(1)That the Jewish rulers were opposed to the Messiah, and slew him.
(2)that the very people to whom he came, and for whose benefit he labored, joined in the opposition, so that it became the act of a united people.
(3)that the Romans, who were there as a sort of representation of all pagan nations, were easily prevailed on to join in the persecution, and to become the executioners.
(4)that thus opposite factions, and dissimilar and prejudiced people, became united in opposing the Messiah.
(5)that the rulers of the Roman people, the emperors, the statesmen, the philosophers, and the rulers of other nations, united to oppose the gospel, and brought all the power of persecution to stay its progress.
(6)that the people of the empire, the mass of people, were easily prevailed upon to join in the persecution, and to endeavor to arrest its progress. It may be added,
(7)That the gospel has encountered similar difficulties and opposition wherever it has been faithfully presented to the attention of people. It has become a very serious question why this has been; on what pretence this opposition has been vindicated, or how it can be accounted for - a question which it is of as much importance for the infidel as for the Christian to settle. We know that accusations of the corrupt lives of the early Christians were freely circulated, and that most gross accounts of their scandalous conduct were propagated by those who chose to persecute them. (See Lardner‘s “Credibility.”) But such accounts are not now believed, and it is not certain that they were ever seriously believed by the rulers of the pagan people. It is certain that it was not on things account that the first opposition arose to Christ and his religion.
It is not proper here to enter into an examination of the causes of this opposition. We may state the outlines, however, in few words:
(1) The Jewish rulers were mortified, humbled, and moved with envy, that one so poor and despised should claim to be the Messiah. They had expected a Messiah of a different rank and character; and all their prejudices rose at once against his claims to this high office, Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10.
(2) the common people, disposed extensively to acknowledge his claims, were urged on by the enraged and vindictive priests to demand his death, Matthew 27:20.
(3) Pilate was pressed on against his will by the impetuous and enraged multitude to deliver one whom he regarded as innocent.
(4) the Christian religion, in its advances, struck at once at the whole fabric of superstition in the Roman empire and throughout the world. It did not, like other religions, ask a place amidst the religions already existing. It was exclusive in its claims. It denounced all other systems as idolatry or superstition, and sought to overthrow them. Those religions were interwoven with all the habits of the people; they were connected with all the departments of the state; they gave occupation to a vast number of priests and other officer who obtained their livelihood by the existing superstitions, and who brought, of course, all the supposed sacredness of their character to support them. A religion which attempted to overthrow the whole fabric, therefore, at once excited all their malice. The monarchs whose thrones were based on the existing state of things, and the people who venerated the religion of their ancestors, would be opposed to the new system.
(5) Christianity was despised. It was regarded as one form of the superstition of the Jews, and there were no people who were regarded with so much contempt by other nations as the Jews. The writings of the Romans on this point are full proof.
(6) the new religion was opposed to all the crimes of the world. It began its career in a time of eminent wickedness. It plunged at once into the midst of that wickedness; sought the great cities where crimes and pollutions were concentrated, and boldly reproved every form of prevailing impiety. At Athens, at Corinth, at Ephesus, at Rome itself, it denounced the judgment of God against every form of guilt. Whatever may be charged on the apostles, it will not be alleged that they were timid in denouncing the sins of the world. From all these causes it is not wonderful that the early Christians were persecuted. If it be asked.
(7) Why the same religion meets with opposition now in lands that are nominally Christian, it may be remarked:
(a)that the human heart is the same that it always was, opposed to truth and righteousness;
(b)that religion encounters still a host of sins that are opposed to it - pride, envy, malice, passion, and the love of the world;
(c)that there has always been a special opposition in the human heart to receiving salvation as the gift of God through a crucified Redeemer; and,
(d)that all the forms of vice, and lust, and profaneness that exist in the world, are opposed, and ever will be, to a religion of purity, self-denial, and love.
On the whole, we may remark here:
(1)That the fact that Christianity has been thus opposed, and has triumphed, is no small proof of its divine origin. It has been fairly tried, and still survives. It was well to put it to the rest, and to bring to bear on it everything which had a tendency to crush it, and thus to furnish the highest proof that it is from God.
(2)this religion cannot be destroyed; it will triumph; opposition to it is vain; it will make its way throughout the world; and the path of safety is not to oppose what God is intending to establish in the earth. Sinners who stand opposed to the gospel should tremble and be afraid, for sooner or later they must fall before its triumphant advances. It is not safe to oppose what has already been opposed by kings and rulers in every form, and yet has triumphed. It is not wise to risk one‘s eternal welfare on the question of successful opposition to what God has, in so many ages and ways, pledged himself to protect; and when God has solemnly declared that the Son, the Messiah, whom he would set on his holy hill of Zion, should “break” his enemies “with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter‘s vessel,” Psalm 2:9.
“Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” AA 60.1
Thus the disciples preached the resurrection of Christ. Many among those who listened were waiting for this testimony, and when they heard it they believed. It brought to their minds the words that Christ had spoken, and they took their stand in the ranks of those who accepted the gospel. The seed that the Saviour had sown sprang up and bore fruit. AA 60.2
While the disciples were speaking to the people, “the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” AA 60.3Read in context »
Their Saviour had been rejected and condemned, and nailed to the ignominious cross. The Jewish priests and rulers had declared, in scorn, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” But that cross, that instrument of shame and torture, brought hope and salvation to the world. The believers rallied; their hopelessness and conscious helplessness had left them. They were transformed in character, and united in the bonds of Christian love. Although without wealth, though counted by the world as mere ignorant fishermen, they were made, by the Holy Spirit, witnesses for Christ. Without earthly honor or recognition, they were the heroes of faith. From their lips came words of divine eloquence and power that shook the world. TM 67.1
The third, fourth, and fifth chapters of Acts give an account of their witnessing. Those who had rejected and crucified the Saviour expected to find His disciples discouraged, crestfallen, and ready to disown their Lord. With amazement they heard the clear, bold testimony given under the power of the Holy Spirit. The words and works of the disciples represented the words and works of their Teacher; and all who heard them said, They have learned of Jesus, they talk as He talked. “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.” TM 67.2
The chief priests and rulers thought themselves competent to decide what the apostles should do and teach. As they went forth preaching Jesus everywhere, the men who were worked by the Holy Spirit did many things that the Jews did not approve. There was danger that the ideas and doctrines of the rabbis would be brought into disrepute. The apostles were creating a wonderful excitement. The people were bringing their sick folk, and those that were vexed with unclean spirits, into the streets; crowds were collecting around them, and those that had been healed were shouting the praises of God and glorifying the name of Jesus, the very One whom the Jews had condemned, scorned, spit upon, crowned with thorns, and caused to be scourged and crucified. This Jesus was extolled above the priests and rulers. The apostles were even declaring that He had risen from the dead. The Jewish rulers decided that this work must and should be stopped, for it was proving them guilty of the blood of Jesus. They saw that converts to the faith were multiplying. “Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” TM 67.3Read in context »