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In the footsteps of the Apostles

Updated on July 5, 2015
lawrence01 profile image

Loving God and loving mankind is an important part of who I am, in these hubs we explore what it's like to really follow Jesus.

Jesus and his followers

The Twelve. What happened to them? (Thank you Leonardo Da Vinci)
The Twelve. What happened to them? (Thank you Leonardo Da Vinci)

How this came about

It was thirty years ago that I first got to visit Eastern Turkey, it was a trip that was memorable for so many reasons, not all of them good but there was one reason that the memories have stuck with me all these years.

It was 1987 and rumors were spreading about Saddam doing some despicable things to the Kurds, but they were only rumors and the Christian group I was working with wanted to find out if it was true! Guess what, I got to make a trip that has changed the way I see so many things.

About two weeks into the trip we were in a small town called Mardin (the only Arabic speaking town in Turkey) when we heard about the Monastery of Saint Gabriel on the way to another town called Midyat.

We decided that it was too good an opportunity to miss! Here was a monastery that even the local Muslims were telling us was still open and active in the community, we decided to see if we as a bunch of "stupid foreigners" (sometimes it's great to play that role as you can learn so much) would see if we could find out about this place and what it must be like to live as Christians in a land where Christianity wasn't that well liked.

You've got to understand that Christianity may well have spread through Turkey in the first centuries but the Turks are a Muslim group that came in later and swept Christianity away, be be Turkish is to be Muslim and any other group is treated with suspicion, yet here was a place where the people had lived through all that for centuries!

We found the Monastery, but there was only the local Bishop and a few christian families left, they belonged to a group of Christians that I'd never even heard of before called the Assyrian church of the east. The Bishop (whom we had tea with) told us that the Monastery was founded in the late fourth century and had been there all that time, but he was most proud of the fact that his Bishop's seat could be traced all the way back to the Apostle Bartholomew.

One of the original twelve that sat at the feet of Jesus!

The story he told us that day has stayed with me (in part) since then and strange as it sounds (personally I thought it a bit of a tall tale). In last few weeks I've been looking at how the church grew and whether the records we have can be relied on and it just seemed that it's the right time to share what he told us and let you make your own minds up on if you believe it or not.

The oldest Monastery in East

Mar (Saint) Gabriel Monastery
Mar (Saint) Gabriel Monastery

The incredible story

First of all I've got to state that there's very little actual hard evidence. There are some facts that can be authenticated but this story isn't so much about the facts as about showing that even from the very beginning the Christian faith was 'going global' and did it very quickly!

There is no complete picture of how the church grew in the first few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus (or Yeshua if you prefer) but that can be explained very easily.

The Crowd’s Response

5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” 12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”

13 Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”


Take a look at who was actually there that day! Since the time of Moses the Torah had said that there were three times in a year that all Jewish men were commanded to be in Jerusalem. Passover, Pentecost (feast of weeks) and Sukkot (feast of tabernacles). In later Jewish times it wasn't always possible as many Jews actually lived outside the Roman Empire to the East in the lands of the Medes and Parthians, even as far away as India

Pentecost, who was there?

show route and directions
A markerJerusalem, Israel -
Jerusalem, Israel
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Where the twelve were

B markerRome -
Rome, Italy
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Large Jewish community

C markerAleppo -
Aleppo, Syria
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Christians first got their name here.

D markerTunis -
Tunisia
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More Jewish communities

E markerBabylon, Iraq -
Bābil, Iraq
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Largest and most important centre of Jewish learning

F markerKerkuk, Iraq -
Kirkuk, Iraq
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More Jewish communities (Daniel's grave is here)

G markerIsfahan -
Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
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Mordecai and Esther are buried here, large Jewish community at the time

H markerEthiopia -
Ethiopia
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Jews from here too!

