2.1 – Tiberius & Pentecost (29 min video)
The following transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors in spelling and/or grammar. It is provided for assistance in note-taking and review.
– Well, welcome to our first official and full lesson. You’ll have a chance in these five lectures to put to use some of the note taking skills that I taught you in lesson one, and hopefully be thinking through the importance of history as we take a look at the early history of the church.
So let’s go ahead and start out with the title for this entire lesson. Go ahead and write that down. We’re simply gonna call it “Eternity in Operation.” And I’ll explain to you where that’s from in just a moment. In terms of our topic for this lesson, for these five lectures, we’re gonna call this one “The Roman Principate.” The Principate, or some people say the Principate, was essentially the story of Rome from Augustus Caesar on, often until Diocletian is usually how historians discuss it.
We’re talking about the princeps or the emperors who ruled Rome who are often famous or rather infamous, usually for their rather bad behavior. You’ll get a full dose of that in this lesson. We’re gonna contrast that, however, with the New Testament church, something that the Roman emperors were largely unaware of, partly because they were too self-absorbed partly because the New Testament Church began with mostly common people.
It’s gonna be one of the marvelous contrasts that we’ll actually see in this lesson. In terms of the principle that I have for you, which will also explain our title for this lesson, we’re gonna take a look at a quote by Charles Williams. Now if you don’t know who Charles Williams is, Charles Williams was actually one of the Inklings, was a good friend of C.S. Lewis, wrote several novels that are quite marvelous works of theology in their own right, as well as being fiction. Also wrote incredible poetry, which you usually need Lewis’s commentary to understand. But he also wrote a rather little and remarkable book called “The Descent of the Dove.” This book, he labeled it, or he gave it a subtitle, “History of the Holy Spirit in the Church.” In other words, it’s a church history, but it’s unlike any other that I’ve ever read. probably because he’s so philosophical and yet just so wonderful in his observations. So he has this little quote in which he says, “The measurement of eternity and operation is theology.” So the measurement of eternity and operation is theology. Go ahead, take a moment to write that down. Pause if you need to. But it’s curious when he talks about eternity and operation, the idea that God is eternal, that he has no beginning, he has no end, but he operates specifically in history.
He says that is theology. It’s acknowledging the fact that God isn’t just transcendent. He’s not just beyond everything we know. He’s not some kind of creator who made everything and then checked out. Rather, he’s also imminent. He’s also actively working within his creation. And so when you look at Christianity, which of course is what we’re going to be looking at throughout this entire series, you see that God specifically intervenes throughout time. That’s the whole story that we have of the Old and New Testament. But of course Christianity is specifically tied to very unique events. Events like the advent or the incarnation of Christ. Events like his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension, and of course Pentecost, the arrival or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the earliest believers of the church.
What’s unique about these things is they’re all specific points in history. And they all happened at a specific time and a specific place. Just read any of the gospels, especially something like Luke, because Luke is highly detailed, and he’ll tell you exactly the when, the where, the who. He gives you all of these details to make it very clear that he wants us to see this as actual history. These are actual events. In other words, Christianity is not simply about ideas, it’s about what has happened. To quote Charles Williams again, he says, “Christianity is always the redemption of a point, “such as a point of time, of a particular point.” He says, “Now is the accepted time. “Now is the day of salvation,” quoting directly from the scriptures. But then he goes on and he makes this statement about the disciples saying, the disciples did not have necessarily the language they needed. They did not have necessarily the ideas that they needed, say, to start a new religion. They weren’t actually trying to start a new religion. They were simply calling mankind, both Jew and Gentile, back to the worship, or the right worship, I should say, of the one true God.
So what Williams says is they didn’t have to discover everything. He said they had only one fact, and that was that it had happened, meaning specifically that the Messiah had come, that he had been killed, that he had arisen from the dead.
And to quote Williams further, he says, “The disciples had been dead in their trespasses and sin, and now they were not.” So they had this chief fact, something that they were witnesses too. And they also had the great commission that Jesus gives them at the ascension in which he says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.
” And then of course, my favorite part to this verse, and behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” So he gives them a very clear mission, which we’re going to see the disciples doing quite heartily, but he also promises that he will be with them all the way to the end of the age.
And of course, this is after he’s already promised that they will receive the helper, they will receive the comforter, they will receive the actual gift of the Holy Spirit, and God himself dwelling within them.
That is a remarkable turning point in the history of the world. Now, of course, for us to understand the birth of the church we need to talk about Pentecost. But before we do that, it’s gonna be very helpful, I think, for us to kind of remind ourselves that the political climate and structure that the church operated in.
