He lived to minister to the needs of men.
From the crest of Olivet, Jesus looked upon Jerusalem. In full view were the magnificent buildings of the temple. The rays of the setting sun lighted up the snowy whiteness of its marble walls and gleamed from golden gate and tower and pinnacle. What child of Israel could gaze upon the scene without a thrill of joy and admiration! But far other thoughts occupied the mind of Jesus. "When He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it" (Luke 19:41). His tears were not for Himself. He wept for the doomed thousands of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been honored of God above all the earth. Had Israel as a nation preserved her allegiance to heaven, Jerusalem would have stood forever, the elect of God. But the history of that favored people was a record of backsliding and rebellion.
For three years the Lord of light and glory had gone in and out among His people. A homeless wanderer, reproach and penury His daily lot, He lived to minister to the needs and lighten the woes of men, to plead with them to accept the gift of life. But Israel had turned from her best Friend and only Helper. The pleadings of His love had been despised, His counsels spurned, His warnings ridiculed. The hour of hope and pardon was fast passing.
Christ forsaw the doom of Jerusalem and Jews scattered
Christ saw in Jerusalem a symbol of the world hardened in unbelief and rebellion, hastening on to meet the retributive judgments of God.
Jesus saw last-day rebellion
The disciples had been filled with awe and wonder at Christ's prediction of the overthrow of the temple. The future was mercifully veiled from the disciples. Christ presented before them an outline of the prominent events to take place before the close of time. The prophecy which He uttered was twofold in its meaning; while foreshadowing the destruction of Jerusalem, it prefigured also the terrors of the last great day.
By stubborn rejection of divine love and mercy, the Jews had caused the protection of God to be withdrawn from them, and Satan was permitted to rule them according to his will.
Jerusalem destruction a warning
Let men beware lest they neglect the lesson conveyed to them in the words of Christ. The world is no more ready to credit the message for this time than were the Jews to receive the Savior's warning concerning Jerusalem. Come when it may, the day of God will come unawares to the ungodly.
Loyal and True
When Jesus revealed to His disciples the fate of Jerusalem and the scenes of the second advent, He foretold also the experience of His people from the time when He should be taken from them, to His return in power and glory. Penetrating deeper into the future, His eye discerned the fierce, wasting tempests that were to beat upon His followers in the coming ages of darkness and persecution. In a few brief utterances of awful significance He foretold the portion which the rulers of this world would mete out to the church of God.
Paganism foresaw that should the gospel triumph, her temples and altars would be swept away; therefore she summoned her forces to destroy Christianity. The fires of persecution were kindled.
Persecution of Christians in Roman Empire
Wherever they sought refuge, the followers of Christ were hunted like beasts of prey. They were forced to seek concealment in desolate and solitary places. These called to mind the words of their Master, that when persecuted for Christ's sake, they were to be exceeding glad, for great would be their reward in heaven; for so the prophets had been persecuted before them. They rejoiced that they were accounted worthy to suffer for the truth, and songs of triumph ascended from the midst of crackling flames. Looking upward by faith, they saw Christ and angels gazing upon them with the deepest interest and regarding their steadfastness with approval. A voice came down to them from the throne of God: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
In vain were Satan's efforts to destroy the church of Christ by violence. God's workmen were slain, but His work went steadily forward. The gospel continued to spread and the number of its adherents to increase. "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed" (Tertullian, Apology, par. 50).
Christianity becomes popular
Now the church was in fearful peril. Prison, torture, fire, and sword were blessings in comparison with this. Some of the Christians stood firm. Others were in favor of yielding or modifying some features of their faith. Under a cloak of pretended Christianity, Satan was insinuating himself into the church to corrupt their faith and turn their minds from the word of truth.
Popularity brings corruption
There were some, however, who were not misled. They still maintained their fidelity to the Author of truth, and worshiped God alone.
Satan exulted that he had succeeded in deceiving so large a number of the followers of Christ. He then brought his power to bear more fully upon these, and inspired them to persecute those who remained true to God. These apostate Christians, uniting with half-pagan companions, directed their warfare against the most essential features of the doctrines of Christ.
It required a desperate struggle for those who would be faithful to stand firm against deceptions and abominations introduced into the church. The Bible was not accepted as the standard of faith. The doctrine of religious freedom was termed heresy, and its upholders were hated and proscribed.