I markerCochin Kerala -
Kochi, Kerala, India
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1st Century synagogue found right next to a Church founded by Thomas the Apostle

The Jews and where they lived

The people

The moment that Peter began to preach and others began to respond was the moment that the Christian faith actually broke out of the Roman Empire!

Within a few days these folks packed up their bags and headed home, they took with them not only the souvenir trinkets of just about any tourist trip but also the new faith that the Messiah had come and some strange things had begun to happen in Jerusalem!

The Book of Acts is a great book that documents how Christianity spread from the dusty corner of the Empire to the very heart of Rome itself, only what it doesn't tell us is that the same was happening to the East and South.

If you look at the map above you'll see that only four of the markers (A through D) are in what was the Roman Empire, E is Kerkuk that was border country with the Parthian Empire and Babylon wasn't taken by the Romans until130 AD (and lost ten years later never to be re-occupied. The rest are not even in Parthian territory but part of the Empires to the East.

Traders.

The Jews of the Diaspora were traders, centuries of living in a foreign lahad recentlynd a aliens allowed them to develop trading networks all over the Ancient world. In Ancient Rome the ultimate symbol of wealth wasn't Gold, it was spices! the one nation that had families in 'both camps' was the Jewish people and they developed extensive networks.

This was fifty days after Jesus had died and risen! Now people from all over the known world were believers in him, within a few weeks they would be returning home and taking their new faith with them!

That day 3,000 people came to faith. A few weeks later another 5,000 had come to faith (does this sound like a hoax that recently been dreamed up by a bunch of men and women who stole Jesus' body?). Things were about to get more out of control!!

How it spread

The word of God spread fast.
The word of God spread fast. | Source

Acts Chapter 8

Acts chapter 8 was about five or six years after the events in chapter two (we are talking about AD 35 at the latest) but the truth is the word had already begun to spread, the traders and Pilgrims gone home, they'd taken copies of the Septuagint with them (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and possibly in the East they had Aramaic translations and ay even have had early translations of Jesus' own words.

By AD 45 there were believers all over the Eastern parts of the Empire and beyond.

Assyrian Church tradition says that 45 AD was the year that the Apostles Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel). Thaddeus (also thought to be Jude, Jesus' half brother) and Thomas arrived in Armenia.

Armenia wasn't in the Empire, it was a client Kingdom that the Romans used as a buffer state between them and their Nemesis the Parthians (descendants of the Persians and forerunners of the Iranians). Bartholomew and Thaddeus and Thomas were believed to have arrived in the area about that time and set about preaching the gospel. The story is that the King had already come to faith and invited them to the Kingdom. From that time on there was a christian witness in the country.

One thing that is known is that both Bartholomew (Nathaniel) and Thaddeus (Jude) were Martyred in Armenia around 60 AD. Tradition also says that they already had the Gospel of Matthew in Aramaic when they arrived in

Thomas the Apostle

Thomas

Remember him? He was the one when the other disciples told him that they'd seen the risen Jesus his reply was "Pull the other one guys. It's got bells on!!" Not just a dignified "Sorry but I can't accept that!" but straight out "Don't talk S#*T! he's Dead" followed by "I want to see the nail marks! and put my hand in his side, where the spear went! When I do that THEN I'll believe!!!"

Thomas was no mans fool, the others might be gullible but he wasn't, he needed physical evidence, Imagine what happened when he heard a familiar voice behind say "In that case Thomas, turn around!"

I just wonder if the first words out of Thomas's mouth were really a proclamation of Jesus' deity or a bit of a cuss from a stunned mullet! or maybe both! "My Lord, and My GOD!" Think about it for a moment!

Thomas traveled with Bartholomew and Thaddeus (Nathaniel and Jude) to Armenia, but then he branched out and by 52 AD he was already in India preaching in Kerala state, this is after he'd been through Iran and Pakistan planting churches (this can be backed up with both church tradition and the writings of Hindu historians of the time). He planted seven churches in Kerala (three of which are on their original sites) and stayed there for at least seventeen years.

