Whatever happened to reading a good book next to a fireplace?
Or reading The Good Book anytime, anywhere?
Communication in today’s make-it-quick world has been radically reduced to brief Bytes, terse Twitters, fleeting Facebook images, and immediate Instagrams. Does anyone read an article of 3,000 words any more, let alone a 300-page book? Are sweeping stories and milestone movies like Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and Gone With The Wind an endangered species?
Fortunately, some understand that certain things are important enough to spend more than just a few minutes chewing and digesting. Why am I here? What’s life all about? Will evil in the world continue indefinitely? Is there really one man who can make all things right, who can bring justice and peace to this planet? And such things as one’s redemption and eternal destiny.
The Bible is an epic book commencing with the classic creation of all things including time itself.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).
“Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Genesis 1:31).
Scripture continues with one sweeping saga after another, providing a panoramic picture of the marathon battle between good and evil, between life and death—all the way to the blockbuster finale of this age, an end that is more imminent than ever before.
Between the beginning and the end, more extraordinary epics are portrayed in the Bible:
Mankind’s disobedience which brought the disease of sin and death to humanity; God’s Covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David; the Lord’s abandonment of Israel because they broke the Mosaic Covenant of the Law; the marvelous New Covenant God promised to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah and implemented through God’s very Son, Messiah Jesus, also extended to the Gentiles; a plethora of prophecies announcing God’s promise to unilaterally restore the Jews to Israel as a people and as a nation; the formation of the body of Christ—the true Church, composed of those who have believed and received Jesus as personal Savior; Satan’s schemes to destroy Israel and the Church. First by force, then by distortion and deceit through false religions and philosophies. Not the least of which is the woman sitting on the beast and John’s reaction: “…I stared at her in complete amazement” (Revelation 17:6).
The Metamorphosis of the Woman as a City Within the Great City
Note: I encourage you to read last week’s Eye of Prophecy article, which began the shameful saga of the woman sitting on the beast as dramatically depicted in Revelation 17. Next week’s article will finalize the saga of this woman as continued in this week’s post. To wit: The transformation of the woman from the mighty city of Rome and its Caesars ruling over kings and kingdoms to the subsequent form and substance of the woman beginning in the 4th-5th centuries and continuing to this very day. Described as, the prostitute ruling over people of every nation and language (Revelation 17:15).
Throughout the chronicles of mankind, a handful of happenings have changed the course of history. 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. That’s as epic as it gets.
All other historic markers as well as the day-to-day features of the human story fit within and are universally and eternally affected one way or another by the phenomenal Virgin Birth of Jesus, his profound teaching and spectacular miracles, his once for all atoning sacrificial death, and his miraculous resurrection from the dead.
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 changed the recording of time itself (BC to AD). His death and resurrection separated the Old (Covenant of Law) from the New (Covenant of Grace); whereby, we now have the awesome position and privilege to access directly the very presence of God.
Soon after Jesus arose from the dead and returned to his Father in heaven, Satan went to work again. He launched a cruel campaign against Christians intended to stop the church cold in its tracks. Since he had failed miserably to prevent Messiah Jesus from accomplishing God’s magnificent plan of salvation, Satan took it upon himself to select the ruler prophesied by Daniel. To mentor this ruler called the man of lawlessness by Paul and unleash this “little horn” of Daniel to wreak havoc on both Jews and Christians in the first century.
Little did Satan realize that his man, Nero, would be preemptively killed by Christ, revived, then banished to the Abyss. Satan would have to wait nearly two thousand years for his protegé to reappear as the beast-king of Revelation … released by God from the Abyss to give Satan one last chance to accomplish his warped devilish plans.
When he couldn’t crush Christianity through the sadistic suffering initiated by Nero and to a lesser extent perpetuated by subsequent Roman Emperors, Satan switched to a strategy of infiltration. Sadly, this plan has caused more disruption and damage to the Christian faith than Rome’s brutal repression (including murder) of thousands of Christians in the first three centuries. This vicious vendetta against true believers in Messiah Jesus continued off and on until another world-changing event occurred.
Constantine the Great
With an incredible turnabout and in short-order fashion, the Roman Empire stopped its ruthless campaign to suppress and even eradicate Christians. Beyond the wildest imaginations of both believers and unbelievers, the Roman Emperor Constantine (reigned from 306-337 AD) not only put an end to persecution of Christians; he became an advocate for and patron of 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…”
This exceptional edict guaranteed religious freedom to all Christians, much like we have in the United States today—even more so. America had to fight the British to preserve our “inalienable rights” including worship of God, when and where we chose. The 4th century Christians were handed this liberty virtually overnight.
