The Antichrist
Part 3

God called Abraham out from Ur. It was a wicked city filled with pagan philosophies and practices. Abraham was the only person there willing to worship God. After his testimony was rejected by its citizens, God led Abraham into Canaan and gave him that land as a site upon which his descendants could build a Holy nation.

Abraham's great-grandchildren left Canaan for Egypt. They fled a vast famine, but when it was over, they stayed because Egypt was more comfortable. In time, their affection for the false gods worshipped among its natives grew. God liberated them through Moses. He had been divinely called and empowered to lead the Hebrews back to God and up to their promised land. God still wanted to make them into his holy kingdom. He admonished them, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex 19:6). They developed slowly, but after King David, they entertained Gods presence at the temple and enjoyed political supremacy under the reign of Solomon, David's son. They were poised to be the holy nation God intended them to be.

Satan opposes all that God wants to do. Not only does he tempt individuals to transgress divine commandments, but he uses worldly nations to oppress religious people. Satan besieged the Hebrew nation. God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to overthrow Judah, the last portion of Israel in Palestine, because its citizens were unfaithful. They refused to obey His commandments and even revered heathen idols. The Babylonian captivity marked the end of Jewish independence. They were not a free and sovereign nation again until 1948, about 2520 years later God had told Israel through Moses that if they would not obey Him, he would punish them for seven times (Lev 26:28). Seven times is seven years, or in the Hebrew calendar, 2520 days. Ezekiel revealed that one prophetic year represents one regular year (Ez 4:6). The Jews were punished for their transgressions for 2520 years, having no sovereign state for protection between the Babylonian captivity and the birth of the modem nation of Israel.

Through Daniel, God revealed the successive nations that would rule the chosen people during their subjugation. First, He showed Nebuchadnezzar a dream, which the king immediately forgot. Daniel revealed both the dream and its interpretation. Later, Daniel had Ins own vision. Both revelations predicted five consecutive empires. Nebuchadnezzar saw a statue with a head of gold, shoulders and chest of silver, a torso of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of clay and iron. Daniel saw a lion, a bear, a leopard, a beast with seven heads and ten horns, and a little horn. The Bible says that the first kingdom was Babylon. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, "Thou art this head of gold" (Dan 2:38). The second empire was Persia. Daniel continued, "After thee shall rise another kingdom" (Dan 2:39). Greece was the third empire, and Rome was the fourth. All four of these kingdoms governed the Jews in succession. They were powerful counterparts to the kingdom God wanted to establish among the Hebrews. Satan used them to compete with the kings of Israel for dominion over God's people and win their subjection.

The Jews, anxious to escape servitude to conquering nations, hoped that Jesus would restore their kingdom when he appeared among them. The disciples even asked him after his resurrection, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). The liberation Jesus provided in his first advent was freedom from sin. The Hebrews had failed to establish the holy kingdom when they had sovereignty in their promised land because they were unholy. Jesus came to show them the way to holiness, for without it they could never become his holy nation, despite the power and independence they might hold. Until they were holy, they had no real sovereignty. Instead, they were captives of the devil and subject to his will. Their temporal servitude was only a symptom of their spiritual bondage.

The gospel of Jesus Christ offers freedom from sin. it liberates people from the power of the devil. Sealed to God, they are united to the source of all their needs. Nothing in the world, not even life itself, satisfies them like the presence of their Lord. Since Jesus by his passion paved the way through death into eternal life, Christians are liberated from the bondage of the devil and the power of the nations he uses to oppress the saints. Through obedience to God, even in the face of death, they escape worldly powers when they are raised into the eternal kingdom of glory. There, they are both holy and free. The heavenly kingdom is the kingdom Jesus came to establish for men in his first advent. While it already existed in glory, no one can approach it until he is made holy. Unable to find a way to holiness and the kingdom of heaven by himself, Jesus did it for all mankind on the cross and shattered the partition separating man from God.

Because Christians were freed from the devil and the worldly powers he uses, they gladly left the things of this world to flock into the gospel. No persecution could deter them. Rome confiscated their properties, took their money, ended their employment, cast them out of their cities, bound them in prison, tortured their bodies, and executed the steadfast. The church grew. The competing empires Satan had used to govern the people of God held no power over believers after Christ's appearance and passion had liberated them. They were no longer subject to their authority. At first Satan thought that he could eliminate the Christians. They were such a small group, but the persecutions they endured publicized the freedom they had gained. Thousands believed after only a few had died. The blood of the martyrs, as Tertullian pointed out, was the seed out of which converts sprang.

