Christ’s earliest disciples energetically advanced the gospel throughout the civilized world. Houses, synagogues, public stadiums, judgment halls, and royal palaces became stages for kingdom proclamation. Jesus, however, prophesied arrests, trials, and hostile royal audiences for those disciples (Matt. 10:16-20). Unfortunately, those saturated with earthly power were slowest to receive Christ.
Read through as much of Acts 4:1-12; 13:5-12, 50; 23:1-6; 25:23-26:28 as you can. Though one can get the idea that so many people were instantly converted out of nowhere, that’s not what happened. These dramatic results were the visible product of underlying circumstances. Seedtime precedes harvest. Christ had faithfully proclaimed the gospel. Missionaries had witnessed throughout Judea. Early converts no doubt helped to carry the message. When Christ personally conquered death, confirming His message, thousands of fence-sitters leaped into the kingdom. They had secretly followed Him. Their hearts had responded to His invitations. Cultural factors, job security, and family pressure had slowed their overt response. Christ’s resurrection destroyed the fence, forcing a decision.
Then, of course, the apostle Paul entered the picture. His witness, however, was not universally appreciated. Sometimes prominent men and women persecuted and expelled him. He was stoned, flogged, imprisoned, and otherwise mistreated-often at the instigation of powerful people. Political motives were frequently the foundation for their anti-Christian sentiments.
Governor Felix imprisoned Paul in order to placate religious opposition to Paul. His successor, Festus, was more fair-minded, but lacked the political willpower to release Paul. During an official visit King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice (descendants of Herod’s dynasty), requested an audience with Paul. Unfortunately, like their ancestors before them, they rejected his invitation to salvation. Although facing similar rejection and persecution, Christ’s twenty-first-century disciples must likewise persevere.
How can disciple-makers working among worldly and religious authorities avoid the discouragement of frequent rejection? Whenever Christ’s followers labor for powerful people, who else might be affected by their witnessing?