Destination

John addressed the Revelation to the seven important churches in Asia Minor, and from these it received a wide distribution. Asia Minor was significant because the cult of Caesar-worship is dealt with at length in the prophecy- and Asia Minor was a major center of Caesar-worship. "Inscription after inscription testifies to the loyalty of the cities towards the Empire. At Ephesus, at Smyrna, at Pergamum, and indeed throughout the province the Church was confronted by an imperialism which was popular and patriotic, and bore the character of a religion. Nowhere was the Caesar-cult more popular than in Asia" (H.B. Swete, Commentary on Revelation [Kregel, 19771, p. IxXxix).

After Julius Caesar died (29 B.c.), a temple honoring him as divus (god) was built in Ephesus. The Caesars who followed him didn't wait for death to provide such honors, and, beginning with Octavian, they asserted their own divinity, displaying their titles of deity in temples and on coins, particularly in the cities of Asia. Octavian changed his name to Augustus, a title of supreme majesty, dignity and reverence. He was called the Son of God, and as the divine-human mediator between heaven and earth he offered sacrifices to the gods. He was widely proclaimed as the Savior of the world, and the inscriptions on his coins were quite frankly messianic -their message declaring, as Ethelbert has written, that "salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved" (Christ and the Caesars [Westminster, 19551, p. 88).

This pose was common to all the Caesars. Caesar was God; Caesar was Savior; Caesar was the only Lord. And they claimed not only the titles but the rights of deity as well. They taxed and confiscated property at will, took citizens' wives (and husbands) for their own pleasure, caused food shortages, exercised the power of life and death over their subjects, and generally attempted to rule every aspect of reality throughout the Empire. The philosophy of the Caesars can be summed up in one phrase which was used increasingly as the age progressed: Caesar is Lord!

This was the main issue between Rome and the Christians: Who is Lord? Francis Schaeffer pointed out: "Let us not forget why the Christians were killed. They were not killed because they worshiped Jesus. . . . nobody cared who worshiped whom so long as the worshiper did not disrupt the unity of the state, centered in the formal worship of Caesar. The reason the Christians were killed was because they were rebels. . . . they worshiped Jesus as God and they worshiped the infinite-personal God only. The Caesars would not tolerate this worshiping of the one God only. It was counted as treason" (How Shall We Then Live? [Revell, 1976], p. 24).

For Rome, the goal of any true morality and piety was the subordination of all things to the State; the religious, pious man was the one who recognized, at every point in life, the centrality of Rome. R. J. Rushdoony observes that "the framework for the religious and familial acts of piety was Rome itself, the central and most sacred community. Rome strictly controlled all rights of corporation, assembly, religious meetings, clubs, and street gatherings, and it brooked no possible rivalry to its cen-trality. . . . The state alone could organize; short of conspiracy, the citizens could not. On this ground alone, the highly organized Christian Church was an offense and an affront to the state, and an illegal organization readily suspected of conspiracy" (The One and the Many [Thoburn Press, 1978], pp. 92f.).

The witness of the apostles and the early Church was nothing less than a declaration of war against the pretensions of the Roman State. John asserted that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God (John 3:16); that He is, in fact, "the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20-21). The Apostle Peter declared, shortly after Pentecost: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). "The conflict of Christianit y with Rome was thus political from the Roman perspective, although religious from the Christian perspective. The Christians were never asked to worship Rome's pagan gods; they were merely asked to recognize the religious primacy of the state. . . . The issue, then, was this: should the emperor's law, state law, govern both the state and the church, or were both state and church, emperor and bishop alike, under God's law? Who represented true and ultimate order, God or Rome, eternity or time? The Roman answer was Rome and time, and hence Christianity constituted a treasonable faith and a menace to political order" (Rushdoony, The One and the Many, p. 93).

The charge brought by the prosecution in one first-century trial of Christians was that "they are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus" (Acts 17:7). This was the fundamental accusation against all the Christians of the Empire. The captain of police pleaded with the aged Bishop Polycarp to renounce this extreme position: "What harm is there in saying Caesar is Lord?" Polycarp refused, and was burned at the stake. Thousands suffered martyrdom on just this issue. For them, Jesus was not "God" in some upper-story, irrelevant sense; He was the only God, complete Sovereign in every area. No aspect of reality could be exempt from His demands. Nothing was neutral. The Church confronted Rome with the inflexible claim of Christ's imperial authority: Jesus is the only-begotten Son; Jesus is God; Jesus is King; Jesus is Savior; Jesus is Lord. Here were two Empires, both attempting absolute world domination; and they were implacably at war.

It was necessary for the churches of Asia to recognize this fully, with all its implications. Faith in Jesus Christ requires absolute submission to His Lordship, at every point, with no compromise. The confession of Christ meant conflict with statism, particularly in the provinces where official worship of Caesar was required for the transaction of everyday affairs. Failure to acknowledge the claims of the State would result in economic hardship and ruin, and often imprisonment, torture and death.

Some Christians compromised: "Sure, Jesus is God. I worship Him at church and in private devotions. But I can still keep my job and my union status, even though they require me to give technical homage to pagan deities. It's a mere detail: after all, I still believe in Jesus in my heart. ..." But Christ's Lordship is universal, and the Bible makes no distinction between heart and conduct. Jesus is Lord of all. To acknowledge Him truly as Lord, we must serve Him everywhere. This is the primary message of the Revelation, and that which the Christians in Asia desperately needed to hear. They lived in the very heart of Satan's throne, the seat of Emperor-worship; John wrote to remind them of their true King, of their position with Him as kings and priests, and of the necessity to persevere in terms of His sovereign Word.

How To Survive The End Of The World

How To Survive The End Of The World

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