Thyatira, Part 4
Dec 21, 2015
The word “heretic” comes from a Greek word meaning to make a choice. When men choose their own beliefs instead of believing Scripture, it is true heresy. However, in later history the Popes claimed that the decisions of Church Councils were the truth. Thus, a heretic came to be defined as anyone who disagreed with the creeds of a recognized Church Council, rather than Scripture itself. This was the problem in Jesus’ day in Judaism when the priests could not distinguish between the word of God and their “traditions of men.”
H. Grattan Guinness tells us on page 31 of his book, Romanism and the Reformation, that in the sixth century, Pope Pelagius said,
“Schism is an evil. Whoever is separated from the apostolic see is doubtless in schism. Do then what we often exhort. Take pains that they who presume to commit this sin be brought into custody. . . Do not hesitate to compress men of this kind, and if he despise this, let him be crushed by the public powers.”
Guinness does not tell us if this was Pelagius I (557-560) or Pelagius II (577-590). Both were embroiled in schismatic times, so I have been unable to discover which Pope said these things. Again, Guinness says of Pope Damasus, who was pontiff from 366-384 A.D.,
“Pope Damasus, whose election to the pontificate was secured by a hundred and thirty-seven murders, authorizes persecution of those who speak against any of the holy canons, and adds, ‘It is permitted neither to think nor to speak differently from the Roman Church”... Whatever is short of absolute, unconditional surrender of all freedom of act or word, or even of thought and conscience, is heresy. Every evangelical Christian in the world is therefore, according to Roman canons, a heretic, and as such liable to ‘punishment’.” (pages 31, 32)
The Beginnings of Persecution
In the fourth century, when the Church first began coming to power, they normally broke fellowship with heretics and expelled them from the Church. Memories of torture and death were still too fresh from the Empire’s holocaust for the Church to adopt the same policy of persecution. But Cormenin tells us in his History of the Popes, Vol. 1, p. 105,
“After the death of [Pope] Felix, the intrigues for a successor were renewed. At this period the ambition of the priests had grown to be very great; liberty began to be banished from the elections, and those who had riches or powerful friends alone could hope to aspire to the episcopate.”
Pope Felix died in 529, just as the Thyatira Church era began. Within a few years, Pope Pelagius I [557-560] said,
“ ‘Do not listen,’ said he, ‘to the idle talk of timid men, who blame the church when it commands a persecution for the purpose of repressing error, in order to save souls. Schisms are violent evils, which must be cured by strong and terrible remedies; and Scripture and the canon authorize us to call in the aid of magistrates to compel schismatics to re-enter into the bosom of the church. Do, then, that which we have frequently asked from you; send to the emperor, well guarded, those who have separated themselves from the apostolic see. Have no fears for your eternal safety; the examples of the great saints will teach you that princes ought to punish heretics, not only by exile, but also by the confiscation of property, by severe imprisonment, and even by torture’.” (Cormenin, History of the Popes, Vol. I, page 118)
In the 12th century the Church became alarmed by the resurgence of heresy among the Albigenses in southern France. This eventually led to the establishment of the Inquisition by Pope Gregory IX in 1231 A.D. It was not long before torture became the most popular method of the Inquisitors in stamping out heresy.
The Albigenses were dualists who believed that everything was a struggle between two gods: one good, the other evil. The good God was Jesus Christ, the God of light, goodness, and spirit; while the evil god, Satan, was the god of darkness, evil, and matter. They believed that Satan was the god of the Old Testament; while Jesus Christ is the God of the New Testament.
This belief had flourished for centuries along the Mediterranean ever since the Manicheans had preached it in the third century. It still has influence in various groups today, manifested primarily by men’s abhorrence of the Law or of Yahweh Himself. It is also seen in the way the concept of resurrection from the dead has been undermined. (See our booklet, The Purpose of Resurrection.)
And so, we agree that the Albigenses were wrong in their doctrines and concepts of God. However, we believe that the torture and murder sanctioned by the Inquisition was not the answer to the problem. If they had been left alone to suffer under the injustices of their own antinomian society, they would have either learned by themselves that imperfect men need laws for their protection (1 Timothy 1:9), or else they would have lost their members as the group self-destructed in anarchy.
The Inquisition was carried out directly under papal direction. Its scope went far beyond rooting out the dualistic views of the Albigenses. It sought to destroy all heresy—all views that ran contrary to established Church doctrine or which threatened the absolute authority of the pope over the minds of men. In 1252 A.D. pope Innocent IV officially sanctioned the use of torture to force confessions and make heretics recant their views. For the next 250 years Europe was drenched with the blood of those guilty of thinking or speaking “differently from the Roman Church.” It was so bad that even the Catholic professor Rossetti wrote:
“It makes the heart of a true Christian bleed to think of this fatal error of the Latin Church, which by persecuting others laid the foundation of her own irreparable ruin. That the opinions held by these so-called heretics were most injurious to the Church of Rome cannot be denied, but the means taken to destroy them were, of all others, the most likely to strengthen them, and render them more deeply rooted. Daniel and St. John foretold that Satan’s delegate would use horrid cruelties and inundate Babylon with the blood of Christ’s martyrs; and the pope, to prove that he was not that delegate, did use horrid cruelties and cause Rome to overflow with the purest of Christian blood” (Guinness, p. 34).