Faithful Christians separate from established church
The apostle Paul foretold the great apostasy. He declared that the day of Christ should not come "except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." And furthermore, the apostle warns his brethren that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7). Even at that early date he saw, creeping into the church, errors that would prepare the way for the development of the papacy.
Little by little, "the mystery of iniquity" carried forward its deceptive and blasphemous work. Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and conformity were restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions. But as persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles. Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ.
Religious compromise leads to "man of sin"
Blasphemous claims of the papacy
Satan well knew that the Holy Scriptures would enable men to discern his deceptions and withstand his power. In order for Satan to maintain his sway over men, and establish the authority of the papal usurper, he must keep them in ignorance of the Scriptures. For hundreds of years the circulation of the Bible was prohibited. Unprincipled priests and prelates interpreted its teachings to sustain their pretensions.
Unauthorized changes to the Ten Commandments
Satan, working though unconsecrated leaders of the church, tampered with the fourth commandment also, and essayed to set aside the ancient Sabbath, the day which God had blessed and sanctified (Genesis 2:2, 3), and in its stead to exalt the festival observed by the heathen as "the venerable day of the sun." In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept by all Christians. But with great subtlety Satan worked through his agents to bring about his object. That the attention of the people might be called to the Sunday, it was made a festival in honor of the resurrection of Christ. Religious services were held upon it, yet it was regarded as a day of recreation, the Sabbath being still sacredly observed.
Exhaltation of Sunday
In the sixth century the papacy had become firmly established [538 A.D.]. The bishop of Rome was declared to be the head over the entire church. Paganism had given place to the papacy. The dragon had given to the beast "his power, and his seat, and great authority" (Revelation 13:2). Now began the 1260 years of papal oppression foretold in the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5-7. Christians were forced to choose either to yield their integrity and accept the papal ceremonies and worship, or to wear away their lives in dungeons or suffer death by the rack, the fagot, or the headman's ax.
The "Dark Ages" begins
Many who professed conversion still clung to the tenets of their pagan philosophy, and not only continued its study themselves, but urged it upon others as a means of extending their influence among the heathen. Serious errors were thus introduced into the Christian faith. Prominent among these was the belief in man's natural immortality and his consciousness in death. This doctrine laid the foundation upon which Rome established the invocation of saints and the adoration of the Virgin Mary. From this sprang also the heresy of eternal torment for the finally impenitent, which was early incorporated into the papal faith.
Bible teachings were corrupted
Still another fabrication was needed to enable Rome to profit by the fears and vices of her adherents. This was supplied by the doctrine of indulgences. Full remission of sins, past, present, and future, and release from all the pains and penalties incurred, were promised to all who would enlist in the pontiff's wars to extend his temporal dominion, to punish his enemies, or to exterminate those who dared deny his spiritual supremacy. The people were also taught that by the payment of money to the church they might free themselves from sin, and also release the souls of their deceased friends who were confined in the tormenting flames. By such means did Rome fill her coffers and sustain the magnificence, luxury, and vice of the pretended representatives of Him who had not where to lay His head.
The Scriptural ordinance of the Lord's Supper had been supplanted by the idolatrous sacrifice of the mass. Papal priests pretended, by their senseless mummery, to convert the simple bread and wine into the actual "body and blood of Christ" (Cardinal Wiseman, The Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Eucharist Proved From Scripture, lecture 8, sec. 3, par. 26). With blasphemous presumption, they openly claimed the power of creating God, the Creator of all things. Christians were required, on pain of death, to avow their faith in this horrible Heaven-insulting heresy. Multitudes who refused were given to the flames.
Popery had become the world's despot. Kings and emperors bowed to the decrees of the Roman pontiff. For hundreds of years the doctrines of Rome had been extensively and implicitly received, its rites reverently performed, its festivals generally observed. Never since has the Roman Church attained to greater dignity, magnificence, or power.
Moral and intellectual paralysis
Champion for Truth
A divine hand was preparing way for the Great Reformation. Foremost among those the who were called to lead the church from the darkness of popery into the light of a purer faith, stood Martin Luther. Zealous, ardent, and devoted, knowing no fear but the fear of God, and acknowledging no foundation for religious faith but the Holy Scriptures, Luther was the man for his time.