Indian Christians claim that Thomas also made a trip to China around AD 62 but there's no evidence left from that trip but finally he fell foul of the local Maharaja in Madras who had him executed. The Church in India grew for a while but being so far from the main body of believers it just survived and stayed faithful to his teaching.

I think you'll understand why the faces are blurred

Why so little record

There are loads of apocryphal stories about the Apostles, some may be true but they all contain a kernel of truth that Christianity spread much wider and faster than we realize in those early years.

The Ancient world was a place of traders, travel was sometimes slow, but large empires controlling vast swathes of land meant that goods and ideas could move around and take hold with relative ease. What helped Christianity at first was the fact that it wasn't the state religion of Rome, and that the leader had been executed by the Romans (the Parthians may have traded with Rome but didn't like them so if Rome treated the Christians badly then the Parthians would tolerate them!). India had her own issues with the Christians, in 313 AD when Christianity became the state religion of Rome then the new successors to Parthia (the Sassanids) saw the Christians a potential allies of Rome and began to persecute, a persecution that has pretty much lasted right up until the modern day!

Churches in the East were tolerated, but were never in the same position that their brothers in the West were in, they have always been the second class citizen! many times they carried on their traditions at the risk of life and limb but they remained faithful to what they knew. Many times persecution broke out for no apparent reason and buildings would be burnt, villages massacred and precious records lost.

Eventually the trade that brought these churches into existence moved away with war and conquest and finally sea trade taking over so they slowly withered yet managed to survive through all this time and hold true to their beliefs.

The Assyrian church does have a slightly different view of Christ, they believe that he was just a man, a man on whom the divine presence settled. that instead of having both a Human and a Divine nature he only had the one but it was so obedient to the will of God you couldn't tell what was Human and what was divine. Their leaders didn't follow the doctrine that was followed by the church in the west of hailing Mary as the "Mother of God" (Theotokos) and for this they were condemned in the seventh century.

That day the Bishop asked us four to do one thing for him, to tell others about their brothers and sisters in Christ who have lived under this yoke for centuries. "Tell them we're still here, Don't let them forget us!" was his plea.

This is part of their story. Much of it is legend and I'm not trying to argue proof, just that you take the stories and realize that behind the legend is a little truth that can't be explained except to say "What an awesome God we have"

Leave a comment and let me know what you thought.

Lawrence

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    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      Thank you for the visit and yes they are under attack, yet somehow Christianity has survived until now!

      The local Kurds and Christians are pretty tolerant and I too pray monastaries like this can continue

      Lawrence

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 22 months ago

      Thank you. Good information about he Eastern churches and very interesting about the Mar Gabriel Monastary. I hope it can continue to operate it seems many faiths are under severe attack in that region.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Deb

      Luke only told the story of how Christianity got to the heart of the Roman Empire. All the records they had in the East were systematically erased by succesive rulers but not totally destroyed, they lived on as Christian parents told them to their children.

      Some of the stories can be authenticated (Hindu writers tell us Thomas got to India in 52 AD! They also tell us of wells the Hindus still don't use because of Thomas and what he did there!)

      I'm sure when we get to meet them the other Apostles will have great stories to tell us

      Glad you enjoyed the hub.

      Lawrence

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Interesting. This is material that I have never been privy to, but it does amaze me that the word had gotten around so fast that Jesus had resurrected.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Mel

      I couldn't agree more! Those followers of Jesus literally turned their world upside down, and I'm not just talking of the Romam world!

      Thank you for the visit.

      Lawrence

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I believe that where there is smoke there is fire. Legends typically have their root in something. The details become blurry or exaggerated, but more than likely the,apostles were in this place at one time. Great hub!

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      I hadn't really thought about this trip for a while but some of the hubs I've been writing recently (and stuff that never seems to be far from the news recently) brought it back and I remembered talking with the Bishop that day. I've been blessed as I've been into their homes and seen their lives up close, they are amazing and strong people.