(Sculpture of Constantine the Great)
Constantine replaced the Roman Emperor Diocletian who was the last in a succession of Caesars to promote persecution of Christians that began with Nero—the first Emperor to initiate such wide-scale oppression, with unparalleled savagery. Among other appalling 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 privilege official … the law of the land. Suddenly, it was politically correct to be a Christian!
Time/space does not permit elaboration, nor do historians agree on whether Constantine’s “conversion” to Christ was real or politically convenient. Nevertheless, Constantine’s approval of the Christians was a remarkable reversal of the status-quo harassment and killing of believers. The historian Eusebius records a great celebration and euphoria within the Christian community of the Roman Empire.
Constantine supported the Church politically and financially—providing funds to erect basilicas, exempting 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-sponsored endorsement of the Church; followed by a rise of some Christians (both real and in name only) to positions of power within the Empire. But in reciprocal fashion (herein is the rub), the appointment of non-believers to high positions within the Church. Although unbelievers had infiltrated the assembly of believers in several cities throughout the Roman Empire, by and large their intent to distort the true Gospel of Christ Jesus and deceive his true followers was unsuccessful during the Apostle Paul’s time and for several decades thereafter.
Constantine’s and successive emperors’ placement of their unbelieving constituents within what became rather swiftly a State Church (bordering on Church State) was a blatant contradiction of New Testament principles that tell true born-again believers: We are in the world but not of the world.
(See Eye of Prophecy articles, Separation of Church and State … For or Against? Part I & II posted 4-2 & 4-9-16)
This was the beginning of Satan’s back-up plan, i.e. sabotage and corruption of the truth of the Gospel by redefining salvation and remodeling the Church, internally and externally. One result of these stealth tactics was a precedent setting policy for a “Christian” Emperor to interact extensively 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.
Said the Apostle Paul:
“Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:
‘I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them…’” (II Corinthians 6:14-17).
Theology & Definitions
It’s imperative that we define Biblical truths and principles in the context of Scripture. Not through extra-Biblical decrees or dogma cleverly crafted and arbitrarily imposed by leaders of cultic counterfeits of the Christian faith nor by an ecclesiastical hierarchy that claims (whatever fits the times and situation) superiority over the Bible, the very Word of God.
What is the definition of “The Church,” both then and now? Why is it even necessary to define precepts of the Christian faith? To answer that question let’s first look at the definition of definition!
Webster’s’ Dictionary states that definition is: “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. Proper definition is to truth and reality as design and foundation is to the shape, support, distinctness, and structural integrity of a well-built building.
There’s a disturbing trend in both secular and religious circles to minimize and/or mock theology and all things doctrinal.
“Don’t bother me with all those theological terms,” is the mantra of many, even by some who claim to be believers. Yet there are some things that must be delineated. Otherwise, which Jesus do we follow? The Jesus who claims to be the Son of God and the only way to God, or the non-Divine Jesus that (for many) is only a great humanitarian and accomplished teacher. To which church do we belong? The church building on the corner that bears the name of a certain denomination; the Catholic church that purports to be the universal church; the “Latter-Day Saints” church that contends the Book of Mormon (supposedly God’s final revelation) supersedes the Bible.
Or, to the Church explained in the Bible: Those who have placed their personal trust in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and are, thereby, called “children of God”; those who are “called out” from the world; who comprise the “body of Christ”; who are “in Christ.”
Said Paul to the believers at Corinth, some of whom were seriously listening to false teachers:
“But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (II Corinthians 11:3-4).
Jesus Christ is the only head of the church. For sure, evangelists, pastors/teachers, elders, deacons, and apostles were given as a functional gift to believers; to preach the gospel and help believers grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. *Note: The apostles were only for the early Church. Why? The main qualification for being an apostle was that of having been with or having seen the risen Messiah—Jesus.
However, 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 need a church building and certainly not a consolidated, centralized national or international forum whose administration determines what rules and rituals must be followed, or what extra-Biblical edicts they must obey to earn salvation and avoid potential excommunication. There’s nothing wrong with a church building, as many local Christian congregations are too large to meet in homes. The problem is when the building (organization) becomes (displaces or replaces) the true church … the body of Christ.
From Triumph to Tragedy
What should have been one of the greatest achievements of the Christian faith—Roman Emperor Constantine’s protection of Christians … an abrupt turnaround of state sanctioned persecution of believers—turned out to be one of the most tragic episodes of the early Church. So disastrous that it led to a thousand-year period of gloom and obscurity which historians now refer to as The Dark Ages. Even in our more enlightened age we are still experiencing the fall-out of the woman’s (the great city) transformation (Revelation 17). This transmutation has directly affected and infected true Christianity like nothing else before or since.
What could have been a triumphant explosion of freedom to intensify the spread of the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ, heretically morphed into what is commonly called Christendom, with its governmental hierarchy of ecclesiastical councils; commencing with a state church of the Roman Empire by edict in 380 AD.
