Jesus of Nazareth, a charismatic prophet from Galilee, gathered to himself a community of disciples to help in a reform of the Jewish religious tradition, which looked back to the Hebrew prophets and their expectation of divine intervention. The religious authorities of the time were not pleased by the reform element in his teaching, much concerned for the poor and social outcasts, critical of double standards among some Pharisees known for their punctilious observance of the finer points of the Law in separation from 'the people of the land'. He spoke of the need to repent and of the coming kingdom of God, which alarmed the ruling class. The Roman prefect or procurator could be stirred to think him a possible source of civil disorder. Under the prefect's authority he was crucified. But his disciples became rapidly convinced that his mission transcended death. He was a living Lord present to them in their prayers and fellowship. As they broke bread, their hearts burned within them. His tomb, surprisingly provided by a wealthy member of the Council or Sanhedrin, was found empty. Visions of the risen Master reinforced conviction that he had entrusted them with a permanent mission and by his Spirit was with them to carry it out.
He had asked them to love one another. There were initial bonds: all were Jews sharing a common set of scriptures and a sense of belonging to God's elect with an ethic of mutual aid and purity in conscious contrast with surrounding Gentile society. They shared the passionate hope that not only through past prophets but even in the present God was intervening for the vindication and salvation of his people. So their Lord was God's anointed or Messiah, in Greek 'Christos'. The Christians, as Gentile outsiders came to call them at Antioch, or Nazarenes as Jews entitled them, found themselves surrounded by a society unfriendly both from the side of conservative observant Judaism and then later from Gentiles whose gods they scorned as observant Jews did.
The various cults of polytheism were not mutually exclusive. A Gentile could offer incense to both Apollo and Isis and indeed to the emperor without raising an eyebrow. So people were baffled by a religion which was addressed to all nations and tribes and, nevertheless, was marked by a specificity and exclusive particularity that set believers apart from others.