By John J. Blanchard
March 10, 2007
Good morning, brethren. In 325 A.D. Emperor Constantine of Rome had a real dilemma on his hands. He was grappling with huge problems. The empire was crumbling about him. The empire was weary from fighting off its foes. The coffers, the treasury, was going dry. There was internecine strife and intrigue on the inside of the empire and threats from the outside. With all of this to face, Constantine turned to the only source of help that he could see at the time, that was emerging Christianity.
Constantine became the first emperor to convert to Christianity, and we are speaking of mainstream Christianity as you will see as we go through the sermon. He did this because of a dream before a major battle he was having with one of his enemies who was a general in the empire. In this dream Constantine saw that he was supposed to fight under the sign of the cross. He had all of his troops paint crosses on their shields, and he said you will be fighting under the sign of the cross of Jesus Christ today for victory. They won the battle. This converted Constantine.
Prior emperors found it in themselves to persecute and deny the faith. Constantine was the first one who did not do that. Previous emperors persecuted every sect of Christianity, which is the confusing issue today. Whether you were Catholic or not, whether you were part of the true Church or a Jew, the emperors persecuted them all. This was the first emperor to make a distinction.
Constantine chose an emerging sect in the church which was the Catholic Church. There were already many sects and divisions within the church, which made it confusing. There was a lot of argument about doctrine. There was a lot of arguing about organization and a lot of fighting for ecclesiastical power. This was not in the true Church that had descended from Jesus Christ but in the false church that was growing around the message of Jesus Christ. It was a very confusing time. Even Constantine found his new faith in dire trouble. He said not only do I have an empire that is crumbling, I have a new faith that is also in dire trouble. Three things became very clear to him. One, the empire needed unity in order to survive. Two, the empire needed healing through the religion that he had found, so, therefore, number three, Christianity needed to heal itself. It needed to get rid of its divisions over doctrine. He set about doing just that. He could see that the fate of the empire actually hung in the balance.
COUNCIL OF NICEA
Constantine had one major problem on his hands. He knew nothing about doctrine, so he became more or less just a facilitator bringing who he thought were the theological scholars of the day together at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. to wrestle with the problems of doctrine. I want to read my first bit of evidence, if you want to call it that, from The World Book Encyclopedia, 1983 Edition about Constantine.
“In 325, Constantine presided over the first great ecumenical (general) council of the Christian church. The Council met in Nicea, in what is now northwest Turkey, to deal with disputes among Christians, especially with the Arian heresy which placed Christ on a lower level than God. More than 300 bishops from all parts of the empire attended. The Council condemned Arianism and drew up a statement of essential beliefs, called the Nicene Creed.”
I want you to notice he brought together the theological powers of the day who were part of the Catholic Church (the bishops of the time). The true Church of God was not represented at the Council. Neither were the Jews represented, although both were discussed in detail.
I want to bring a few pieces of evidence throughout this sermon. I call them pieces of evidence but they are actual quotes from different sources, because I want to establish very firmly what happened back then as best as we can. Then we can understand the situation we find ourselves in today. It is very important to understand the past. So I want to read from another article from a book called Church History In Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. It talks about the main issue as well as some other surrounding issues that were brought into the Council of Nicea.
ISSUES AT NICEA
We already mentioned Arianism in the first article. This is a discussion of the nature of God. The issue was should they believe in the trinity or some other identity of the nature of God or the Jewish version, which no one wanted at the time because these people were not interested in Jewish theology. I am quoting now from Church History In Plain Language by Bruce Shelley, page 99.
“Of all things the Christians say about God, the most distinctive is that God is three persons. Worshippers stand and sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea; Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty! God in three persons, blessed Trinity.’” That was a hymn that they sang back then and right up to today.
He goes on to say, “No other major religion confesses or worships the three-in-one deity. Muslims and Jews find the doctrine offensive; Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses find it deplorable. Christians themselves are hard pressed to explain what they mean when they sing of the ‘blessed Trinity’. Most are content to treat the doctrine as a piece of sublime mystery. It wasn’t so in the early church. Fourth-century Christians felt a nagging restlessness about this doctrine, like scholars who have a piece of unfinished research.
“Three in One and One in Three, each identical and yet different? With such mysteries to disagree upon, it wasn’t long before everyone was calling somebody else a heretic. One bishop described Constantinople as seething with discussion: ‘If in this city you ask anyone for change, he will discuss with you whether God the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you ask about the quality of bread, you will receive the answer that “God the Father is greater, God the Son is less.” If you suggest that a bath is desirable, you will be told that “there was nothing before God the Son was created.”’ This is the age that formulated the doctrine. But what did they mean by the Trinity?”
You see, it was an age of tremendous confusion as to the nature of God. Even the man on the street was wondering and proclaiming their own opinions on the subject.
Mr. Shelley goes on to say, “What is the orthodox Christian understanding of the Triune God? The belief assumed major importance after Constantine’s conversion. When the emperor turned to the Christian faith he counted upon the church to bring new life into the weary empire. But, to do that, the church itself had to be united. A quarreling, divided Christianity could not bind the crumbling empire together. That is why Constantine was troubled by reports from all quarters of the bitterness Christians were displaying over theological issues.”