Literally millions of Christians were put to death, either directly or indirectly by the Church in the war against thinking differently. Finally, at the fifth Lateran Church Council (1512-1517), A. Pucci, a Cardinal of the Church, told the pope,
“The whole body of Christendom is now subject to one head, even to thee; no one now opposes, no one now objects.” (Guinness, p. 37)
Perhaps he meant that by this that they had finally succeeded in killing all the heretics. Yet we can only imagine how God must have laughed at his statement. That Council ended in 1517, and later that same year Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation by nailing his famous “95 Theses” on the Church door at Wittenberg, Bavaria on Oct. 31, 1517.
Just when the Church thought it had stamped out all its opposition and put all things under the feet of the Roman Church, their power began to fall. They had to relearn the lesson of Imperial Rome, that the more one persecutes Christians, the more they multiply, as others see the true character of both sides and ask themselves, which is more Christ-like?
The Protestant Reformation put the first cracks in the Roman Church that could not be repaired. Thus, 1517 marks the end of the Thyatira Church and the beginning of the era of Sardis, the precious stone, the remnant Church that God began to draw out of the Jezebel Church. The overcomers had been refined in Jezebel’s fire, along with the genuine heretics, for thinking differently and for desiring to obey God rather than men.
The Protestant Reformation signaled the time when papal power began to decline. Just as A. Pucci declared that all the world had finally submitted to Rome, either by force or by death, God said, “It is enough.” Rome’s spiritual power had peaked, and the judgment of God had begun.
Rising Power to Judge Heretics
The messages to the seven churches is really an overview of church history, where God points out the strengths and weaknesses of each church in the eras that they represent. As we will see later, the latter portion of the book of Revelation, beginning in chapter six, gives us the history of the iron beast of Rome and the little horn (church) that arose from that final beast empire.
The secular and religious histories are each covered in this way, although in reality they cannot be separated, for the church rose gradually to a position of secular as well as religious power. In fact, as we will see, the church competed with many kings for power, and the church sought many alliances with other kings in order to obtain protection and thereby increase its own power.
At the beginning, the church normally brought heretics to the secular authorities, headed by the emperor in Constantinople, for judgment. But by the thirteenth century the church had taken upon itself the full authority to judge heretics by its own assumed power. Hence, Pope Gregory IX was able to institute the Inquisition by his own power, rather than by receiving such authorization from any secular kings.
The Rise of Islam
When the church reached a certain level of corruption and violent behavior in the early seventh century, God brought judgment upon the church in the form of Islam. This event is more fully described by symbols in Revelation 9, as we will see. By the principle of “eye for eye” (Exodus 21:24), God raised up Islam to judge the church by the same violent means as the church had judged heretics.
To Islam, the church was the heretic, and its followers treated the Christians in the same way that the Church had treated its own heretics. Most Christians view Islam as “the enemy,” rather than as God’s agent of judgment, and so their hearts are hardened instead of being repentant. We find this prophesied in Revelation 9:20, 21,
20 And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see or hear nor walk; 21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
This speaks of the Christian West in general, and it prophesies that the people would fail to repent, even in the face of divine judgment. The church did not see itself as God saw it, for only the overcomers had the mind of Christ during this time period. The vast majority were religious, but carnal, and their view of Islam was much the same as the people of Judah after God had raised up Babylon to judge Jerusalem for its sin. This lack of insight is the bane of virtually all religion.
Immediately after the Roman church claimed the exclusive right to the title, “Universal Bishop,” God raised up Mohammed to bring judgment upon the church.
Pope Victor had first made this claim in 192 A.D., but he was forced to recant after Bishop Irenaeus opposed him. However, Victor had set a precedent that was to be used 414 years later in the year 606 A.D. Pope Boniface III then claimed to be the Universal Bishop, having sovereignty over all the other Catholic bishops, even though his predecessor, Gregory I (590-604) had written, “Whosoever calls himself universal priest or desires to be called so, was the forerunner of Antichrist.”
Gregory proved to be the last Roman bishop to resist this title. Philip Schaff writes in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. IV, p. 220,
“Boniface III (606-607) did not scruple to assume the title of ‘universal bishop,’ against which Gregory, in proud humility, had so indignantly protested as a blasphemous antichristian assumption.”
Because it was precisely 414 years from Victor’s attempt in 192 until Boniface’s assumption in 606, we can see that God had given the church a grace period of 414 years in which to repent of its usurpation of Christ's authority. The number 414 is a period of “cursed time,” which I explained fully in my book, Secrets of Time. It is actually a grace period that God gives nations after judgment is pronounced. God, in His mercy, gives men and nations opportunity to repent before divine judgment is actually executed. If men repent, the judgment is cancelled. If they do not, then judgment proceeds.
In this case, the Roman church usurped the place of Christ, thinking that it had the power to rule the people by its own will, rather than seeing itself as the enforcer of God’s law and a steward of the throne.
Mohammed then received his “revelation” and began to preach publicly in 612 A.D. We are feeling the effects of divine judgment by the hand of Islam to this day. It will continue until the people repent. Yet most of the Thyatira church era was taken up by the church’s war with Islam, believing that Islam was the problem and its destruction the solution.
This is part 26 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones