God loves multiplication.
The very first command in Scripture given to the first man and woman was ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’ (Genesis 1:28). God desired that the pinnacle of his creation, his image-bearing superintendents, would replicate and cover the earth by procreation. In fact, all God’s creatures were equipped with innate abilities to multiply and spread themselves, each after its own kind.
Even when human sin introduced division into God’s world and severed the life-bond between God and man, God did not, thankfully, abandon his plan for a manifold people under Him. He worked amidst the fractured and sullied chaos that ensued to bring about His own redeeming and restoring purpose.
And in Genesis 12, He turned to one man and his barren wife, well past child-bearing age, promising that his seed would become a great nation too numerous to count, and that the whole earth would be blessed in the process. God’s divine mind-boggling arithmetic will always triumph the devil’s subversive sums.
In time, true to his Abrahamic promise, God entered into human history as the incarnate Son, taking on sin and all that the kingdom of darkness could throw at Him. And so he went about doing good, forgiving wrongs, redeeming from bondage, raising the dead to life and restoring people to their ultimate purpose: reflecting and spreading God’s light and glory to the ends of the earth.
And in Mathew 28:18-20, the resurrected Jesus renewed the command and call to propagate and fill the earth, this time with God’s new creation. This was a challenge to the rather bewildered group of twelve original disciples from the backwaters of Galilee, whome he had called, trained, and commissioned to carry out and pass on His mission. They did not yet understand that the kingdom was to be larger than Israel (Acts 1:6).
This new breed of people was destined to become multiplied disciples of every nation, redeemed by His blood, remade in His image and revived by the Spirit, representing Him before a dark, disbelieving world.
And so in Acts, we have an attempt by Luke to chart the trail of growth of the first disciples. There is an inevitable spread of God’s kingdom as it propagated into the far reaches of the Roman world. Luke clearly understood this as the work of God but always in tandem with the obedient acts of men and women who, sent or forced out, proclaimed the Gospel, made disciples, established new church communities and networks and generally turned the world upside down wherever they went (Acts 17:6).
He structured the book of Acts around the progressive growth of God’s Word in disciples, households and cities (see Acts 6:7, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, 19:20 for example). He narrates the Spirit-led journeys of apostolic men like Paul and Peter and their teams. Acts rather abruptly ends in chapter 28, verse 31, with Paul under arrest and awaiting trial, but continuing to proclaim the Kingdom of God and the gospel.
And the story is still being written.
In fact, history would show that, despite horrendous persecution and internal heresies, the number of faithful Christians grew from a meagre 1.4 million (less than 1% of known world’s population at the end of the 1st century A.D.) to more than 14.3 million or 7.5% of the world’s population a mere 200 years later. By the end of the 5th century, almost 20% of the world population was Christian!
Sociologist Rodney Stark asks: ‘How did an obscure messianic movement on the fringe of the Roman Empire dislodge classical paganism and become the dominant faith of Western civilization?’
The short answer is this: God multiplied it. He who once made a feast out of a little boy’s lunch pack was at it again!
— Manik Corea.
All Nations Bangkok Team Leader,
NAMS South-East Asia