Continuing on the next page of his book, “Constantine recognized that the explosive issue had to be diffused. So, in 325, he called for a council to meet at Nicea, not far from Nicomedia in Asia Minor. What a vivid picture that first imperial synod made. Most of the 300 or so bishops had fresh memories of the days of persecution. Many could show the scars of suffering and prison. One had lost an eye during the persecution. Another had lost the use of his hands under torture. But the days of suffering seemed over now. The bishops did not set out for Nicea secretly, as they used to, fearing arrest. They did not painfully walk the long miles as they once did. They rode in comfort to the council, all their expenses paid as guests of the emperor.
“In the center of the conference hall at Nicea sat Constantine, who had at first thought that the whole issue was merely a difference in terms. Presiding over the early sessions, he appeared as a glittering figure in his imperial robes, which were no longer the austere purple garment worn by the emperors in Rome but with a jewel-encrusted, multi-colored brocades thought proper to an Eastern monarch. He spoke briefly to the churchmen, reminding them that they must come to some agreement on the questions that divided them. Division in the church, he said, is worse than war!” He knew this was his empire’s last chance at staying unified.
“Having made his point, he stepped aside committing the resolution of the conflict into the hands of the church leaders.” I would like to repeat, he knew nothing about doctrine. He was relying on these bishops to solve the matter.
Continuing, “The struggle with Arianism itself was settled quickly. The main question was whether Bishop Alexander’s condemnation of Arius would stand.”
Turning the page in his article, “Most of the pastors, however, recognized that something more specific was needed to exclude the possibility of Arian heresy. For this purpose they produced another creed, probably from Palestine.” Another article I read said it was based on a Roman Creed. The Nicene Creed followed by 150 years after what is called the Apostles’ Creed, which was the first creed the Catholic Church came up with. It was based on an old Roman Creed.
Continuing with the article, “Into it they inserted the extremely important series of phrases: ‘True God of true God, begotten and not made, of one substance with the Father.’ The expression homo ousion, ‘one substance,’ was probably introduced by Bishop Hosius of Cordova (in today’s Spain). Since he had great influence with Constantine, the imperial weight was thrown to that side of the scales. After more days of inconclusive debate the impatient emperor intervened to demand that this statement [this Nicene Creed] be adopted. Thus, there emerged that Nicene Creed, which to this day is the standard of orthodoxy in the Roman, Eastern, Anglican, and some other churches.” I was born and raised into a Catholic family, and I remember very clearly being told I must memorize this creed. It was one of the three creeds we memorized, the first one being the Apostles’ Creed, which is very similar to the Nicene Creed except they changed these few words. I will read this creed to you now.
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, who, for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe in the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. [Catholic means universal church.] I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen” That is the Apostles’ Creed. Emperor Constantine imposed his will upon the early Catholic Church to adopt this as doctrine.
That gives you some of the historical background. However, I mentioned that the Apostles’ Creed was based on a creed that was pre-Catholic Church era, and it was a Roman creed. It had the trinity in it. I have a timeline here which I am not going to read, but I will pass out afterwards. You can request it if you would like. This is research done that proves the trinity was actually in existence far before the Roman times. It goes back to Egypt and Babylon, back to about 2300 B.C. That is why this was nothing new to come into the church and get argued about. It was actually a pagan doctrine that has been around for a long time.
I want to read to you a little bit more about the trinity. This evidence, and I do not like to call it evidence. It sounds like we are on trial, but putting this doctrine on trial is probably a better way to put it. This is from a book called A History of God by Karen Armstrong. I am reading from the chapter called Trinity, the Christian God, page 107 in her book.
“In about 320 a fierce theological passion had seized the churches of Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor. Sailors and travelers were singing versions of popular ditties that proclaimed that the Father alone was true God, inaccessible and unique, but that the Son was neither coeternal nor uncreated, since he received life and being from the Father.” I am going to skip a little bit of other information here and go to the next page.
“The controversy became so heated that the Emperor Constantine himself intervened and summoned a synod to Nicaea in modern Turkey to settle the issue.
“Christians knew that Jesus Christ had saved them by his death and resurrection; they had been redeemed from extinction and would one day share the existence of God, who was Being and Life itself. Somehow Christ had enabled them to cross the gulf that separated God from humanity. The question was how had he done it? [So this author is showing us other ways of thinking about this that caused a big upset in people’s minds. How had God bridged this gap from divinity to human being?] On which side of the Great Divide was he? There was no longer a Pleroma, a Place of Fullness of intermediaries and aeons. Either Christ, the Word, belonged to the divine realm (which was now the domain of God alone) [in these theological arguments] or he belonged to the fragile created order.”
We can see, they were wrestling with huge issues here.
Continuing on the next page and skipping a paragraph, “The Cappadocians were also anxious to develop the notion of the Holy Spirit, which they felt had been dealt with very perfunctorily at Nicaea.” Even though Constantine thought he settled all the matters concerning this, as you will see here, there were still arguments about definition of terms, you might say. They were still trying to refine the doctrine because it was a mystery, as we read. It is a very difficult thing to wrap your mind around.