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find any evidence whatsoever that Jesus needed a seat of government, permission from a king, or endorsement by ruling officials or religious leaders to fulfill his mission on earth. Just the opposite occurred. He was rejected by the religious leaders and then by the greater populace because they assumed the Messiah would rule and reign from Jerusalem and deliver Israel from Gentile oppression. That will, in fact, happen one day (soon) when Christ returns to this earth.
But the Old Testament was crystal clear: The Messiah must first suffer and die to liberate mankind from its worst enemy … from tyrannical enslavement to sin. Which is, after all, what produces the unjust, criminal conquest of rulers and nations against each other. And just as disastrously: the disruption and devastation of individual lives resulting from pride, greed, jealousy, lust, theft, immorality, sorcery, lying, and murder.
Nor do we find any indication in Scripture or early church history that believers were commissioned to establish a centralized system of administration that would unite all individual “churches” into an authoritarian hierarchy. Which, in turn, would produce layers of ecclesiastical officials ruling in various capacities over individual believers.
Early Christians met in their homes and were so identified in Paul’s epistles as (for example), “God’s holy people in the city of Colossae.” Or the “church of God which is at Corinth.” But never (for example) to the “church of Rome.” When Jesus addressed each of the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, he referred to “the church in Ephesus, the church in Thyatira, the church in Philadelphia” and so on.
This is much more than just semantics, i.e. in or at versus of. This distinction constitutes the very essence, identity, and definition of the church. It is the breathing vibrant church of God and of Christ; all true believers are, “…living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple…” (I Peter 2:5).
Not a structure or system or seat of centralized, ecumenical power that claims ultimate authority over all who belong to that system; and that compels admission to and membership in (beginning with baptism, including infants) as a fundamental requirement for salvation and, thus, qualifies its’ members to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Or, at least, places the members in good standing and gives them a head-start toward heaven, if they remain in a state of grace. A state the hierarchy defines (sort of), through regulated rituals and crafted catechisms that are ambiguous, at best.
Jesus emphatically contradicted this misdirected avenue of salvation (entrance to, affiliation with, and inclusion in any religious order) by declaring:
The man to whom Jesus spoke was, of course, Nicodemus; a member of the elite Jewish Sanhedrin, whose every colleague was thought to be securely connected to God. And, thereby, would qualify for the Kingdom of God. Instead, Jesus said that a spiritual rebirth—made possible only by personally believing and receiving him as God’s Savior to mankind—was the ONLY way anyone would ever see the Kingdom of God.
No one is saved by becoming a member of a religious order. Rather, we become a member (child) of God’s family when we are saved.
And how are we saved?
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
“But to all who believed him (Messiah Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God” (John 1:12-13).
*Note: Although the book of Galatians is written to the “churches of Galatia”, the word of is needed because there were several congregations (plural) in the region of Galatia. When writing to believers in a specific city, Paul always uses the functional preposition in or at. Thus, the church was so identified by the presence of believers in or at a certain location. Not by a structure or centralized organization that exercised a governmental-type regulation over believers. The highest degree of administration over any individual church should be no more than the church board, normally composed of pastors and elders.
Transformation of the Woman
It’s time to officially identify the woman (the great city) and why/how she picked up where the ancient city of Rome left off; thereby, changing her appearance to accomplish Satan’s plan of subversion from within. Obviously, I’m not the first to make this connection.
It’s undoubtedly safer to be politically correct. But in today’s world PC is virtually the same thing as not telling the whole truth, or suppressing it, or changing it. Yet, I, and untold thousands of believers the world over, believe God’s truth is eternal; not fashionably relative to whatever any society or religious group decides is relevant at any given time. Thus, many would say, “what’s true for you, may not be true for me. So, let’s not make such a big deal over things like Jesus claiming to be: the only way, truth, and life and that no one can come to God except through him” (John 14:6).
Although most who are reading this article (or perhaps last week’s Eye of Prophecy post) already know or suspect, I’m still compelled to confirm the altered identity of the woman sitting on the beast—the one that has deluded the nations since the 4th century. To attain by deception what the Roman Empire couldn’t accomplish by force. Only for the old woman to be united (for a brief period) with the new woman when Nero Caesar (who returns at the outset of the Tribulation) aligns his political and military forces with the political and religious position of this altered-state woman.
Who or what is this woman in today’s world? When and why did she alter her appearance and change her tactics from military dominance over kings of the world at the height of the Roman Empire to subtler, but equally destructive, schemes that include: political intrigue, corruption, greed, power, opulence, manipulation through intimidation—all of which are rooted in a devious plan that is diametrically opposed to the basic tenet of the true Christian faith?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB).
