Christianity recognizes Jesus Christ as the prophesied Messiah. Jesus and his followers were Jewish, and did not consider themselves a new or different religion. Rather, Jesus was a fulfillment of the promises made by the prophets in the Old Testament.
“ Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”Matthew 5:17
Jesus was born of God and experienced life in the flesh. Throughout his 3 1/2 year ministry, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22) The tenets of Christianity rest upon the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who defeated sin and death. His sacrifice paid the debt for our sins. This is a gift of grace received through faith, it is not something to be earned. This is what distinguishes Christianity from other religions.
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—Romans 3:22-25
Other religions are based on hierarchies and proving that you are good enough to deserve a good afterlife. The premises of Christianity is just the opposite. It begins by acknowledging that we could never be good enough. We are each innately flawed and sinful. However, Jesus loved us enough to make the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.John 15:13
The only thing required of us to humbly accept his gift of grace. It is not about what we do, but what Jesus has already done. Because we are all sinful human beings, brothers and sisters in Christ are equals. We each have unique spiritual gifts that allow us to fill different roles and perform different functions, but we have equal importance. Peter and the other apostles began sharing this good news of redemption through Christ with their fellow Jews around 30 AD.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:19-20
Their message was not well received by many other Jews who considered them heretics, and persecution first began from this group. Despite persecution and imprisonment, the number of believers continued to grow with more believers being added every day.
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.Acts 5:41-42
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.Acts 14:19
Their revolutionary message was bringing together Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters, men and women, rich and poor. It was breaking down societal barriers in a way that had never before occurred. This resulted in divisions between Jews and within the Roman Empire. This is what Jesus meant when he quoted the prophet Micah:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
They were called Christians for the first time in Antioch (Acts 11:26) by officials who wanted to give a name to this dramatically different group. This disruption of the status quo began to cause civil unrest, making them a target to the Roman government.
So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.Acts 14:3-6
The first period of intense persecution began in 64 AD with Emporor Nero, who blamed the Christians for the Great Fire of Rome. He burned many Christians alive, and both Paul and Peter were both martyred under his rule. The next emperor, Domitan (81 AD), insisted on being titled in Rome as “God Almighty” and “Lord of the earth”, and ordered the people to worship him as a god. Both the Jews and Christians refused and were subsequently exiled or executed. There was a period of relative tolerance (98-180 AD), but animosity toward Christians continued to grow. The government continued to view them as a threat to the existing social structure. This in 202 AD, the emperor Severus issued an edict to prohibitting further conversion to either Christianity or Judaism.
Emperor Decius (249 AD), was the first official to issue an intense, Empire-wide, persecution of Christians. A person suspected of Christianity was expected to make a sacrifice to the gods in order to obtain a Certificate of Sacrifice. This certificate would clear them from the suspicion of undermining the religious unity of the Roman empire. Christians who refused were arrested, tortured, and put to death. Emperor Valerian (253 AD) publicly blamed Christians for all of the disasters affecting Rome including the plague, civil strife, and the invading Germanians. He intensified the persecution started by Decius by requiring the clergy to sacrifice to the gods under penalty of death. Further, property belonging to Christians was seized and those working on imperial estates were condemned to the mines. In 284-305 AD, Diocletion attempted to extinguish Christianity for good by issuing an edict prohibiting all Christian worship. It commanded that all Christian books and churches be destroyed. Next, he issued an edict requiring the clergy to be arrested if the refused to sacrifice to the gods, a policy that was was extended to all Christians in 303 AD. However, in 305 AD he fell seriously ill and had to abdicate the throne. Galerian continued the persecution, but when he too fell seriously ill in 311 AD he cancelled the persecution of Christians.
So how did Rome go from persecutor and murder of Christians to being the Holy Roman Empire and the authority over Christianity? This will be discussed in the next section.