The first church was entirely Jewish. Jesus was a Jew; His apostles were Jews, and essentially, the first twenty-five thousand converts to Christ, were Jews. On the day of Pentecost, God-fearing Jews from all over the known world, gathered in Jerusalem and three thousand of them received the Holy Spirit. This was not a white man’s religion; the early church consisted of people of color. Their skin tone began with an olive complexion, at the light end, to black Jews from Africa and every shade of color in between. Revival broke forth, and every day, tens of thousands of Jews met on the temple mount to hear the powerful preaching of the apostles and to see the extraordinary miracles of healing they performed. They received Jesus as Messiah and were baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. Besides the daily apostolic meetings on the temple mount, the Jews started the first home meetings. They went from house to house, breaking bread, having fellowship, praying, and studying the apostle’s doctrine. As Jews, they knew the stories and teachings of the Old Covenant but the apostle’s doctrine was what they needed. It taught them how to embrace the New Covenant and walk with God in the fullness of the Spirit. They were still Jews but they were transformed by the teachings of the Jewish apostles.
Even today, the church should be constantly enriched by apostolic teaching and revelation. Miracles should be common place and the prophetic word should be genuine and frequent. Small meetings should help us build relationships, pray for personal needs, provide an opportunity for the development of ministry gifts, help us care for one another, and give us a venue for studying the apostle’s doctrine.
As the early church grew, the need for teaching, mentoring and equipping God’s people grew as well. When people came from the surrounding villages, they went up on the temple mount and heard life-transforming messages under the anointing of the Jewish apostles. There was much that the newcomers did not understand and it takes a while for on-going revelation to sink in. The home meetings provided a place where believers could catch up and mature into the fullness of Christ. With new excitement, they studied God’s word and enjoyed the blessing of Holy Spirit fellowship.
We can learn some things from Philip, who was an outstanding minister and an excellent father as well. It seems that he did not need to lose one challenge, to meet the other.
The Book of Hebrews
The changes that transformed thousands of Jews from the Old to the New Covenant, were extensive. Eventually, the apostles wrote their teachings in letters that were sent to churches in Israel and to cities around the Mediterranean.
The most complete study of the apostle’s doctrine was written in a letter, probably from Paul, to the Jews (See Heb. 13:23-24). We call it the book of Hebrews. The letter was written for Jews to help them understand and come into the New Covenant. It is about the priesthood; the temple, the sacrifices, the covenants, the Sabbath, the patriarchs, and other details that only Jews could relate to. This is what the Jewish apostles taught the Jews who were coming to Christ. This is what they preached on the temple mount. The book of Hebrews is a summary of the apostle’s doctrine. In Hebrews we discover ten better things that the Jews embraced as they shifted from the Old Covenant to the New. Each teaching requires a huge change for the Jewish people.
1. A New High Priest
The most important doctrine that the apostles taught, was Jesus. Hebrews 3:1/ 4:14-16/6:20/7:15-17 and 7:26-27 tell us to consider Jesus, the High Priest of our confession. He became a man so that He might experience our frailty. That is why He can represent us and intercede for us with compassion. He is our High Priest.
2. A Better Sacrifice
The blood of animals could never take our sins away. That is why sacrifices had to be repeated year after year. Then, once and for all, Jesus offered His own life as a sacrifice. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Read: Heb. 7:27/ 9:12,28/ 10:3-4,11-12,14
3. A New and Living Way
Once a year, only the High Priest went beyond the curtain, in the temple, to stand before the ark of the covenant. He offered sacrifices and came before God to make atonement for the sins of the nation. When Jesus died the temple curtain was ripped in two. The way to God’s presence is now open for all. We have a new and living way through Christ’s body. Heb. 10:19-21
4. A New Law
Old Testament law is only a shadow. No one can be righteous by keeping it. It is good to obey some Old Testament laws but not to earn righteousness.
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming– not the realities themselves.” Heb. 10:1.
That was the law of sin and death. We now have a better law; the law of the Spirit of life. In Christ, there is no condemnation. His grace covers our sin if we walk with the Spirit. Heb. 7:12,18, Rom. 8:2-3
5. A New Covenant
Contrary to popular belief, the New Covenant was not initiated with the gentile church but with the Jews (See Heb. 8:8). The Old Covenant is now obsolete and God has given the Jews and us the New Covenant. He has put His law in our hearts and, through Jesus, he has brought us into a personal relationship with Himself.
“By calling this covenant “new”, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” Heb. 8:13 – Read Heb. 8:7-13
6. A Better Tabernacle
Not like the old tabernacle and temple, God invites us to a better tabernacle/ sanctuary. It is the throne room in heaven. By the Spirit we go to the presence of God and are seated with Him in heavenly places. From there we worship Him and pray with authority. See Heb. 8:1-2,5 and Eph. 2:6.
7. A New Sabbath
The Jews did not enter their rest because of the hardness of hearts and their lack of faith. The seventh day, the Sabbath, is a day of rest for the Jews and that day is essential but there is another Sabbath rest for all of God’s people.
It is only discovered when we stop living in fear and worry and put our trust in God. Sabbath is an every day experience of resting in Christ (Heb. 4:1-11).
8. A New Church
Hebrews 12: 23 says that we have come to the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven. Hebrews chapters 12 and 13 speak about church life and its importance.
9. Better Promises
The New Covenant leads us to better promises such as the promise of the Father, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. (See Heb. 13:7, 17, Acts 1:4)
10. A Better City
The New Jerusalem is the spiritual city of God. It is made up of holy people, spiritual beings, and amazing blessings.
“You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Heb. 12:22-14
Jews have a physical city, a Sabbath day and regulations that they should obey; not for righteousness, but as an illustration to the world. The apostles’ doctrine explains the shift that they and we must make to walk with God. AΩ