The Church Flees to the Wilderness

During the first three centuries of its existence, the Church of God faced intermittent periods of harsh persecution. However, during those times, they were not singled out, but were generally lumped in with the Jews and a wide range of Christ-professing sects. Those persecutions were of limited duration and local in scope. The Roman Emperor Diocletian, from 303 to 313ad, unleashed the worst of these pre-Council of Nicea persecutions. These are the "ten days" referred to in Revelation 2:10.

When Constantine consolidated his power in the Empire, things changed significantly. Gibbon tells us that Constantine's religious devotion was "peculiarly directed toward the genius of the Sun. and he was pleased to be represented with the symbols of the God of Light and Poetry. The unerring shafts of that deity, the brightness of his eyes. seem to point him out as the patron of a young hero. The altars of Apollo were crowned with the votive offerings of Constantine; and the credulous multitude were taught to believe that the emperor was permitted to behold with mortal eyes the visible majesty of their tutelar deity.. The Sun was universally celebrated as the invincible guide and protector of Constantine" (The Triumph of Christendom, p. 309).

Four years prior to the Council of Nicea, Constantine proclaimed a law for the Roman Empire that was to have far-reaching implications for God's people. "The earliest recognition of the observance of Sunday as a legal duty is a constitution of Constantine in 321AD, enacting that all courts of justice, inhabitants of towns, and workshops were to be at rest on Sunday (venerabili die solis, i.e., venerable day of the Sun).. This was the first of a long series of imperial constitutions, most of which are incorporated in the Code of Justinian." About forty years later, the Catholic Church followed up on this imperial edict in "canon [29] of the Council of Laodicea [363ad], which forbids Christians from Judaizing and resting on the Sabbath day, and actually enjoins them to work on that day" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., "Sunday").

The very fact that, in the latter fourth century, the Roman Church felt the need to legislate against Sabbath observance shows that faithful remnants, particularly in Asia Minor, persevered in the Truth. This increasingly powerful church insisted that all must now accept the "Christianized" brand of Roman Sun worship. Those who refused were easily identified and could no longer function if they remained in the urban areas of the Roman Empire. Consequently, in the fourth century, those Christians labeled as Nazarenes disappeared from the populous areas of Asia Minor. For three centuries the remnants of the true Church had sojourned there, but with the enactment of this Sunday law by Constantine, they were forced to flee. The fourth century Catholic historian, Epiphanius, describes these people who differed "from the Jews and [Catholic] Christians: with the Jews they do not agree because of their belief in Christ, with [Catholic] Christians because they are trained in the Law. This heresy of the Nazarenes exists in Beroea in the neighborhood of Coele Syria and the Decapolis in the region of Pella... from there it took its beginning after the exodus from Jerusalem when all the disciples went to live in Pella" (Ray Pritz, NazareneJewish Christianity, p. 34).

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