Around 80,000 people lived in Jerusalem during the Roman occupation. Most of them were descendants of Israel. Most were Jews, and they knew that their city would be the site of the climactic scenes of the greatest drama in human history — a drama not merely of local importance, but cosmic in scale.
All Signs Point to Jerusalem
Jerusalem’s residents knew this because the ancient prophets had foretold the events in some detail. Contemporary sages looked at the circumstances of that century, and they saw the telltale pattern of God’s guidance. They expected God to intervene with power, vindicating His people and establishing a Kingdom. They imagined it taking place, as revolutions often do, with armed battles. The scenarios varied, depending upon the sage, but all agreed upon the importance of Jerusalem.
God launched His creation, the rabbis said, with Jerusalem — more precisely, with the foundation stone of Jerusalem’s Temple. Creation expanded outward from that spot, and God Himself marked time from that moment. The stone marked the center of the earth and the focal point of true religion. In the Temple of King Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant rested on it.
When history came to its climax, it was indeed in Jerusalem. It came, however, not in the way anyone expected it. It followed none of the scripts of the first-century pundits. Yet it exceeded them all in the perfection of its fulfillment.
The salvation won by Jesus, the Messiah, arrived in stunning continuity with all the history that had gone before. And all subsequent history takes its reference from His redeeming work. Apart from Him, history is a futile and meaningless pursuit.
Biblical religion is not mythology. It is historical. It takes place in a land that can be visited and explored. Its milestone events were recorded by witnesses whose testimony has been carefully preserved.
Christianity and History
History matters to Christians, as it mattered to the people of Jerusalem two millennia ago. The saving events are more important, in the grand scheme and in individual lives, than the wars that are fought today and the news that occupies our media. If we are to understand our lives, we must begin by understanding that long-ago moment in history.
What was the rock — the new foundation stone — on which Jesus said He would establish His new creation, new people, and new worship?
As we begin to explore the life of the early Church, we take our stand on firm ground, the solid rock of history. We stand with a curious historical figure and unlikely hero. His name is Simon Peter.
Editor’s note: This article is the first part in a 12-part series exploring the Catholic background behind NBC’s A.D.: The Bible Continues (tune in on Sundays at 9/8c). Check back each Friday for a new entry. As well, you can get The Catholic Viewers Guide for A.D. as well as Ministers and Martyrs, or order both as a set to save 25%.