The first four verses of Acts 8 present to us a profound change that takes place in the history of the church. We will examine this passage and see that at this point in the history of the church, the church fully entered the gospel age and became “the church militant.” By that I mean that the church was no longer under the illusion that its mission would be accomplished quickly or be accomplished without great cost. At this point in the narrative, the church enters the context of “the gospel age,” and it is still in that context today and the church will remain in that context until the return of her Lord and Savior.
What defines this new context? That is, what do we see in this passage at the beginning of Acts 8 that describes the context of the gospel age? There are three things that are obvious from the text that define the church in the gospel age:
- The church will be persecuted in the world, and the more faithful the church is to her mission in the world, the more she will be persecuted by the world.
- The church will be scattered among the nations so that the church can win the nations to Christ and can declare God’s glory throughout the earth.
- The church is to preach the word of the gospel and the word of the Lord wherever the church goes. Individually and collectively the church is to preach Christ and to proclaim the word of the Lord.
What makes this particular passage so significant is that it inaugurates the scattering and the perpetual persecution of the church. Up to this point in Acts, the church has enjoyed relative peace, although the storm clouds of opposition have been gathering and the pressure against the church has been increasing. Now, however, with the martyrdom of Stephen and the wholesale attack against the church in Jerusalem, the church’s relationship with the world has been forever shattered. The church has been called to carry out the mission which Christ gave her, and that mission draws hostility from the world.
From this point on until Christ returns, there will be persecution against the church. “And on that day a great persecution BEGAN against the church . . .” The persecution will not be of the same nature in all parts of the world and it will not be of the same intensity all the time. There may be times of apparent peace, but this is just a temporary illusion and not a cease-fire. Wherever the gospel is boldly preached and wherever the church is fervent about the mission of proclaiming the gospel, the enemy will attempt to bring persecution on the church. This is the case today in many places in the world. Wherever the gospel is making inroads into territory held by Satan, there the church will experience heat and persecution. It cannot be otherwise, for Satan hates the gospel and will oppose it and the church is compelled by her Lord to tell the good news. So the church will be persecuted in the gospel age.
From this point on until Christ returns, the church will be scattered. “. . . and they were all scattered throughout the regions.” In the gospel age, the church will be continually scattered so that the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-17) continues to spread farther and farther and into more and more enemy territory. The enemy attempts to scatter the church so that our impact will be dissipated, but the Lord allows this scattering because, like stomping on a kerosene fire, the more you attempt to stomp it out the more its flames are scattered. The church scatters so that more tongues and tribes and people and nations can be reached. Missionaries scatter to foreign lands. Churches divide and go get planted somewhere else. Tentmakers scatter into the marketplace to quietly proclaim the world to those who will listen. And so it goes and so it will go until the return of Jesus. So the church will be scattered in the gospel age.
From this point on until Christ returns, the church will preach the word and proclaim Christ to as many as will listen (Acts 8:4-5). This is the primary task of the Lord’s people during the church age. Her Lord has given her a mission, to preach good news to all the nations, and the church is obligated and compelled to carry out that mission no matter the cost or the difficulty. Whatever else the church is doing is secondary to accomplishing this task. From this point on it became clear that preaching could be costly and that the world would be hostile to faithful and bold preaching, but it was also clear that preaching was not optional. The church was scattered so that they could preach and they were persecuted so that they could proclaim. This means that, in the gospel age the church will proclaim Christ.
- Are you/we being persecuted? If not, are we sure that our presence and our message are clear enough and Christ-centered enough to draw the enemy’s fire? Am I willing to accept persecution and isolation for being identified with Jesus? Do I shrink back (Hebrews 10:39) or do I allow the Holy Spirit to lead my action?
- Am I willing to be scattered for the sake of the gospel? That is, will I go into my work/job as an individual missionary for Christ? Am I willing to go into a difficult or different context in order to be scattered as a messenger? Have I considered radical relocation for the sake of the gospel?
- Do I vigorously proclaim the word of the Lord and the word of the gospel? Do I try to proclaim everywhere I am? Do I make the most of the time and the circumstances to preach the Word? Am I intentional in this regard? That is, do I consider how I can be faithful in this call of my Lord to preach the word and to make disciples?
In conclusion, these four verses relate a major transition in the life of the church. The church will never be the same again. From now on, the church will continue on her mission with the world’s comforts and safety behind and the cross of Christ before me, accepting persecution and opposition as being the price for preaching the word of the King.
SDG rmb 7/5/2018