THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST

Previous: Revelation 2:20 continued

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. - Revelation 2:20

We must also examine a few other changes that the Church experienced just before the beginning of the Middle Ages. From the time of the conversion of Emperor Constantine in AD 312 until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476 several new developments took them further away from the practices of the New Testament Church.

It also should be remembered that during this time - and indeed during every epoch of Church history - there was always a remnant who were not led astray by false teaching. Defenders of the faith in every generation reminded the hierarchy what the Bible taught, and often warned of the perils of adopting non-biblical beliefs and practices.

However, slowly but surely, the Church became ever more encumbered with false ideas.

Compromise with the World

In the letter to the previous Church - Pergamum - the influence of other religions and cultures was beginning to be a problem. Jesus warned this next Church - Thyatira - that this worldliness had gained a serious foothold. It began, as we explained above (see chapter 2, verses 14 and 15), when Constantine became a Christian (AD 312) and made Christianity legal (AD 313). Then the floodgates of church membership were opened to a multitude of people who didn't really understand the Gospel, and brought aspects of their own pagan religions and immoral practices into the mix. John had warned of this very thing:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. - 1 John 2:15-17

Salvation by Works

The Gospel is clear that salvation from sin is based only on the sacrificial death of Christ in our place (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-11), and the acceptance of that fact by a believer (John 1:12; Romans 10:9-10). It is a free gift from God ("by grace, through faith") and is definitely "not of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), although it should result in a life of good deeds (Romans 3:19-24; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8). Perhaps this "Amazing Grace" was misunderstood by the new members because were basically ignorant of the content of God's Word. Many people in our own biblically illiterate generation make the same mistake. They live like the world does, since they are saved by grace.

Whatever the reason, many in the Church began to teach a religion of good works. The Apostle Paul actually had to deal with this same problem hundreds of years earlier. When he wrote to the believers in Galatia, he said,

6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. - Galatians 1:6-8

And Paul clarified that they could never pay for their sins by their good works.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. - Galatians 2:16

Those who teach salvation by works cannot offer any assurance that a person who knows the Lord will have eternal life. Here is a modern explanation of this by a Catholic apologist:

Scripture teaches that one's final salvation depends on the state of the soul at death. As Jesus himself tells us, "He who endures to the end will be saved" (Matt. 24:13; cf. 25:31-46). One who dies in the state of friendship with God (the state of grace) will go to heaven. The one who dies in a state of enmity and rebellion against God (the state of mortal sin) will go to hell (http://www.catholic.com/tracts/assurance-of-salvation).

The Bible does teach us to examine ourselves to see if we are really true believers (1 Corinthians 11:27-28). And it warns those who are just going through the motions, that they will be rejected because Jesus says, "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:21-23). However, those who are born-again by receiving Christ as their personal Savior and Lord (John 3:3; Revelation 3:20) receive eternal life. How could it be eternal if it could be taken away?

11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. - 1 John 5:11-13

As we have already seen, at the end of each of these letters to the Seven Churches there is a promise for those who overcome to the end. According to 1 John 5:4-5, every true believer will be an overcomer.

The Eucharist - Continual Sacrifice / Christ on the Cross

The one thing that Jesus taught His disciples to do on a regular basis was to commemorate His death for them by a simple ceremony of eating of bread, symbolizing the sacrifice of His body and drinking of the fruit of the vine, as a reminder that His blood was shed for them (Matthew 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11: 22-25). This was done at the Last Supper, which was actually a Passover meal. Jesus' death on the Cross became "our Passover" sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7). It was called "communion" in 1 Corinthians 10:15-17; "The Lord's Supper" in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22; and "Love Feast" in Jude 1:12.

From the beginning of the Church, true believers have been faithful to observe this central practice because it is the much-needed reminder that the core of our belief system is that Jesus died for our sins (Romans 5:6-9; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Thankfully, even today, this is the great common denominator of the Church from one end of the globe to the other. Though there are countless differences in the way people conduct their worship services, they all include this "communion" in their practices on a regular basis.

In the 2nd century some theologians began to call it "The Eucharist." This expression was taken from the Greek word eucharistia, meaning "thankfulness" or "gratitude." This grew out of the fact that Jesus gave thanks for the bread and the cup at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:27; Luke 22:19). And the writer of Hebrews said that in view of Jesus' sacrifice for us,

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. - Hebrews 13:15 (Read Hebrews 13:10-16)

The Lord's Supper therefore became known as a "sacrifice of praise" in response to Jesus' own surrender of His life. The idea gradually crept in that the purpose of communion was to actually sacrifice Christ over and over. This was probably the result of the many "converts" to Christianity whose former pagan worship involved sacrifices. Church leaders should have resisted this change because of the passages we quoted earlier about Jesus' finished work.

25 Not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another- 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. - Hebrews 9:25-26

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. - Hebrews 10:14

This was the beginning of a major change in thinking about the death of Christ that would eventually become one of the reasons for the Protestant Reformation. It also explains the origin of The Crucifix, a cross with the image of Christ on it.

The Cross was always a vital symbol to Christians, but during the first three centuries, while they were being persecuted for their beliefs, they were cautious how and where they would use this sacred symbol. Once Christianity became legal, the Cross was used to adorn their churches but it was an empty Cross since the Savior had been raised from the dead!

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Crucifix emerged much later.

But from the sixth century onward we find many images - not allegorical, but historical and realistic of the crucified Saviour.
(Catholic Encyclopedia - http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04517a.htm)

Integration of Church and State

In AD 380 Emperor Theodosius I issued an edict that made Catholic Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. This is when the church began to be called "The Catholic Church." The word "catholic" means "universal," and was often used in the writings of early scholars, just as modern teachers use it to refer to the "universal church," meaning the whole body of Christ. This universal church is comprised of true believers from every denomination.