And that of course leads us to the Roman Empire. I actually quoted this next phrase by Will Durant in antiquity, in which he talks about what Rome was like at the death of Augustus Caesar in 14 AD, kind of right in the middle of Jesus’ life here on earth. Will Durant says, “No one wanted to enlist in the army or recognize the inexorable periodicity of war. Luxury had taken the place of simplicity and sexual license was replacing parentage. By its own exhausted will, the great race, that is the race of Romans, he says, was beginning to die. Chesterton says about Rome and really the pagan world at large when Jesus came, that had done the best that man could do and that it was completely exhausted.
It’s what we would call world weary or simply hopeless. So that leads us to the man who actually succeeded Augustus Caesar, which is Tiberius, the emperor Tiberius, who for reference reigned from 14 AD to 37 AD.
So that makes him the emperor when Jesus is actually committing his earthly ministry. That makes him the emperor when Jesus is crucified and rises from the dead. He would be the emperor during Pentecost, the conversion of Paul, all of the very earliest events of Acts. So this makes him an incredibly important person in terms of understanding the context of this. In fact, when Jesus confronts the Pharisees, or rather they try to trap him into asking him if they should pay taxes to Caesar, and he asked for Denarius, it was most likely that that Denarius would have had the actual face of Tiberius Caesar.
It’s also worth pointing out that as powerful as Rome was at this point, it was not yet at the height of its power. As for Tiberius, he was somebody who was hand selected by Augustus Caesar, who called him, quote, “The most agreeable and the most valiant of men.” If you remember, Augustus Caesar had rather high standards for the people that he wanted to follow him and take leadership of Rome. He had this idea that the Romans could essentially be good or really good enough if they just tried hard enough. The problem with Tiberius was that, well, there were several problems. For one, he was moody. And when you’re moody, sometimes you wish to be alone and just go off and read your favorite philosopher. That was Tiberius. Well, if you’re moody and you wish to be alone as much as possible reading to yourself, that’s not always put you on a pathway to success to leading other people, especially if those people make you moody. Another problem with Tiberius was that Tiberius had married for love, which seems kind of random, actually kind of rare I should say, in Roman history.
That was not the problem. The problem was that while Augustus was still living, he made Tiberius marry, I’m sorry, divorce his wife, the one that he loved, and marry Augustus’ daughter named Julia, whom he despised and who also cheated on him quite frequently. That’s kind of the messy nature of the Romans. So when Tiberius becomes emperor, he was 55 years old, and like Augustus, even though he was rather moody, he still had this idea that there was a mos maiorum, literally a moral majority is what that Latin term means.
The idea that most Romans were truly good. If you can just kind of see past everybody that you know who lives life like there’s no tomorrow and doesn’t really care about relationships, Surely there are Romans out there who actually are kind of morally good and care about marriage and care about children and the family.
So Tiberius, like Augustus, had that hope. He also was somebody who thought that the gladiatorial shows, all of those games, were something to be avoided, but never actually doing anything as emperor to end them.
When he came to power, he immediately went to the Senate and told them that he was unfit to rule. Rather than the Senate saying, “Oh, that’s fine, we’ll rule for you “and restore the Republic.” They said, “Wow, because you said that, “you’re the perfect person to actually rule Rome.” It’s kind of reminiscent of how many of the founding fathers thought. There is some debate of whether or not Tiberius meant it or if he was just doing that for them to actually trust him more.
One of the things that he did immediately or rather soon as emperor was he took power away from the people. It was called the Commitia, the power that people had to elect their own judges, and he gave it directly to the Senate. He also refused any additional titles they wanted to give him, and also refused having a month named after himself, like say Augustus or Julius had had done before him.
Tiberius’ response to the Senate when they said, “Oh, we should name a month after you,” was he said, “What are you going to do when you hit 13 Caesars. You’re going to have a little bit of a problem with naming all the months after those guys. He also was somebody who was remarkably frugal and conservative with how he spent state funds. In fact, he left the treasury 27 times richer than he actually found it. He also corrected some of the overzealous governors who often collected far too many taxes from their people, saying, quote, “It was the part of a good shepherd to shear his flock not to fleece it. Just take a moment to pause and think about that. He uses the term good shepherd to describe the governors saying their job is to properly collect taxes to fund the government without breaking or oppressing the people or in some cases stealing from them as many governors actually did.
So all of these things give us a Tiberius who’s really rather praiseworthy. He also kept the peace of the empire. There was some warfare during the first two or three years of his reign, but after that it was largely peaceful. After Julia died, the wife that he was forced to marry and never really loved, he chose not to remarry and instead listened to the advice of his mother Livia, making him kind of this ideal son in the ideas of Roman ethics.
However, he himself didn’t have an ideal son. His son named Drusus was known for his greed and his cruelty, and the only reason why the son didn’t succeed Tiberius when he died was because the son himself died young. As for Tiberius, he increasingly became paranoid. This actually starts something of a trend in Roman emperors in which because there was no clear pathway of how emperors succeeded other emperors. Emperors often spent much of their time worried about the next coup or plot. Because of that, he turned to his Praetorian guard, those members of the Roman army who dressed differently and had direct orders to protect the emperor and personally served him essentially as his own private army.
