Where Did the Gospel Come From?Jan 8, 2022
What does the return of the Jews from Babylon, and Abraham’s call to leave Ur and go to the Promised Land have to do with the Gospel? EVERYTHING!
For forty years, the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah had warned his people of the judgment that was coming upon them for their idolatry and rebellion, but few heeded his message. When the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon finally surrounded and laid siege to the city in 586 BC, it was too late to repent. Jerusalem was laid waste, the Temple destroyed, and all but the poorest survivors were carried away to Babylon where Jeremiah had prophesied they would remain for 70 years.[fn]The seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy began with the “good figs” of Jeremiah 24 that Nebuchadnezzar carried away in his first conquest of Jerusalem. They were “the best and brightest Jews” the historian Ken Shapiro refers to below — King Jeconiah, his officials, and the craftsman and smiths of Jerusalem. The years would end in 536 BC with the edict of Cyrus recorded in Ezra 1.[/fn]
But Jeremiah had also given them the hope of returning to their land when their time of discipline was over, and it is thrilling to read of the Persian conquest of Babylon at the end of those 70 years, and their release from captivity by King Cyrus:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all His people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel — He is the God who is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1-3)
What an amazing fulfillment of prophecy! You can go on to read of their return to rebuild the Temple, followed by the exciting story of how Nehemiah rallied the people to rebuild the city walls in only 52 days, despite intense opposition. It would be quite reasonable to envision all the exiles bursting forth from their long captivity to return to their beloved city and rebuild her walls and restore her former glory.
By the Waters of Babylon
But a closer look at history reveals the shocking fact that there were about one million Jews living in Babylon at the end of their 70-year exile, and fewer than 50,000 returned to Jerusalem. Less than 5 percent! Why did so few respond? The sad truth is that more than 95 percent preferred the comforts of their life in Babylon to the sufferings of returning and rebuilding Jerusalem[fn]Rabbi Ken Spiro, “Crash Course in Jewish History #24 – Purim in Persia,” http://www.aish.com/literacy/jewishhistory. See also Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (11.8).[/fn] and restoring the life of God in the one place on earth He had chosen for His name to dwell.[fn]Deuteronomy 12:13-14; 16:2,5,6; Nehemiah 1:8-9; 1 Kings 11:36; 14:21[/fn]
As one historian put it, after arriving in the land of their exile, “… they forged a new national identity and a new religion.”[fn]http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile.html[/fn]
In the first foray, the Babylonians did not destroy the Temple, nor send the Jews into exile. However, they did succeed in taking into captivity 10,000 of the best and brightest Jews. While it seemed like a terrible disaster at the time, these brilliant men, Torah scholars all, immediately established a Jewish infrastructure upon arrival in Babylon. A dozen years later when the Temple was destroyed, the Jews who were exiled to Babylon found there yeshivas, synagogues, kosher butchers, etc., all the essentials for maintaining a Jewish life…[fn]Ken Spiro, “Crash Course in Jewish History #43 – Jews in Babylon,” http://www.aish.com/literacy/jewishhistory[/fn]
… all except the Temple sacrifices, that is, which were their only means of being forgiven of their sins. Thus the synagogue was born to soothe the guilty consciences of a people banished from their land for their rebellion and idolatry, while their sins piled up as high as heaven. Once a week, they would gather to be led through a ritual of psalms, prayers, and readings from the Law which they had spurned and the Prophets which they had ignored. At first they mourned, as the psalmist wrote:
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing Yahweh’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! (Psalm 137:1-6)
But somewhere along the way they stopped mourning, and moved on to making the most of their circumstances. Indeed, their fertile flocks, fruitful fields, and financial finesse carved out a comfortable niche for them in the land of their captivity. They built more schools and more synagogues that nurtured a new generation who were quite content with a mythical Jerusalem and a mystical religion far removed from the simple faith of their father Abraham who had left that very land so long ago.
The Faith of Abraham
Abraham had looked up at the very same stars that shone over their heads, longing to know the One who had filled the expanse of heaven with such glory, and longing to know the purpose for his existence. He was not content with the rich life of Ur, nestled in the fertile floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, or even Haran where his family settled for a time. That is why his heart could be stirred by the Spirit of his Creator, and that is why he had ears to hear the voice that said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”[fn]Genesis 12:1[/fn]
How fond and tender must have been the farewells of Abraham as he kissed his loved ones goodbye forever, placed his life in the care of his God, and set his face toward an unknown land! Abraham did not shrink back from leaving all behind — family, friends, and material security — to follow that voice to the land of promise. His faith caused him to obey God.
1,500 years later, that same voice called out to Abraham’s wayward offspring to leave that same land of worldly comfort and return to the same land of heavenly promise, but only a few responded — only those whose hearts could still be stirred.[fn]Ezra 1:3,5[/fn] And just like Abraham, they left everything behind to follow that voice — family, friends, possessions, plans, comfort, and security — in order to restore the desolate heritage of Abraham and redeem the name of his God.
To the rest — almost a million Jews — the good news of release from their captivity did not sound so good. In fact, it was the fragrance of death to them, not the fragrance of life.[fn]2 Corinthians 2:16[/fn] Surely (or so they thought), their God was not so unreasonable as to expect them to literally leave everything they had worked so hard to establish, since He had so obviously blessed them, not only materially, but also with a rich social and religious life. It was fine for the adventurous few to risk their lives on a long and dangerous journey, and wear themselves out trying to restore what lay in ruins. But they could worship their God just as well in Babylon (or so they thought), and in their hearts they would take identity with their zealous brothers in Jerusalem, and send their tithes and offerings. After all, who would finance the work if they were all so reckless as to leave everything for which they had labored?