This is what they said in the article, “’And we believe in the Holy Spirit’ [From the Nicene Creed] seemed to have been added to Athanasius’s creed almost as an afterthought. [There was an argument about whether or not they just threw this in there? We need to decide what this Holy Ghost is.] Was it simply a synonym for God or was it something more? [People were confused about what this Holy Spirit was.] ‘Some have conceived the Spirit as an activity,’ said Gregory of Nazianzus, ‘some as a creature, some as God and some have been uncertain what to call him.’ Saint Paul had spoken of the Holy Spirit as renewing, creating and sanctifying, but these activities could only be performed by God. It followed, therefore, that the Holy Spirit, whose presence within us was said to be our salvation, must be divine, not a mere creature. The Cappadocians employed a formula that Athanasius had used in his dispute with Arius.” Now we are seeing some of the actual arguments put forth back at that Nicene Council.
Here is the argument, quoting, “God had a single essence (ousia) [which we mentioned earlier] which remained incomprehensible to us – but three expressions [within that ousia] (hypostases) which made him known. Instead of beginning their consideration of God with this unknowable ousia, the Cappadocians began with mankind’s experience of his hypostases. Because God’s ousia is unfathomable, we can only know him through those other manifestations which have been revealed to us as Father, Son and Spirit.” So these hypostases is how He “manifests” Himself.
Continuing with the article, “This did not mean that the Cappadocians believed in three divine beings, however, as some Western theologians imagined. The word hypostasis was confusing to people who were not familiar with Greek, because it had a variety of senses: some Latin scholars like St. Jerome believed that the word hypostasis meant the same as ousia and thought that the Greeks believed in three divine essences. But the Cappadocians insisted that there was an important difference between ousia and hypostasis, which it was essential to bear in mind. [Bear with me through this, because this is important as you will see eventually in the sermon.] Thus the ousia of an object was that which made something what it was; it was usually applied to an object as it was within itself. Hypostasis, on the other hand, was used to denote an object viewed from without.
“Sometimes the Cappadocians liked to use the word prosopon instead of hypostasis. Prosopon had originally meant ‘force’ but had acquired a number of secondary meanings: thus it could refer to the expression on a person’s face which was an outward depiction of his state of mind; it also was used to denote a role that he had consciously adopted or a character that he intended to act [as if in acting]. Consequently, like hypostasis, prosopon meant the exterior expression of somebody’s inner nature, or the individual self as it was presented to an onlooker. So when the Cappadocians said that God was one ousia with three hypsostases, they meant that God as he is in himself was One: there was only a single, divine self-consciousness. But when he allows something of himself to be glimpsed by his creatures, he is three prosopoi [meaning three hypostases]. Thus the hypostases Father, Son and Spirit should not be identified with God himself, because, as Gregory of Nyssa explained, ‘the divine nature (ousia) is unnameable and unspeakable;’ ‘Father,’ ‘Son’ and ‘Spirit’ are only ‘terms that we use’ to speak of the energia [which is energy] by which he has made himself known. Yet these terms have symbolic value because they translate the ineffable reality into images that we can understand.” If you could understand what I am talking about so far! I have a little bit more I want to read from this article.
“Men have experienced God as transcendent (the Father, hidden in inaccessible light), as creative (the Logos) and as immanent (the Holy Spirit). But these three hypostases are only partial and incomplete glimpses of the Divine Nature itself.” I am interjecting this at this point, we begin to wonder here how many God’s are there? How many hypostases are there really if these three are not complete?
Continuing on in the article, “But these three hypostases are only partial and incomplete glimpses of the Divine Nature itself, which lies far beyond such imagery and conceptualization. The Trinity, therefore, should not be seen as a literal fact but as a paradigm that corresponds to real facts in the hidden life of God.
“In his letter To Alabius: That There Are Not Three Gods, Gregory of Nyssa outlined his important doctrine of the inseparability or coinherence of the three divine persons or hypostases. One should not think of God splitting himself up into three parts; that was a grotesque and indeed blasphemous idea. God expressed himself wholly and totally in each one of these three manifestations.”
This is the argument, brethren, seventeen hundred years ago: what is the nature of God. Yet they came up with the idea of a trinity and could not explain it. So Greek theologians came up with all of this that I just read to you to try to explain what a trinity is. To this very day, no one can properly explain the trinity. We will see why as we go through the sermon.
Why I read all of this was to show you how bad and confusing it was back then because the trinity would rear its ugly head again seventeen hundred years later in 1993 and 1994 in God’s true Church. This same argument about the hypostases, the ousia, the substance of God and the nature of God would be foisted on God’s Church and lead to the fracturing and dismemberment of the body of Christ. God, however, knew exactly what was going to take place.
There are other issues that were dealt with at the Council of Nicea, and I have many quotes I could read you from The World Book Encyclopedia that we just quoted from and The Oxford Illustrated Book on Christianity and Church History. I am going to summarize them just to save time.
In these articles it would explain to you that at the Council of Nicea they also dealt with switching Passover to Easter and getting rid of Saturday Sabbath and adopting Sunday, as well as getting rid of the holy days and incorporating instead the pagan holidays that we see today like Christmas and Easter. I will quote from just one to give you a summary.
Quoting from The World Book Encyclopedia, 1993 about the Nicene Council: “The first council was called in 325 by Emperor Constantine to settle the dispute caused by the Arians over the Trinity. Arius was a priest of Alexandria who believed that Christ is not of the same essence but of similar substance. The Council adopted what is now called the Nicene Creed. This declared that God and Jesus Christ as God are one substance. The Council also fixed the time for observing Easter.” It was questioned whether the Christians should keep Easter or the Jewish observance of Passover. They also argued whether they should keep Sunday or the Sabbath.