In fact, the prefect of his guard was a member by the name of of Sejanus, who actually helped rule the Roman Empire with them, and was often responsible for banishing or executing anybody accused of treason.
Until of course, Sejanus himself was accused of treason, which he actually probably was plotting, and then was executed the very same day, along with all of his followers, and his friends, and his wife, and his children.
That’s how the Roman emperors operated. As for Tiberius, at the end of his life, he grew tired of Rome and he retired first to the Isle of Capri and later to the region known as Campania.
Some say that he spent his time reading and writing and bettering his mind. Others say that he spent his time pursuing whatever sin or vice he could imagine. Perhaps it was both. It’s actually not uncommon for these pagan emperors to be very inconsistent in how they thought versus how they acted. Then in 37 AD, he had a fainting spell, collapsed in the middle of the street, was thought dead, and so the Senate declared Gaius, the son of one of the former plotters, Agrippina, to be the next emperor.
But then it was discovered that Tiberius wasn’t actually dead yet, which is kind of a problem when you have, well, another emperor who’s already been declared as such. And so Tiberius was suffocated with a pillow to kind of complete the job. Many say at the direction of Gaius, or some even say by Gaius himself. So that messy story I just told you, which is kind of like a soap opera, that’s the contrast I want you to think about as we enter into a completely different story, and that’s the story of Pentecost. Philip Schaff, who I’m going to refer to often, who I’m going to quote often, because he’s one of the finest church historians of all time, says that Pentecost, the event that you see in Acts, is quote, “The birthday of the visible kingdom “of Christ on earth.” As for Pentecost, as a word that means the 50th day, It was the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which was one of the three festivals in which Jews from all over, not just the kingdom of Israel and days of old, but Jews from wherever were required to go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and to worship God there at the temple.
It was a specific memorial too, to remembering the fact that God had given the law to Moses at Mount Sinai, that he himself had descended in fire with thunder, that he had revealed what he wanted from heaven.
It’s also called the Feast of Weeks because it’s seven weeks after the Feast of First Fruits. The Feast of First Fruits came right after the Passover. That’s when the Jews would celebrate the very early harvest of the barley. Well, the Feast of First Fruits, which came after the sacrifice of the Passover, it lines up with Easter Sunday, the resurrection of Christ. He is the first fruits. As for Pentecost, it lines up with the Feast of Weeks. It’s an important date in the church calendar because it’s the beginning really of the church calendar in terms of church history. And Pentecost specifically was something that marked the bringing in of the very first wheat. Wheat being something that Jesus referred to frequently, especially in his parables to describe believers coming into the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God.
In terms of dating this Pentecost event, it would happen during the reign of Tiberius and the most likely date based upon the chronology of when Jesus was most likely crucified and rose from the dead would be the year 30 AD and would probably be in the month of May.
Some even date it to May 28th to be extra specific because, well, you can. What we know from the account in Acts is that there were Jews from all over at that point, the known world, in attendance at Jerusalem.
And there were Jews from Persia, what Acts calls Parthia and the people of the Medes. There were Jews from Mesopotamia, from Elam, which is essentially south of Mesopotamia. There were Jews from Judea. So the rest of what we think of as Israel. There were Jews from Cappadocia, which would be in modern day Turkey, or what back then they called Asia Minor. There were Jews from the Pontus, from Phrygia, from Pamphylia, also up in that same area. There were Jews from Africa, specifically from Egypt and Libya. In fact, we’re even told that there were visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytites, meaning those who were not born Jews, but they feared the one true God and wanted to worship him.
There were even Jews from Crete, which essentially is a part of Greece or has a very Greek culture. And there were Jews from Arabia. In other words, it’s a wildly diverse group of people. Well, on that Pentecost Sunday, there were told according to Acts that there were 120 disciples total. There were of course the 12, with Matthias having replaced Judas Iscariot. But by this time, there were also Jesus’ brothers, probably his sisters as well. There was his mother, Mary. There were many women, the women like Mary Magdalene, who first saw him rise from the dead. It’s here at Pentecost that they go from being disciples, which essentially is a word that means student, to becoming apostles, a word that means something like messenger or even emissary.
And then if you look at what happens at Pentecost, it’s very much like what happens at Sinai. You have this descent of the Holy Spirit, of God himself. It’s accompanied in this case by a mighty rushing wind that goes through the house, literally the upper room where they had had the last supper not too long before this event.
