“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:26)
During the first few centuries of the Christian faith, believers were subjected to periods of intense persecutions within the Roman Empire that were designed by Satan to wipe-out Christianity.
To be a Christian during these times often meant arrest and brief imprisonment, shortly followed by martyrdom. New converts to the Christian faith lived under the threat of having only a few years or even months to enjoy a walk of faith before they were captured by the authorities and given the option of renouncing their faith or suffering the consequences.
History tells us that the steadfastness and courage of the small but resolute Christian communities that were scattered throughout the Roman Empire during these times of persecution, won converts among the populace who admired the resolute demonstration of the Christian’s convictions compared to the emptiness of their own polytheistic religions based upon idol worship and mythology.
One of the effective lies that Satan concocted against Christians in these first centuries was the idea that the troubles and problems these societies were facing were caused in part by the stubborn refusal of the Christians to worship the pantheon of pagan gods that everyone else accepted and worshipped.
The civil authorities often used the Christians as convenient scape-goats to blame all sorts of government and social problems on.
Nero, the Roman emperor blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians.
The Christian communion service or “love feast,” as it was sometimes called, was slandered as a form of cannibalism.
Christians were seen by the authorities as social outsiders who did not attend the temple services and thus brought down the disfavor of the gods upon their societies.
The real truth was that, apart from not participating in the temple services to worship pagan gods, the Christians were among the most law abiding and peaceable citizens in all of the Roman Empire.
History records that Christians were actually known within their small communities as being sociably charitable to needy non-Christian strangers and Christians alike, and to women and children, without prejudice.
This unselfish character trait that exhibited in action the love of Jesus Christ, enabled Christians to stand-out favorably among the people who personally knew them or knew of them.
But this real truth about the first-century Christians did not prevent the misinformation campaign and persecution by the official government authorities.
The question may reasonably be asked, did not God love these early Christians who were crucified, burned at the stake, forced to fight gladiators, and killed by wild beasts in coliseum arenas throughout the empire, at various times during the first two centuries of the faith?
This is an area where the world has no understanding or concept of the Christian experience.
These early Christians, some newborn to the faith for only a short time, thought it a privilege to suffer and die for the Savior who had given His life on the cross for them (Acts 5:41). They knew without a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the world, and could not dream of renouncing Him before the Roman authorities or pagan temple priests to save their lives.
And the early Christians would not compromise the exclusivity of their allegiance to Jesus Christ as the only real God.
They would not agree to the very reasonable (from a worldly pragmatic standpoint) request of the authorities to worship and honor the pagan gods along with Christ.
The forgiveness of their sins and the new born-again spiritual life they enjoyed were of more value to the early Christian than anything else on earth.
This stubborn adherence to their Christian faith was incomprehensible to the worldly Greek/Roman culture of that day.
Christians sang songs of praise to God with uplifted arms as lions and tigers were unleashed upon them in the coliseum arena. Brave Christian men came out during the daytime to walk the streets of Rome, risking capture and certain death in the arena, to procure provisions for the people living under the city in the catacombs.
This sometimes went on for periods of years during the great persecutions, during the reigns of some of the Roman emperors. All of this is actual recorded history. We can visit the Coliseum and the catacombs in Rome today.
We do not fully understand why God allowed the life-plans of many of these early-century Christians to be so short-lived and to end in violent deaths.
These Christians evidently had enough internal peace and the courage of their convictions to stand-up and proclaim their faith against the onslaught of the entire Roman Empire. They planted their flag of allegiance on the hill called Calvary and to their king and savior Jesus Christ, and would not be moved from this position.
What if they had caved-in to the pressures of death in the arena, and considered their lives here on earth more important than standing-up for their faith in the face of such relentless persecution? The answer is that the Christian faith may not have survived.
With deadly precision Satan knew who to single-out as scapegoats, because he knows who the children of light are.
The Roman Empire did not aimlessly waste its time persecuting groups of people like the Macedonians, or Egyptians, or Spaniards, because these people belonged in good standing to the everyday worldly empire of greed, selfishness, ambition, and sinful pleasure that Satan controls.
The early Christians were persecuted because they were the New Testament church, the light of the world (Mt. 5:16), the Bride of Christ.
If Satan could get the early church to implode through persecution, he might impede or stop altogether the spiritual progress God was making in the world.
If Satan could not defeat Jesus at Gethsemane and Calvary, he might defeat God through these early Christians by intimidation and fear.
But God countered this evil strategy of Satan by empowering the unwavering and steadfast witness of the Christian’s faith in the face of this persecution.
Today we (in the wealthy and developed nations of the world) look back at the faithfulness of these early Christians with pride and celebration, yet their uncompromising courage and faith are difficult for us to relate to in our present-day, more normal pursuit of a peaceful and productive life.
If the modern-day Christian church is not raptured pretribulation, and experiences persecution in the last days, Satan may pull-out of his bag of lies this old lie that worked so well against Christians in the first centuries of the faith.
Christians may again be unjustly blamed for the problems of the world, this time by refusing to go along with everyone else and accept the mark of the beast.
This acceptance of the mark of the beast will be considered so reasonable and sensible by the world, in order to solve whatever political or economic problems exist at that time, that the stubborn refusal of Christians to go along will again be viewed as anti-social and subversive.
The mark of the beast will be a fallen, corrupted, worldly counterfeit version of the true spiritual unity between believers when we are “in Christ.”
The Christian’s discerning choice of the higher unity of the bond of the Spirit in love, and the rejection of the lower worldly counterfeit solution of the mark of the beast established through coercion and threats will not be understood nor embraced by the world.
There must be some motivating rationale for the whole world hating Christians as described in Matthew 24:9 “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.”
This scripture cannot be addressed to the early Christian church, because the next verse says “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Mt. 24:10).
This did not occur among Christians in the first three centuries. History tells us for the most part, at least up until the Decian persecution of 250 A.D. and the Great Persecution of Diocletian from 303 to 313 A.D., that Christians remained faithful to one another during the periods of intense persecution under the Roman emperors.
The bonds of friendship, loyalty, and love between Christians often grew stronger during times of persecution.
This backdrop provides historical context for a critique of one important cross-related scriptural problem with the concept that the Christian church will be raptured pretribulation.