These were other peripheral things to the trinity. The trinity was not the biggest issue, but the upshot of the whole conference was to stop letting Christianity look like Judaism. They did not want it to look like Judaism. Remember early on I quoted from the first source that both Muslims and the Jews found the trinity an abhorrent doctrine. Of course, they thought we do not want to look like Jews. If we adopt the trinity, we can settle our pagan issues and bring the pagans into the faith, while at the same time not looking like Jews. So these are some of the arguments that took place.
A MATHEMATICAL CALENDAR
I have another reference from The Historical Atlas of the Jewish People. I will just summarize this article. It is about the Christians within the Roman empire and how they dropped their Judaic roots and went with the old paganism philosophies. They wanted to switch the calendar. Here is what the article says about that.
“While the bishops released their faithful from dependence on the Jewish proclamation of the festivals, civil authorities intercepted Jewish emissaries who were dispatched from Palestine to inform the diaspora communities of the order of the calendar.” So Constantine said now that we have adopted Easter instead of Passover and we are switching from Saturday to Sunday, we want this to be the rule of law in the empire. When rabbis heard this was getting done, they were rushing out to tell their local congregations in scattered Diaspora. They were stopped by the Roman government. This led to a problem that is also rearing its ugly head today.
I am going to quote from this article a little bit more. “These circumstances were probably the cause for the decision taken by the patriarch (nasi) Hillel II [a very famous rabbi] in 359 to proclaim a permanent calendar calculated mathematically once and for all.” There are arguments in the true Church of God today about the calendar. A lot of times I have heard people say this Hillel was a terrible person because he changed the calendar. They say he tried to make it a mathematical formula.
Brethren, we do not want to get into that subject right now, but God gave the keeping of the oracles to the Jews, and there was a good reason. This mathematical formula was what Hillel used to make it possible for the Diaspora (the scattered Jews) to figure out the holy days, even when the Romans were putting up a false calendar on the wall and forcing everybody to have a false calendar that showed Christmas, Easter and Sunday, etc. Hillel said I’ll fix their wagon. I will come up with a mathematical formula that we can use. We will be able to make our own calendar no matter where we are, and it will be the right calendar. We owe the man a debt of gratitude, yet I have heard many people arguing about Hillel changing the calendar. If you do that, you are actually falling into the hands of the old Roman emperor’s edicts! Enough said about that.
There were other major issues settled at Nicea: Sabbath, Passover and Easter, and all of these issues besides the trinity. One other one, which I will not quote about extensively, but it is also in both The Church History in Plain Language and The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, and that issue is the use of icons. Icons and images were allowed after the Council of Nicea. There was a great argument about whether statues were to be venerated and icons worshiped and prayed to. At that council that was another matter that was discussed. They decided it was okay to have images. From 325 on, images became more and more prolific throughout mainstream Christianity. So that is what we find was settled at the Council of Nicea. There were many, many doctrines and issues that have affected the Church right down through time ever since then. It all had to do with trying not to look Jewish and to deny our Jewish roots. It is pretty hard when Christ is Jewish. We find at the first Pentecost the first three thousand converts were Jewish, and all twelve apostles were Jewish. How can we deny our Jewish roots?
The Jews were the ones that maintained the Old Testament for us, so that we would have it to this very day. It is pretty hard to throw the baby out with the bath water, but somehow mainstream Christianity was deceived into doing this. We will see how the deception really came from Satan and how it infiltrated the Church. People were just his lackeys. They were deceived. But, ultimately, what all of this led to was tremendous persecution for the true Church and for the Jews.
CHURCH AND STATE UNITED
Church and state united in opposition to the truth of God. This is a quote from Church History in Plain Language pages 96 and 97: “By 380, rewards for Christians had given way to penalties for non-Christians. In that year Emperor Theodosius made belief in Christianity a matter of imperial command: [You had to be Christian, but you had to be part of the universal Catholic Church to be considered Christian.] It is Our Will that all the peoples we rule shall practise that religion which divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans. We shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of the majesty of the Holy Trinity. We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with divine judgment.”
This led to tremendous persecution right on through to the inquisitions. That is how important the issue of the trinity was to the early church. It became a matter of life and death, as well as the other pagan doctrines that were adopted at that time.
Church and state really became united in one goal at Nicea, and that was to consolidate their power. Mainstream Christianity’s thorniest problem, though, has always been their Jewish roots and Jewish background. The earliest church, as I said, was all Jewish. They had kept the scriptures for us in the form of the Old Testament. Indeed, from 70 A.D. until 150 the Church pretty much had a Jewish identity. They were keeping the Sabbath, keeping the holy days and keeping Passover on the proper day. It was not until the issue became big in the 150’s when Polycarp and the disciples of the true Church of God fought with Roman emperors and bishops over Passover and Easter, and the Catholic Church formed its doctrines to fight this fledgling true Church of God. Ultimately, Constantine adopted that particular brand or sect of Christianity as his own. Once they had the emperor’s blessing, they took off and became the largest Christian denomination on the planet. So from 70 A.D. until 150 the Church has a very Jewish flavor to it, and then from 150 to 300 and a little earlier than that, it is sometimes referred to as the Catholic Christianity. It did not have the Roman stamp of approval. It was simply the Catholic Church, and they were persecuted, as we mentioned before. They were persecuted, but once they became the state religion, the persecution pretty much ended after the Council of Nicea.
