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Five Essential Teachings of the Early Church
Why the return of Jesus was so central to the Good News
One question I get asked from time to time is about Christian history. Did the early Church have the same mindset as we do about the return of Jesus Christ?
I don’t hesitate at all with my answer to that question: Yes, they did.
The first generations of Christians believed very strongly that Jesus would return, just as He promised. They were reading the same Scriptures we are, and some of them even saw Jesus after His resurrection. A whole assembly of believers watched Jesus ascend to Heaven and then heard from angels:
“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”—Acts 1:9-10
From the earliest foundation of the Church, the certainty of Jesus’s return was never in question. People might scoff at the idea today, but the followers of Jesus preached the good news of His resurrection and the reality of His return. That was their Gospel message.
The Early Proclamation
One Greek word that is used regularly in reference to the preaching of the first Christians is kerygma, a Greek word which means “to proclaim.” Kerygma describes the essence of the preaching of the early Christian apostles, especially the first-century followers of Jesus.
There were many elements to their proclamation, but here are five of the most essential parts of their teaching. These points were core to the Gospel message:
Everything God promised in the Law and the Prophets had been fulfilled in the Man Jesus Christ.
Jesus is God in the flesh, who was born of a virgin, lived a perfect and sinless life, and was killed. God raised Him from the dead, and now the Father has exalted His Son, Jesus Christ, to His right hand, which is a place of authority.
God has sent the Holy Spirit to the Church to empower her and serve as a sign of Christ’s present power and glory in this age.
Jesus Christ is coming again soon! He will bring in the Messianic age.
Because all of this is true, we are invited to repent of our sins, believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ, be baptized in water, and receive the Holy Spirit.
That’s their message. That’s the teaching that was central to every gathering of early Christian believers in the days, weeks and years after Jesus ascended into heaven.
Centuries of Scholarship
Those five points are not a “Jimmy thing.” It’s not something I came up with to give a nice, memorable, five-point sermon. These points are the conclusion of generations of Bible scholars who have studied the New Testament and the reality of the early Church.
And I want you to pay attention to Number 4 in that list: Jesus Christ is coming again soon! It was a major, pivotal point about what God is accomplishing in the world through His Son. The New Testament bears witness to this fact again and again. Paul wrote about it. Peter and John wrote about it. The author of Hebrews wrote about it. Even early Christian manuscripts outside Scripture, like the Didache, include these core teachings.
So don’t let anyone tell you that our focus on the Rapture or the Second Coming is a “new” belief or something that wasn’t important to the Church until the last couple of centuries. It was central to the Church. It was taught by people who had actually known Jesus in the flesh—disciples and followers who knew Him, walked across the Galilean hillsides with Him, and worshiped in Jerusalem with Him.
They really believed Jesus was the only way to eternal life, and they believed time was short. That gave them an urgency to their teaching and missionary work. Not because they were afraid, but because they were filled with faith.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Sure, but that was hundreds of years ago and Jesus still hasn’t returned.” You might be wondering why.
I’m going to let God’s Word address that:
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.—2 Peter 3:8-9
It might be easy to give into the cynicism of the present day. Our world is primed for skepticism and unbelief, which is something the Bible says would happen as we get nearer the return of Jesus.
No, He hasn’t returned yet. But Peter writes that the reason He hasn’t returned is so more can come to repentance. Our God is a loving God and He wants to give all of us a chance at eternal life in His presence. Another word for “longsuffering” in the passage above might be “patient.” God is patient. God is waiting for the right time. God is not confined to your calendar but will act according to His schedule.
Still, I assure you that we are closer than we have ever been before.
The Rapture and return of Jesus were central to the earliest Christian message and that ancient teaching is central to the Good News God wants people to hear today.
So I want people to hear that message, too. That’s why Tipping Point exists. That’s why I wrote my newest book, Look Up! Awaiting the Rapture and Our Final Redemption.
I’ve been studying this topic for more than 45 years and it never gets boring. How could I not be excited when I see His promises coming true every day?
(You can pre-order my new book by using the button below. It releases in late January.)