Did it happen when Jesus breathed the Spirit on them? Or when Thomas confessed 'My Lord and my God'? Or something else?
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There are three main views concerning when disciples became Christians or when the church commenced. First, there are those who hold that the church began when Jesus called His disciples and preached the Gospel with them during his three year earthly ministry. This school believes that Jesus proclaimed the church from the day he first preach in Nazareth quoting Isaiah 61. They quote Luke 4:18-21 which says (KJV) "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." The concluding words of this passage in Luke 4:21 are considered as evidence of the commencement of the church ministry so that those who believed in Jesus on account of his gospel were bona fide members of the church. The second school argues that the church only started after Jesus paid the sacrificial penalty for sins at Calvary so that up till then there was technically no church but only followers of Jesus. This view is premised on the argument that the church could not exist before the atoning works of Christ were completed. Accordingly, they argue that once Jesus died on the cross, he took away the sins of those who believed in him. The trouble with this view is that Jesus Himself proclaimed that He had power to forgive sin because He was God the Son revealed in human flesh. This means that He could cleanse the sin of men even as He looked forward to the Cross. A third school holds that the church commenced at the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit empowered the followers of Christ into obedience and boldness (Acts 2) so that henceforth, the church was officially proclaimed and empowered by the Spirit. They view the message by Peter in Acts 2:17-36 as the first official sermon of the New Testament church which resulted in convictions (Acts 2:37) and the repentance of 3,000 souls who believed and were baptized (Acts 2:41) and were added to the disciples. Some Pentecostals cite Acts 2:38 as evidence that one should receive the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues on receiving Christ as Lord, but this scripture nowhere mentions that believers should speak in tongues as evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. My view is that even though the church formally began on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of Jesus, the church was proclaimed on the very day that Jesus preached his message of the Kingdom in Luke 14:18-21 so that those who believed in him were providentially led of His Spirit until Calvary when their penalty for sin was paid at the Cross. Jesus recognized that His disciples were the foundation of the church. His prayer in John 17:19-21 is instructive. He prays to the Father, saying " And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." This passage leaves no doubt that in the mind of Jesus, the church started with his disciples and moves into the future from there. Jesus proclaimed the union between the church in all ages even as He is in union with His Father John 17:20-21). This implies that there was no discontinuity between the disciples of Jesus and the successive church ages.
Great question! I believe they became Christians when the Lord breathed on them and said "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." I do not look at this statement of the Lord Jesus as a request but a command. Throughout the gospels Christ uttered many commands, all of which had an immediate effect. In Matthew 4:8 He said to Peter and Andrew "follow me", they straightway (immediately) dropped what they were doing and obeyed. In Matthew 9:9 he said "follow me", Matthew immediately followed. In Mark 4:39 "And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." In John 11:43 at the tomb of Lazarus he commanded: ".................Lazarus, come forth." v.44 "And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. John 5:8 "Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." v. 9 "And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath." From these few passages it is obvious that when our great Lord and savior uttered a command things happened. The result was instantaneous and compete, nothing lacking. By the same power and authority when the risen Lord said: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" I believe they received the Holy Ghost instantaneously, immediately. Luke's parallel account gives us more information as to what effect receiving the Holy Spirit had upon them. Luke 24:44-45 "And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures," I believe this passage also shows that individuals can have a vast knowledge of the Bible from a literary and historic perspective yet have no spiritual understanding. Look at the disciples, they had been with Jesus for 3 years. They were eye witness to his many miracles and heard his teachings with their own ears. They witnessed his death and were in the very presence of the risen Lord yet only by and through the Holy Spirit's quickening power did they "understand the scriptures".
One becomes a follower of Jesus, Kathy, not a Christian as detailed in Romans 10:8-13! My suggestion would be that Jesus 'rebirthed' His First deciples and they became 'saved', as you suggested, when He breathed His Spirit on them. Holy Spirit is the true life of a Follower. (Galatians 2:20) Blessings in Jesus all!
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