Around 63 or 64 AD, a letter was inscribed. The letter was attributed to a man named Paul of Tarsus and was written for a young man named Timothy. Along with Timothy, the letter was also intended for an audience in Ephesus where a new church was being planted. A church of people believing and following Jesus Christ.

Included in the letter is the following statement:

“This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” – 1 Timothy 4:9-10 (NIV)

To labor and strive could be considered an understatement. Things were not easy for early Christians. In fact, to be a Christian in the 1st century was extremely dangerous. The practice of Christianity was not even made legal until the 4th century. Until then, Christians were often facing ridicule and persecution.

In the time of Paul’s letter to Timothy, things may have looked like they could not get any worse for the followers of Jesus. Many Christians had been imprisoned during this time. And many Christians were put to death for their beliefs.

Since the start of the church, followers of Jesus faced great dangers. The cause of persecution was simply believing that Jesus Christ rose from the grave and was the Lord and savior of all. Denial of Jesus, could save one from being persecuted. It could even save one’s life. At times, it could even save one’s family from persecution and death.

And yet, the people of the early church would not recant their beliefs. Furthermore, the movement of Christianity grew exponentially during this time.

In the earliest times of the Christian movement, once referred to as “The Way,” a man named Saul devoted his life to the persecution of any and all who were part of this movement. He even played a part in the first recorded killing of a Christian, Stephen around 33 AD.

Saul would later change his name to Paul after a life changing moment in which he claimed to be confronted by Jesus, risen from the dead. It was this Paul who was now writing Timothy and the new church in Ephesus. In fact, Paul himself would be executed by decapitation, just a few years after his letter sent to Timothy.

What could change a person who once dedicated his life to persecuting Christians? What would now cause him to affirm Christianity, even at the cost of his own life? Why did Paul believe?

Why did Christians continue to believe?

On July 18th 64 AD, a fire was started in Rome. The fire, lasting three days devastated much of the city and Nero, the Roman Emperor, blamed the Christians for the blaze. Persecution of Christians reached an all time high after that. Christians were harassed and beaten by citizens. They were gathered up by the multitudes and imprisoned. They were also tortured.

A Roman historian named Tacitus was a young boy during this time and wrote the following:

“Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians…”

The torture of Christians became an abhorrent game of sorts. Those who said they believed in the resurrection were made the subjects of sport. They would be covered with the hides of wild beasts, and then mauled to death by dogs. They would be nailed to crosses. At dusk, many would be bound or impaled to polls and set fire to, as evening lights.

All they had to do was deny their beliefs and they would escape this hateful treatment.

But they did not.

They died while upholding their faith in God and their belief in the resurrected Christ.

Not only did the Christians of the first century refuse to deny their belief, they also refused to deny the love of Jesus Christ. Even in an era of great persecution, Christians continued grow in love and mercy.

They gathered food and fed the poor. They provided clothing and shelter for those in need. They took in orphans, who would otherwise be killed or brought up as prostitutes. They argued against abuse of slaves and servants. They welcomed strangers. They shared with and invited people of other cultures. They also forgave the people persecuting and killing them. And the movement of Christianity continued to grow and expand into other communities.

Because they believed.

It’s fair to say that, without the belief of the first Christians, we would not be aware of Christianity today.

From the very first, eye witnesses of Jesus, people have faced terror and death for their faith. And they refused to deny what they witnessed. They refused to deny what they saw. If the events of Jesus and the resurrection were made up stories, it could be easy to recant and deny, especially if it meant saving one’s life.

The only explanation I can give, as to why these people refused to deny the resurrection of Jesus, is because it was the truth.

Because they knew whole heartedly, that there was life for them after this one. They knew life after death and the kingdom of God was indisputable.

And also, indisputable, was the love they felt in Jesus Christ.

This is witnessed in the acts of the first Christians. In the welcoming spirit. In the good will. In the advocacy. The early Christian movement was founded on love and kindness.

In today’s times, we see many things that are said to be acts of faith. People have blown themselves up in the name of a belief. Others have staged wars and proclaimed enemies in the act of faith. Even people who call themselves Christians have demeaned others in a so called, act of faith.

All of these actions are ones of insecurity. Acts out of fear. Cowardly displays due to a lack of belief. People fighting to protect a kingdom because they do not fully believe the kingdom will be able to hold itself up against the ridicule, criticisms or actions of other people.

The early Christians had the faith to know that the kingdom of God would withstand even the most horrific persecution. The early Christians knew that Jesus defeated death. And they knew that the kingdom of God was not a kingdom of hatred, but of love.

Early Christians believed in the importance of love.

While being ridiculed, Christians fed the poor.

While being persecuted, Christians shared the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While being jailed, Christians opened their doors the strangers.

While being killed, Christians forgave their killers.

Early Christians believed because they witnessed Christ.

Some because of what they saw. Some because of what they heard. Some because of what they experienced. But all because of what they felt.

We can feel that too.

When the church was being planted in Ephesus, eye witnesses to Jesus were few, but the spirit of Christ continued to be felt and experienced. It continues to be felt and experienced to this day.

People continue to have their lives changed, miracles continue to happen, experiences and even encounters of Jesus Christ continues to be witnessed. And the love of Jesus Christ continues to be shared and spread. The movement of Jesus Christ continues to this day.

Because it’s true.

We can be comforted in believing in Jesus Christ.

And furthermore,

We can be comforted in knowing that Jesus Christ believes in us.