Two millennia ago, in the Roman province of Judea, Jesus was crucified by imperial troops. Thousands before him had suffered the same fate. But unlike his predecessors on the cross, Jesus did not drop from history. Instead, his memory was kept alive by a small band of Jews -- men and women who held fast to their conviction that Jesus was the Messiah… that Jesus had been anointed by God to announce His kingdom on earth. Against the odds, in the face of hostility, indifference, and dissent, these impoverished subjects of Rome managed to carry the news of Jesus out of Judea and around the Roman Empire. They managed to plant a movement that would one day conquer Rome itself. There were Barnabas and Priscilla; James, Stephen, Titus. And most famously of all, there were Peter and Paul. If one was "The Rock" upon which the church was founded, the other was a river, flooding its banks to reach all regions and peoples. Combining the actual words of Paul, Luke, and other ancient writers with period dramatizations and location footage from around the Mediterranean, Peter and Paul and the Christian Revolution is the story of a revolution that changed the world.
With their Messiah executed, their dreams crushed, and their cause deemed subversive by the strongest empire the world had ever seen, Jesus's followers faced a bleak future. Their movement seemed destined for extinction. Incredibly, though, Jesus's survivors turned defeat to victory; devastation to jubilation. By one account, it happened on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where Simon Peter and others envisioned the risen Jesus. It was an explosive moment of hope. For the sighting convinced them that Jesus had not, in fact, been beaten; that in his death, Jesus was ushering in God's Kingdom on Earth. Re-infused with hope and determination, Peter became an indomitable figure who would unite his group into a tight community of ardent believers. Dark days were coming, however -- days of persecution, imprisonment and dispersal. And when they arrived, Peter found support from an unexpected source. His name was Paul. A fervent Jew and a former persecutor of the Jesus community in Jerusalem, Paul had a startling revelation that led him to embrace Peter's faith as his own. It was a turning point in history. For once inspired, Paul turned his formidable talents to the task of spreading his new cause around the Roman Empire. Paul was educated, passionate and determined. But he was also dogmatic. And soon, he would be at the center of the most divisive conflict yet to face the young Jesus movement.
Spread outside Judea by missionaries like Peter and Paul, the Jesus movement caught on quickly among Jews and non-Jews around the Roman Empire. With success, however, came challenges: challenges from hostile locals; challenges from imperial forces; and challenges from conflicting ideas within the movement itself. Should Gentile converts become Jews? Should they be circumcised? These were hot-button issues in the first century and they threatened to tear the young movement apart. Paul -- adamant that there was no time for conversions -- fell into open and angry confrontation with some of the oldest Jesus followers. Peter, it seems, tried to mediate the conflict. "The Rock" became a stepping stone between the camps and, for a crucial period, helped keep the movement together. But the center could not hold. Paul struck out on his own, planting churches in his image around the Mediterranean and writing letters that would become central to all later Christian theology. Finally, in 70 AD, disaster struck the headquarters of the Jesus followers. After decades of rising tension, Judea erupted in revolt against Rome. War had been raging for four years. And when Rome finally established control, it destroyed much of Jerusalem; it torched the sacred Temple and enslaved the population. The scorched ground of Judea could no longer nurture a Jewish Jesus movement. And in the end, it was Paul's communities that would grow and change into the churches we know today.
Peter and Paul and the Christian Revolution premiered on PBS in April 2003. Find out if it's airing again on your local station.
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