      I'm glad you enjoyed it and the hub gave you something to think about, after all a good article should leave us in a different place than it found us.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      K&T

      So true. Only time will tell, but we can call on the same Holy Spirit to give us what we need when we need it.

      Larry

      Glad you liked the hub. We all need inspiration sometimes, may these stories inspire us to better things.

      Lawrence

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Thank you for expressing that thought.

      But as Jesus said they would be where he is.

      They are alive just as Jesus is alive. they past their test , the point is will we past ours

      Time will tell.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      K&T

      I think part of the answer lies in whom they were. Jesus himself said "it's not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick!"

      They knew what Jesus did for us and as one great missionary put it "Nothing I do will be too great for him!"

      They knew that what we have is so precious it's worth giving everything for (the parable of the pearl of great price). Their story is an inspiring one, but its also a call for us to pray for them as they (incredibly) pray for us.

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Paula

      Thank you for the kind words. And a big thank you for the vote up. The early christians were inspirational in so many ways.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence - I opened and read this hub this morning and have been thinking about it today. I do not how I can possibly add to the wonderful words that have already been written except to say that this is beautifully and powerfully written. Thank you for sharing the story of your journey and the life of the Apostles. God bless you.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      They are inspiring indeed. I've had the honor of meeting and sometimes working alongside these folks. The amazing thing is they're just like us!

      I asked them how they could have such faith and every time I got the same reply "The Holy Spirit!" They knew it wasn't them, but God gave them the strength to carry on with their faith

      I think you're right that many of us would struggle in their situation, but maybe they can teach us something about trusting God in hard times?

      Really inspiring lives of ordinary people. Glad you found it so.

      Lawrence

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting look at the apostles journey.

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Jesus certainly Knew he would have faithful followers even until death, before the end of this system arrives, notice what will be the case !

      Re 2:10 Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison so that you may be fully put to the test, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.

      Has this happened and will it happen again

      Yes , Hitler was a time when many were told to denounce there faith, many stayed faithful

      and some did not only to die forever.

      Again that is the case in many other countries, what religion would cover these many countries and put you to the test ? The same one Hitler attacked. Something to think about. The Jews, and JW . A clue to the true religion based on scriptures and experience of true faith.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Very interesting. In fact, fascinating as well as educational.. I appreciate your work...UP+++ Pinned.....Peace, Paula

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Stories of unshakable faith that lasts centuries are so very interesting and inspiring. Can you imagine stating faith in the face of persecution, knowing you could die for saying you believe in Christ? How many people today have that kind of faith?

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      John

      Its the kind of thing you never forget! The trip was pretty hair raising at times but meeting the Bishop who gave us tea and told us about the place was amazing!

      Glad you enjoyed the story, but more importantly when we meet folks who are christian from this part of the world maybe this hub helps give a better idea of the world through their eyes.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I loved this hub Lawre you had going to Turkey and finding that nce. What a great adventure and coming across that monastery. thank you for sharing this interesting information as well.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      K&T

      True that we might not know whom they are. Whats important is to know what goes on. Its a dilemma many christian groups working with these people face. If they don't tell then how can people pray and support them? If they do tell then saying too much can put people in reak danger! Especially if they come from a Muslim or Hindu background! That's why I wanted to tell it this way?

      By the way these folks aren't afraid of the cost! They just want us to know whats going on!

      Word55

      I went back a few times and spent a few years working in that area. Truth is I'd go back tomorrow if I could! (Long story partly covered in my hub about the Kurds) but its my way of staying involved in this

      Lawrence

    • word55 profile image

      Word 2 years ago from Chicago

      hey lawrence01, very interesting trip I'm sure. You brought back some truth. I'm glad your life was changed for the better and you're sharing a lot here. You're a trooper. Thanks a lot and God bless!