Eventually this led to other problems, because the truth of God is recorded in the Bible. After Gutenberg’s press was invented, it came to be able to be read by many, many people around the earth. People started realizing what we are reading in the Bible does not square with what the universal Church is teaching us. This led to the Protestant Reformation.
In the Protestant Reformation you had very famous, powerful figures in history like Martin Luther and John Wesley and others. They noticed there were certain things in the scriptures they could not abide. They had problems with spiritual indulgences, buying salvation, buying certain benefits through the church and the lavish cathedrals. They would look and see a particular doctrine or several doctrines that they knew were in error and were not Biblical. They took the Catholic Church to task for it. This set up internal persecutions within the church, ultimately leading to the counter reformation which the Catholic Church adopted. This led to more inquisitions. This was a fight over doctrine.
When you look at the history of the Protestant Reformation it is interesting that they argued about indulgences, they argued about power of the bishops, they argued about the opulence of the Church and a number of things, but they did not argue about the trinity. By and large, they stayed with the trinity. Nobody wanted to look Jewish, so they did not go back to keeping Saturday Sabbath. They did not concern themselves with the holy days. They did not want to get rid of Easter and Christmas and go back to Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles. They saw certain errors, but their vision was very limited. Some of them were persecuted to the death once they realized there was an error, and they wanted to get it out of the church. They were persecuted to the death, and you must admire them for that. But they did not get the overall picture of what was really happening in the church and of all the thorny issues and the doctrinal problems that had sneaked into the church.
THE ROMAN SYSTEM
This systemic (and I will call it systemic) attack on the truth between a unified church and state has lasted now for almost two thousand years. It started right after Jesus Christ was resurrected. It found its footing in 325 and really got going, but we have been fighting this in the true Church of God now for about two thousand years. I want to turn to a prophecy concerning this Roman system.
Please turn to Daniel chapter 2. You will want to read the whole chapter about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about the big image. We do not have time to read the whole chapter. You can do that on your own. But if you read verse 28 Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar the following: “’But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these.’” Then Daniel goes on to explain what the king had seen. Notice he said this is for the king to know in the latter days. Let’s see something interesting starting in verse 31 and reading to verse 41.
This is a very interesting prophecy. In this great image that Nebuchadnezzar saw, he was seen as the king of the Babylonian empire. As we all know, comparing this to Daniel chapter 8, this is speaking of the four successive ruling empires: Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greece and Rome. But didn’t it say in verse 28 that this had to do with the latter days? The Roman empire left the earthly scene in about 550 A.D., but the Roman systemic persecution of the Church has lasted ever since. That is what I want you to note.
The stone that smites the image at the bottom of the feet is Jesus Christ, but has not Christ come once already? Did He not take away the sins of mankind with that coming? That is what will destroy the image. Jesus Christ came during the Roman empire, and that stone that is growing into a mountain is smashing that empire down. That empire disappeared.
There have been several attempts over the course of history to repair the physical damage, and every time they have failed to put together another empire that would last. But the Roman system decreed by the Roman government when the unification of church and state took place in 325 A.D. has endured. So the power of that last empire has been attacking the Church for two thousand years. Don’t forget it was the edicts that Constantine made at the Council of Nicea that the Catholic Church has used for the right to persecute everyone else who look like Jews. You see the connection? So it is still the Roman system that is still attacking the truth of God to this very day! But the power of God that came did smite the image on its feet. It will come again at the end of the age when Jesus Christ returns and totally smashes it. But it has been growing slowly as God builds His temple and His spiritual city, in order to eventually become the government that replaces Satan’s government and not the Roman government. We know the Roman government was acting under the dictates of Satan. I want to show you this very clearly. We are going to read two references to explain what I just said. The Roman system has continued to attack the Church, but it started under the inspiration of Satan the devil.
Turn to Revelation chapter 12, please. Read verses 1-5. Obviously this is Jesus Christ. Satan threw a third of the stars. That is not the physical stars you see on a clear bright night. That was one-third of God’s angels represented as stars. He took them and converted them to demonism, and he threw them to the earth. Then he himself and these demons tried to kill Jesus Christ when He was born. Yet, what did we see? If you were to take yourself back in time, what happened on that day in Calvary? Roman soldiers killed Christ. The real source of His death and the real enemy was this dragon. The Roman soldiers did not know what they were doing, which is why Christ said forgive them, God, they do not know what they are doing. He knew it was Satan getting Him killed. So we are not blaming the Roman government, and we are not attacking the Catholic Church. What we are doing is exposing the deception that has come upon the entire earth. People are doing Satan’s bidding without understanding that they are.
Now I want to go back to Psalm chapter 22. We are going to look at what Jesus Christ saw from the cross on the day He was crucified. What did He see when He was hanging on that cross? Psalm chapter 22 starts with a quote that Jesus Christ uttered on the cross.
Psalm 22, verse 1: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent.” This is a prophecy of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross uttering those famous words, why have You forsaken Me, God?
Verse 3: “But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed.” Christ is saying, You delivered Our people when they needed deliverance. Then He goes on to say in verse 6: “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me [He is talking about hanging on the cross.]; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!’ But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. Be not far from Me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.”
