"I am the vine, you are the branches"
Malachi vs Revelation, Part 5
The History of the Church
We would like to continue our study of the message to the end time church, but to find the message to the church we need to define "church." We so often think of church as just the building: "We are going to church today." But the "church" is actually not a building of brick and mortar, but it is a sanctuary of people built upon the Word of God (1 Corinthians 3:9-11, Ephesians 2:20) and Yeshua is its cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-6) and it is here that the Holy Spirit resides (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). When we ask people, "What is your faith?" we think of their denomination, which equates to beliefs created mostly by men. But faith is our conviction based on hearing the Word of God which results in our obedience to the Word (Romans 10:17) and the Word is who Yeshua is, the Word made flesh. For over 300 years, believers in Yeshua took the Word to mean Torah. Yeshua and all His disciples quoted the Hebraic Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I say all this so that we can add to the foundation of the last newsletter. Before we start, I want to make clear that I am not pointing to one denomination only, but to the church at large.
We established that there are two mysteries in operation: the mystery of godliness and the mystery of lawlessness; two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of darkness; two kings: Yeshua and Satan; and two churches: the true church and the false church. We see in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 that lawlessness, which actually means anti-law or anti-Torah, or plainly, anti-commandments, was in effect in the days of the disciples. Even Peter tells us that people had begun to twist Paul's words and we should not be carried away by their errors (1 Peter 3:15-17).
The Message to the Seven Churches
With Rome's iron fist, persecution came for the Jewish people and believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. Nero, who the early believers called the anti-messiah, the Beast, whose name added up to 666, alone murdered over 100,000 believers at his Circus Maximus on Vatican Hill. So we want to look at the message to the 1st Century church and the message that Yeshua had for them in the midst of this persecution. The Emperor Domitian made a decree against all Christians who practiced Judaism who were not Jews; they would be charged, imprisoned, and even suffer death. So the churches came under much persecution. So Yeshua addresses this in His messages to the church.
Yeshua tells the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you can not endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles and they are not, and you found them to be false." Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and even Yeshua all warned against false teachers and false prophets (2 Corinthians 11:12-14, 2 Peter 2, 1 John 4:1, Philippians 3:18-19, Matthew 7:15, Matthew 24:11, 24). In our churches today, we do not question what is being said by our Pastors or even what is being done in our assemblies, even though the Scriptures tell us about these false teachers and brethren. Yeshua goes on to tell the Ephesus church that He has this against them: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or I am coming to you, and I will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent." Ephesus was the center for Christianity in Asia-Minor. When persecution came to Ephesus, we see that the believers persevered and endured for the name of Yeshua; but in the midst of this persecution, the believers began to lose their first love, their love for the work of the kingdom and their practice of Torah. And so God tells them to repent and continue doing those things they did at first. We see here that believers still need to repent; just because they are believers does not make them sinless. Repentance means to turn back to the Word of God. When we repent, God is faithful to forgive us and the blood of Yeshua washes us clean.
God tells them that He will remove their lampstand from its place if they do not repent. What does that mean? In Revelation chapter 1 verse 20, Yeshua tells us the meaning of the lampstands, that they represent the churches. The people, not the building, are the church; the people are to be the light of the world. To be the light of the world means that they are to preach the good news and, by their example, prove the Word of God to be truth. If Yeshua is going to come and remove their lampstand from its place, this means that they will no longer represent God. Their light will no longer shine in the darkness.
The church in Smyrna had a different problem. Now, remember that Domitian made the decree against believers practicing Judaism. Smyrna had Jewish people who practiced Judaism and were against the believers, so they informed the authorities that these people were not Jews. Their accusations brought about persecution for these believers. Yeshua called these people the "Synagogue of Satan," for Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Yeshua tells the believers not to fear what they were about to suffer, for if they overcame they would receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:8-11).
On to the church of Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17). Pergamum, like the others, was a big pagan community, with their temples to their gods. Yeshua tells the believers to hold fast to His name even though Antipas, who was the bishop of Pergamum, was martyred. But God was not pleased by those believers who held the teaching of Balaam; Balaam taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel so that they would eat things sacrificed to idols and commit immorality. Pergamum believers, after time, also decided that they would look less and less like Torah keepers because of the persecution.
In the church of Sardis, Revelation 3:16, the people accused of being Christians saved their lives by denying Yeshua. Yeshua tells them, "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." Only a few in Sardis did not soil their garments. Persecution caused the believers to have to make a decision on remaining true to God and His Word or compromising their beliefs. Many chose to compromise even after Yeshua's message to these churches to repent and be strong and overcome. Many fell away and the apostasy began, the great falling away. Many teachers of the faith like Marcion, Justin Martyr, Origen, Ignatius, Chrysostom, Tertullian, and even Martin Luther began anti-Jewish remarks and from there, it went to anti-Semitic remarks and the Gentile church began its split from Judaism, and that split became wider and wider. But not until the Emperor Constantine did Christianity change entirely, for lawlessness (anti-Torah) came full force into the church.
Constantine and the Counterfeit Church
Constantine was a pagan emperor who worshiped many false gods. Like the queen Jezebel, he worshiped Mithra the sun god. In the book of Daniel, we see ten horns which represent ten kings and from these horns, a little horn arises after the ten kings. The little horn, which represents a king, subdues three kings represented by three horns that are pulled out by the roots. The little horn becomes larger in appearance and stronger (Daniel 7:8, 24). The little horn is like Constantine who arose to power at the decline of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had been divided into two divisions, the east and the west, with two senior emperors and two junior emperors ruling each division. Constantine eventually conquered his competition till he was the sole Emperor. Constantine united the empire once again. Constantine's mother Helen was a Christian, so Constantine declared an edict in 313 AD giving Christians the right to worship.
