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Keys to Knowing God's Ways - The Book of Revelation
Week 33, 2016
This week we will complete our study of Pergamos that dwelt “where Satan’s throne is” and seemed to open the church to the biggest gates of hell. We study this to apply the lessons to our own lives and times. How has the church responded recently when they went from being persecuted to being respected? How would we personally respond if marginalized at work for being a Christian but then suddenly the head of the company gets converted and we are instantly promoted? We need to see these lessons on all levels.
Soon after the conversion of Emperor Constantine, the government of Rome recognized certain factions within the church as the legitimate church and the others as sects, which it claimed had corrupt or false teachings. The favored church, recognized by the Emperor, began to persecute its rivals, claiming they were causing divisions. This led to an over one thousand two hundred year period of terrible persecution by the institutional church against other Christians who refused to bow the knee to it.
During this period, the church exacerbated the darkness by forbidding the reading of the Scriptures. Authorities justified this by saying that to understand the Scriptures, one had to be highly trained and that anyone without this training would distort them, leading to divisions and heresies. Ultimately, it was capital punishment for anyone reading the Scriptures without authorization. What did Jesus say about who could understand His words?
I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to babes (Matthew 11:25).
New believers in Christ will understand His Word better than the wise in this world because innocence and humility are basic keys to understanding the Lord’s ways. So when the institutional church imposed the doctrine that only the highly trained could read the Scriptures, it resulted in the worst kind of doctrinal perversion. As you study the evolution of church doctrine, it seems that no one really bothered to read the Scriptures during this period. If the Scriptures were read to the people, it was mandated that they be read in Latin, which the common people did not understand. Then all sermons were given in Latin. In this way, authority over the lives of Christians was concentrated in church authorities who told the people how to live.
Because virtually every church doctrine was soon in contradiction to what was taught in the Scriptures, it became doctrine that the Pope’s authority superseded Scripture’s authority. It was claimed that church leaders had evolved and matured beyond the understanding of the first apostles. Doctrine became based on what was politically expedient for the Empire and the church authorities now married to the Empire.
This seduction and corruption of the church was foreseen in the revelation given to John, as we will cover in more detail later. The Apostles also foresaw and wrote about it, as did the early church fathers who were the direct disciples of the twelve apostles of the Lord. They foresaw “the abomination of desolation” written about by Daniel and called “the man of sin” by Paul, who said it would take its seat in the temple of the Lord, which is the church. They all foresaw a time of great corruption in the church that would become the seat of some of the worst evil of man. This “man of sin” would be the personification of the “sin of man.”
As we look at the history of the institutional church in the Middle Ages, it is hard to imagine anything more antichrist in nature and teaching. Its doctrines and practices became almost exactly counter to the teachings of Christ. During this time, it became church doctrine that salvation was corporate and attained by being a member of the church. So excommunication was considered a sentence to eternal punishment. Fear was used to control the people, and faith in God was supplanted by a faith in church authorities and priests.
As bad as this was, that institutional church had some positive accomplishments that the world benefits from today. Subsequent movements among Christians that identified the unbiblical and antichrist nature of much of what the institutional church was promoting and doing usually ended up doing the same things. Why?
The revelation of how such an antichrist spirit could take its seat in the church is part of “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” It reveals the foundations of the fallen nature of man that we all have in us, and this will dominate us too if we do not abide in Christ—His grace and the power of His cross. He gives His grace to the humble and resists the proud. It is a very arrogant thing to condemn others and consider ourselves as better when we almost certainly would do the same things in their place, except for the grace of God.
The grace of God that enables us to take on His nature begins with acknowledging what we are without Him and how much we need His grace. What has transpired through history, and was foretold in Revelation, is a message of what we are without Him and how badly we need Him. That is why so much about the antichrist is included in the “revelation of Jesus Christ.”
We must keep this in mind as we look at the deep darkness those claiming to be followers of Christ fell into. We need to use this knowledge to humble ourselves, realize how much we need Him, and not become prideful, thinking we are better than they were. If we have more grace it is grace—not a cause for boasting in ourselves or condemning others but to be thankful and humble before the Lord.
next week 34