January 19, 2023 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Ted N.C. Wilson, President, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Greetings, friends! Today we continue on our journey through that marvelous book, The Great Controversy, by Ellen White. If you do not yet have a copy, I urge you to visit greatcontroversyproject.org where you can download your free copy today.
Today we are looking at some of the highlights from chapter 2, titled “Persecution in the First Centuries.”
From the very beginning, Christ’s followers suffered humiliation, suffering, and persecution. Seeking to prepare them, Jesus warned: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world . . . the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you. A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20).
For a time, Christ’s followers experienced terrible suffering. They were stripped of their possessions and driven from their homes. This was followed by severe persecution, beginning under Nero about the time of the martyrdom of Paul, and continued for centuries.
We read, “Christians were falsely accused of the most dreadful crimes and declared to be the cause of great calamities . . . As they became the objects of popular hatred and suspicion, informers stood ready, for the sake of gain, to betray the innocent. They were condemned as rebels against the empire, as foes of religion, and pests to society. 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” (p. 40).
Nevertheless, in spite of this intense persecution, the number of Christians steadily increased. “You may ‘kill us, torture us, condemn us,” wrote an early Christian to the Roman rulers. “Your injustice is the proof that we are innocent . . . The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed” (Tertullian, Apology, par. 50, quoted in GC, pp. 41, 42).
Since Satan wasn’t succeeding in wiping out Christ’s followers through brutal persecution, tried a different, more deceptive approach. “If the followers of Christ could be deceived and led to displease God, then their strength, fortitude, and firmness would fail, and they would fall an easy prey,” wrote Ellen White (GC, p. 42).
“Persecution ceased, and in its stead were substituted the dangerous allurements of temporal prosperity and worldly honor. Idolaters were led to receive a part of the Christian faith, while they rejected other essential truths. They professed to accept Jesus as the Son of God and to believe in His death and resurrection, but they had no conviction of sin and felt no need of repentance or of a change of heart” (GC, p. 42).
And this is how compromise came into the Church; and with compromise came corruption. “The Bible was not accepted as the standard of faith,” with pagan rituals and festivals becoming a part of the Church’s practice, and “the doctrine of religious freedom was termed heresy, and its upholders were hated. . .” (GC, p. 45).
Nevertheless, God still had those who would not compromise under any circumstances. Although ridiculed and marginalized for their faithfulness, these early Christians remained steadfast to the teachings of Christ and His disciples.
Commenting on the importance of faithfulness today, Ellen White writes, “Well would it be for the church and the world if the principles that actuated those steadfast souls were revived in the hearts of God’s professed people. There is an alarming indifference in regard to the doctrines which are the pillars of the Christian faith. The opinion is gaining ground that, after all, these are not of vital importance. This degeneracy is strengthening the hands of the agents of Satan, so that false theories and fatal delusions which the faithful in ages past imperiled their lives to resist and expose, are now regarded with favor by thousands who claim to be followers of Christ” (p. 46).
Friends, we are living in serious times. Our only safety is to build on the solid rock of God’s Word. How important it is to ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we study the Bible, understand its divine teachings, accept them into our hearts, and then share these great truths in love with a world in need.
As we close, let me again encourage you, if you have not already done so, to download this marvelous book, The Great Controversy, at greatcontroversyproject.org. I am certain you will be blessed.
Let’s pray together:
Father in heaven. We thank you that through persecution, through martyrdom, through great challenges, you have sustained your people. You have given them the strength to carry through, even under the most difficult and trying times. Help us as we look to the future to realize that as a persecuted Jesus, they will persecute us as his followers. But help us never to lose heart. Help us to rely completely on the power, the strength and the guidance of the throne room of Heaven. Now, Lord, bless those who will be downloading the great controversy. Bless as they read these powerful chapters, as they understand the relevancy for them and for each of us today. And as we look to the future, we are so grateful to know that Jesus is coming soon. Thank you for hearing us in Christ name. We ask it, Amen.