Later in the 4th Century, Christianity had become the official religion of the empire and in so doing, Constantine introduced his paganism into Christianity by allowing his pagan gods and their traditions into the church service. And now for the first time, there were two powerful institutions within the empire: the State and the Church. Constantine began by changing the Jewish lunar calendar to the solar Julian calendar which the Roman Empire used for its pagan worship to its gods starting with Mithra the sun god who was worshiped on Sundays. In 325 AD, Constantine called the first church council in Nicaea which officially severed Christianity from Judaism. In Daniel 11:36 we see a king who does as he pleases and exalts himself above every god and speaks against the one true God; this was like Constantine, for he called himself god and he used the term Pontifix Maximus, the term used by every Roman Pope after him. Constantine changed God's Appointed Times, starting with the Sabbath worship, which was no longer accepted. He changed Passover to Easter, which is named after the pagan fertility goddess with her symbols of bunnies and colored eggs, and he added Christmas, December 25, as the birth of the Son of God to go along with the birthday of his pagan god Mithra, the sun god.
Gnosticism, Humanism, and many other forms of ideologies grew over the years, and every pagan country added to the change. The Greek language already had become the language of literature and thought of the Roman Empire. So in the day of Yeshua, Rome was already Hellenized, but it was Constantine who Hellenized the church. From Egypt came the ideas of the trinity and the pagan obelisk, which was used for worship, like the one that still stands in the courts of the Vatican; from the followers of Isis came the adoration of the mother and child. From Phrygia came the worship of the great mother; from Syria came the resurrection drama of Adonis and Dionysus, the dying and saving god; the cult of Attis and Cybele celebrated a day of blood and fasting, followed by a day of Hilaria, a resurrection-feast day of joy. These are only a few examples of the paganism in the church, but they are enough to show us that they do exist.
Eventually the empire split again into two divisions, but this time it was the church. The East became the Eastern Orthodox church, which had its headquarters in Constantinople and the West became the Roman Catholic church, which had its headquarters in Rome on Vatican Hill, the very place where Nero slaughtered over a hundred thousand believers including Peter, his wife, and his mother-in-law and the apostle Paul). Jerusalem, which was the center of the original apostolic church, was no longer considered. The changes that Constantine put in place were continued on by his successors and have stayed with Christianity all these years and all the teachings that were handed down throughout the years from people like Marcion and the rest whom I have mentioned have all ended up in our commentaries and have been taught in our seminaries. The church was now been made into the image of the Beast in the Book of Revelation, the image of Rome, and the false church, Babylon would ride upon this beast. The church now had a pagan calendar, pagan feast days, pagan images, and a Messiah who was now Greco-Roman and no longer Jewish. The root to this tree is wide spreading and its fruit has been eaten by millions.
Yeshua, a Jewish carpenter, and His Jewish companions who brought the continued revelation of God, have had their words twisted and changed until their words no longer carry the same message. It was Paul who reminds us that God entrusted His teachings and His worship to the Jewish people (Romans 9:4). I say all this because deception will overtake this planet in the end times like never before. The Bible tells us that even the elect, the true church, will struggle with it (Mark 13:22). We see many Pastors who do not preach, let alone even believe in, the cross and the blood of Messiah. They do not preach, or even believe in, repentance and many do not even believe in hell. Many even deny the power of God and the Commandments of God have gone by the wayside. So then how do we separate the true church from the counterfeit? Let's ask ourselves some questions.
First, the true church has to come to the truth of God's Word. All Scripture is from God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God does not change, nor do His promises, or even His Word. We must realize that man has removed the Jewishness from God's Word, not God. It is going to take strength on the part of the believer to return to the truth of God's Word and live by it. Many, many people are seeing this truth and returning, not to just the Jewishness, but to God's standard of godliness. We must pick up our cross and follow our Messiah (Matthew 16:24).
Second, the Bible tells us that we are to be holy, which means to be set-apart. Are we set–apart from the world, having no fellowship with it? Are we setting our minds on things above and not on the things of this earth (Colossians 3:2)? Are we transforming our thinking to God's thinking or are we conforming to the likeness of this world (Romans 12:1-2)?
Third, are we crucifying the flesh with its lusts (1 John 2:15-17) and are we walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25)? Are we letting God work His will in us? For it is no longer I who lives, but Messiah in me. Are we forsaking all to know Yeshua in His sufferings and death so we may share in His resurrection (Philippians 3:7-13)?
Fourth, we must not let our love grow cold. Yeshua tells us that if we love Him then we will keep His Commandments (John 14:15). Do we love God with all our heart, life, and strength and do we love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:33)? Are we laying down our lives (John 15:13)? We must love the brethren (1 John 3:15) and the stranger and the orphan and the widows not like the world does; it has to let everyone know what they are doing, and they are doing it not in Yeshua's name, but their own (Matthew 6:2-4, Colossians 3:17).
Fifth, do we believe that Yeshua is coming back to rule and reign for a thousand years, sitting on the throne of King David in Jerusalem, not Rome (Luke 1:32-33)? Do we believe that He is coming back for His Bride, the Bride who has prepared herself, the Bride without spot or wrinkle? If we believe, then we must purify ourselves and make ourselves ready (1 John 3:1-3). Then we must do as the Lord tells us: "He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the church."
To be continued...