As we pointed out in the previous section, the Message to the Church at Pergamum, it was shortly after this that Damascus, the Bishop of Rome, assumed the old pagan title "Pontifex Maximus" (see chapter 2, verse 15).

Christianity was delivered from its earlier persecution by the favor of the Roman Empire, but it was weakened morally by the blending of its pure Christian doctrine with pagan cultures.

Augustine's The City of God, written about a century later, made the case that that the City of Man and the City of God have both been instituted by God. The City of Man, secular government, may seem ungodly, but it has been placed on earth for the protection of the City of God.

According to The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written by English historian Edward Gibbon, this alliance of church and state was part of the cause of the decline of Rome as well.

Celibacy of the Clergy

Another development during this period of time was the normalization of celibacy for the clergy. According to the New Testament it was permissible to take this position (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:1-7), but not required, or even considered the norm (1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6).

In AD 385 Siricius, Bishop of Rome, decreed that priests should stop cohabitating with their wives. He wrote, "We have indeed discovered that many priests and deacons of Christ brought children into the world, either through union with their wives or through shameful intercourse. And they used as an excuse the fact that in the Old Testament-as we can read-priests and ministers were permitted to beget children."
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Siricius, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clerical_celibacy).

This rule became a universal mandate in AD 1139 at the Second Lateran Council. Considering all of the immorality this unscriptural regulation has caused, including a grievous pedophilia scandal in our own generation, it causes one to wonder where such ideas originate. The Apostle Paul anticipated these extreme demands when he wrote:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. - 1 Timothy 4:1-3

Veneration of Mary

It is no wonder that Christians hold Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the highest of regard. The Bible tells us that she was a most-virtuous person who was "blessed among women" (Luke 1:28). She loved the Lord and depended on Him to save her (Luke 1:46-47), was receptive to the Angel Gabriel, and obedient to his message (Luke 2:26-38), remained a virgin while bearing the Son of God (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:27, 35-37), literally followed Jesus during much of His ministry (John 2:1-5, 12; Matthew 12:46-47 ), and stayed with Him during His crucifixion (John 19:25-27).

As a pastor, I have often taught about Mary's virtues. She was a godly woman, matchless mother, and wonderful example of Christian virtue. She was a sterling example of what a Christian woman and mother should be. It is proper for us to honor her and to seek to emulate her virtues.

However, some leaders in the Church began to make a serious mistake by beginning to venerate her and ascribe to her positions and attributes that are completely non-biblical. It apparently began in the late 4th century with the teachings of St. Ambrose and St. Jerome. In those days there was general agreement among Christians that Mary and the martyrs (including the Apostles) were saints. Soon after the year 400 bishops began to determine who should be called a saint, and about 1100 the pope was the only one who could make this decision.

Actually, according to the Bible all true believers in Christ are saints in the sense of the basic meaning of the Greek word used (hagiois - "holy, sanctified, or set apart"). This can be seen especially in Paul's greetings in the epistles he wrote. Even when addressing the Corinthians, who had severe problems with unity, discipline, and even behavior at the Lord's Supper, he wrote:

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: - 1 Corinthians 1:2

In AD 431, at the Third Ecumenical Council, also known as the Council of Ephesus, the primary issue was the nature of Christ, and it was affirmed that He was both God and man. The discussion moved to His mother Mary and the question whether or not that made her the "Mother of God." It was decided that this was a proper title for her. They assigned the Greek word theotokos - "God-bearer."

Churches began to be dedicated to Mary during the fifth and sixth centuries. In a popular poem in the 7th century she was called the "Queen of Heaven" (Regina Coeli in Latin). At this point a serious alarm sounds to Bible scholars because Jeremiah the prophet wrote that the queen of heaven was an evil idolatrous figure.

Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. - Jeremiah 7:17-18

15 Then all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense to other gods, with all the women who stood by, a great multitude, and all the people who dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying: 16 "As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you! 17 But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. 18 But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine." - Jeremiah 44:15-18

It is most likely that Jeremiah was referring to the idolatrous Sumerian goddess Asherah. Earlier in our commentary we mentioned Semiramis, from the time of Nimrod, whose story was transplanted from culture to culture as mother-goddess. In these different settings she was known by various names. She was also called the "Queen of Heaven." This is a most-unfortunate name for the mother of Our Lord Jesus.

The seeds of false teaching had been sown in the centuries between Constantine and the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Greater errors would take root in the Church during the Middle Ages. Jesus had warned the Thyatirans that their "Jezebel" was leading them into immorality and idolatry. The activities of the Church during the next Millennium would fulfill these sobering prophecies.

More non-biblical teaching would emerge about Mary in the future. Statues and icons of her and other saints would be destroyed by the Eastern branch of the Church (AD 726-842). The "Hail Mary" prayer would become a popular ritual (AD 1050). The doctrine of the "perpetual virginity" of Mary would be accepted (12th century). Ritual use of the Rosary would become prevalent (AD 1659). Officials would teach the doctrine of the "Immaculate Conception" (AD 1854) - that she was born without sin and preserved that way, and the doctrine of the "Assumption of Mary" (1950) - that she ascended into heaven like Jesus did. Many Church leaders would teach that Mary was a "Mediatrix" and even a "Co-Redemptrix."

Join us next time as we continue to explore this verse (Revelation 2:20). We will list other unfortunate developments during the Middle Ages.


Next: Revelation 2:20- continued 3


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