And then just like at Sinai, there’s fire. Only the fire comes in the form of these things that look like tongues, and it rests over each one of the disciples. And we’re told that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and that they spoke in tongues. They spoke in languages that all the Jews from all these different places could understand because it was the foreign language of their homeland. We’re then told that there was an incredible giving of praise and thanksgiving in these actual tongues. The shaft simply says this was both the baptism and the confirmation and the ordination of the disciples all at one time. This is when they get apostolic authority. We recognize that they’re actually exercising what God wants them to do and they are revealing what God has to reveal to men, largely by explaining how the Old Testament has been preparing all of us, especially the Jews, well the Jews first, for the coming of the Christ.
It’s also worth noting that it’s a complete reversal of what you see at the Tower of Babel. It’s a remarkable moment in history. Of course, many of the people there didn’t understand what of the disciples were saying. They didn’t have the ears to hear them, so to speak. And so they accused the disciples of being drunk. Well, that’s when Peter gets up and he gives this marvelous sermon in which he refers to the Old Testament saying, “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel.” The disciples are really the Apostles now. They’re always specifically referring back to the Old Testament. In fact, he quotes Joel saying that there would be a great pouring out of the Spirit someday that would be accompanied by great signs and wonders.
He then reminds the crowd of Jesus saying, “You know him. You knew him for his mighty works and his wonders.” Keep in mind, Jesus was often followed by a massive crowd whom he often performed miracles in front of or on behalf of. But But then Peter says this, he says this same Jesus, he was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. You crucified and killed him by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death because it was not possible for him to be held by it. And that whole idea, it was not possible for him to be held by death. Peter then goes and he recites or he quotes Psalm 16, where David says, “You will not abandon my soul to Hades,” which is another word for hell or even death, or let your Holy One see corruption. And then of course, Peter points out that we’re all witnesses to the fact that he actually rose from the dead. That’s worth taking a moment just to kind of go off a little rabbit trail and talk about, because it’s worth noting that when the disciples first heard from, say, the women who went to the tomb, that Jesus had risen from the dead, they don’t appear to immediately believe it. They had to witness the actual empty tomb. They had to personally meet him. In one case with Thomas, he had to actually touch the wounds of Jesus. Or another case, two disciples walked with him as he explained the entire Old Testament to them until they even realized who he was. The story in FF Bruce says that the disciples needed an overwhelming evidence to actually accept the resurrection. They literally had to see him. It’s sometimes argued that the people living at this time were rather primitive, that they believed in magic and fairy tales and superstition. Well, all you have to do is read the history of ancient literature to know that somebody rising from the dead was not a normal thing.
they understood like anybody today would understand that that’s an extraordinary thing. That’s an extraordinary claim. What’s really curious is the gospel story makes it very clear that the first person to see Jesus risen from the dead is Mary Magdalene, followed by the three women who went to tend to Jesus’s body in the actual garden. That’s a big deal for antiquity because the way that most pagan writers saw women was they saw them as unreliable witnesses. In fact, one of the early critics of Christianity, a writer, a Roman writer by the name of Celsus in the second century claimed that clearly Christianity could not be believed because it was women who were actually saying it was true.
Well, they’re given the gift of being able to see the risen Lord first. And then of course we have Peter who sees him, We have John who sees him, the rest of the disciples see him, eventually Thomas.
We have disciples on the road to Emmaus. And then eventually we’re told by Paul that there were yet 500 witnesses who were still alive. Some of them 25 years later, he says in 1 Corinthians 15, who also saw the risen Lord. We’re also told that he appeared, that is Jesus appeared to his brothers. And James, his brother, would have most likely believed it then because according to John 7, He didn’t believe Jesus was God prior to that. And then of course, Paul even says, and then last of all, he appeared to me. In other words, Paul and the gospels basically are telling the people at the time, these people who say they saw Jesus, they’re still living. Go and ask them what they actually saw. This is a remarkable claim, something that Sanhedrin and the Jewish leaders who tried to claim that the body was stolen could not actually counter.
Well, after Peter makes this whole point that Jesus cannot stay dead, his body will not be abandoned to Hades, he then makes a further point to say that Jesus is now enthroned and he cites Psalm 110, one of the most famous messianic Psalms where David writes, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.'” So the Jews are hearing all of these words that would have been remarkably familiar to them. Words that they had most likely heard their entire upbringing. Words they had most likely memorized given the rarity of books or scrolls at the time. When they hear these familiar words, Peter then says this, he says, “Let all Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him,” that is Jesus, “both Lord and Christ.” Jesus whom you crucified.” Those words, we’re told, cut them to the heart. It’s a heart change that occurs at Pentecost, and they cry out, “What shall we do?” And Peter and the other apostles say, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
” promises for you and for your children who are far off. We’re then told that 3,000 of them, which of course is an estimate, were added to the numbers of the church, the 120 at that point. This is truly the beginning of the visible church on earth. It’s an entirely different story than what I told you with the Roman Empire. We’ll continue that contrast in the next lecture.