With the Apostle John’s writings, the books and letters that would form the New Testament were complete. After his death reliable eyewitness accounts of events in the Church largely ceased, and we are left with confusing and contradictory accounts for the next several centuries.
Historian Jesse Hurlbut makes the following comment concerning this time: “For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church...and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul” (The Story of the Christian Church, 1970, p. 33).
Under Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68) Christians were blamed for burning the city of Rome, and many were killed—including the Apostles Paul and Peter. This was a time of intense persecution of the Jews and it appears that, to avoid punishment, a significant number of Christians began to distance themselves from any identification with Judaism.
Former practices held in common with Judaism—such as resting and worshipping on the weekly Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) and keeping the God-ordained annual festivals found in the Bible—rapidly began to wane as new customs crept in.
Eventually Constantine introduced a transformed version of Christianity which became the official religion of the Roman Empire. British historian, Paul Johnson summarised these changes: “Many Christians did not make a clear distinction between this sun-cult and their own. They referred to Christ ‘driving his chariot across the sky’: they held their services on Sunday, knelt towards the East and had their nativity-feast on 25 December, the birthday of the sun at the winter solstice….” (A History of Christianity, 1976, pp. 67-69).
The Gospels show Jesus Christ observed the same festivals as the Jews of His day (Matthew 26:17-19; John 7:10-14; 37-38). Both the book of Acts and Paul’s letters also make it clear that the Apostles kept the seventh day Sabbath and annual festivals during the decades after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (Acts 2:1-4; 18:21; 20:6, 16; 27:9).
Similarly, Jesus and the Apostles did not teach the righteous ascend to heaven at death (John 3:13; Acts 2:29), and they understood that man does not possess an immortal soul (Ezekiel 18:4, 20) that is destined to spend eternity in either heaven or hell. (For the truth on these matters, download or request our free study guides The Gospel of the Kingdom and Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?)
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