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1/21: Sister Centuries by Neil Cole

1/21: Sister Centuries

by Neil Cole


The 21st century is quickly becoming the sister century to the 1st century. There are remarkable similarities between the first and twenty-first centuries. In this article I will list six corresponding characteristics tying the first century to this current one.

1. One dominant super power. Not since the Roman Empire has there been a single world super power that has had such a dominant influence as the United States of America. For over a thousand years there was a peace on the planet, not because of the good nature of the people but because of the dominance of one single world power that had no rivals—the Roman Empire. Historians have called that period, Pax Romana, Latin for the peace of Rome. It was during this time that God stepped into the human world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

This super power actually benefited the spread of the gospel in many ways. The very first overseas missionaries were able to use their privilege of Roman citizenship to fulfill their missionary enterprise. Paul’s Roman citizenship allowed him to be taken to Rome (at the governments expense) to proclaim his testimony to kings and ultimately the Emperor himself. The gospel was further advanced while Paul was under house arrest in Rome where he was able to evangelize, train leaders, write letters and fully accomplish his calling to bring God’s word to the Gentiles. Finally, the persecution of the Roman Empire helped spread the flame of Christianity across the world.

Today, for the first time in quite a while, we are experiencing another time when one single government is the only dominant super power in the world—the United States. Pax Americana has come, for better or worse. While it has been anything but a peaceful time, since the fall of communism, the U.S. has stood alone as the dominant force on the planet. The U.S. is not ruling over the rest of the nations but it certainly does have a central role in any important disputes. Where ever there is conflict the U.S. comes in trying and settle the issue. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians call for the U.S. to do something when conflicts arise in the Middle East. Whether the U.N. sanctions it or not, the U.S. will police nations such as Iraq, the Balkans or Afghanistan. We often do not carry this responsibility well and the “ugly American” is sometimes an earned sentiment, but our influence is definitely real even if it is not positive.

Today, having U.S. Citizenship has some advantages as well. Being the world’s only super power does not make one popular, but it may open doors for the advancement of the gospel and it will certainly afford some privilege.

2. One world trade language. In the first century there was a single language that became the common trade language for the whole world. It was not often the first language of any people, but they learned to be proficient in it for the convenience of trade and communications around the known world. It was Koine Greek.

The first century Christian leaders, such as Peter and Paul, took advantage of this linguistic opportunity to write letters that could have a global circulation and spread the Good News around the world in a language all can easily find understanding.

Today, English has become the common trade language of the world. Everywhere you go and in every nation of the world English is a desired language. It is quite easy to travel around the world if you speak English. A person who speaks English can find immediate opportunities for spreading the gospel into a growing number of nations and people groups that are learning English in increasing numbers. Many nations will actually pay you a salary to go overseas and teach English, and a growing number of missionaries are taking advantage of this and using the Bible as their text book.

3. Advances in technology make the world a smaller place. In the first century there was a new technology implemented that made the world a smaller place. It brought cultures, languages and trade from varieties of places in the world together. This advancement was so revolutionary that it has stayed as a bedrock of civilization throughout the rest of history and chances are that you have relied upon this technology even today without giving it a second thought—the road. The Roman Roads were more than a series of verses in a book of the Bible to share how to receive salvation. It was an expanding network of highways linking all parts of the world to Rome. Remember the saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” There is some truth to that, because it was from Rome that all roads find their beginning.

Paul, Barnabas, Peter and John all traveled on these roads. The gospel came at a time when the word could spread quicker and further than ever before because the groundwork had been laid down and important travel arteries were carved out that enabled global evangelization to occur.

Today there is another revolution of technology that is making the world a much smaller place. With the incredible advances of the computer chip, telecommunications, satellites and jet travel the world has never been smaller. I will never forget watching the world trade center collapse live on TV. We can board a jet and be on the other side of the world in less than a day. The opportunities for the spread of the gospel have never been so remarkable.

