A Counterfeit Kingdom Arises
1. To what extent did the “good news” flourish in early times?
IN THE face of the cruelest persecutions, the young Christian congregation continued to flourish and expand. The truth of the good news concerning God’s kingdom by Messiah kept on “bearing fruit and increasing in all the world.” As the Kingdom proclaimers penetrated into new territories opposers lamented that “these men that have overturned the inhabited earth are present here also.”—Colossians 1:5, 6; Acts 17:6.
2. What efforts did the Devil make to stop the spread of truth, but why did he fail?
2 However, what could mere men do to stop the spread of truth? History records that in the first three centuries of our Common Era the Caesars of the Roman Empire brought some 10 different waves of persecution against the early Christians, but all to no avail. Those who followed in Jesus’ steps, “solid in the faith,” refused to compromise even though that “roaring lion,” the Devil, saw to it that many of them were thrown to literal lions or otherwise tortured to the death.—1 Peter 5:8, 9; compare 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Timothy 4:17.
3. Why must you put on the “complete suit of armor from God”?
3 Since the frontal attack of direct persecution usually failed, the Devil sought to entrap Jesus’ followers by more subtle means. They were surrounded by a proud, immoral, pleasure-mad world, and Satan used this to the full in trying to turn them away from God’s service. They needed to “stand firm,” as the apostle Paul repeats three times at Ephesians 6:11-18, in detailing the spiritual “armor from God” that they must use. Have you yourself put on this “complete suit of armor from God”? You must have it in order to withstand the trials of these “last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) And Christians back there in the first century needed it. Why especially so?
4. In the first century, what basic Kingdom truths did Christians come to understand?
4 Theirs was a pure and simple faith. At that time all of them were spirit-anointed Christians who looked forward to a future resurrection “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:11; 1 Corinthians 15:50) At least from about the year 96 C.E., when the aged apostle John received the Revelation by divine inspiration, they appreciated that their number, as a “little flock,” would be 144,000. As associate ‘kings and priests’ with the Christ in heaven, they would rule over the earth for 1,000 years. John was shown that “after” the 144,000 of spiritual Israel had been gathered, an unnumbered “great crowd” of loyal men and women, “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues,” would be identified. As a class these would survive the final “great tribulation” on earth to become the nucleus of the human society to enjoy millennial blessings under the Kingdom rule.—Luke 12:32; Revelation 7:4, 9-17; 20:1-6; 21:1-5.
THE GREAT APOSTASY
5, 6. (a) What scriptures show that, even then, the Devil was using a more subtle mode of attack? (b) In a word, what was it?
5 What, then, was the Devil’s subtle mode of attack? Referring back to faithless Israel, the apostle Peter had warned: “There also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects . . . Also, with covetousness they will exploit you with counterfeit words.” (2 Peter 2:1, 3) These false sectarian teachers, with their counterfeit religious doctrines, had already begun to appear by the end of the first century, for it was about the year 98 C.E. that the apostle John wrote: “Just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now there have come to be many antichrists . . . They went out from us, but they were not of our sort.”—1 John 2:18, 19.
6 As early as 51 C.E., in what appears to have been his second canonical letter, the apostle Paul had warned concerning false teachings about the “day of Jehovah.” He wrote: “Let no one seduce you in any manner, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction.” Who could this “man of lawlessness” be? It must refer to apostate religious leaders who are lawless in that, while they claim to be Christians, they “do not know God” and “do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8; 2:1-3) How could such an apostate class arise in the Christian congregation?
7. How were some of Jesus’ followers ensnared, with what result?
7 While the apostles of Jesus Christ were still alive, they acted as a restraint against the intrusion of false teaching, but “the mystery of this lawlessness” was already at work, “according to the operation of Satan,” and it came to the fore in the second century. Whereas Jesus had stated of his followers, “all you are brothers,” a desire for personal prominence caused some to be ensnared by the Devil. They now made a distinction between clergy and laity. Gradually the situation prophesied by the apostle Paul arose: “There will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth.”—2 Timothy 4:3, 4; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-10; Matthew 23:8.
