As we noted last time, the story of mankind is the story of the rebellion of God against the rule of the Creator God. Yet God’s heart remains steadfast. At the Fall in the Garden, He promised a Saviour. With Abraham, He called a nation into being. And the First Testament chronicles a history of the Jewish nation replete with rebellion and repentance – and ultimately God’s restoration. Then comes the first centuries of the Church – and we saw a primarily Jewish institution morph into a Gentile one, in the process abandoning its Hebrew roots. That is the next part of the story.
ISRAEL & THE HEART OF GOD – 2
Here’s the basic truth. The earliest Church was a Jewish institution. Jesus was Jewish. The Apostles were Jewish. The 3,000 converted on the day of Pentecost were Jewish. And we see in the book of Acts a gradual / eventual inclusion of Gentiles in significant numbers. Still, the early Christianity remained Jewish in character and practice. The earlies Christians worshipped in the Temple, revered the Torah or the Law – and observed Jewish Holy Days.[i] But while, the Scripture was calling for “one new man” – Jew and Gentile together – in practice this was a hard thing to achieve. Looking back to the 6th Chapter of Acts we see that Jewish widows were treated more kindly than Greek widows, an issue that was addressed by the early Church. So the seeds of discord and separation were sown. Over the course of time, the Church became a mixture of Jew and Gentile. The earliest leadership, under the Apostles, was of course Jewish. But the emerging demographic – (after all, there were more Gentiles than Jews in the world) – was becoming increasingly Gentile. Over time this would have its effect. Then came some giant blows to the Jewish People that necessarily affected the make-up of the institution.
First came the events of the Jewish rebellion that culminated in 70AD. These events not only contributed to the composition of the Church – but exactly fulfilled a prophecy of Jesus Himself. Luke 19:41-44 gives us this account. “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” In Matthew 21:2, Jesus reiterates the same point regarding the Temple buildings. “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
That is exactly what happened. In April of AD 70, Roman General Titus began a siege of Jerusalem against the rebelling Jews. The Romans constructed embankments as they systematically starved the city’s inhabitants.[ii] In the final assault in September of that year the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and killed an estimated 1.1 million Jews. During the destruction, fire was set to the Temple. The fire caused the gold-leaf ornamentation on the Temple ceiling to melt. The melting gold flowed down the walls and settled into crevices between the stones. The Romans pried apart the stones to remove the gold. (That destruction occurred on the 9th of Av, the exact same date on which the First Temple was destroyed.) This specifically and exactly fulfilled Jesus Christ’s[iii] prophecy that not one stone would be left standing on another. It is significant that the respected historian Josephus names no Christian victim of this Roman slaughter in his accounts of this great Jewish War. Believers were warned first of all by Luke’s account of Christ’s warning. They clearly saw the approaching Roman Legions, gathering to surround Jerusalem. In addition, Eusebius, an early Church Father, known as the ‘Father of Church History’, tells us of a New Testament prophet that warned the Christian community to leave the city and escape the coming slaughter. It seems they did.[iv] Still, after the event the Jews were scattered – the Christian Jews leaving on their own account – and the others driven out by the Romans.
Another rebellion occurred six decades later led by Simon bar Kochba, whom some Rabbis anointed as a Messiah. For a short period of time he led a rather successful revolt against Roman rule. But that too ended tragically. This ‘Pretender Messiah’ saw his fortress fall too on the 9th of Av – and once again the Jews were scattered by imperial decree. The Jewish Virtual Library describes the aftermath. “The Romans plowed Jerusalem with a yoke of oxen. Jews were sold into slavery and many were transported to Egypt. Judean settlements were not rebuilt. Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina and the Jews were forbidden to live there. They were permitted to enter only on the 9th of Av to mourn their losses in the revolt. Hadrian changed the country’s name from Judea to Syria Palestina.”[v] [vi]
So that’s the background for what is happening in the Church. As the Jewish nation is distributed across the Roman Empire in what became known as the Diaspora, the Christian Faith spread also from the Jewish elements in the Church. But now, instead of Jerusalem serving as the centerpiece of Christianity, you had several competing centers of ecclesiastical power. Alexandria, Antioch and Rome were among those centers of Church authority. At around the end of the 1st century the Jewish and Gentile elements of Christianity began to split. The former Jewish Pharisee Paul exempted Gentile Christians from the Jewish ceremonial law including circumcision. In 98 AD the Roman Emperor Nerva exempted Christians from an annual tax levied upon the Jews. This hurried along the process that was already taking place.[vii] [viii]
So we saw the Church beginning to change. By the 2nd century the influence of Greco-Roman culture began to surpass the Judaic orientation of the institution. Greek philosophy came creeping in and the Church began to get away from the literal interpretation of Scripture. So, as this Gentile-centric ethic began to take hold, the Church began to replace Israel in the minds of the leadership – when it came to the promises of God. And as institutional Christianity began to distance itself from the practice of Judaism, pagan ideas began to filter in to the body.
