The Church of Pergamos
The Smyrna Church era ended in 313 with the Edict of Milan that officially ended the Roman persecution of Christians. The emperor Constantine had conquered Rome in 310 and soon began to make it a Christian Empire. So began the era of the Church of Pergamos.
Pergamos is the Balaam Church of the New Testament. John makes the connection between the Balaam Church of the Old Testament and the Church of Pergamos in the New when he writes a warning to Pergamos in Rev. 2:14,
14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam; who kept teaching Balak to put a stumblingblock before the sons of Israel, and to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality.
Pergamos means “married to power.” It speaks of an era when the Church came into a position of power and learned how to abuse that power as much as pagan Rome had done. It became political. It was too concerned with gaining or retaining membership of pagans that would be in submission in the organization. To accomplish this, they tolerated pagan practice as long as they submitted to the hierarchy and its creeds. As membership gave them power, they became increasingly intolerant of those holding different opinions. Soon they were exercising the power of life and death over anyone who dared to think differently or hold differing opinion.
The message is addressed by the One who has the sharp sword with which to administer true justice, as if to anticipate the Church's wrongful use of the sword. Rev. 2:12 says,
12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:
And so the era of the Church of Pergamos, or Pergamum, is the time when the Church obtained civil power. It is where, over a period time, the Church and State merge as one. It began with Constantine favoring Christianity and putting an end to the official persecution of Christians in 313. His edict is called The Act of Toleration, because that is what it was. It put Christianity on an equal playing field with paganism and gave people freedom to worship as they pleased. However, such toleration was short-lived, as the Church interpreted its fortunate circumstances to mean that God wanted the Christian Emperor to establish a Christian Empire. This, of course, meant being increasingly intolerant toward pagans in order to pressure them into joining the Church.
The Cross Becomes a Sword
Constantine conquered Rome in 312 A.D. when he won the battle at the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius. In James Carroll's The Sword of Constantine, we read on p. 171,
“In 312, Constantine stormed Italy, moving against Maxentius' army, fortified in Rome. The story is that Constantine 's legions were spent by now, demoralized, and uncertain so far from home. In the coming battle against Maxentius, who would be fighting on his home ground, they would be the decided underdog. But the night before the battle at the Milvian Bridge, on the Tiber, Constantine saw a cross in the sky, above the legend In hoc Signo Vinces (“In This Sign, Conquer”). With the news of this vision, a signal of favor from the Christian God, Constantine 's troops rallied, went firmly into battle the next day, and won. Constantine himself threw Maxentius off the bridge into the Tiber, where he drowned.”
Carroll goes on to discuss how this single vision (real or imagined) has impacted the Church throughout history. On page 175 he continues,
“The place of the cross in Christian imagination changed with Constantine... A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it.”
One should never underestimate the power of symbols. When Constantine turned the cross into a sword and by it conquered Rome, it was not long before carnally-minded Christian bishops took it as a mandate for themselves to use the cross as a weapon to conquer to world. With this new type of thinking, the cross was changed from a symbol of self-sacrificing love and forgiveness into a weapon to sacrifice one's enemies.
The first to suffer at the hands of this cross-turned-spear were the Jews. In 315 Constantine issued an edict making it a criminal offense for Jews to proselytize.” Years later, in 1096 Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade to recapture Jerusalem 's holy shrines from the Muslims. James Carroll says on pages 239 and 240,
“Urban II's Clermont summons promised rewards in the afterlife, including a guarantee of eternal salvation to those who died in the struggle against the infidel. For the first time in Christian history, violence was defined as a religious act, a source of grace.”
Wearing the cross had finally become a license to kill. Jerusalem and Jesus became closely identified. As Carroll put it on page 253,
“To rescue ‘captive Jerusalem ' was to rescue a kidnapped Jesus.”