The fear of the Lord dwelt in the heart of Luther, enabling him to maintain his steadfastness of purpose and leading him to deep humility before God. He had an abiding sense of his dependence upon divine aid, and he did not fail to begin each day with prayer, while his heart was continually breathing a petition for guidance and support. "To pray well," he often said, "is the better half of study" (D'Aubigne, b. 2, ch. 2).
Martin Luther discovers a Bible
Luther was ordained a priest and was called from the cloister to a professorship in the University of Wittenberg. He began to lecture upon the Bible. His eloquence captivated his hearers, the clearness and power with which he presented the truth convinced their understanding, and his fervor touched their hearts.
Luther turns away from Rome
After his return from Rome, Luther received at the University of Wittenberg, the degree of doctor of divinity. Now he was at liberty to devote himself, as never before, to the Scriptures that he loved. He firmly declared that Christians should receive no other doctrines than those which rest on the authority of the Sacred Scriptures.
The Roman Church had made merchandise of the grace of God. Under the plea of raising funds for the erection of St. Peter's Church at Rome, indulgences for sin were publicly offered for sale by the authority of the pope. By the price of crime a temple was to be built up for God's worship.
Luther challenges indulgences
Luther determined upon a more effectual protest against these crying abuses. Luther, joining the crowds already making their way to the church, posted on its door a paper containing ninety-five propositions against the doctrine of indulgences.
His propositions attracted universal attention. By these theses it was shown that the power to grant pardon of sin, and to remit its penalty, had never been committed to the pope or to any other man. It was also clearly shown that the grace of God therein revealed, is freely bestowed upon all who seek it by repentance and faith.
The questions which he proposed had in a few days spread through all Germany, and in a few weeks they had sounded throughout Christendom. Many devoted Romanists read the propositions with great joy, recognizing in them the voice of God. They felt that the Lord had graciously set His hand to arrest the rapidly swelling tide of corruption that was issuing from the see of Rome.
Dignitaries sideline truth for expediency
Luther trembled as he looked upon himself—one man opposed to the mightiest powers of earth. But he was not left to become utterly disheartened. When human support failed, he looked to God alone and learned that he could lean in perfect safety upon that all-powerful arm.
Luther summoned to appear
The emperor occupied the throne. He was surrounded by the most illustrious personages in the empire. Never had any man appeared in the presence of a more imposing assembly than that before which Martin Luther was to answer for his faith.
Luther stands firm for the Bible
The next day he was to render his final answer. Not for his own safety, but for the triumph of the gospel did he wrestle with God. In his utter helplessness his faith fastened upon Christ, the mighty Deliverer. He was strengthened with the assurance that he would not appear alone before the council. Peace returned to his soul, and he rejoiced that he was permitted to uplift the Word of God before the rulers of the nations.
Calm and peaceful, yet grandly brave and noble, he stood as God's witness among the great ones of earth. The imperial officer now demanded his decision as to whether he desired to retract his doctrines. Luther made his answer in a subdued and humble tone, without violence or passion. His demeanor was diffident and respectful; yet he manifested a confidence and joy that surprised the assembly. "I shall defend myself as Christ did: 'If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.' . . . By the mercy of God, I conjure you, most serene emperor, and you, most illustrious princes, and all men of every degree, to prove from the writings of the prophets and apostles that I have erred. As soon as I am convinced of this, I will retract every error, and be the first to lay hold of my books and throw them into the fire" (Ibid., b. 7, ch. 8).
Those who stubbornly closed their eyes to the light were enraged at the power of Luther's words. The spokesman of the Diet said angrily: "You have not answered the question put to you. . . . You are required to give a clear and precise answer. . . Will you, or will you not, retract?""
Luther's final answer: no retraction
Said the spokesman of the Diet: "If you do not retract, the emperor and the states of the empire will consult what course to adopt against an incorrigible heretic."
Luther's friends, who had with great joy listened to his noble defense, trembled at these words; but the doctor himself said calmly: "May God be my helper, for I can retract nothing" (Ibid., b.7, ch. 8).
Had the Reformer yielded a single point, Satan and his hosts would have gained the victory. But his unwavering firmness was the means of emancipating the church. The influence of this one man, who dared to think and act for himself in religious matters, was to affect the church and the world, not only in his own time, but in all future generations.