So to review, the original church started as a Jewish sect; – a fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. It maintained Jewish practices, – with the earliest Christians organizing themselves as communities within the Jewish traditions. Indeed, they likely thought of themselves simply as Jews with an enhanced understanding of the Scriptures. Salvation comes not through the Law but as a “free gift of God” through His Son the Messiah.[ix] So many had seen those Scriptures fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. They knew and therefore lived the truth of their faith.[x] The now dominant Gentile church began to throw off Jewish customs and practices in an effort to distance themselves from the persecuted Jewish population. In addition they began to twist apostolic teaching, slowly becoming anti-Semitic in character.[xi] This manifested itself in the year 317 AD when the Emperor Constantine of Rome made a decision that changed the direction of, and subsequently the whole historical character of the Christian faith. Caught in a power struggle for the supreme control of the Empire, Constantine responded to a vision of a Cross in the sky and immediately decided to fight under that banner, – the banner of Christ and the Church. In the event, he was victorious in battle. This set the stage for a transformation of both Roman society and the Church. Though he championed the ‘Christian’ cause, his conversion remains somewhat in doubt, only accepting baptism on his deathbed. Throughout his life he was part of a pagan sun-god cult that worshipped Isis, a Madonna figure with a ‘divine’ son, – that was modeled on the real Queen Semiramis, Nimrod’s consort. He even built a triumphal arch honoring the sun god after his supposed conversion to Christianity.[xii] In any case, Constantine was if nothing else, an astute politician. Genuine or not, he used the Christian faith to unite his empire. His aim was a revival of the religious / civil unified state that had been first dreamt of and established by Nimrod himself in Babylon. He was setting himself up as nearly a priest-king, placing giant statues of himself throughout the empire.
So as he adopted Christianity he used the power of his office to adapt it to his, and the empires own ends. In 321 he put his approval on a practice that was already customary, moving the Christian day of rest from the Saturday Sabbath to Sunday, the day the Lord rose from the dead. By 430 Church councils had ratified this, making the change compulsory and outlawing any connection with the Jewish Sabbath. Other changes followed. Pagan religious traditions were over the course of time incorporated by the church including; the use of icons, festivals and holidays and rituals. Statues of the Queen mother goddess Isis nursing her child Horus were easily replaced by depictions of the Virgin Mary nursing Jesus at her breast.[xiii] The ‘Saints’ Peter and Paul replaced Romulus and Remus as the ‘patrons’ of Rome. Christ’s birthday celebration was conveniently celebrated on December 25th, – to coincide with the Sol Invictus festival, – a pagan celebration complete with decorations of green branches and lights and the giving of presents.[xiv]
The new church was becoming pagan friendly to accommodate all of the ‘converts’ that were thronging into it by the early 5th century. Many church leaders felt they had to be in order to welcome these former worshipers of the “creature rather than the Creator”, – who brought their superstitions and pagan customs. By order of Gregory the Great, temples were cleansed before being transformed into churches and “devil-sacrifices” were to be replaced “by processions in honor of some saint”. Animal sacrifices were to be continued where necessary. Such were the cavalier orders and attitudes of the presiding church leadership.[xv]
Thus the Church that had once been populated by ‘outsiders’ of the imperial system now became the state church. The Church became dependant on Caesar’s coffers for its support. Formerly, those claiming to be Christians had to be committed to the truth of the faith, as any believers faced persecution and even death for their faith. This had now absolutely reversed itself. Mass and even forced conversions (sometimes of whole army regiments) replaced the Holy Spirit driven ‘change of heart’ that characterized earlier believers. Now out to please the masses, the Church began to assimilate Babylonian ritualism and mysticism. The rosary was adapted. Celibate priests and nuns, – hearkening back to the religious innovations of Semiramis, – made their way on to the scene. All were but imitations of polytheist practice that made their way into the Church.[xvi]