The wars and persecution of pagans, Jews, and heretics were all done in the name of Jesus and supposedly for His glory. But one only needs to read the New Testament to see that Jesus Himself never advocated such acts on His behalf. These things were done to expand the glory of the Church, not the glory of Jesus Christ. To Jesus, self-sacrifice meant being willing to lay down one's life for one's enemies. Rom. 5:7-10 says,
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us... 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
But Christians came to define love as being love of Church members in good standing. They came to define self-sacrifice as the willingness to die if necessary while killing Jesus' enemies. This perversion of Christianity was all implied by the message from “ the One who has the sharp two-edged sword ” (Rev. 2:12). Jesus' two-edged sword is the word of God (Heb. 4:12), which is much sharper than the kind used by Constantine to conquer Rome. Jesus' word is much more effective in establishing the Kingdom of God than the crusader's sword was in conquering Jerusalem.
So here is the progression of carnality in the Church. First, in the Ephesus era, many Christians refused to hear the word, even like Israel refused to hear at Mount Sinai.
This led to a lack of discernment in knowing who was truly called to positions of leadership and who were merely ambitious and self-called. The Smyrna Church saw carnal men desiring the priesthood, even as Korah desired such a calling in Moses' day.
Having such carnal leaders in positions of authority, then, gave rise to the Balaam problem in the Pergamos Church when the Church sought favor and money from thfe political establishment. Likewise, even as Balaam advised Balak how to conquer Israel by getting them to violate the law, so also this Church unlawfully turned the cross into a sword. Having no understanding of the true character of Christ, they turned the cross into a sword and used it to seal their marriage to political power in conquering the laity, that is, the common people.
The Nicolaitan Spirit
The Church of Pergamos is told to repent of their Nicolaitan doctrine, or else He will come and administer that justice upon them, as if to anticipate the problem that came to fruition during this time. Rev. 2:15, 16 says,
15 Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.
As we showed earlier, the Nicolaitan problem began in the Ephesus era (33-64 A.D.), where it was resisted. But here in the Pergamos era (313-529), it became a matter of Church policy. The Church became a bond slave like Hagar, instead of remaining as a free woman like Sarah. Christians were forced to hear God only through the priesthood and were coerced into an indirect relationship with Jesus Christ.
At first the priest was the primary mediator through whom the believers hired to approach God on their behalf. Later the dead “saints” were given this role, and finally the Virgin Mary herself. Jesus was relegated to the background as an angry, dangerous God that could be approached only by saintly people. In contrast, the ordinary Christian was taught that he was totally depraved and unworthy of such a righteous and holy God as Jesus. Thus, the priesthood drove a wedge between Christ and His people.
Religious Creeds Replace Christian Character
The Nicolaitan spirit turned Christianity from a way of life into a religion. This meant that “the Church,” or the body of Christ, was no longer the Christian people, but the organization itself. In practice, the people lived to serve the hierarchy of the Church, rather than the other way around. Of course, throughout its history, there were always priests who genuinely loved and served the people. These generally remained in the lowest positions of power, because they were not ambitious enough to rise higher. As time passed, the worst of them rose to positions of power.
We have two sayings that contradict each other. The first is that “cream rises to the top.” The second is that “scum rises to the top.” The Church would like to project the image of the popes being the cream, but history itself shows that this was seldom the case.
During the persecutions of the Smyrna Church, God had used the Romans to purge and refine the people from 64-313 A.D. But with the Empire's recognition and favor of Christianity in 313, many nominal, but ambitious pagans were lured into the Church in order to gain the emperor's favor. To become a Christian, one only had to confess certain creeds and be baptized by a recognized priest.
Creeds replaced Christian character in order of importance. One's “faith” became the creed he confessed, instead of hearing God's voice (Rom. 10:17). The Church became increasingly intolerant of those who questioned any particular creed and its mainstream interpretation. At the same time, they were increasingly tolerant of the works of the flesh operating in both leaders and laity.
It was a strange and amazing mix of toleration and intoleration that has persisted to the present day. Roman Catholicism in many countries tolerates paganism as long as the pagans submit to the Church hierarchy and remain members of the organization. This is not so apparent in America or other Western countries, but it is “normal” in many other parts of the world.
The Right to Hear God
When the persecutions first ended in 313 A.D., Christians finally were given the freedom to openly study and discuss the Scriptures. With this new freedom came the freedom to express different viewpoints and ideas. Freedom of conscience has one inevitable side effect—people actually believe differently.