4. Rise in a relativistic, eastern influenced philosophy. When the world becomes smaller and people are more exposed to other religions, cultures and philosophies of life, it is not uncommon for there to be a rise in relativism—a belief that truth is not absolute, but relative. This view is articulated as, “What is true for you may not be true for me.” This philosophical view grew during the first century which was best summarized in the statement made by Pontius Pilot when he asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

Relativism ultimately leads to a corruption in morals and ideals. Like rust, it eats away at anything solid and eventually hope and reason are lost. Pilot eventually took his own life in a drunken depression.

The New Testament Church was able to take advantage of this prevalent philosophy by offering the stability of real truth to a world of increasing despair.

Today, the philosophy of relativism is increasing at an alarming rate. But the longer people live under such a philosophy of life the more they hunger for solid ground beneath their feet. It will take only a short time under such a framework to find one’s life losing all meaning and soon darkness and despair pervade all of ones’ thoughts. Most of us feel threatened by the doctrine of relativism, but we should not be afraid of it. Most people find it a convenient belief but not a practical one. The despair it brings will create a ripe climate for the Good News of the kingdom of God.

5. Rise in pagan and occult activity. The first century had a wide spread increase in the practice of pagan and cult worship. Paul ran into much of this as was evident in Ephesus where an angry mob rioted in the streets because their livelihoods were threatened by the number of people destroying their instruments of occult worship as they converted to Christ. He encountered many false idols in Athens and was provoked to anger and grief. He and Barnabas were worshipped as cult gods one moment and stoned the next in Thessalonica—from stardom to stoning in one afternoon.

Today Wicca, witchcraft, occult worship and paganism are increasing very fast. Young people are longing to experience the spiritual world that they know exists. They have a deep yearning to worship and have unfortunately turned to the creation rather than the creator. The occult promises power, spiritual influence and hidden knowledge but it delivers enslavement to superstition and fear.

Vampires, Goths, magicians even dungeons and dragons are no longer found only in fiction. They are becoming a part of people’s regular activity and lifestyle. Like the day Paul traveled through the Empire, people are worshiping a multitude of gods and seeking spiritual enlightenment and power.

Paul took advantage of this on Mars Hill when he presented the true creator to the epicurean and stoic philosophers of the day. The power and experience of the true kingdom of God should prove very attractive to the people today just as it did in Ephesus when Paul brought the kingdom there.

6. Rise in sexual promiscuity, perversion and chemical addictions. Rome is well known for its drunken orgies. The combinations of wealth, power, relativistic philosophy, and pagan worship practices all lead to the spread of sexual immorality. This leads to bondage and death. It is commonly believed that this ultimately led to the demise of the Roman Empire.

The New Testament believers found the bondage of sexual immorality a difficult challenge. Sexual perversion always leaves broken and used lives. A life of sexual bondage and throw away sexual partners will consume souls with darkness, sickness and eventual lunacy, demonization and death. People who are victims of this ugliness can be very responsive to the hope of freedom and forgiveness.

Today sexual perversion is rampant. There are multiple side-effects of this ugly increase in sexual activity. Sexually transmitted disease is increasing in pandemic proportions and we are dangerously close to losing a great part of the population of the world’s largest continent in our lifetime. Unwanted pregnancy and abortion are abundant. There is still a trafficking of many young ladies, held captive as sex slaves in parts of our world. Many fatherless children grow up to have little or no respect for authority and wreak great havoc on our urban neighborhoods.

While these are all painful realities and harsh challenges, they also present us with opportunity. Broken people are most receptive to the gospel and there are many broken souls who are feeling the heavy weight of shame and the pain of abuse. The kingdom of God has hope of freedom, and forgiveness for such people.

Conclusion. In all of human history there is no time that has seen the kingdom of God spread as rapid and as global as the first century. Every Christian longs for the experience of kingdom life they read about in the book of Acts. It is the suggestion of this article that we now live in a time most comparable to that time. We are now in a new century that has equal, if not even more, opportunity for the spread of the kingdom. These are dark days, and darkness is when the light shines brightest.

What has changed to make these opportunities exist? In the next article I will identify some shifts in world view that has opened doors to the soul of an emerging generation.

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