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CHRIST UNVEILS THE FUTURE
Scripture clearly outlines the events leading up to our Savior's return. Bible prophecy presents the unfolding panorama of events from the days of the prophets till the close of time. This information forms a picture that has convinced millions of Bible readers that Christ's coming is “near, even at the doors.” Prophecy studied in connection with the history of the church serves as a “roadmap” for those who are waiting in eager anticipation for Christ's soon coming.
“And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: ... and said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
“And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Mt. 24:1-3.
Persecution to come
Turning to the disciples, Christ said, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” Mt. 24:9, 10. All this the Christians suffered. Fathers and mothers betrayed their children. Children betrayed their parents. Friends delivered their friends up to the Sanhedrin. The persecutors wrought out their purpose by killing Stephen, James, and other Christians.
Through His servants, God gave the people a last opportunity to repent. He manifested Himself through His witnesses. Yet their judges pronounced on them the death sentence. By killing them they crucified afresh the Son of God.
The time to flee
From the destruction of Jerusalem, Christ passed on rapidly to the greater event, the last link in the chain of this earth's history-the coming of the Son of God in majesty and glory. Between these two events, there lay open to Christ's view long centuries of darkness, centuries for His church marked with blood and tears and agony. Upon these scenes His disciples could not then endure to look, and Jesus passed them by with a brief mention. “Then shall be great tribulation,” He said, “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.” Mt. 24:21,22.
For more than a thousand years such persecution as the world had never before known was to come upon Christ's followers. Millions upon millions of His faithful witnesses were to be slain. Had not God's hand been stretched out to preserve His people, all would have perished. “But for the elect's sake,” He said, “those days shall be shortened.”
Persecution & Apostasy
The powers of earth and hell arrayed themselves against Christ in the person of His followers. Christians were stripped of their possessions and driven from their homes. Great numbers sealed their testimony with their blood. These persecutions, beginning under Nero about the time of the martyrdom of Paul, continued with greater or less fury for centuries. Great numbers were thrown to wild beasts or burned alive in the amphitheaters. Some were crucified; others were covered with the skins of wild animals and thrust into the arena to be torn by dogs. Their punishment was often made the chief entertainment at public fetes. Vast multitudes assembled to enjoy the sight and greeted their dying agonies with laughter and applause. “Destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Heb. 11:37, 38.
The followers of Christ must tread the same path of humiliation, reproach, and suffering which their Master trod. Under the fiercest persecution these witnesses for Jesus kept their faith unsullied. The loss of every earthly blessing could not force them to renounce their belief in Christ. 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 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.” Rev. 2:10.
In vain were Satan's efforts to destroy the church of Christ by violence. God's workmen were slain, but the gospel continued to spread and the number of its adherents to increase. Said a Christian, You may “kill us. torture us, condemn us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed." -Tertullian Apology, par. 50. Their living example and dying testimony were a constant witness for the truth; and where least expected, the subjects of Satan were leaving his service and enlisting under the banner of Christ.
A different plan of attack
Most of the Christians at last consented to lower their standard, and a union was formed between Christianity and paganism. As the followers of Christ united with idolaters, the Christian religion became corrupted, and the church lost her purity and power.
The apostle Paul foretold this 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, ...” 2 Thes. 2.3, 4.
The nominal conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine, in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit controlled the church. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ. This compromise between paganism and Christianity resulted in the development of “the man of sin” foretold in prophecy as opposing and exalting himself above God. 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.
The Papacy replaces paganism
The accession of the Roman Church to power marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. The gospel was withheld from the people. It was regarded as a crime to own or read the Scriptures. They were almost unknown, not only to the people, but to the priests. God's law, the standard of righteousness, having been removed, they exercised power without limit, and practiced vice without restraint. For centuries Europe made no progress in learning, arts, or civilization. “The noon of the papacy was the midnight of the world." -J A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, b. 1. ch. 4.
In lands beyond the jurisdiction of Rome there existed for many centuries bodies of Christians who remained almost wholly free from papal corruption.
The church in the wilderness
Of those who resisted the encroachments of the papal power, the Waldenses stood foremost. Behind the lofty bulwarks of the mountains the Waldenses found a hiding place. Here, amid the darkness of the Middle Ages the light of truth was kept burning for a thousand years.
The very existence of this people, holding the faith of the ancient church, was a constant testimony to Rome's apostasy, and therefore excited the most bitter hatred and persecution. Their refusal to surrender the Scriptures was also an offense that Rome could not tolerate. She determined to blot them from the earth. They were hunted to death; yet scattered over many lands, they planted the seeds of the Reformation that began in the time of Wycliffe, grew broad and deep in the days of Luther, and is to be carried forward to the close of time.
Rays of Hope"
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Created: 11/12/02 Updated: 05/21/04