The woman transformed herself from the military might of the Roman Empire to the most dominant religious system in the history of mankind. It became a city within a city but is still the great city itself. Flaunting a distinctive kind of supremacy, it still represents and reflects the man-made glory of the Roman Empire, attempting to achieve its ungodly agenda through a seditious strategy of acquisition and authority. This woman of Revelation 17 has unwittingly (or deliberately … take your pick) accomplished Satan’s plan to preserve and perpetuate Rome’s conquest of the secular world and of the true Church by the shrewd introduction of a prefix.
That prefix is Holy, as in Holy See. Which is interchangeable with Holy Roman Empire or Holy Roman Church.
I am referring to: THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.
In next week’s final article of this trilogy we will focus on The Holy See, also known as The Vatican or Vatican City State, and how it has prolonged the legacy of the ancient Roman Empire. We’ll also look more closely at Revelation Chapter 18, which foretells the demise of Babylon—both the city itself (Rome) and the false religions and philosophies of “Babylon the Great.”
“Come away from her, my people. Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her. For her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God remembers her evil deeds” (Revelation 18:4-5).
This (corporeal and corporate) punishment is dramatically detailed in Chapter 18. The sins of Babylon listed in Revelation 17 & 18 are those corporately committed by the, “Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World” (Revelation 17:5).
Sin is sin. Although God’s final Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20) is for every individual who has refused God’s saving grace through Messiah Jesus, he punishes false religions, deceptive ideologies, and corrupt political systems collectively for their sins and evil deeds. God’s divine retribution against such entities have been administered throughout history (such as the complete destruction of the ancient city of Babylon or like the Roman Empire’s total demise); or will be dispensed during the Great Tribulation, e.g. the catastrophic ruin of the 21st century Holy Roman Empire.
These verses are saying that there are some believers in Christ within (corporately) this counterfeit system, called “Babylon the Great.” Individually, they have been born-again (John 3), yet they remain in this ecclesiastical pyramid mainly because they hold on to “church membership” as an (possible) entrance into heaven or they fear ex-communication. However, Revelation 18 is also challenging just how genuine the faith is of those who claim salvation by trusting in Christ alone (thereby, spurning all additional non-Biblical requirements imposed by Catholicism, Mormonism, or any other “ism”). Those who have sincerely and exclusively placed their trust in Messiah Jesus as personal Savior will see the night and day difference, and they will “come away from her.”
“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine… (II Corinthians 13:5).
The Lord fully understands that the real problem is the sin nature and the innate rebellion within each human heart.
Unless our heart is supernaturally changed by believing in Christ, there can be no forgiveness for and freedom from the enslavement of sin. It’s the inherited disease of sin that must be dealt with, not the symptoms which are individual transgressions that every man, woman, and child has committed. What doctor on the planet would only treat the symptoms of cancer if a known cure had been discovered? Thus, Biblical salvation is not reforming someone from the outside in; it is total regeneration (new birth) of the heart and spirit from the inside out.
Jesus did warn individuals that their unbelief in and rejection of him as the only One who could forgive and take away their sins would result in judgment, but he didn’t condemn them for their individual sins, as such. All of us were born sinners; for those who reject Christ as Savior, they are already judged … they condemn themselves.
Nevertheless, Christ blasted the religious leaders of Israel as the blind leading the blind. Telling them that they would, “…die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM who I claim to be, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). *Note– Jesus didn’t say they would die because of their sins; instead they would die in their sins. They would die (spiritual death or eternal separation from God) because they refused to “believe that I AM who I claim to be…”
Scripture is clear, both Old and New Testament: God is extremely harsh on those in position of religious leadership who are part of and promote any system that claims salvation or a right relationship with God or the path to Heaven is available only through keeping the law of Moses, or membership in the church—be it Catholic, Mormon, or even Protestant. God’s judgement will be exceptionally severe against those who assert that their religious hierarchy is the ultimate go-between God and members of its organization.
In the “Woe unto you” (King James Version) indictments against the Jewish religious leaders (extended to all future religious leaders who have legalistically distorted and rejected God’s truth of Biblical salvation), Jesus says in the first of these accusations:
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (Matthew 23:13).
When religious leaders are blind, how can we expect their followers to see?
“For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time” (I Timothy 2:5-6).
Things to Ponder
When it comes to defining things like right and wrong, good and evil, doesn’t it all begin with the definition of truth? What is true and what is not true? The Bible often talks about God’s truth and his revelation of that truth to mankind. Amazingly, however, Scripture doesn’t really define truth with a dictionary-style set of synonyms or concepts.
Instead, truth is defined as and in a Person! That person is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man. Jesus said, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
“In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
When we match universal truth and reality to the very source and embodiment of truth (Messiah Jesus), then we will also find the only way to God and the very meaning of life, now and forever more.