Sunday, December 1, 2019

Smyrna - History Part 2 - The Persecuted Church

Temple Baptist Church - 12-1-2019
Revelation 2:8-11


1.  The Parabolic Interpretation of Smyrna – The Wheat and The Tares

2.  The Perennial Interpretation of Smyrna – The Ritualistic Church

3.  The Practical Interpretation of Smyrna – The Persecuted church

4.  The Prophetical Interpretation of Smyrna – The Persecution Age – 100-312 A.D.

A.  As we move into the 2nd Century of Church History, we will find no verses in the Bible (other than prophetical ones) that shed light on the subject.  The Cannon of Scripture was completed when John was given the Revelation on Patmos and that was in 95-96 A.D. 

B.  At this point, I want to be careful because history books are normally written by the survivors! The survivors normally write history from their perspective instead of objectively.

C.  Christianity has always faced both external and internal problems in every period of its history. The church had to face the serious internal problem of heresy and deal with it between 100 and 313 and, at the same time, it had to solve the external problem of persecution from the Roman state.

D.  Heresy rose its ugly head during the 400 Silent Years between Malachi and Matthew.  Throughout the New Testament, we find the writers dealing with the increasing influx of “wolves” that were creeping into local churches.

Matthew 7:15  Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

Acts 20:28-30  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.  (29)  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  (30)  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

E.  This morning, we saw the parable of “The Wheat and The Tares.”  The infiltration of the local churches by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Tonight, I want to take church history to explain the “crushing” of the local churches along with those who professed Christ.

F.  From 30 A.D.-100 A.D. persecution was normally sporadic and directed more at individuals.  Things were rapidly changing after the death of the apostles.

107 A.D. - Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians there to choose between death and apostasy. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, would not deny Christ and thus was condemned to be put to death in Rome.

110 A.D. – In a letter to the Christians in Rome, Ignatius asked them not to try to stop his martyrdom. “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”  Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, bravely met the lions in the Circus Maximus in Rome. 

112 A.D. - The first organized persecution, which brought Christians into the courts as defendants, took place in Bithynia during the governorship of Pliny the Younger.  When someone informed on a Christian, Pliny brought the Christian before his tribunal and asked him whether he was a Christian and was given three opportunities to renounce Christ.  If he still admitted the charge after three such questions, he was sentenced to death.

155 A.D. - Another persecution took place at Smyrna about the middle of the second century. It was at this time that Polycarp (6 A.D.-155 A.D.), bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of John the Beloved, was martyred as an enraged mob brought the Christians before the authorities.  He was bound, burned, and then stabbed when the fire failed to consume him.

165 A.D.- Justin Martyr (100 A.D.-165 A.D.) was one of the early Apologists.  In the early days of the church, we will look at two groups of men: Apologists and Polemicists.  Apologists were writers who stood for the truth of God’s Word and wrote “Apologies” or explanation of doctrine.  Polemicists (comes from the word polemic, which means to attack or fiery rhetoric) who were powerful “hell and damnation” preachers of the day.  Justin Martyr, the great apologetic writer, suffered martyrdom in Rome because of his writings.

180 A.D. - Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, writes the apology Against Heresies.

196 A.D. - Tertullian begins writing.  Tertullian is the author of many apologetic and theological works and is one of the most quotable of the Early Church Fathers. His is the famous phrase "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

230 A.D. - Earliest known public churches built.  This is of major interest.  In both the Old and New Testaments, the Tabernacle, Temples, Synagogues, and Local Churches were NOT OPEN to the public.  The local church is not a public place.  It is a place where God’s people assemble for worship, teaching, and fellowship!

249-251 A.D. – Decius was emperor of Rome.

250 A.D. - Decius issued an edict in 250 that demanded, at the least, an annual offering of sacrifice at the Roman altars to the gods and the genius of the emperor. Everyone was commanded to come to Rome once a year and sacrifice to the Roman gods.  Those who offered such sacrifices were given a certificate called a libellus.

Libellus - libellus (plural libelli) in the Roman Empire was any brief document written on individual pages (as opposed to scrolls or tablets), particularly official documents issued by governmental authorities.

The term libellus has particular historical significance for the libelli (the plural form of libellus) that were issued during the reign of Emperor Decius to citizens to certify performance of required pagan sacrifices in order to demonstrate loyalty to the authorities of the Roman Empire

Local churches were later agitated by the problem of how to deal with those who denied their Christian faith to get such certificates. Fortunately for the church, the persecution lasted only until the death of Decius in the next year; but the tortures that Origen suffered were later the cause of his death.6 Although there were periods of state persecution by order of the emperors, no major persecution occurred after that of Decius and Valerian, under whom Cyprian was martyred, until the reign of Diocletian (245–313).

Diocletian - 22 December 244 A.D. – 3 December 311 A.D.

Diocletian was Roman emperor from 284 A.D. to 305 A.D. After the defeat and death of the Roman emperor Philip the Arab in 249 A.D., the empire endured over three decades of ineffective rulers. The glory days of Augustus, Vespasian and Trajan were long gone, and the once powerful empire suffered both financially and militarily.

Diocletian was a strong military leader who came to the imperial throne at the end of a century that was marked by political disorder in the Roman Empire. He decided that only a strong monarchy could save the empire and its classical culture. In 285 A.D. he ended the dyarchy of the principate, created by Caesar Augustus in 27 B.C., by which the emperor and senate had shared authority. A powerful, orientalized monarchy seemed in his opinion to offer the only alternative to chaos. In such a despotic empire there was no place for democratic elements in government or for toleration of faiths hostile to the state religion. Out of this historical situation came the most severe persecution that the Christians ever endured.

303 A.D. -  “Great Persecution” begins under Diocletian and lasted until 313 A.D.  Diocletian ordered that:

The first edicts in 303 A.D. called for persecution of the Christians. Diocletian ordered the cessation of meetings of the Christians, the destruction of the churches, the deposition of officers of the church, the imprisonment of those who persisted in their testimony to Christ, and the destruction of the Scriptures by fire.

Those who renounced Christ later tried to join the church but were not allowed were called “traditories.”

Traditories: a term meaning "the one(s) who had handed over" and defined by Merriam-Webster as "one of the Christians giving up to the officers of the law the Scriptures, the sacred vessels, or the names of their brethren during the Roman persecutions".

Constantine the Great – Born Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (c. 27 February 272 A.D. – 22 May 337 A.D.).

306 A.D. – 337 A.D. - Constantine the Great was the Emperor of Rome.

312 A.D. – The Donatist Schism begins. This would give the church trouble later on when the Donatist controversy broke out in North Africa over how the traditores, those who had given up copies of the Scriptures to persecutors, were to be treated when they asked to be readmitted to the church after the persecution was over. A later edict ordered Christians to sacrifice to the pagan gods on pain of death if they refused.

312 A.D. - Constantine is said to have seen a cross in the sky with the Latin words for “in this sign conquer” before the battle at Milvian Bridge near Rome in 312. He won the battle.  Constantine supposedly converted to Christianity in 312 A.D.

313 A.D. - The Edict of Milan.  Constantine the Great granted freedom of worship, ending the persecution of the Christians.

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