8. (a) What were the two main sources of false teaching? (b) How do encyclopedias describe the corrupting of Christianity?
8 Where, then, did they turn their ears? To doctrines that emanated from the cradle of false religion in ancient Babylon, and to the philosophies of the Greeks, which were so popular in the Roman world of that time. As M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia comments: “The simplicity of the Gospel was corrupted; pompous rites and ceremonies were introduced; worldly honors and emoluments were conferred on the teachers of Christianity, and the kingdom of Christ in a great measure converted into a kingdom of this world.” And to this the Encyclopædia Britannica adds the following: “Nothing perhaps has tended more thoroughly to corrupt Christianity than the introduction into it of superstitions which are really pagan themselves, or have been suggested by pagan practices. Paganism, unable to oppose Christianity successfully, has done much to corrupt it, and in numberless ways has made inroads into its purity.”
9. (a) What common beliefs stem from the teaching that the human soul is immortal? (b) How does the Bible refute such doctrines?
9 What are some of these superstitions and pagan practices? Outstanding is the teaching of the Greek philosopher Plato that the human soul is immortal. Such a belief requires that the soul must go somewhere at death, to a heaven of bliss, a purgatory for cleansing or a fiery hell for eternal torment. This flies in the face of such scriptures in the Bible as Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Matthew 10:28 and Romans 6:23.
ORIGINS OF CATHOLICISM
10, 11. (a) What does Cardinal Newman admit as to many teachings of his Church? (b) Since he says Church practices and teachings are “of pagan origin,” can these really be regarded as holy?
10 In his Essays and Sketches, the 19th-century Roman Catholic cardinal John Henry Newman indicates the origin of many teachings of his Church, saying: “The phenomenon, admitted on all hands, is this:—That great portion of what is generally received as Christian truth is, in its rudiments or in its separate parts, to be found in heathen philosophies and religions. For instance, the doctrine of a Trinity is found both in the East and in the West; so is the ceremony of washing; so is the rite of sacrifice. The doctrine of the Divine Word is Platonic; the doctrine of the Incarnation is Indian.” Then, replying to a critic who argues, “These things are in heathenism, therefore they are not Christian,” the cardinal says: “We, on the contrary, prefer to say, ‘these things are in Christianity, therefore they are not heathen.’” But their source is the Babylonian and Greek teachings that existed centuries before the birth of Roman Catholicism. Moreover, they are not to be found in God’s Word, the Bible.
11 That the great apostasy went back to pagan religion for its teachings and ceremonies is further confirmed by Cardinal Newman’s comments in his book The Development of Christian Doctrine, where he writes: “Constantine, in order to recommend the new [Roman Catholic] religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own.” Then, after listing many of the practices of his church, the cardinal admits that these “are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church.” But can false teaching be “sanctified,” or made holy?
12, 13. (a) Under what circumstances and with what motive did Constantine interest himself in the Roman Catholic religion? (b) What shows whether Constantine had become a Christian at heart?
12 The cardinal here refers to Constantine the Great, Roman emperor of the fourth century. What was Constantine’s interest in religion? Years after his invasion of Rome in 312 C.E., Constantine made it known that, on the eve of his conquest, he saw the vision of a flaming cross, with the motto “By This Conquer.” This he inscribed on his standard. He adopted the foundations for the Roman Catholic religion apparently to gain support in furthering his own political ends, and he fused into the “Christian” religious system the pagan beliefs that were still nearest to his heart.
13 The Encyclopædia Britannica says of Constantine: “Paganism must still have been an operative belief with the man who, down almost to the close of his life, retained so many pagan superstitions. . . . Constantine was entitled to be called Great in virtue rather of what he did than what he was. Tested by character, indeed, he stands among the lowest of all those to whom the epithet [“Great”] has in ancient or modern times been applied.” This is demonstrated in that he stooped even to the murder of several of his own family members. His pagan title, “Pontifex Maximus,” was later transferred to the popes of the Roman Catholic Church.
