Some consider the Boston Marathon to be the greatest race in the world. Hundreds train diligently, looking forward to this race, their minds set to give all they have. Who qualifies to run? Who is a winner? All those who begin at the starting point, and run the whole race according to the rules, and endure until the end are “winners.”
You cannot run the race without beginning at the starting point. If you try and jump in somewhere along the way, trying to deceive others into thinking you have been running all along, you will be disqualified.
In 1980 something very shocking occurred. From the cheering crowds in Kenmore Square, a mile from the finish, a woman wearing the number W50 slid almost unnoticed onto the course. Those who noticed thought she was a joker, or an over-enthusiastic spectator, but a few yards down the road the crowd took her to be the first woman. The impostor, deceitfully receiving the world’s glory and honor, was hoisted in front of the crowd and awarded the victory medal by the race director and the Governor. But the judges looked at her track record and, behold, her treachery was exposed. The world watched in astonishment as she was stripped of her glory. Justice prevailed and the judges gave the rightful winner her hard-earned reward.
Almost 2,000 years ago there was a people who started a different kind of race. They wanted to run it together in love. The starting point is described in the Bible. Their example establishes forever what true love and unity really is:
All those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need ... And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.1
For the first community of believers, this was the starting point for the race set before them by Christ:
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
There are qualifications to run this race. For example, Luke 14:33 — anyone who does not give up all of his own possessions is disqualified. Also Mark 10:29 — Anyone who fails to give up homes, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, children, and farms is disqualified. And according to Luke 14:26, anyone who holds on to even his own life is not worthy to run. The first people who obeyed Christ’s commandments responded like Peter, who said, “Behold we have left all and followed you!”2
The early believers literally gave up everything they had, qualifying to run the race of Christ. This is the starting point where all who qualify begin. All those who were baptized into the one body were together and had all things in common.
The early believers were off to a good start. Our Master Yahshua taught His disciples how to run the good race. He taught them to set their minds on the goal and not get distracted. For example:
Therefore I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear ... for the whole world runs after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:25)
Instead of being concerned with their own lives, they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching (obeying it), fellowship (sharing everything they had, both material and spiritual), the breaking of bread and prayer.3 That was what it meant to seek first His kingdom. They were devoted to loving one another just as their Master had loved them, for this was the essence of the apostles’ teaching:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
Apart from living this standard out day by day, they would be running in vain, as the apostle Paul said:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly. I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
To Paul, the possibility of being disqualified was real. He took seriously his Master’s admonition to strain every nerve to enter the Kingdom, because many would seek to enter, but would not be able.4
So what is the finish line? You can see it in our Master’s prayer just before He went to the cross:
I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You have given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that You sent Me, and have loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:20-23)
Love that produces unity is the race we must run and endure to inherit the Kingdom. This was the vision of the early church ...
... until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
So what happened? Where today can you find anything approaching that reality of oneness?
Christianity today boasts of continuing the race begun by the early community in Jerusalem. But wait! Who is this woman jumping in from the sideline, hoping no one will notice? She puts on a show of running the race, and the world cheers her on, ignorant of foul play. Somehow this deceitful runner, although she does not begin from Acts 2 and 4, but claims to be in the running for John 17:20-23, thinks no one will detect her deception. But the truth will become evident.
Secretly slipping in and unnoticed by most, she is widely accepted by the world as having run from the start. To some she cannot be taken seriously, but most people did not notice the quick change which occurred as she cut off her apostolic forerunners. Look at her track record and see if she deserves the glory she so willingly receives. Is there evidence to substantiate her claim to faithfulness?
We can see in John 13:34-35 and 17:20-23 that the world needs evidence to convince them of God’s love. In fact, it is clear that the world won’t even believe that the Father sent the Son to the earth unless there is visible unity among those who believe. From what we can see, Christianity in all her denominational divisions and bloodstained paths is obviously disqualified from the race.
