If we began a study of the first century church, 9 times out of 10 we would begin with Acts chapter 2. The Holy Spirit comes as promised, and Peter preaches a fiery message proclaiming Jesus is the Christ. Certainly by the end of Acts 2, we see the first Christian believers come together in an organized way. But if we back up a just a few chapters, Jesus gives the disciples instructions on what will happen next, going beyond his death, burial and resurrection.
Critics of Christianity, as an organized religion (the Church), even claim that Jesus had no intention of starting a new church or movement of any kind, but rather his followers started one in his name. To put it mildly, these critics have not studied the Bible. Jesus speaks almost exclusively throughout John chapters 14-17. In chapter 14 he assures them that he will prepare a place for them and come again. Beginning around the 15th verse, Jesus begins to explain the work of the Holy Spirit. He will continue this line of thought in chapter 16. In John 15, Jesus describes himself as the vine and the disciples as his branches. He then prophecies that the world will hate his followers as it first hated him. He is giving specific instruction as to how they are to proceed once he is no longer physically on the scene. In the next chapter, he not only tells them again that he must go, but it is to their advantage. If he does not go, the Comforter will not come. Jesus is revealing the Trinity to the disciples. John 17 is well known as the High Priestly prayer. Jesus Christ, while in the presence of God the Father, is at once the sacrifice and the priest. At the same time, his earthly followers are led by the Holy Spirit, who calls all things to their remembrance. Jesus himself, in chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel, is preparing his disciples to do the work of the church.
And what of Peter? Clearly he is the most vocal leader of the disciples in Acts 2. Many are familiar with the conversation in John 22 in which Jesus commands Peter to feed his sheep. Is this being sprung on Peter for the first time? No. Read Matthew 16:13-19. God the Father has already made special revelation to Peter, and Jesus has said what? That he will build his church on this rock.
It was the will of God from the very beginning for the New Testament church to spread His Word. Jesus said that it would happen, mentioning Peter by name. He revealed to the disciples the relationship of the Trinity, and before his ascension told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit to take place. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked in concert to begin the New Testament Church in the first century; a work that Christians continue today as we build the Kingdom.
“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…” -Rev 7:9
UPDATE: I need to add one thing. Psalm 118:22 says “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Three of the Gospels record Jesus quoting that verse. As Peter responds to charges in Acts 4, consider his reference to Psalm 118:
…Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.