14. Did the popes of Rome truly represent the kingdom of God, and why do you so answer?
14 Down through the Dark and Middle Ages, the popes of Rome ruled much like kings on earth. They did not wait for Christ to set up his millennial rule from the heavens. They wanted a “kingdom” then, for their own selfish advantage. The Encyclopædia Britannica describes it in these words: “One of the earliest causes of the corruption of Christianity was the attempt to translate the Christian kingdom of God into a visible monarchy in which the saints inherited the earth in a literal way.” It was no wonder that honest persons wanted to take issue with such “corruption of Christianity”! However, the cruel Inquisition, which by burnings at the stake alone took more than 30,000 lives, long served to keep so-called heretics in check. But not for all time!
WHAT OF PROTESTANTISM?
15. (a) What actually did the Protestant Reformation become? (b) In what way is Protestantism in bondage down to our day?
15 At midday, October 31, 1517, Roman Catholic priest Martin Luther nailed 95 theses of protest to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. The Protestant Reformation was under way. However, rather than bring a return to pure Christian doctrine and sacred service to God, the Reformation became largely political. Territorial gains were sought through fighting religious wars, such as the 30 Years’ War of 1618-1648 in Europe, in which millions of lives were lost. Many countries set up their state religions, and these continued to teach Catholicism’s key doctrines, such as the immortality of the soul, a hellfire of torment, the Trinity, infant baptism and many others. They remain in bondage to these teachings of the great apostasy right down to this present day.
“BABYLON THE GREAT”
16, 17. (a) What meaning does Jeremiah 51:6 have for us today? (b) How did Babylon’s religion become international in scope?
16 The practice of false religion is not limited to persons that profess to be Christian. The prophet Jeremiah warns us:
“Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and provide escape each one for his own soul.” (Jeremiah 51:6)
This has meaning for us today. Even in Jeremiah’s day, Babylon was notorious for its depraved religious ritual and its multiplicity of gods. But the modern-day Babylon is international in its scope. How did this come about?
17 Following the flood of Noah’s day, it was at Babylon that wicked Nimrod, “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah,” started to build a city-kingdom and likely the religious tower reaching into the heavens. Jehovah thwarted those plans by confusing the tongues of mankind and scattering them “over all the surface of the earth.” But their false religion went with them. It was the root from which most of the world’s religions have grown.—Genesis 10:8-10; 11:1-9.
18. From what counterfeit kingdom must we flee, and to where?
18 As we have noted, Constantine fused such false religion into Christian teachings when he laid the foundations for the Roman Catholic religion. This, in turn, became the source of much of the doctrine of Protestantism. The non-“Christian” religions of the earth also have their roots in ancient Babylon. All together, the pseudo-Christian and the non-“Christian” religions make up a world empire of false religion. It is a counterfeit kingdom that the apostle John referred to as “Babylon the Great . . . the great city that has a [religious] kingdom over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:5, 18) So in order to “provide escape each one for his own soul,” we are well advised to flee out of the counterfeit Babylonish “kingdom,” yes, flee to God’s kingdom!
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SATAN ASSAULTS GOD’S KINGDOM SERVANTS BY—
● The direct frontal attack of persecutions—through misinformed relatives, governments, religionists
● Enticing to immorality in today’s permissive society
● Fostering pride of station, wealth, race, nation
● Trying to make them lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God—absorbed in entertainment
● Advancing atheistic, evolutionary teachings
● Misrepresenting true Christianity by means of Christendom’s apostate counterfeit kingdom
● Raising up false teachers to sow doubt among true Christians and subtly discourage them
WE MAY CONQUER SATAN’S WORLD BY OUR FAITH