Now we are going to see the description of what Christ saw while hanging on the cross. Continuing in Psalm 22:12. “Many bulls have surrounded Me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion.” Who is a raging lion? Satan is a raging lion. Jesus Christ was surrounded by demons, which is why you see demons so often made into images of bulls.
Continue reading verses 14 to 21 of Psalm 21. When Christ was looking down on those poor Roman soldiers that He asked God the Father to forgive for they did not know what they were doing, He saw what was really behind them. He saw the power behind the scene. He saw the demons that were present all around the cross that looked like bulls, dogs, lions and wild oxen. That is what Christ saw. He said to God do not worry about these Roman soldiers. They do not know what they are doing. We are not attacking any nationality or any church. We are attacking Satan. You are going to see this as we go through this sermon. We will identify the source of the evil.
The Church identified the evil (the enemy) very early on. It is the fog of time that has obscured the knowledge the Church once possessed. Here in the last days it is starting to come back! We are starting to understand who the real enemy is. The real enemy has always wanted to destroy God’s truth. Satan is the father of lies, and he wants to destroy the truth of God.
We do not need to read Ephesians 6:10-20 because we are very familiar with it, but you can go back and read it later. It tells us that our real enemy is wicked spirits in high places. It is a fight over the truth. Remember, God says put on the helmet of salvation. Put on the breastplate of righteousness and the gospel of the truth on our feet. Put the sword of faith in our hands. This is spiritual warfare, brethren. That is what Ephesians 6:10-20 tells us. We are to fight the spiritual enemy (these dogs, these lions, these bulls). They are Satan’s demons over this earth. Our enemy is not the Roman empire or some revision of it. Our enemy is not another church. Our enemy is Satan. We have to defeat Satan and his demons. When Peter, James, John and Paul were attacked in their day, they also knew the source of the attack was Satan.
SIMON MAGUS TO LEAD MANY TO IDOLATRY
Now I want to go to a very interesting recounting of a spiritual battle that took place in Acts chapter 8. It has much to do with our sermon today, so we will spend a little bit of time in Acts chapter 8. Acts 8, verse 9: “But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God.’” Can you imagine? These people were calling Simon Magus the great power of God! If you were to look up the word “power” in the Greek it is dunamis. This means force and miraculous power. So he was claiming to be God’s great power. The people were saying this man is the great power of God. That term power (dunamis) is used in the New Testament to also describe the Holy Spirit, which is why the debate about the trinity said it is the force of God (the power of God). That was one of the definitions that they were calling the Holy Ghost. This man claimed to be that power!
Continuing reading in verse 11: “And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; [I want you to notice this. Simon himself also believed.] and when he was baptized with Philip, he was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.” This Simon Magus, who claimed to be the power of God, was a believer at one time and baptized.
Continue reading Acts 8:14: “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Simon Magus had only been baptized. He had not received the Holy Spirit, but do not forget that he had claimed to be the Holy Spirit.
Continue reading Acts 8:17 to 24. This is an incident recorded in quite a bit of detail in the New Testament of this Simon Magus who claimed to be the great power of God, and then he wanted to buy it. When he saw there was a greater power, he wanted to purchase it. Here Luke records for us that Peter told him, I perceive you are “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” (KJV) He said I see that this is not right in your heart.
Keep your finger in Acts 8. In II Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 7 Paul tells us (this is back about the same time), “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” In the King James Version, “The mystery of iniquity doth already work.” This is the mystery of iniquity at work. We are going to see as we go just what this mystery really is. It has a shape and form of hypostases and ousia, as we shall see.
Go back to Acts 8:9 “But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great.” They believed he was the great power of God, in verse 10. We are going to look at several things about this incident that Luke shows us.
First of all, Simon Magus was not a Jew. The rest of the apostles were. Basically what he wanted was to buy an apostleship. He wanted the same power that the other apostles had. Secondly, Simon was using demonic powers as a sorcerer. Thirdly, the Samaritans worshipped him as the great force and power of God, the dunamis of God. They were saying we recognize this guy is the Holy Spirit. Fourthly, Simon was baptized and considered himself a Christian. Fifthly, Simon recognized that there was a greater power in the apostles and tried to buy it. Lastly, Peter perceived that Simon was in the gall of bitterness and bound by iniquity. That was in Acts 8:23. We need to look at just what this gall of bitterness is.
I would like to turn to another quote. This was written by a minister in the Worldwide Church of God years ago by the name of Ernest Martin. I am quoting from his article: “Peter perceived that Simon was in the ‘gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity [lawlessness].’ NOTE: This verse has been misunderstood because the King James Version fails to give the full force of Peter’s accusation. This verse when understood in the manner Peter intended, is one of the most important of the whole chapter. IT IS A PROPHECY. Peter knew the mind of this man and what this man was to become. This is made plain by Sir William Ramsey in his Pictures of the Apostolic Church, p. 60. He says, ‘Peter rebuked him in strong and PROPHETIC TERMS. The PROPHECY is concealed in the ordinary translation: The Greek means “thou art FOR a gall of bitterness and a fetter of unrighteousness’”. So Peter was saying I detect not just in you a gall of bitterness, I detect you are for a gall of bitterness and a bond of unrighteousness.”
A cause of bitter corruption for others, Peter saw that this man was going to be a source of trouble for other people and bring them into a gall of bitterness and a bondage of iniquity.