This freedom, of course, immediately led to doctrinal disputes. With the Roman government no longer the common enemy, Christians turned against one another and viewed the different ideas as dangerous heresies. Each side in a dispute held its view to represent “true Christianity.” It was not long before the Church began to splinter into many factions, as men refused to fellowship with those holding other viewpoints.
The emperor then became involved, because men's intolerance was leading to disunity within the empire. He felt it was his duty to establish a Christian Empire, and this implied a unified organization. Furthermore, if Christians were followers of the true God, then it was only reasonable to assume that its leaders would be led by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Hence, truth could be found, if only the great leaders of the Church could gather and discuss the great issues.
While one can see the benefit and even the necessity of having Church Councils discuss the varying viewpoints among the learned, we believe they made the mistake of thinking that truth would always be seen and understood by the majority of bishops. The problem is that, like under Moses, the Church had already lost its ability to hear God's voice, and the love of Power had replaced the Love of God.
As we study the Church Councils and their history, we are struck by the contentiousness and dearth of love manifested in the lives of many of the bishops whose job it was to discover the Truth. Few of them were really qualified to be led by the Spirit into all truth. Those who truly sought God for answers by prayer and fasting if necessary were always in the minority.
The Church Councils put various doctrinal issues to a vote, and the majority opinion became synonymous with Truth. Unfortunately, as time progressed and as the bishops became more powerful and more political, more and more intrigue, blackmail, and other unethical forms of conduct were used to ensure that the Councils voted in certain ways. Conscience became less and less important, and the career and wealth of the bishop became more important.
Yet once a creed was officially established, the leaders enforced their views upon the rest of the people. Those who saw the carnal manner in which these creeds were established as “truth” were not convinced that God had really spoken. Thus, the leaders of the Church found it necessary to suppress all dissent, calling such dissenters “heretics.” And men lost the right to hear God for themselves—unless, of course, they heard things that conformed to the rulings of the Church Councils.
Hence, the Church Councils succeeded in defining and standardizing Church doctrine, but they did not necessarily establish Truth. Their primary goal was to maintain unity, and soon creeds became gods. Love was sacrificed on the altar to the god of Doctrinal Unity. Christian love was withheld from all heretics. Resolutions from the Church Councils were used as weapons to persecute those who dissented from the majority opinion.
Such is the result of the Church attaining power. And this is the prophetic characteristic of the name, Pergamos, “married to power.”
Unity of Doctrine
When love was no longer a valued Christian virtue, the Church of the Majority Opinion came to torture and kill in the name of Jesus Christ those who believed differently. Popes regularly absolved these murderers and even proclaimed them to be saints. And they actually believed that God was pleased with their zeal “for the glory of God.”
H. Gratton Guiness quotes the great Cardinal Bellarmine, a Jesuit theologian and scholar who lived from 1542-1621, saying,
“Experience teaches us that there is no other remedy; for the Church has proceeded by slow steps, and tried all remedies. First, she only excommunicated. Then she added a fine of money, and afterwards exile. Lastly she was compelled to come to the punishment of death. For heretics despise excommunication, and say that those lightnings are cold.” (Romanism and the Reformation, p. 33)
What was it that “compelled” the Roman Church to kill heretics? What “compelled” them to torture them on the rack and burn them horribly at the stake? Did Jesus compel them? Would Jesus have done this? No, the only thing that “compelled” them was the belief that unity was more important than love and that submission to the Roman Pontiff was more important than life itself. This in turn presumes that Church membership and conformity is necessary for salvation itself. And so, in their way of thinking, if persecution and even torture itself could force a person to submit to the organization, then that person has been saved from even greater torture in the lake of fire at the hands of God.
Such perversion speaks for itself. Love does not rape its object. Jesus has no desire to marry a bride forcibly against her will.
The emperor Constantine was mostly interested in unifying the empire. Because he had given Christianity such a prominent place in the empire, it was important to him that the Church be unified. Unity is good, but the means to obtain it can often be devastating, especially if it means executing all those who think differently. Freedom is not measured by the freedom to be right and wise, but by the freedom to be wrong and foolish.
