Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka
The Gospels place Jesus' death on a Friday, so he was buried before the start of the Sabbath at sundown. On the following Sunday, several women who were followers of Jesus returned to anoint his body with oil, and found the tomb empty. Other followers described encounters with Jesus, and his disciples became convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
The account of Jesus' life and ministry concludes in the Book of Acts with his ascension. Acts 1:9 says that "he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight." As the disciples stood gazing up into the sky, two men in white robes appeared beside them and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The disciples took this as a promise of Jesus' return.
They then gathered in Jerusalem on the festival of Shavuot (also called Pentecost), where a dramatic event took place. "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them" (Acts 2:2-3). The disciples began to speak in multiple languages, and Jewish pilgrims from distant locations could understand them, each in their own language. One of Jesus' disciples, Peter, stood up and preached the first Christian sermon. This day is commemorated by many Christians as the Birthday of the Church.
The disciples began baptizing people, and their community of baptized Jews grew quickly. They continued to think of themselves as Jews and continued attending the temple, reading the Jewish scriptures, keeping the Sabbath, and adhering to Jewish dietary and religious practices. But other Jews, viewing them as a sect that worshipped a false messiah, persecuted them. Persecution forced the spread of Jewish Christians from Jerusalem to the country districts of Judea and Samaria.