leveling it to the ground.
The Temple, of course, was the physical center for Judaism. Without the Temple, Judaism was forced to change some important practices, and it was forced to discontinue other important practices.
The Romans also destroyed Jerusalem, razing the great city to the ground, killing many of the Jews who were living there and forcing many others into slavery and exile. Jerusalem was not only the capital city for the land of Israel, it was also the anchor city for Judaism. And that meant that Judaism would have to find a new home.
The Romans, by the way, also destroyed the land of Israel, beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem, leveling many of the towns, villages and settlements.
Even today, more than 1900 years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, it has not been rebuilt. The first century proved to be the most devastating century of all for Judaism in terms of its long-term consequences.
Was it just a coincidence?
Was it just a coincidence that Judaism was forced to change in the very same century that Christianity emerged, claiming to be the fulfillment of Judaism? Let's take a look at the odds:
• The traditional view is that Judaism has been around since the time of Abraham, roughly 4,000 years ago. If this view is accepted, then Judaism has been around for 40 centuries.
• That means that the odds that any particular century, such as the first century of this era, would prove to be the most devastating for Judaism would be 1-in-40. In other words, if the fate of Judaism were controlled by random chance, then there would be a 1-in-40 chance that the first century of this era would be the worst of its 40-century history.
• And, if random chance alone were to select which century, within the 40 centuries of Judaism, that Christianity would emerge as the claimed fulfillment of Judaism, then the odds again would be 1-in-40.
So, what would be the odds that both events would happen during the same century? To calculate the probability, we multiply 40 times 40, and we end up with an answer that the odds would be 1-in-1600.
In other words, if random chance were guiding the fates of Judaism and Christianity, then there would be a 1-in-1600 chance that Judaism would suffer its worst century during the same century in which Christianity emerged.
From ancient times, up until 70 AD, Judaism carried out a yearly ceremony to atone for the sins of the people of Irsael, as prescribed by Moses in Leviticus 16. It is called Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement.
Each year, the sin-atonement ceremony would be carried out within the inner sanctuary of the Temple. But this ceremony hasn't been carried out in the prescribed manner within the Temple since the first century, when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.
In other words, during the same century in which Jesus died for our sins, the ability to carry out the yearly sin-atonement ceremony in the Temple was lost.
And from a Christian perspective, which regards Jesus as the final and permanent atonement for sin, for believers, there no longer is a need for the yearly ceremony.
But there is additional information about sin-atonement ceremony that might be of interest, and it comes from the Talmud, which is a collection of ancient Rabbinical discussions and commentary, often focusing on Judaic law, customs and ceremonies. The Talmud was compiled in a written form from about 200 AD to about 500 AD.
Was it just a coincidence?
There were a number of miracles that were said to sometimes happened after the sin-atonement ceremony was carried out in the Temple, including a scarlet piece of cloth turning white. A precedent for this is given in Isaiah 1:18, where it speaks of the cleansing of sin: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow ..." (Isaiah 1:18, NIV)
A passage in the Talmud says that these miracles stopped happening, completely, during the last 40 years of the Temple's existence:
"The Sages taught: During the tenure of Shimon HaTzaddik, the lot for God always arose in the High Priest's right hand; after his death, it occurred only occasionally; but during the forty years prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, the lot for God did not arise in the High Priest’s right hand at all. So too, the strip of crimson wool that was tied to the head of the goat that was sent to Azazel did not turn white, and the westernmost lamp of the candelabrum did not burn continually." - Talmud, Tractate Yoma 39b, as translated by William Davidson.
The above quote in the Talmud is part of a broader discussion, lamenting the decline of public morality, and it attributes the cessation of the miracles associated with the sin-atonement ceremony to that decline in morality. Shimon HaTzaddik lived more than 200 years before the time of Jesus and was renowned for his decency, sense of justice and morality. It was after his time that a decline in morality is said to have begun.
In other words, the miracles associated with the sin-atonement ceremony stopped happening, completely, in or around 30 AD, which corresponds to the time, or about the time, that Jesus' death became the permanent atonement of sin.
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