It’s easy to miss the incredible nature of what was happening in Jerusalem following Pentecost. We’ll never be able to fully put ourselves in the shoes of a first-century Jew living in that city, but from Luke’s record in Acts, here’s what would have stood out to us about those first Christians:
1. They were radically reinterpreting the Jewish Scriptures.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon represented a radically different way to understand the Jewish Scriptures–writings which many of his hearers had known all their lives. For example, Peter was saying that Joel’s prophecy–that God would pour out his spirit on all flesh–was being fulfilled now (Acts 2:16-21). He claimed that the ancient King David had actually been talking about Jesus of Nazareth when he wrote the sixteenth psalm (Acts 2:24-35).
2. They were claiming that Jesus was still alive, and that his resurrection proved that he was really God’s Anointed One.
This claim was shocking (and infuriating) especially to those who were convinced that Jesus had been a blasphemer, and therefore that his crucifixion was absolutely warranted. If Jesus of Nazareth was really alive, as his followers seemed absolutely convinced, this fact would validate his claims of having a unique relationship with God. Those who believed this amazing claim realized the implications it had. Desperately, they responded, “What must we do?”
3. They were confident and urgent in what they claimed.
The manner of the apostles was not sophisticated and academic–there was a frank boldness and urgency in their tone (Acts 4:13). They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by insisting that Jesus was not only alive, but the Christ of God.
4. Their miraculous works were irrefutable and awe-inspiring.
It was impossible to discredit these Christians by saying their miracles were just a sham. For example, a man whom everyone knew had been lame since his birth was suddenly able to walk, leap, and stand right next to Peter and John, praising God for his miraculous healing (Acts 4:15). Luke tells us the effect of this and many other miracles: “awe . . . upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).
5. They were amazingly generous, joyful, and unified with each other.
Luke records that “they had all things in common,” and that “they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). This unusual generosity and unity was hard to ignore.
6. Their number was growing rapidly.
After the initially explosive growth of 3,000 people joining the ranks as Jesus-followers, Luke records that there continued to be a steady flow of people joining them: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47). If you had been living in Jerusalem at that time, there is a good chance you would have personally known a follower of Jesus.