As Rome turned to Christ and believers poured into the church, the authority of church leaders began to eclipse the sovereignty of Roman emperors. The worldly kingdom was losing power to persecute and scatter the people of God. The devil was losing authority over his enemies. Cunningly trying to control the world, Satan changed tactics. Just as he had created a temporal nation to resist the kingdom God inspired among the Hebrews, he tried to created a spiritual kingdom to oppose the kingdom of God represented among Christians. He wanted to establish a counterfeit church that could compete for believers. The apostles warned the saints of this attempt Peter told the church, "There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them" (I P 2: 1). Paul warned, "After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). He also revealed Satan's purpose in attacking the church that the "man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God" (2 Thes 2:3-4).

Heresies did enter the church. Paul told the Corinthians, "There must also be heresies among you" (I Cor 11: 19). This is because there were false teachers already beguiling the church. He told the Galatians the reason for one of his disputes: "And that because of false brethren unawares brought A who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage" (Gal 2:4). John revealed, "Many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I J 4: 1). These heretics, whom he called 'antichrists, had already taught falsehoods in the church and led many believers from the truth. John wrote, "Ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists. They went out from us, but they were not of us" (I J 2:18).

The continual bombardment of false, even devilish, teachings slowly corrupted the church. Pagan doctrines began to appear in it as follows:

140 AD, Titian, a heretic, condemned marriage;
180 AD, Montanus, a heretic, introduced asceticism;
195 AD, The church called second marriages spurious; 200 AD, Christians started praying to the dead;
251 AD, Paul became the first hermit,
305 AD, Christians prayed for cures at tombs of the martyrs; 325 AD, Celibacy of the clergy was recommended;
359 AD, Skeletons of martyrs entombed in churches, 382 AD, Relics of martyrs believed to do miracles;
431 AD, Mary revered as the Mother of God;
487 AD, Sprinkling of ashes at Lent begun
500 AD, Priests begin wearing distinctive dress, 506 AD, Stone altars enjoined;
547 AD, Lenten fast extended to forty days.

As the church gradually yielded to pagan practices, the Bishop at Rome began consolidating control over the church. His rise was as gradual as the acceptance of false teachings was. Originally, each congregation was an independent entity, yielding to the Holy Ghost, respecting priesthood authorized by Christ, and governed by its bishop, whom it regarded as "president of the brethren." Local churches met in conferences with others to coordinate activities, govern affairs, and refute heresies. Normally, the bishop of the church from the most prominent city represented presided. Rome was the most predominate city in all Christendom. Its Bishops began to consider themselves the rightful head of the church. Their claims to that position gradually won acceptance, as the following events show:

208 AD, Victor called himself "Bishop of Bishops",
251 AD, The Roman Bishop renewed use of "Bishop of Bishops"; 
378 AD, The Emperor makes the Pope Profector of Latin Empire; 
384 AD, The Roman bishop began making church-wide decrees; 
445 AD, Emperor Valentinian demanded total obedience to pope; 
533 AD, Emperor Justinian decreed pope is head of all churches; 
607 AD, Emperor Phocas reiterated pope as head of the church.

Pope Gregory, whom Emperor Phocas, decreed was head of the church throughout the old Roman Empire, solidified his position by the force of his personality. He was a successful administrator who consolidated control over all unsubmissive churches. He was also renown for miracles wrought by the bones, or other relics, of the martyrs. He became so popular with the people because of his marvelous cures that none refused his authority. He became head of the church by decree, but kept it through respect. After him all Christendom regarded the pope as its supreme leader.

The rise of the Papacy after false doctrines had sowed the teachings of idolatry into the church meant that Satan had an organization he could use to control the followers of Jesus. They would not regard Roman power, but they would submit to papal authority. A leader not established by Christ over those trying to follow the Savior, especially when that leader supported devilish doctrines, was a new opportunity for Satan to enslave the people of God. God had freed his people from temporal powers by giving them citizenship in a spiritual kingdom. Satan retaliated by creating a spiritual kingdom with temporal power to control those preconditioned to honor the Lord's priests. What the successors of Babylon were unable to do, the religion of Babylon did. It installed a false leader over the people of God to encourage them to revere idols and worship Satan. The Papacy is the fifth kingdom Daniel saw. It is the little horn that was prophesied to wear out the saints. It is the Antichrist.