Continuing in his article, Mr. Martin says, “This makes it plain. Peter was uttering a prophecy by the Holy Spirit. He was telling what this Simon was to become; Lang’s Commentary says ‘Peter’s words, literally, mean: “I regard you as a man whose influence WILL BE like that of bitter gall [poison] and a bond of unrighteousness [lawlessness]; or, as a man who has reached such a state.’” Not only was Simon, in Peter’s time, a great antagonist to the Church, but he would be the adversary of the future.”
The Simon Peter with the false doctrines who tried to buy an apostleship eventually led to the gall of bitterness and the poison doctrines which became the trinity, the false church and the whole nine yards. Peter was saying I see that you are going to be the source of this trouble. I have identified you. The mystery of iniquity is working in you. You claim to be the Holy Spirit, you are trying to buy the Holy Spirit, and you are in a state of bitterness, I know where this is coming from! This is coming from Satan! You better be careful. This is serious stuff that you are claiming to be and that you are trying to buy. That is why that is recorded in the Bible in such detail.
We are going to define the gall of bitterness as Mr. Martin says in his article: “It is also interesting to note Peter’s statement that Simon was to become a ‘gall of bitterness.’ People today may not realize the exact meaning of such a phrase, but no Jew in the First Century had any doubt as to its meaning. It was a figure of speech adopted from the Old Testament which denoted going over to the idols and abominations of the heathen. [false gods, in other words]
“Read in Deuteronomy 29:16-18 and see how plainly this figure of speech is used. When the Apostle Peter applied to Simon Magus the phrase ‘gall of bitterness,’ he meant that Simon would be the responsible party for the introduction of heathen beliefs and idols into Christianity. The prophecy takes on a new and important scope when we realize this real meaning of Peter’s prophecy. No wonder Jude later says, speaking about the very men who follow Simon Magus (including Simon himself): ‘For there are certain men crept in unawares who were before of old, ORDAINED to this condemnation.’ (Verse 4) We can be confident that Peter recognized that Satan was going to use this Simon Magus as the GREAT PROTAGONIST OF FALSE CHRISTIANITY. The later history of Simon Magus shows that Peter’s prophecy came true in a most remarkable way.”
There you have the source of the mystery of iniquity in the very earliest days of the Church. Peter identified him and prophesied what this man would become eventually. Now we are going to read in Deuteronomy 29. We will go back there, as Mr. Martin said. Deuteronomy 29:16-18: “’.(for you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we came through the nations which you passed by, and you saw their abominations and their idols which were among them – wood and stone and silver and gold); so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood.’”
This gall of bitterness and wormwood is poison and false doctrine. When Peter identified Simon Magus as a source of gall of bitterness, this wormwood, he was putting his finger on how Satan would introduce the false idols, the false gods, back into the Church. This would be the attack. It is fascinating that he would use Old Testament terminology to identify this man who wanted to buy the Holy Spirit and claim that he was the Holy Spirit. It is very, very interesting.
If you go to Deuteronomy chapter 32, verse 31 we are told more in the scriptures. “’For their rock is not like our Rock [these poor deceived people with these false gods, our Rock is Jesus Christ], even our enemies themselves being judges. For their vine is of the vine of Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter. Their wine is the poison of serpents, and the cruel venom of cobras.’”
The gall of bitterness and this wormwood are a source of false doctrine which the serpent speaks like in the Garden of Eden. The serpent speaks false doctrines and lies, and this is the poison and the venom that forms the gall of bitterness (a root of bitterness). Lies proceed from the mouth. False doctrines come from the mouth, but the source of these false doctrines is Satan.
Turn to Revelation 8 for another reference about wormwood. Revelation chapter 8, verse 10: “Then the third angel sounded: and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers, and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.”
This is not a star from outer space. This is Satan, the source of the wormwood, the source of the bitter water. Remember, Jesus Christ said I am the source of living water, and if you believe in Me, you shall become a spring of living water. When that spring becomes foul by the gall of bitterness and the poison of wormwood, you have now become bitter water. A third of the Church would get taken in by that and preach bitterness and lies in Satan’s name. This is not something that happened on the physical earth. This is within the Church of God.
If you want to see a reference about living water, just make a note of John 7:37-39 in your notes, but there are actually many places where Christ compares Himself to living water and those who preach the truth as the fountain and springs of living water.
Deuteronomy said to stay away from idolatry and false doctrine, or you will become a source of bitterness. Turn to Deuteronomy chapter 4 again. “’Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal Peor; for the Lord your God has destroyed from among you all the men who followed Baal of Peor. [false gods] But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you. Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess.’” This was telling the people to be careful not to get polluted again.
Continuing in Deuteronomy 4:6. “’Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?’” He says remember how amazing it is that God is so near to this little nation of Israel.
Continue reading Deuteronomy chapter 4 verses 8-14. The commandments include you shall have no other god before Me, and you shall make no idols. You shall keep My holy days and My Sabbaths forever. He said do not leave these because then you will teach bitterness, corruption and false doctrine.
