In our last lesson, we discussed what is meant, in Galatians 4:4, when it says "in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son..." I gave you three reason why this time was the perfect time for Christ to come to earth.
1. The time was right religiously.
a. After the 70-year Babylonian captivity, Israel never again served "other gods."
b. During the Babylonian captivity, synagogues were developed.
c. The Old Testament was completed.
2. The time was right culturally
The Greek language became known throughout most of the world.
3. The time was right politically
a. Economic and political stability
b. Major land roads established by the Romans
These conditions in the world not only made it the perfect time for Christ to come to earth. It also made it possible for the message of Christ to be disseminated. It made it possible to safely travel across the lands and seas and to also send letters and parcels. This became very important since most of the books in the New Testament are actually letters, intended to be delivered to a specific person or groups of people.
HOW MANY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS ARE LETTERS WRITTEN TO EITHER AN INDIVIDUAL OR COMMUNITIES?
An argument could be made for saying all 27 books are written as letters. I think you could safely say that at least 24 are letters. This number excludes the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. Our study series is in the Book of Revelation, which is a letter written to seven churches in Asia Minor.
In our last lesson, I gave you two-word phrases that describe each of the seven churches. As I give them again, this time think not only of what is described about each church, but also of how it might be describing you personally
o Ephesus: - neglected priorities.
o Smyrna: - satanic opposition
o Pergamum: - religious compromise
o Thyatira: - immoral practices
o Sardis: - spiritual apathy
o Philadelphia: - lost opportunities
o Laodicea: - material prosperity
These are issues that all Christians and churches struggle with.
Before getting into the letter to Ephesus, let me review one more item from a previous lesson. Christ uses a consistent pattern or design structure to compose His message to each church.
1. He begins each letter with a greeting.
2. He gives a different description of Himself to each church.
3. He makes an observation - the character traits of the specific church.
4. A Commendation is given - if applicable (No commendation to Laodicea)
5. A condemnation or rebuke is given - if applicable (No rebuke to Smyrna or Philadelphia).
6. Christ presents each church with a warning
7. The warning is followed by a call to hear - an exhortation
8. He gives each church a promise if His words are heeded
Although Christ may have addressed the Ephesian church first because it was first on the postal route, it was also the most prominent church of the seven. As we have already noted in earlier lessons, Ephesus was the 4th or 5th largest city in the world in the first century - 250,000. It is very possible, and highly likely, that the church in Ephesus was the mother church of the remaining 6. I make that statement for a couple of reason. First, look at Paul's schedule in Ephesus during his 3rd missionary journey.
Let's begin by reading Acts 19:10 (NIV):
10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT THIS REFERENCE TO "TWO YEARS" IS ABOUT?
This is a reference to the length of time Paul and his followers met in the school of Tyrannus. We don't know much about this guy, Tyrannus. His name means "the tyrant," which has led some writers to ponder if this name was given by his students. If not, he certainly drew an unfortunate name from his parents.
The previous verse (vs. 9) tells us that, while in the school, Paul and his disciples discussed the gospel and the kingdom of God. Also notice in the verse we just read (vs. 10), that during these two years, all in Asia heard the Word of the Lord.
I mentioned in an earlier lesson that some Bibles have margin notes implying that the school of Tyrannus was used by Paul from 11am to 4pm. This would be in keeping with the normal daily work and school schedule. People would go to their jobs or attend school in the early mornings and late afternoons, and would take five hours off because of the very hot temperatures during mid-day. This would also agree with Paul's own work schedule. We know from Acts 20:33-34, Paul probably had his own business in the Agora - the Marketplace. But the shops would probably close up at 11am for a siesta. At that time, Paul would immediately go to the school to continue training his disciples. And he continued this schedule every day for two years. Here are some more pictures of the Agora.
In the school of Tyrannus, Paul is operating one of the very first seminaries (Bible school) of the Christian faith. He is investing himself in the lives of his disciples. In this manner, the gospel message was able to be multiplied. I wish I could have been in that school room observing what Paul taught. When I think about this, I can't but ask myself: What am I passing on?
So, if Paul is teaching in the school everyday, when was there time for him to evangelize the gospel, so that every person in Asia - Jew or Gentile - had heard the Word of the Lord? And when did Paul have time to begin all these other churches?
Could it be possible that his students began many of these churches? Might it be that because of this great revival in Ephesus, people were coming to know Christ as their Lord, with many of them entering the school Paul was holding? While that may be somewhat speculative, I think there is some evidence for this happing at least in some of the other 6 churches mentioned in Revelation.
First, let's look again at the verse we read a moment ago in Acts 19.