In the era of the Church of Pergamos (313-529 A.D.) we see the rise of a Christian priesthood from humble pastors to wealthy, influential, and powerful men who took the sword of justice out of the hands of Jesus Christ and wielded it in His name to enforce their opinions and decisions.
Constantine inadvertently put this political machine into the hands of a terrible executioner. At first the Church was content to excommunicate its heretics, a practice first begun by Victor, bishop of Rome during the late third century. About Victor we read in R. W. Thompson's book, The Papacy and the Civil Power, p. 374,
“He was the first pope who employed the thunders of excommunication, which have since been used with such terrible effect upon both nations and individuals.”
Cormenin tells us in his History of the Popes, Vol. 1, pp. 33, 34,
“Victor had prepared the way for the dominion of the pontiff, and his successors did not neglect on any occasion to extend their power.”
Eventually, they realized that the threat of excommunication was not enough to deter men from heretical doctrines that men firmly believed to be true. This finally led to the terrible Inquisition in the thirteen, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, where men and women were tortured, mutilated, and (if lucky) merely killed for believing differently.
By the early fifth century, Jerome of Bethlehem would identify the Roman Church with the great harlot of Revelation 17. He had spent some time teaching in Rome, but he castigated the Roman priests for their extravagant dress, expensive jewelry, and their pride. Cormenin says in his History of the Popes, Vol. 1, p. 66,
“Several prelates, furious at seeing themselves unmasked by the criticisms of St. Jerome, revenged themselves by scandalizing him. They censured his gait and visage; his simplicity even was suspected, and at length the calumny extended so far as to blacken his character in regard to some women and virgins, to whom he explained assiduously the Holy Scriptures.
... The holy doctor obliged to yield to the storm, quitted Italy in order to get away from the chagrin it excited in him, and complained bitterly in his letter to Marcella, of the outrages he had endured in the holy city. ‘Read,' said he, ‘read the apocalypse; you will see what is there said of that woman clothed in scarlet, who bears upon her forehead the name of blasphemy. Behold the end of that proud city; of a truth it contains a holy church, where may be seen the trophies of the apostles and martyrs, where the name of Christ and his apostolic doctrine are professed; but ambition, pride, and grandeur divert the faithful from true piety'.”
Jerome was not the first to criticize the Roman bishops for their corruption. A half century earlier, Gregory of Nazianzus also sharply criticized it, particularly pope Damasus (366-384). Cormenin relates in his History of the Popes, Vol. 1, p. 63,
Damasus was yet more sensual than his predecessors. He loved to enjoy the pleasures of a soft and voluptuous life…
“The luxury of the Latin church was odious to St. Jerome and St. Gregory, of Nazianzus, who indignantly complained of it. They called the Roman clergy a senate of Pharisees, a troop of ignorant, seditious fellows, a band of conspirators; they blamed, without concealment, the prodigalities, the debaucheries, the rascalities of the priests, and condemned the elevation of Damasus to the Holy See as having been brought about by force and violence.”
And indeed, Damasus' elevation to the pontificate had been opposed by the deacon Ursin, who had been elevated to the same position in another church.
“The partisans of Damasus, armed with swords and clubs, with the pontiff at their head, re-assembled in order to drive them off. They besieged the church, and the gates being forced, they murdered women, children, old men, and the massacre was terminated by incendiarism. The next day there were found, under the ruins, the dead bodies of one hundred and thirty-seven persons, who had been killed by arms or strangled in the flames. The prefect, Juventius, not being able to quell the sedition, was forced to retire.” (Cormenin, p. 63)
Even so, it was probably not until the pontificate of Leo I (440-461) that torture became a matter of policy in compelling heretics to “return to the faith.” Torture was applied to Priscillian, whose sect was called the Priscillianists. Cormenin tells in his History of the Popes, Vol. 1, p. 86,
“The unfortunate heretic was bound with cords and chains; then the priest commenced the interrogatory:--
“ ‘Abjure thy errors, Priscillian; submit thyself to the sovereign pontiff of Rome.'
“The sufferer refusing to reply, the executions made his limbs to crack under the pressure of his chains, and plunged both his feet into a heated brazier.
