So Paul came to Rome and added his gift. He taught the church and trained the saints in ministry. But Paul did more in Rome than just teach and minister. God used Paul tp penetrate a whole new strata of society. In Rome, Paul penetrated the capital of the world.
God’s ways are amazing. God arranged for Paul to have a unique entrance into the city of Rome. In Romans 1:9-11 Paul assured the Roman church that he has been trying to get to Rome. It was the desire of his heart to minister among them and he had asked God repeatedly to make a way, but God had not yet opened up the door.
Finally, God provided a way. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and the Jewish religious leaders wanted him killed. To escape their plot, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and demanded a trial before Caesar. So Paul was sent to Rome as a prisoner, awaiting trial before Caesar. He won a “free, all-expense-paid trip to Rome,” courtesy of the Roman government.
He was taken to Rome as a prisoner, but he was not put in jail. He was allowed to rent his own house while he waited for his court date. He was in that house for at least two years. While he was there, he was free to minister and teach and “have church” in his home. The only stipulation was that, since he was a prisoner he had to be kept under guard continually. And it was not just any guard. Since he was awaiting a hearing before Caesar, the guards assigned to him were members of the elite Praetorian Guard, the same soldiers that guarded the imperial palace.
So, picture this: Paul was living in his own house in Rome. All the Jewish leaders from the city came and talked with him about the Messiah. Some of them received Jesus. Then for two years he used the house as a training center. He preached. He taught. He performed miracles. He healed the sick. And all the while members of the elite Praetorian Guard were assigned to watch him and listen to everything he said.
For two years the guards rotated through Paul’s house. They listened to the teachings and the discussions. They saw the miracles. They would go back to the barracks at night and tell the other guards what they had seen saying, “You wouldn’t believe what happened today!” The result was that the whole Praetorian Guard was evangelized. And through these same men, chosen as the best from every corner of the Empire, the Gospel penetrated both the imperial palace in Rome and every corner of the Empire.
And so the church in Rome continued to grow. We know from history that the early Church grew with incredible speed, but in most cities we can only guess at its size. But in Rome we have a way to measure the harvest.
The city of Rome has an estimated six hundred miles of catacombs burrowed under the city. From the first century to the third, these tunnels were the city’s cemeteries. Millions of people were buried in catacomb tombs during those years.
It is easy to identify which of the tombs were Christian tombs because the Christians tended to decorate their tombs with Christian symbols and pictures of biblical events. By studying the catacombs, archeologists are able to get a fairly accurate picture of the size of the church at any given time. Their studies reveal that by the end of the first century, the church in Rome numbered two hundred thousand people. That is a fifth of the population of the city!
Try to envision that kind of growth. The church in Rome would have begun near the middle of the century with a single house church of probably 20 people. As the saints were equipped to minister, that little church multiplied to two, and then to four, and then to eight. Through fifty years of sometimes severe persecution, the multiplication continued until by the end of the century, the church numbered 200,000. Assuming that an average house church numbered about 20 people, by the end of the first century there would have been more than ten thousand house churches scattered across the city of Rome!
That’s church growth! The Romans had no way to stop the growth of the church. As the church operated in fivefold ministry under the power of the Holy Spirit, the harvest came in.
From the apostolic center in Rome, teams went out to every part of the world. You have heard the saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” This also means that from Rome you can go anywhere in the Empire.
So teams went out and planted churches in every location. Tertullian, in the year 200, wrote to the pagans, “We have filled every place belonging to you: Your cities, islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes, your companies, your palace, your senate, your forum. We leave you your temples only. We can count your armies, but our numbers in a single province will be greater.” That’s called harvest.
The church historian Philip Schaff writes, “It may be fairly asserted that by the end of the third century the Name of Christ was known, revered, and persecuted in every province, and in every city in the Empire. In all probability at the close of the third century the church numbered ten million souls.” Some estimate that by the end of the third century, half of the population of the Empire had converted to Christianity.
Today: We are seeing the restoration of the ministry of the apostle to the Church in many nations. And, we are beginning to see the emergence of apostolic regional churches or apostolic centers where the fullness of the fivefold ministry can reside and then minister from there to house churches throughout their region.
These apostolic centers will enable the Church to once again grow and spread with incredible speed. God is preparing His Church to receive the great end-time harvest. God is changing His Church. He is changing the structure and basic foundation of the Church so that His life can once again be experienced and shared. He is doing it for one main purpose – that the harvest may come in.
Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
We will rise up powerful once again and, like the church in Rome, penetrate the structures of the world.
God is restoring the Church as His new wineskin, and He will pour in the new wine.