Acts 19:10 (NIV):
10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
This states that the teaching went on daily for two years, and the result was that all the Jews and Greeks living in Asia heard the gospel. The school and training was the means by which the gospel was taken to all Asia. Also, in a mere two years, all people in Asia had heard the gospel. It is very unlikely, if not impossible, that Paul personally came in contact with each person of Asia. This verse shows us that the first century Christians were truly evangelistic, and able to reproduce their faith in others.
If one man led 1,000 people to the Lord each year, in 35 years there would be 35,000 converts through his ministry. However, if the same man only led just one person to the Lord every six months, then discipled those converts so that they could share their faith as he does, in ten years he would have 1,048,576 converts. In fifteen years he would have evangelized over 1,000,000,000 people. And in just over 17 years, they would have evangelized the present population of the entire world.
The process used by Paul is the most effective way to reach the greatest number of people with the gospel. He trained others, by reproducing himself in them. They, in turn, took the gospel wherever the Lord wanted them to go. This methodology of Paul's approach to spreading the gospel is today call the indigenous method. This is where missionaries go to a foreign field, and train their converts to become ministers to their own people. In Ephesus, Paul was a Jew, who taught both Jew and Greek to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to their own local population.
I bring this up because this is the methodology used by our missionaries in the Assemblies of God Church. It is also the method of other organizations. Last week, missionaries visited our class - John & Nancy LeCossec and Bill Hennessey. Both John and Bill, during their time with us, spoke of training nationals to take the gospel to their people. The LeCossecs minister among the Gypsies, primarily in France. Today, in France alone, there are approximately 200,000 Christians among the Gypsies. The Assemblies of God have a total of 429 ministers in France. This represents all France, not just the Gypsies.
The ministry to the Gypsies began some 50 years ago by John's father, Clement LeCossec. This missions work has spread far beyond France, and they report 1,350 ministers have been trained to preach the gospel. By missionaries reproducing themselves in their converts, we can maximize the impact of the gospel.
A few weeks ago, I showed you a chart showing the world-wise growth of evangelicals compared to the population growth over the same period of 35 year. Then, last Sunday evening we had a missionary banquet, which is something we do each year. On the tables, at each place setting, there was this sheet showing the "2005 stats of the Assemblies of God" with regard to foreign missionary work. I want to share that with you at this time.
I bring it to your attention here to point out a couple of numbers. These numbers do not include the United States and Canada. They reflect only foreign missions. Notice the number of "National Ministers" that have been trained in Bible Schools by our missionaries - 244,821. Notice the total membership and adherents - 43,615,601. Look also at the number of Bible Schools we have on foreign soil - 869. The Assemblies of God have more Bible Schools than any other organization.
One more thing I want you to notice about these statistics. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the rapid growth among evangelicals is to be found in the southern hemisphere. I said that two-thirds of all evangelical converts today are in this hemisphere. It is far more than that among our missionary efforts. Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America account for over 90% of our membership.
There is one more chart I want you to see. Here are the five largest international religious organizations in the world today.
o Catholic Church 1,100,000,000
o Sunni Islam 875,000,000
o Eastern Orthodox 225,000,000
o Anglican Communion 76,000,000
o Assemblies of God 50,000,000
As the title says, these are international religious organizations. There is one non-international religious organization larger than the bottom two. The Jinja Honcho (An association of Shito's) has 83 million. They are found only in Japan. (The above data is shown at www.adherents.com.)
Now, let's return to how the area of Asia Minor was evangelized during Paul's three years in Ephesus. Let me state again, I believe that Paul trained converts that felt a call to the ministry, so they could return to their own people with the gospel.
Take the last of the 7 churches in Revelation - Laodicea. Shortly after returning from our trip to Turkey and Greece, I took you through each of the places we visited. You may remember me saying the 3 churches in the area of Laodicea most likely were not started by Paul. Those three cities are Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis. They were probably started by Epaphras, who was a resident of Colossae. And Paul honors him and gave him his support.
Colossians 1:3-7 NKJV
3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints;
5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,
6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;
7 as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,
This tells me that Paul and his band of assistants heard of the faith these saints had. He wasn't the one to bring them to the Lord. He says they had learned from Epaphras, who was a faithful minister of Christ.
In the latter years of Paul's life, Epaphras either accompanies him to Rome, or goes to visit him there. Paul writes his 3 letters to the Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians while in prison in Rome.
Colossians 4:12-13 NKJV
12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
13 For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.
From these passages, it is believed by most Bible scholars that Epaphras probably began all three of these churches. We are not told where Epaphras first met the apostle Paul. I ponder and wonder if it could have been in Ephesus. Could he have been one of those who were trained during the two years Paul held class? Could some of the churches in Asia have been started by disciples of Paul, who had been discipled and trained by him? It is at least a possibility.