“ ‘Abjure thy errors, Priscillian, and glorify Leo, the father of the faithful.'
“Priscillian, during this horrible suffering, addressed his prayers to God, and refused still to glorify the pope.
“Then the monk charged with the execution gave the orders to the executioners to commence the punishment. They tore from him his hair and the skin of his skull, they burned with hot iron all parts of his body, and poured upon his wounds boiling oil and melted lead, and at last plunged into his entrails a rod heated in the fire; and this martyr expired, after two hours of frightful suffering.
“Leo still pursued the residue of the sect, and abandoned them to the implacable hatred of the priests... Citizens who had displeased the clergy were accused of Priscillianism, especially when their death might be agreeable to the prince, or their riches could fill the treasury of the holy father.”
Such was the papal policy of “saving the souls of heretics,” as if God were pleased with forced confessions of creeds not believed in the heart. Jesus said that God looks at the hearts of men, not at their words. In fact, when words do not match the heart, it is hypocrisy (Mark 7:6). Hence, forced confessions by heretics do not bring anyone into the likeness of Christ, but at best make them Christian hypocrites after the likeness of their torturers.
What is the Sword of His Mouth?
God describes the Nicolaitane doctrine as being something that He hates (Rev. 2:15). It is one of the few things in the Bible that God says He hates. And when we see how this doctrine was used to murder literally millions of people in the following centuries, we will understand completely why God hates it. God warns this Church specifically to repent of this doctrine in Rev. 2:16,
16... or else I will come unto thee quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
First He reminds this Church that He is the one holding the sword—not the Church. If the Church wields it on His behalf, they must know His mind and His ways; otherwise, they will abuse their authority, and God will surely hold them accountable. The sword of His mouth is His word, by which He hews the people in mercy. Hosea 6:5, 6 reads,
5 Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth... 6 For I delight in loyalty, rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
The Word of God is a sharp sword (Eph. 6:17) that separates soul from spirit and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). God uses this sword in His mercy, as opposed to a physical sword which can only sacrifice people physically.
God sent this Sword during the 15th - and 16th -century Protestant Reformation and with the development of the printing press, which put the Bible into the hands of the common people.
The Doctrine of Balaam
In the message to the Church of Pergamos, John also tells us of “the doctrine of Balaam.” Rev. 2:14 says,
14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam; who kept teaching Balak to put a stumblingblock before the sons of Israel, and to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality.
This is what leads us to compare the Pergamos Church with the Balaam Church of the Old Testament. Balaam was hired by the king of Moab to curse Israel, but he could not do so.
Balaam had no trouble hearing the Word of the Lord clearly. He simply disagreed with what God said and looked for ways around it. The Moabites wanted Balaam to come with them and curse Israel. Balaam prayed about it, and God told him NOT to go (Num. 22:12). But Balaam really wanted to go with them in order to gain power and prestige and also to earn some extra cash. So he prayed again.
God saw the desire of his heart, so He told him to go with them (Num. 22:20). But at that point God became Balaam's “adversary” (vs. 22). The Hebrew word is satan. The Angel of God told Balaam,
22 … But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as an adversary [Heb., satan ”] against him…
In other words, from Balaam's perspective, the Angel of God was Satan, not because he really was a devil, but because Balaam's way was perverse and his perspective distorted.
Balaam did not like the word God gave him on the first mountain, so he decided to try another mountain (Num. 23:13). That was no better, so he went to a third mountain (Num. 23:28). However, he could not get a revelation that he sought, so he stopped inquiring.
Eventually, Balaam gave counsel to the king to get Israel to intermarry with the Moabites, and thereby introduce them to the idolatry of Baal-peor (Num. 31:16). Balaam knew this would bring the wrath of God upon Israel, for it was a violation of the divine Law. The plot worked very well, and, as anticipated, God sent a plague upon Israel that killed 24,000 of them (Num. 25:9).
So how was the Church of Pergamos guilty of teaching the doctrine of Balaam? When Christianity became the recognized religion, multitudes of pagans joined the Church and overwhelmed its ability to instruct them in the ways of God. In their desire to convert pagans, the Church simply made them members of the religion, and in doing this, they can be compared with the Israelites who intermarried with the Moabites.
