Following the ministry of Jesus and the giving of the Great Commission, Christianity began to spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. At first, only those around Judea and Galilee were familiar with Jesus and Christianity, but within a matter of years the Gospel had been brought to many provinces of the Empire. Rather than a message invented by the Church almost a century after Jesus, the Roman knowledge of Christianity demonstrates that it was widely known within decades of His ministry due to the dedication of the Apostles and various disciples to bring the Gospel to the nations, even in a time when communication and travel were relatively limited.
Barely more than 10 years after Jesus, during the reign of Claudius in the late 40s AD, Christianity had already come as far as Rome. According to Suetonius, the message about Christ was causing disturbances in Rome, apparently in conflict with Judaism. As a result, those practicing Judaism, and possibly even Christians misidentified as a sect of Judaism, were expelled from Rome (Suetonius, Divus Claudius; Acts 18:2). The Nazareth Inscription also suggests that by the 40s AD, Christianity was already causing problems for the Empire and so an edict was issued to prevent similar occurrences in the future. Christian symbols such as the anchor, boat, and cross also being to appear in various parts of the Empire by the late 1st century and early 2nd century. Josephus, who lived in Judaea Province before moving to Rome as a historian for the Empire, not only knew of Christians long before about 90 AD, but he commented that they had not disappeared near the end of the 1st century AD, even though Jesus had been crucified over 60 years before and persecution of Christianity had been ongoing for decades (Josephus, Antiquities). During the reign of Nero in 64 AD, a great fire destroyed much of Rome which Nero probably had intentionally started (Cassius Dio, Roman History; Suetonius, Nero). Tacitus chronicled that Nero blamed this fire on the Christians, starting the major early persecution against Christianity in Rome (Tacitus, Annals). At the time, the pagan Romans generally hated Christians and considered their beliefs and practices an affront to the gods, the Emperor, and the Roman religious system. Decades later, the situation had not changed, and not only were people in Rome and the outlying provinces familiar with Christianity, but the government was seeking new ways to eliminate it. Pliny the Younger, while legate of Bithynia et Pontus, wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan in about 112 AD which communicated extensive knowledge of Christianity due to his trials of accused Christians, including familiarity with practices such as meeting on Sunday, singing hymns, worshipping Christ as God, and their moral code which was incompatible with Roman culture (Pliny the Younger, Letter to Trajan). Just after this time, about 124 AD, the Emperor Hadrian thought Christianity had become so prolific in the Empire that he had to take immediate action to eliminate it, although his predecessors had been unsuccessful. Since violent persecutions had not been effective, Hadrian thought he could destroy Christianity through philosophy and adopting Christ into the pantheon, first debating with the Christian scholars Quadratus and Aristides in Athens (Aristides, Apology; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History). However, the initial stage of this strategy failed, so a few years later Hadrian tried to remove the historical memory of Christianity and replace it with paganism by building temples and shrines over significant locations related to Jesus. Still, Christianity persisted, and later in the 2nd century AD Lucian mocked Christians for worshipping a crucified man and denying the pagan gods (Lucian, Passing of Peregrinus). For those who followed Hellenistic and Roman beliefs, the crucifixion of Jesus was foolishness, and denial of the gods was considered blasphemous atheism (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Although it may have taken several decades for Christianity to reach the edges of the Empire and beyond, within 30 years of Jesus it had already spread as far west as Rome and had such a wide following that even the Emperor sought to destroy Christians. Instead of a relatively small group centered in one part of the Empire, only flourishing after Constantine legalized and endorsed Christianity, Roman sources demonstrate that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had expanded so fast and far that the Imperial powers of Rome tried to destroy Christianity by any means necessary. Ultimately, Christianity prevailed, outlasting the Empire and spreading throughout the entire world.