Most dangerous to the faith however was the “satanic counterfeit salvation” message that crept into Church teachings. Recall that myth craftily constructed; – that Queen Semiramis, (wife of Nimrod), – was a divine being, and that she gave birth to a son, – a savior of the world, as it were, – who later died and came back to life.. It was the worship of Semiramis that spread across the ancient world, – even as the Queen of Heaven; – a practice specifically forbidden by God in the Bible. In the Roman / Greek system, Semiramis became Diana, – with the giant Temple in Ephesus. [Now huge obelisks were built to honor and symbolize the fertility aspect of this pagan religion. It found its way into Baal worship, which was dealt with extensively by God in the Old Testament. These obelisks (think of a giant phallic symbol) were adopted by Masonry. Masons believe that Nimrod was the spiritual founder of their ancient and mystical brotherhood. It is interesting that one of these obelisks eventually showed up in Rome, placed in front of St Peters, where it remains to this day. But all of this is another story.][xvii]
Tim LaHaye, future co-author of the Left Behind series, compiled a list back in 1973 of some of the pagan practices that made their way into the Church during that era. Prayers for the dead, (never a teaching of Biblical Christianity), made their appearance in the year 300. The worship of saints and angels was approved in 375. The Mass first made its appearance in 394. Purgatory was officially declared in 593.[xviii] Significantly, as noted before, it was in 378 that Bishop Damus of Rome accepted the title given the head of the here-to-fore Pagan Roman State ‘Church”, – that of Pontifex Maximus. It is the term from which we get the modern day title held by the Pope; – The Pontif.[xix] That title had been held by the Emperor Constantine, who used that office, – according to one historian of the era, – to maintain “the right to regulate the Christian Church just as he would have regulated paganism”.[xx] [xxi]
In fact when Constantine held the office, he set himself up as sort of a ‘Super-Bishop’, influencing and molding the princes of the church to his will as he worked toward a “Romanized Christianity.” It was he who gave special preference to the Bishop of Rome, enduing him with enhanced authority, – under the auspices and approval of the watchful eye of the Emperor. In 325, it was Constantine who sponsored the first of the great ecumenical councils. The Emperor wanted unity, – in the Empire and the Church, – and the councils were the means to enforce that unity. The “independent voice” within the Church was silenced in favor of a “forced ecumenicalism.” Another Church council at Gangra, – again under Constantine, – outlawed “private assemblies outside of the Church”. The layman holding a private religious gathering was declared to be “anathema”, – or damned.
All now was under the control of Rome, – the religious and secular authority in all matters. Armed with the formerly pagan office of Pontiff, the Bishops of Rome accumulated power. As the Empire disintegrated the power of the Bishops and the now supreme Bishop of Rome grew. Over time the new office of Pope added both civil and military authority. It was a marriage of Church and State.[xxii] Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. (John 18:36) However both civil and religious authorities became addicted to this compromised arrangement that enhanced power in both spheres. By the year 431, a Church Council held in Ephesus established the worship of Mary.
And in the process of pulling away from Jewish influence the Church began to criticize and curse Israel; in the process, cursing itself. By the 3rd century, the Jews had become “Christ killers,” and the Church Fathers lent their weight to that heresy. Justin Martyr wrote: “Jews have forfeited the scripture…. [and] the Prophets are now the property of the Church.” Ignatius of Antioch held that the Jewish People were “in league with the Devil.” The heretical but somewhat popular Gospel of Barnabas spread the lie that the Jews had lost the covenants of God. Tertullian taught that Jews were idolaters. And under the influence of the Emperor Constantine, the Council of Nicea in 325, separated the celebration of Easter from Passover. The divergence kept rolling. Eusebius said that the Promise of the Hebrew Scriptures were for Christians. But he didn’t leave the Jews out completely. To Eusebius, the curses were for the Jews. Thus the heretical Replacement Theology came into being. It was reinforced by teachings from the most respected Church leaders. John Chrysostom authored a sermon series with the catchy title of ‘Against the Jews’ in which he taught that synagogues were a “resort for demons.”