It was not long before the Church was eating “meat” (doctrines) sacrificed to idols. They retained their creeds but accepted many practices of the pagans. In fact, they converted pagan temples to Christian churches. Statues of the goddess Persephone were renamed Mary and sanctified. Pagan holidays were adopted and given Christian meaning.
In the name of toleration and unity, the Church was married to pagan gods, even as the Israelites had married the Moabites in the days of Moses. This is “the teaching of Balaam” in Rev. 2:14.
The Church has likewise learned the ways of Balaam. It rejected the Word of obedience that was given on Mount Sinai, so it went to Mount Zion to try again. But there it found the same God who requires obedience to HIS law, rather than man's traditions. Even as Balaam himself did not repent, so also the Pergamos Church did not repent. God's solution was to send the Sword of His mouth to show the people the difference between His word and men's traditions.
The Spirit of Counsel
The overcomers within the Church of Pergamos received the Spirit of Counsel (Isaiah 11:2). But the Church system in general operated under the counsel of Balaam. John makes it clear that the Church Councils during the time of this church era (313-529) were primarily influenced by the spirit and teaching of Balaam. The majority of bishops establishing “orthodox” creeds were not being inspired by the Holy Spirit.
And so, just because these Councils established certain views as heretical does not necessarily make it so.
When a nation or church rejects the divine law and substitutes its own laws, it begins the long slide into injustice and legalized immorality. It is noteworthy that Rev. 2:13 says of Pergamos,
13 I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
Balaam saw the angel of God as an adversary, a “satan,” because the angel withstood him. To the extent that a person sees God as Satan, they also see Satan as God. The Church of Pergamos from 313 to 529 A.D. saw God and His law as their adversary to be overcome. They saw the will of God as an obstacle to power and wealth. Men's traditions, then, overruled God's law, and religious men turned the Church into Satan's seat.
The Hidden Manna
A reward is given to the overcomers who are able to resist the perverse Balaam spirit in the Church of Pergamos. Rev. 2:17 says,
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.
The hidden manna is a reference to the pot of manna that was hidden inside the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 16:33; Heb. 9:4). To have access to that hidden manna, one must have access to the Ark of the Covenant. Only the high priest could come into the Most Holy Place. Thus, the overcomers must be part of the body of Christ, who is the High Priest after the Order of Melchisedec (Heb. 5:6).
The Levites had access to the outer court; the Aaronic priests had access to the Holy Place; but only the high priest had access once a year to the Most Holy Place. These correspond in the New Testament era to “Passover” believers who have been justified by faith; to “Pentecost” believers who have been sanctified, or set apart as priests of God, and to “Tabernacles” believers, who are the overcomers.
The manna in the wilderness was for all men as it lay upon the ground in the camp of Israel. But the hidden manna was not for all Israel, for it was hidden in the Ark of the Covenant. All manna represents the Word of God. But the Word of God consists of many different words. Jesus was able to teach His disciples only certain things while He walked this earth. There were hidden truths that He was unable to teach them at that time. But He promised that the Holy Spirit would be given, wherein the believers would have the potential of receiving the hidden manna not revealed to the average believer.
The bishops in the Church should have been chosen for their character and ability to hear God. Eating manna indicates hearing God's voice. The hidden manna is a special word that is accessible only to those who are able to enter into the Most Holy Place through the experience of the feast of Tabernacles. If the Church bishops had been able to eat of this manna, the Church could have avoided the pitfalls of the teachings of Balaam and the Church's marriage to paganism.
Yet we should not think of this word as something that is out of reach for the average person. The Feast of Tabernacles is written in Scripture for all to see. To be an overcomer is a matter of having a heart for Jesus Christ, and making Him Lord of our lives, rather than placing our trust in a religious organization or priesthood. In other words, it involves separating one's self from the spirit of King Saul, who ruled Israel because the people had rejected the direct rule of God and wanted to be ruled by men.
Being an overcomer is a matter of having a heart of forgiveness and manifesting the principle of the Jubilee, rather than seeking revenge upon those who have sinned against us.
