In 33 AD, a frightened bunch of disciples huddled in a large upper room, trying to avoid the religious authorities following the death, resurrection, and ascension of their Beloved Rabbi. When suddenly, the sound of a mighty, rushing wind filled the room and all of them were filled with the promised Holy Spirit. Newly empowered, they flooded into the streets, where Jews and God-fearers from all over the Roman Empire had gathered for the Jewish festival of Pentecost.
These disciples began miraculously proclaiming the good news about Jesus in foreign tongues, languages they hadn’t learned but were understood by the diverse group of hearers that were present. Peter's ensuing sermon cut to the hearts of thousands, a portion of which had come all the way from Rome. These Roman Jews and proselytes, now followers of Jesus, stayed with the new, fledgling community as long as their means would allow, and God was doing amazing things in their midst.
Until a persecutor of the church arose named Saul. He heartlessly presided over the stoning of Stephen, a recently elected leader in the church. As a result, this newly-formed community scattered, sharing the good news as they fled for their lives. When the residents of Rome finally returned, they shared the Gospel with their hometown synagogue, and an encouraging number of them came to faith in Christ. The church in Rome had started.
Meanwhile, the persecutor Saul had his own miraculous conversion. He was confronted by none other than Jesus Himself on his way to Damascus, which transformed from an ardent persecutor of the church to an avid evangelist for the faith. He immediately began communicating the good news about Jesus to any who would listen. Saul’s zeal for the God of the Bible, whom He now knew to be Jesus, led him to be the fiercest missionary the world has ever seen. With a particular burden to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, Saul later preferred using his Roman name Paul. And while he continued to pioneer new missionary work further and further west, his travels never brought him as far as Rome.
While Paul was evangelizing modern-day Greece on his second missionary journey, the church in Rome was facing its own monumental shift. The Empower Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome in 49 AD, leaving only Gentile Christians to steward the church. Some of the Jewish concerns about observing certain laws and customs fell by the wayside. Gentile Christianity continued to grow in Rome until the emperor died and the Jewish Christians were allowed to return, and when they did, they were clearly in the minority. Their Jewish influence over the conduct of the church had faded. Still, the church was healthy and strong.
But as Paul finished his 3rd missionary journey, he was determined to fulfill a promise he made to the Jerusalem Church. You see, to ease the growing Jew/Gentile tensions within the larger Body of Christ, Paul had organized a collection from the Gentile churches on his missionary journeys as a gift to the struggling church in Jerusalem. He hoped it would encourage solidarity between the growing Gentile contingency and the Jews.
But before departing for Jerusalem with this gift in hand, Paul spent 3 months in Corinth in 57 AD and wrote to the church in Rome, introducing himself and appealing for their support because he intended to take the Gospel even further west into Spain. But in order to assure the church of his orthodoxy and to familiarize them with the message he preached, he included in his letter the greatest summary of the Gospel the world has ever known.
We know it as the Book of Romans.