But it didn’t stop there for the Church leadership. Ambrose of Milan instigated and encouraged riots against the Jews in his city. Cyril of Alexander expelled them. Ferreol of Uzes expelled Jews from his diocese. And all of this was supported by the Church’s intellectual voices. St Jerome, an honored historian, supported forced conversions in his writings. And the venerable St Augustine believed that the true image of the Jew was best depicted by Judas Iscariot and that they were eternally responsible for the death of Jesus. Over the centuries that mindset festered and grew, finally boiling over and expressing itself during the Crusades.[xxiii]
The Crusades were a Church-sponsored project to free Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Islamic control. But it turned into something more than that as the Crusaders expressed their pent-up anti-Semitism in a bloodbath of persecution of the Jews encountered along the way. The First Crusade devastated Jewish settlements in Germany along the Rhine and Danube Rivers. Jews were being killed under the banner of the Cross. On their way to the Holy Land, the Christian Army lived by the mantra of ‘convert or die’ – the same that the Muslim armies had adapted during their incredible expansion. The leader of that first expedition, Godfrey of Bouillon, took a vow to “leave no single member of the Jewish race alive.”[xxiv] It all culminated on July 15, 1099, when the Crusaders hoarded Jews into a Jerusalem synagogue, locked them in and burned them alive , while singing “Christ We Adore Thee” as they watched.
It wasn’t long before the first Jewish Ghettos appeared, officially separating God’s People from Gentile Europeans. Identifying badges appeared – centuries before Hitler adopted the practice. The Spanish Inquisition brought tortures and forced conversions. There were expulsions from Spain and England – all the legacy of the Church’s warped understanding of theology. Replacement Theology tells us that Jerusalem and the Holy Land belong to the Church. The Vatican believes that today. But that is NOT God’s heart in the matter – and is intending – and maneuvering to have control of that real estate when the matter is finally settled. It’s kind of funny that they think so: Because God says it’s His Land – given to the Jews. Joel 3:2 reads: “I will also gather all nations, And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there On account of My people, My heritage Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; They have also divided up My land.”
Genesis 12:3 records the covenant that God made with Abraham. “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Finally, Genesis 15:18 gives some of the dimensions of the land God gave to His People. [And it’s a lot larger than it is today.] “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’” And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time as we look at the Heart of God in the matter – as revealed through His Holy Word.
[i] Michael L White, From Jesus to Christianity, Harper, 2004, pg 127
[ii] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, Thomas Neslon Bibles, 1997, – notes for Luke 19:43-44, pg 1,554-1,555
[iii] Image: http://www.jerusalemshots.com/Photo-en7323.html
[iv] Paul L Maier, The Catastrophic Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Jesus Christology, July 13, 2008
[v] Ancient Jewish History: The Bar-Kokhba Revolt, Jewish Virtual Library, monitored November 12, 2015
[vi] Eli Kavon, Tisha B’Av Meditation: Bar Kokhba: rebel hero or failed Messiah?, The Free Library, 2007
[vii] Stephen Wylen, The Jews in the Time of Jesus, Paulist Press, 1995, pgs 190-192
[viii] James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, SCM Press, 2006, pgs 33-34
[ix] Don Finto, Your People Shall Be My People, Promise Keepers, 2001, pg 78
[x] Norbert Brox, A Concise History of the Early Church, pg 4, as referenced by Scott Ashley, Modern Christianity’s Forgotten Roots, GN Magazine, Nov / Dec 1997
[xi] Scott Ashley, Modern Christianity’s Forgotten Roots, GN Magazine, Nov / Dec 1997
[xii] Scott Ashley, Modern Christianity’s Forgotten Roots, GN Magazine, Nov / Dec 1997
[xiii] Scott Ashley, Modern Christianity’s Forgotten Roots, GN Magazine, Nov / Dec 1997
[xiv] John Romer, Testament: The Bible and History, 1988, pgs 230-231, – as quoted by Scott Ashley, Modern Christianity’s Forgotten Roots, GN Magazine, Nov / Dec 1997
[xv] John Romer, Testament: The Bible and History, 1988, pg 214, – as quoted by Scott Ashley, Modern Christianity’s Forgotten Roots, GN Magazine, Nov / Dec 1997
[xvi] Tim F LaHaye, Revelation: Illustrated and Made Plain, 1973, pg 57
[xvii] Noah Hutchings, Babylon In the Church
[xviii] Tim F LaHaye, Revelation: Illustrated and Made Plain, 1973, pg 57
[xix] Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth, pg 140
[xx] Dr Ronald Fanter, Pontifex Maximus (Origin of The Papacy), Cutting Edge Ministries (of Illinois)
[xxi] Image: http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2011/09/obama-and-globalists-converging-on-denver-deep-underground-military-base-for-september-27-2011-1144351.html
[xxii] Dr Ronald Fanter, Pontifex Maximus (Origin of The Papacy), Cutting Edge Ministries (of Illinois)
[xxiii] Merrill Bolender, When The Cross Became A Sword, 2011, pgs 25-38
[xxiv] Steven K Baum, Antisemitism Explained,