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Lawrence true. But the key to who these brothers are is not clearly known to all, and in the end . but they are faithful to Jesus and we are to help and support them

      But they are not as the world would know who they are. They are embassadors of the Kingdom or Government of Jesus.

      if people do not know who they are this would be a problem .because how can you support Jesus Brothers if you do not know which one they are.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Matthew 24 says Jesus will be asking us if we remembered those in prison? Did we help lighten their load "For as much as you do this dor the least of your brethren, you did it for (to) me"

      They may go through the "fires of hell" but we are meant to stand with them even if its only in prayer.

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Yes Notice

      Lu 22:31“Simon, Simon, look! Satan has demanded to have all of you to sift you as wheat.

      Re 2:10 Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison so that you may be fully put to the test, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.

      this is why.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I just wanted to tell the story of a group of believers who have had thousands of years of persecution yet stayed faithful to their LORD.

      They still love Jesus despite all they've been through

      Lawrence

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      You are correct about the feet , we are living this time in prophesy, Jesus is sitting on his throne in heaven now, among the many world powers that are standing at this time.

      The Bible clearly describes these powers in the feet as the Anglo American world powers. The Government that is heavenly will knock the statue over is hurling now ,

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      K&T

      That would be the vision of the statue and the toes of metal and clay in particular. The statue falls as God sets up a kingdom that will never fail.

      Some would see the mess Europe is in as a prelude to that (they were warned and not just by the Bible!! Maggie Thatcher was booted out because she refused to take Britain in and fired any minister who suggested it!).

      The hub is more about those who follow Jesus being more widespread even at the start than we in the west can even imagine! Legend has it that Thomas' disciples took the faith all the way to Japan in 72 AD! There's no real evidence of it, but there is evidence for what I did put in (actually when catholic missionaries arrived in the 1590's they found a christian community in a remote part of Japan).

      The hub is more about simplt telling the story because every christian in the East I've had the joy of meeting has had the same request. "Don't let our brothers and sisters in the west forget us!"

      Lawrence

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Very good subject on what and where is Jesus followers.

      We'll what about Jesus himself. He resurrected and is alive. Where he is so is his closest followers.

      Joh 14:3 Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will receive you home to myself, so that where I am you also may be.

      Joh 18:37 So Pilate said to him: “Well, then, are you a king?” Jesus answered: “You yourself are saying that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is on the side of the truth listens to my voice.”

      And to him there were given rulership, honor, and a kingdom, that the peoples, nations, and language groups should all serve him. His rulership is an everlasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom will not be destroyed.

      Re 17:14 These will battle with the Lamb, but because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb will conquer them. Also, those with him who are called and chosen and faithful will do so.”

      Da 2:44“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. And this kingdom will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it alone will stand forever

      All these scriptures make it very clear Jesus is a appointed King , and his disciples or Apostles are his co rulers .

      Re 5:10 and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.”

      Jesus is in heaven with his corulers. Not all are there yet , but the window is still open to truth that leads to a New Earth. And many are being called on to be educated citizens

      that is why it is critical to take seriously bible law .

      Just as you enter into another country there are rules and laws to abide by. Or you will be

      excumnicated, or thrown out.

      Under the new citizenship of the New Earth

      spoken of at 2Pe 3:13 But there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.

      these are the laws that will stand.

      1Co 6:9 Or do you not know that unrighteous people will not inherit God’s Kingdom(Government)? Do not be misled. Those who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who submit to homosexual acts, men who practice homosexuality,

      1Co 6:10 thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners will not inherit God’s Kingdom.

      1Co 6:11 And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean; you have been sanctified; you have been declared righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.

      If we are to be citizens of Jesus Government

      then how we view the laws of the bible will be considered no matter how old they are.

      So my answer to your hub Is Jesus is active with his Government , searching for citizenship, by the same means he started it .also his corulers are helping and taking seats of possition in heaven.

      Daniel 2:44 is happening now.