It is all summed up in loving the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. That is an overcomer. The way is not hidden. It is just less traveled.
The White Stone
When judges met to decide a case, it was customary to cast their ballot for guilt or innocence by using either a white stone or a black stone. God is the only One who casts a vote to determine who is an overcomer. He gives an overcomer a white stone. The contrast is that the rest of the believers, who must be “saved yet so as through fire,” are given a black stone instead.
This does not mean they are unbelievers; it means that they are not qualified to receive life in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6) and must await the general resurrection a thousand years later. They will be raised along with the unbelievers (John 5:28, 29) and will then receive their reward after being given either “few stripes” or “many stripes” (Luke 12:48)
The Rise and Fall of the Christian Roman Empire
In the century following Constantine 's conquest of Rome, the Church grew in importance. Only one emperor, Julian attempted to reverse the new Christian order and revert back to paganism. Though he was raised a Christian (as Constantine 's nephew), he became Rome 's last pagan emperor from 361-363 A.D., and for this he is known as Julian the Apostate. He was killed fighting the Persians in Mesopotamia in 363. Daniel Carroll writes about Julian on page205 of his book,
“So Julian, right after declaring the end of the Christian empire, ordered the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem rebuilt, stone upon stone, to falsify the very words of Jesus. He ordered the city opened to Jews again, and he empowered Jews to govern it.”
Work on the temple was disrupted by underground explosions, probably caused by natural gas igniting. Then when Julian was killed, the work fully ceased. Daniel Carroll writes on page 206,
“After the near reversal of Julian, Christians reacted with an unprecedented vengeance, both emperors and bishops, against both pagans and Jews.”
It is apparent from history that Christianity by this time had become an organization to be defended, rather than a life to be lived. Even the very influential Ambrose of Milan refused communion to the emperor Theodosius when he wanted to rebuild a synagogue that a Christian mob had burned to the ground in 388.
On Feb. 27, 380 A.D. the Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. In 395 he prohibited the practice of all pagan rituals and animal sacrifices, including banning the Olympic Games. Gibbon writes on page 409 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
“The ruin of Paganism, in the age of Theodosius, is perhaps the only example of the total extirpation of any ancient and popular superstition, and may therefore be considered as a singular event in the history of the human mind.”
Yet for all these attempts to make Rome a Christian Empire, the judgment of God was not averted. In 410 A.D. Rome was taken by Alaric the Goth, whose troops sacked the city for six days. Within a week this great and wealthy city was reduced to absolute poverty. Gibbon writes on page 456 of his book,
“The awful catastrophe of Rome filled the astonished empire with grief and horror.”
Bishop Augustine then wrote his famous The City of God to explain how God would allow Christian Rome to come under such judgment. From his viewpoint, the judgment came because Rome had not been harsh enough on paganism and so-called “heretics.”
One invasion after another finally brought about the total demise of the Christian Roman Empire in 476 A.D. Rome 's last Emperor, Romulus Augustus, was overthrown by the Odoacer, a Teutonic king. The last Roman emperor had the same as its first—Augustus Caesar.
The fall of the Christian Emperors created a vacuum that was naturally filled by the Bishop of Rome. H. G. Wells wrote on page 526 of his book, The Outline of History,
“In later years these ideas developed into a definite political theory and policy. As the barbarian races settled and became Christian, the Pope began to claim an overlordship of their kings. In a few centuries the Pope had become in theory, and to a certain extent in practice, the high priest, censor, judge, and divine monarch of Christendom... For more than a thousand years this idea of the unity of Christendom... dominated Europe. The history of Europe from the fifth century onward to the fifteenth is very largely the history of the failure of this great idea of a divine world government to realize itself in practice.”
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the center of Christian history shifted to the Eastern half of the Empire with its capital at Constantinople. In 528 A.D. Emperor Justinian authorized his top jurist, Tribonian, to rewrite Roman law, making it compatible with orthodox Church law. The Codex Constitutionum was ready on April 8, 529 A.D. and came into force a week later.
This event was the crowning achievement of the era of Pergamos. The Balaam Church was now fully “married to power.”