The Apostle Paul - by Rembrandt - Public Domain


Previous: Revelation 3:9

"I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie-indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. - Revelation 3:8-9

We have already studied these verses, but we need to take another look at Jesus' amazing promise, "I have set before you an open door." Christianity is all about missions in every age. Those who knew and believed God's Word have always understood the imperative of fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus said:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. - Matthew 28:19 (See also Acts 1:8; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-22)

The saga of the spread of Christianity is demonstrably the largest enterprise in the history of humanity. Countless books have been written on the subject. Our brief summary will only begin to demonstrate the breath-taking spread of the Gospel from the time of Christ to the present.

Remember that there have been churches in every generation that were similar to one of the Seven Churches in Revelation 2 and 3. This has especially been true of the Church in Philadelphia. There have always been congregations in each age that could identify with the Philadelphia Church because of its missions emphasis.

Therefore missionary activity can be identified in each period of time. We will present a very brief summary of how evangelism was conducted during the historical periods of the first five churches, and then we will consider the sixth period of Church history as "The Age of Missions."

Here is a simple chart listing the various periods of Church History and the kind of "open door" for missionary progress each age enjoyed.

Missionary Activity during the Seven Periods of Church History

32-100 - Apostolic Church (Ephesus)
Open Door of Evangelism
100-312 - Persecuted Church (Smyrna)
Open Door of Testimony
312-476 - Compromised Church ((Pergamum)
Open Door of Influence
476-1517 - Middle Ages of the Church (Thyatira)
Open Door of Privilege
1517-1700's - Reformation Church (Sardis)
Open Door of Restoration
1700's-1900's - Missionary Church (Philadelphia)
Open Door of Revival
1900's-Present - Apostate Church (Laodicea)
Open Door of Escape

Ephesus - The Apostolic Church - Revelation 2:1-7
Open Door of Evangelism

Shortly after the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit was sent to empower the Disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). There were Jewish converts there in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival, and those who witnessed this great event also heard the "the wonderful works of God" described in their own native languages by uneducated followers of Christ. Then Peter preached the Gospel and more than 3000 people decided to believe in Christ and were all baptized! They then returned to their home countries all over the Mediterranean world, where they undoubtedly told others about Jesus.

The whole Book of Acts documents the incredible spread of the message that Jesus was the Savior who had come to die for the sins of the world. It contains numerous stories of missionary work, such as Philip's mass evangelism to the Samaritans (Acts 8:4-8), and his personal evangelism with the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:39).

Acts also records the divine appointment the Lord had for Peter that led to sharing the Gospel with Cornelius, who was a Gentile (Acts 10). This evidently fulfilled Jesus' promise to Peter that he would have the keys to the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19). He officiated over the giving of the Gospel first to Jerusalem (Acts 2:38-41), then to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:14-17), and finally, to the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46).

Christians were persecuted and scattered from Jerusalem so that they could take their new belief to other cities, far and wide.

At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. . . Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. - Acts 8:1-4

Just a few years after the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul, the Pharisee that had persecuted the early Church, was converted by an appearance of Jesus (Acts 9), and he then became the foremost missionary of his time, leading evangelistic teams to Syria, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, Mediterranean Islands, and Rome. He explained how the Lord had made his incredibly successful work possible:

Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord. - 2 Corinthians 2:12

Within a few more years, the effect of Paul and his associates had been so great that the rulers of Thessalonica complained:

"These who have turned the world upside down have come here too." - Acts 17:8

Meanwhile, the Apostles and other great First Century leaders of the Church travelled to many distant lands to preach the Gospel. According to historians like Hippolytus, Peter preached in many parts of Asia; Thomas went to Persia and India; Bartholomew also went to India; Jude went to Mesopotamia; Andrew went to Greece; Mark went to Egypt; Matthew went to Parthia; and Thaddeus went to Armenia.

Smyrna - The Persecuted Church - Revelation 2:8-11
Open Door of Testimony

During this era of severe persecution (AD 100 to 312), missionary work was not accomplished by sending out teams of evangelists, as had been the case in the First Century, but by the scattering of believers to remote places.

The courageous martyrs of this period provided an unforgettable proof of the reality of their faith. Their very lives and deaths convinced others who might not have believed without such a powerful illustration. The Greek word for martyr (marturia) also means "witness." Those who were willing to die for their belief in Christ were a tremendous testimony to the power of the Gospel (Revelation 2:13; 6:9; 17:6)! As mentioned before, Tertullian, a Church Father of that period of time wrote, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church" (See the notes on Chapter 2, verse 9).

In spite of the death of so many Christians during this time, and the lack of official missionaries, the Gospel continued to spread. By the time of Constantine it had reached virtually all of the then-known world.

Next: Revelation 3:9 - Cont. 2


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