God wants man to KNOW that He loves them. John 13:35 and 17:23 is the way that God gives revelation of His love for them. Somehow the world can’t be sure that God loves them unless they see the effects of His love in a people. In other words, if so-called believers don’t demonstrate complete unity and don’t have the same love for one another that God had for them, then the world will not be convicted and can’t believe.
There are many deceiving spirits that masquerade as being from God and give feelings to man to convince him that he is saved. But, in John 13:34-35 and 17:20-23 God has made a clear premise (a statement from which one can draw a conclusion) by which a man can know His love.
So, if John 17:20-23 are the true words of the Son of God, then Christianity presents a false premise by which the world is supposed to believe. The world is deceived by false evangelists5 who present a false postulation of unity (meaning that they assume something without any proof). Christianity presents a false premise as the truth and bases the whole religion on it. This is why division can be tolerated and justified. So most Christians have been brain-washed into believing that, regardless of outward separation and division, they are all ONE in a mystical unity.
But did not our Master desire to see the physical manifestation of the inward peace in the one Body, one faith, and one Spirit?6 And is the evidence of this unity not meant to be obvious enough that the world might, in observing it, be convinced that God sent His Son? All who truly believe in Him according to the true premise will be ONE as He prayed for and died for.
Most deny that actual, visible unity is possible in Christianity — and they are absolutely right. It cannot exist in Christianity. That impostor does not foster true unity. Her whole foundation is based on division. But the first Church was founded upon a different premise. The way they believed in the first century made this kind of love and unity not only possible but actually normal for all who believed. It continued to be so for several decades in the early development of the church.
What the first churches were like is naturally what all future churches would be like. They could not produce anything different or of a contrary nature, for they knew nothing else but that life in Christ of being together. They defined what believing in Christ meant through their normal response to the message of His death on the cross. But near the end of the first century we see the apostles laboring among those early churches to re-establish simple things like what eternal life is, what it means to believe, what faith is, what love is, what the church is, and on and on. What happened to cause such confusion among the churches?
By reading the letters of the apostles you get a clear picture that something changed, or that something else came into the churches to confuse them about these simple, fundamental aspects of salvation. Something foreign was introduced to these churches and it was taking them off course from what they had heard from the very beginning. As Paul said, “You were running a good race! Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”7 Somehow they had been deceived into thinking in a way contrary to what the apostles had originally taught them. Why were they going off track? What were they giving ear to and what would be the outcome if they continued to listen to these men with another gospel?
With the Galatians, false teachers added conditions to the gospel, but in other churches they took away from the gospel, cheapening it and rendering it powerless to save. By the end of the first century, they had all been disqualified:
... there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)
... I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. (Revelation 3:1-2)
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4-5)
Indeed, their lampstands were removed, and the churches went on in form, but lacking the power to love one another and truly dwell together in unity.8 Another spirit slipped in, masquerading as an angel of light, bringing a different gospel, based on a different premise.9 Just as Paul had warned, the pure virgin of 2 Corinthians 11:2 became the harlot of Revelation 17:4-5.
Revelation 18:2-3 says she became something she was never intended to be — a harlot and a habitation of unclean spirits, which masqueraded as clean spirits, having a form of godliness and holiness, but no power. The light had gone out completely. John, one of our Master’s closest disciples could see it coming, and it was recorded as Revelation.
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great ... she has become ...” The word become implies pre-existence, that a change took place, a transition was made from one nature to another. The woman of Revelation 18:2 did not develop from what we see as the starting point of the church among those first believers in Acts 2 and 4, but rather she is the result of a gross mutation. The woman in Revelation 18:2 bears no resemblance to the church of Acts 2 and 4. She is an impostor, with another nature altogether. She pretends to run the race that only the pure in heart can run. Imagine how she will feel when the great Judge removes her self glorification, and exposes the truth. The world will be amazed at her fall.
So where does this leave you? Do you find yourself trapped in that fallen religious system called Christianity? Take heart! Not all who are in the harlot are of the harlot. The angel of Revelation 18:4 cries out, “Come out of her My people that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”