Many Evangelicals wonder why the Church ended up in Rome. Scripture talks about the "New Jerusalem" and doesn't talk about the Church in Rome until the end of the Book of Acts.
Understanding this partially hinges on whether we accept that Peter was given the Keys to the Kingdom by Jesus (Mathew 16:18). Catholics think there is undeniable biblical and historical evidence to support the primacy of Peter.
Peter, who was given the keys, died in Rome and that's where his successors were. Meanwhile in Jerusalem in 70 AD a great persecution made the Church almost completely inactive there until about 130 AD. An article establishing Peter's presence and death in Rome is here.
The New Jerusalem of Revelation was not a physical place
Just as the Old Testament is full of foreshadows of the New Testament (typology), Catholics believe the Bible is clear that the New Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation is not the historic city of Jerusalem. We do not believe that present day Israel is the same spiritual entity as the historic Israel before the time of Christ. After the crucifixion, the curtain of the Jewish sanctuary was torn in two (Mk 15:37-39, Lk 23:44-46, Mt 27:51) which was God tearing his cloths. At that point, a transfer of authority happened and we believe that the fledgling Church became the New Israel. The Catholic Catechism Article 63 explains:
After the death of Jesus, the Old Testament prophesies about Jerusalem were clearly understood as a reference to God's people rather than the historic city of Jerusalem. This means that the seat of the Church could be anywhere on earth. This opened the door for a move to somewhere that would be best for the struggling fledgling Church.
That doesn't mean that there is no historical importance to Jerusalem nor does it deny that God still has a heart for the Jewish people and one day they will convert. See my article on Replacement Theology for more.
The book of Acts makes the establishment of the Church in Rome the goal
Jesus wanted the Gospel preached through all the world. If there had not been persecutions in Jerusalem it is questionable how far the Gospel would have traveled. The persecutions forced the apostles outward. We see in the book of Acts a powerful movement to establish the Church in Rome. That is where the book of Acts finishes. St. Luke states, “This is how we finally came to Rome” (Acts 28:14). Some Evangelicals think the Book of Acts ends too abruptly. They fail to see that the establishment of the Early Church in Rome was the goal and Luke ends his book when this is accomplished. The move to Rome was very early in Christian history, it's in the Bible. That's about as early as it gets. Jesus said "make disciples of all peoples" (Mat 28:19) and that could best be accomplished through the communications nerve centre of the world, which was Rome. Those who think Rome is the city of the beast may want to read this.
Peter had primacy over apostles, including James of Jerusalem
An Orthodox priest pointed out that James made the decision over the circumcision issue in Jerusalem, not Peter. (Acts 15:19). James was the Bishop of Jerusalem, it totally makes sense that James would make a decision over his own area. He made that decision based on Peter's (Simeon's) discourse (Acts 15:14). His decision was a response to Peter's directive. There is no biblical evidence of a power struggle between St. James (the Bishop of Jerusalem) and St. Peter. There is however tons of evidence that Peter was the lead.
- Next to Jesus, Peter is mentioned more than any other apostle in Scripture (152 times).
- He stood up and spoke on behalf of the apostles (Mt 19:27, Acts 1:15, 2:14)
- He stood up at the birth of the Church at the Pentecost to lead them. (Acts 2:14)
- The disciples were referred to as Peter and the Apostles. (Acts 2:37, 5:29)
- Peter was given the authority to forgive sins before the rest of the apostles. (Mat 16:18)
- He was always named first when the apostles were listed (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13) -- sometimes it was only "Peter and those who were with him" (Luke 9:32);
- John ran ahead of Peter to the tomb but upon arriving he stopped and did not go in. He waited and let Peter go in. (Jn 20:4)
- Peter stepped out of the boat in the middle of the storm, even though they were all afraid they would die in the storm. (Mat 14:29)
- Peter was the oldest
- Jesus told Peter to "feed my lambs...tend my sheep... feed my sheep." (Jn 21:15-17) The difference between a sheep and a lamb might be significant. A lamb is a baby, a sheep is an adult. Perhaps Jesus was asking Peter to take care of both the general people (the lambs), and the apostles (sheep). Regardless of that interpretation of sheep and lambs, is clear Jesus is asking Peter to feed and tend his flock. That is what a shepherd does. It appears that he is asking Peter to shepherd his Church on earth, on his behalf.
- “Simon, Simon! Remember Satan has asked for you (Greek plural-“you all”), to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you (Greek singular-“you alone”) that your faith may never fail. You in turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
Peter oversaw the grafting in of the Samaritans, and then the Gentiles. This could have wrecked the faith, but under Peter's guidance the Church went along with it, because he was their leader.
Moving to Rome from Jerusalem makes sense, Jerusalem has always been in turmoil
From a clearly practical standpoint, we can't possibly imagine how the Church could have succeeded with the Pope in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been in a constant state of turmoil, and has been conquered many times. Jerusalem was under Islamic rule for many of centuries since the time of Christ. We can imagine the fate of the seat of the Vicar of Christ (the Pope) under Islamic rule. It would have been a disaster. Yes, Rome was sacked in 410, 455, and 546 AD by the Germanic tribes, and again in 1527 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but this is still nothing compared to the constant turmoil of Jerusalem. Catholics believe God knew exactly what he was doing when he moved the seat of the Church to Rome away from the middle east during the first generation after Christ.
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.