(8th article in a series based on the book, Out of the Abyss … can the number of the beast be solved, 666?)

Throughout the chronicles of mankind a handful of events have actually changed the course of history. Meaning without that occurrence, the world would have been a much different place to live for the next generation, and even to generations hundreds of years later. The greatest of these events took place when the Son of God became the Son of Man. He came for one purpose: To die for our sins and deliver all who would believe in him from an eternity separated from God … to purchase our pardon and restore us back to our Creator.

Although secular historians have marginalized the significance of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his impact on the world is irrefutable. His birth divides the very existence and recording of time itself (BC to AD). His death and resurrection separates the Old (Covenant of Law) from the New (Covenant of Grace), whereby, we now have the awesome privilege and position of entering directly into the very presence of God. Despite the relentless persecution experienced by those whose hearts and lives have been changed by the Messiah, the Gospel of Christ flourished for several centuries.

Very soon after Jesus arose from the dead and returned to his Father in heaven, Satan went to work again. He launched a campaign against Christians intended to stop the church cold in its tracks. Since he had failed miserably to preempt Messiah Jesus from accomplishing God’s greatest plan of all—the magnificent plan of salvation—Satan took it upon himself to select the little-horn ruler prophesied by Daniel. To then mentor this ruler, called the man of lawlessness by Paul; and will unleash this same man during the Great Tribulation. Little did Satan realize that his man, Nero, would first be preemptively killed by Christ, revived, then banished to the Abyss. Or that Satan would have to wait nearly two thousand years for the man of lawlessness to reappear as the Beast of Revelation.

Yet, when he couldn’t crush Christianity through the malevolent persecution initiated by Nero and to a lesser extent perpetuated by subsequent Roman Emperors, Satan again switched to a strategy of infiltration. And, heartbreakingly, this plan has caused more disruption and damage to our Christian faith than Rome’s brutal repression and murder of thousands of Christians in the first three centuries. These operations of torture, deprivation, and murder continued off and on for another two hundred years or so (depending on which Roman Emperor was reigning), until another astonishing, world-changing event occurred, affecting mankind in general and the Christian church in particular.

Constantine the Great

Practically overnight the Roman Empire stopped its brutal operations to eradicate Christians. Beyond the wildest imaginations of both believers and unbelievers, the new Roman Emperor Constantine (reigned from 306-337 AD) not only put an end to persecution of Christians, but actually became an advocate or patron for the Christian faith. In his Edict of Milan (313 AD), Constantine proclaimed, “that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best…”

Essentially this edict guaranteed religious freedom to all Christians, much like we have in America today—even more so. In America, we had to fight the British to ensure pursuit of our “inalienable rights” including worship of God, when and where we chose. The 4th century Christians didn’t even have to fight; rather this freedom was unexpectedly handed to them by the Roman Emperor Constantine and his armies.

This was absolutely revolutionary!

I say overnight, because Constantine replaced the Roman Emperor Diocletian who was the tenth and last emperor to initiate state sanctioned persecution of Christians since Nero, who was the first Emperor to inflict such carnage. Among other sordid activities, Diocletian ordered the demolition of Christian homes, burning of their sacred books, arrest, torture, starvation, and more death in the arena. Although Co-emperor Galerius first granted Christians the right to practice their faith, it was Constantine who made this tolerance completely official … the policy of the empire. Suddenly, it was politically correct to be a Christian! Time does not permit to explain, nor do historians actually agree on whether Constantine’s “conversion” to Christ was real or politically convenient; but Constantine’s abrupt acceptance of the Christians was a dramatic reversal of the status-quo harassment and killing of Christians. The historian Eusebius records a great celebration and euphoria within the Christian community of the Roman Empire.

Constantine began to support the Church financially, i.e. providing funds to erect basilicas, exempting these churches from certain taxes, returning confiscated property to Christians, offering land grants, and promoting Christians (especially those designated bishops) to high-ranking offices. He also abolished crucifixion, and replaced it with hanging … a much more humane way of execution. (It’s the thought that counts!)

For all practical purposes it was a State (Empire) sponsored endorsement of the Church; followed by a rise of some Christians to positions of power within the Empire and, conversely, the appointment of non-believers to high positions within the Church. The latter of these two was the beginning of Satan’s back-up plan, i.e. “infiltration” and corruption of the truth of the Gospel by redefining salvation and the Church. One result of these “stealth” tactics was a precedent setting policy for a Christian Emperor to interact very diligently with Church officials. Although the Emperor did not make or interpret doctrine—only the bishops could do that—Constantine enforced doctrinal declarations, ferreted out heresy, and fostered ecclesiastical harmony.

Theology & Definitions

What is the definition of “The Church,” both then and now? Or, is it even necessary to define certain words and precepts of the Christian faith? To answer that question let’s first look at the definition of “definition”! Among other things, Webster’ Dictionary defines definition as, “the action or the power of describing, explaining, or making definite and clear.” Also, “distinctness of outline or detail.” Think of the blueprint and foundation of a skyscraper or even a modest house. Definition is to truth and reality as design and foundation is to the shape, support, outline, distinctness, and structural integrity of a well-built building.

There’s a growing emphasis on minimizing or even mocking the idea of theology. “Don’t bother me with all those theological terms,” is the mantra of many, even those who claim to be believers. But there are some things that must be defined, otherwise, which Jesus do we follow: The Jesus who claims to be the Son of God and the only way to God, or the Jesus that was merely a great humanitarian and teacher of right living? Which church do we belong to? The church building on the corner that bears the name of a certain denomination; the Catholic Church that purports to be the universal church, or to the church defined in the Bible, i.e. those who have placed their personal trust in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and are, thereby, said to be “children of God”, those who are “called out” from the world, those who comprise the “body of Christ.”

Jesus Christ is the only head of the church. For sure pastors/teachers, evangelists, elders, deacons, and apostles were given as a gift to believers, but for the purpose of preaching the gospel and helping believers grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament is very clear: All who accept Christ as personal Savior become priests. “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God” (I Peter 2: 5).

According to this incredible passage, each believer is not only a priest (direct access to God anytime, anywhere), but also “living stones” in the real temple (church) of God. Essentially, then, believers don’t even need a building (church) and certainly not a centralized, consolidated national or international forum whose assembly determines what rules or rituals must be followed, or what extra-Biblical edicts they must believe and obey in order to earn salvation and be secure from potential excommunication.

What should have been one of the greatest achievements of the Christian faith (Constantine’s kindness to the Church) turned out to be one of the most tragic episodes of the early Church. We are still experiencing the fall-out of this transformation of the woman (Revelation 17) in today’s world.

Next week’s article will identify the modern-day identity of the woman who sits on the beast.

Things to Ponder:
– When it comes to defining things like right and wrong, good and bad, doesn’t it all begin with the definition of truth? What is true and what is not true? Amazingly, the Bible doesn’t really define truth with a dictionary style set of words or ideas. Instead, truth is defined by a Person! That person is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God and also the Son of Man. Jesus said, “I AM the truth.”
When we match truth and reality to the very source of truth (Christ), then we will also find life itself and the very meaning of life. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)