He said remember on the day that we made this agreement and this covenant at Sinai when the mountain shook and the fire came down, that was a type of what happened at the first Pentecost. The fire came down on the people, and the brethren heard God’s word spoken because the breath of God came on to the apostles and those present. That was the true dunamis, the true Holy Spirit coming upon the Church. From that point forward, whoever becomes part of the true Church is part of that covenant agreement. They must never let false idols back into their minds and hearts, let alone bow down to false gods like the trinity or to icons and images and keep pagan holy days. You cannot have it and be part of the true Church of God.
So this was the issue that was settled at Nicea: If you want to be a “Christian,” you are going to keep the days we tell you. You are going to honor the god we tell you to honor, and it was the trinity.
GOD’S MIND POWER IN THE CHURCH
God’s mind power is at work in the Church and has been ever since. We have the mind of God, it says in I Corinthians chapter 2, which means we have the dunamis of God working within us if we received the Holy Spirit. We have that power of God.
Turn to John chapter 20. Christ was appearing to His disciples after He had been resurrected from the dead. John 20, verse 21: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Receive My dunamis. Receive My power. You notice He did this by breathing on them. They did not receive the Holy Spirit at that time. It was to come a short time later.
Let’s turn to Acts chapter 1. At another time when they were assembled together after His resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared among them. Read verses 4-7.
In verse 8 it states “’But you shall receive power..’” This is the same word dunamis (miraculous force).
Continuing reading Acts 1, verse 8. “’But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” This has taken two thousand years to accomplish, when Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong spread the true gospel to the entire world as a witness using the dunamis of God (the power of God). It is the same dunamis that Simon Magus claimed to be, and we saw there was another power out there that wanted to buy it. It is the same word. It took the Church a long time to accomplish that mission to a great effect. We have spoken about that in other sermons, so we will not get into that today. But the reception of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was key to having that power (that dunamis), and it was abhorrent to Peter that someone would actually want to buy it. I am sure when he heard that Simon Magus had claimed to be it in the first place, he could see he was in a gall of bitterness. He could see he was going to be a source of big trouble. He had better repent, and hopefully God would not destroy him.
Let’s go to Acts chapter 2 for the first Pentecost, and we will see what happened. Read Acts 2:1-4. When they had the Holy Spirit dwelling within them (the mind of God dwelling within them), they had the breath of life. We talked about that in previous sermons. That breath of life allowed them to speak the truth. You have to inhale in order to speak words. In order to speak spiritual words, you have to be able to inhale spiritual air, the breath of God. You have to have the Holy Spirit, and this is what Simon wanted to buy. But what does that tell us?
Speech is not another person. If I was to stand here and tell you I am doing this sermon (John Blanchard is speaking), but my words are another person, would you think I was nuts? That is one of the ways the people describe the trinity. It is the force of God, the word of God, it is this other hypostasis. Jesus Christ’s breath and His words come from the same mind. These are my words from my mouth which my mind decided to say at this moment. They are not three different people talking to you at one time. But when you use hypostases and ousia and substances and confuse people on the matter, people start to think there is more than one God, a triune god.
This becomes a very serious issue, brethren, because since we have the mind of God working with us once we receive the Holy Spirit, we do have the ability to preach the truth. We have to keep it pure. Satan wants to introduce errors and lies. We must not say that God is a triune god and confuse people with a false god. There is another being out there who wants to be equal with God. Who is that other being? That would be Satan. Is he not also sometimes called a ghost? Wouldn’t he like to be called a holy ghost!
If you look at the epistles, they were all written by introducing themselves to God the Father and Jesus Christ. I greet you in the name of God the Father and Jesus Christ. They always leave off the Holy Spirit. You do not need to say, “and the Holy Spirit.” That would be like saying I greet you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of Jesus Christ’s words or of Jesus Christ’s power, because it is the same thing. It is His words, it is His mind, it is His power, it is Him. It is not a third one. There is only one being in the entire universe who ever thought he could become like God, and that is Satan.
If you would please, turn to Matthew chapter 4. This is the temptation of Jesus Christ. Read Matthew 4:1-11. Brethren, if Jesus Christ had bowed down to Satan, Satan would have become part of a trinity because you only worship God. Satan wanted to be god from day one when evil entered his heart. Isaiah 14 tells us that Lucifer’s fall was mighty.
ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION
We have just enough time to turn to Isaiah chapter 14 very quickly. Verse 12: “’How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.” [like God] Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.’”
II Thessalonians chapter 2 says in the last days he eventually would sit in the temple of God showing himself that he is god. That is how you see in Daniel chapter 2 that the edicts of Constantine combined with the universal church in 325 were used by Satan to attack the truth of God for seventeen hundred years. Eventually in 1993 and 1994, what came around into the true Church of God? There was a discussion about the trinity, the ousia, the hypostases, the image and substance and nature of God.
When the Church started to bow down to the false god (the abomination of desolation), those with eyes to see and ears to hear did not fully comprehend, but they fled and ran. It has led to the disintegration of the Church in the last days. But God has allowed us to see and identify the son of perdition and to identify the mystery of iniquity that has been working to attack the Church for two thousand years. It has now caused a royal mess in God’s Church. But we are on to him, and God is going to help us. We will win! The abomination of desolation is not a permanent state of the Church. We are going to get back on our feet with the breath of God, preach the truth and be ready as the bride of Christ by getting rid of every spot and blemish. May His day and His coming be very soon, which I am sure it will. We will get rid of the abomination of desolation, the trinity and every false form of worship that Satan has foisted upon mankind.