The New Religion of the Jews
Meanwhile, the new religion of Judaism (not to be confused with the obedient faith of Abraham) continued to flourish in the land of Babylon, its spiritual center, independent of the restored Temple worship in Jerusalem. They even chose their own ruler from the line of King David, who, although he was not called a king, was recognized as their nobleman by the Persian government.[fn]Ken Spiro, “Crash Course in Jewish History #43 – Jews in Babylon,” http://www.aish.com/literacy/jewishhistory[/fn] This new “Davidic dynasty” continued in Babylon for over 1,500 years.[fn]Until about 1000 AD[/fn] By the end of that time, their rabbinic academy had compiled every jot and tittle of their new religion into what became known as the Babylonian Talmud,the most authoritative document of Judaism, eclipsing even the Torah itself. To them, only through the lens of their published commentaries could the Torah be properly understood and applied.
The Jewish religion that had incubated in Babylon was inevitably carried back to Jerusalem by the courageous few who returned, so that even after the Temple was rebuilt and the ministry of the Levitical priesthood restored, what emanated from it was at best a diluted mixture — a few parts Abraham’s faith and many parts “essence of Babylon.” Five hundred years later, at the dawn of the first century AD, all that remained was lifeless ritual and a handful of faithful men and women suffering under the control of a religious elite who had carved out a comfortable niche for themselves under Roman rule.
Under Roman rule, the Jews were effectively exiles in their own land, a virtual Babylon, where they were allowed to practice their religion as long as it was no threat to their Roman overlords. And it was no threat as long as there were no prophets stirring up the people and reminding them of who they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to do as God’s holy people. The last true prophet of Israel had been Malachi, over 400 years earlier, who had denounced their corrupt priesthood and the lame sacrifices being offered up in the Temple only a few decades after its restoration, expressing the cry of God’s heart:
“Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on My altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you,” says the LORD of hosts, “and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to My name, and a pure offering. For My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:10-11)
It was a shocking thing to say, seemingly contradicting the clear instruction given in the Law that the priestly sacrifices could only be offered up in the one place their God had caused His name to dwell, namely in Jerusalem.[fn]Deuteronomy 12:13-14; 16:2,5,6; 1 Kings 11:36; 14:21[/fn] It was a “wake up” call to what was left of the holy nation, letting them know that if they didn’t repent He would look elsewhere for a holy people — beyond the borders of Israel.[fn]Malachi 1:5[/fn] He would do exactly what Moses himself had prophesied:
They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. (Deuteronomy 32:21)[fn]13 Romans 10:19; 11:11-14; 1 Peter 2:9-10[/fn]
Malachi went on to speak of a messenger who would come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah. That messenger was John the Baptist, who had these opening words for the descendants of the corrupt priests of Malachi’s day:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10)
John merely spoke the plain truth: Even though they were physically in the land and offering sacrifices in the Temple, spiritually they were just as far removed from the life and heart of God as if they were still in Babylon. Their lame sacrifices were not accepted and their sins were piling up to heaven. The sharp rebuke sent shivers through the sensitive few who hated the religious hypocrisy and economic injustice all around them. Their hearts were stirred by this prophet, and they longed for the Messiah whom John said would soon appear to bring the remedy.
It is impossible to understand the purpose of Messiah’s coming, the meaning of His message, and the significance of His death and resurrection apart from the condition of Israel at that time, how it came to be that way, and how it was supposed to be. He did not come to provide a free ticket to heaven, but to redeem a people for His own possession who would do His Father’s will on the earth. And that will had not changed.[fn]Malachi 3:6[/fn] His will was still the same as it had been for Abraham coming out of Ur, and for the twelve tribes coming out of Egypt, and for the Jews coming out of Babylon: that He would have a dwelling place in a holy people who would be a light to the nations[fn]Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 58:8,10; 60:3; Matthew 5:14-16; Acts 13:47 (“you” is plural in all these verses; it is the corporate light of a holy people)[/fn] around them, showing them what He is really like by their love for one another.
As the prophet Isaiah put it, God wanted His people to be like a vineyard bearing the fruit of justice and righteousness.[fn]Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:6[/fn] In fact, in the last few days before the crucifixion, after driving the money-changers out of the Temple courts, Yahshua retold Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard to the chief priests and elders,[fn]Matthew 21:33-40[/fn] recounting Israel’s repeated rebellion and extending it to how they would soon treat Him. Then He ended the story with the ringing judgment:
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21:43)
He went on to deliver a scathing condemnation of the fallen religious system in seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees, and to prophesy the utter destruction of the Temple.[fn]Matthew 23:1-39; 24:2[/fn] At that point, they began to make plans to arrest Him. In demanding His crucifixion, they called a curse upon themselves and their children,[fn]Matthew 27:25[/fn] which has faithfully followed them down through the subsequent centuries.
But who was the nation to whom the Kingdom of God would be given, which was expected to bear the fruit of it? Did these words of the Messiah have anything to do with the gospel or “good news” of the Kingdom that He had been preaching since His baptism,[fn]Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:14-15[/fn] and which He said His disciples would also be preaching?
“This Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
Could it have anything to do with the prophecy of Isaiah 49:6?
“It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
Since He told His disciples that everythingwritten about Him in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled,[fn]Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45[/fn] where and when was this prophecy fulfilled? Later, the apostle Paul quoted this very passage in support of his ministry,[fn]Acts 13:47[/fn] and he also spoke of it in his defense before King Agrippa:
“And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king!” (Acts 26:6-7)
Paul was in trouble with the Jews because the gospel he preached was raising up a twelve-tribed spiritual Israel[fn]Isaiah 49:6; Ephesians 2:12; Galatians 3:29; 6:16[/fn] from among the Gentiles,[fn]Acts 13:46 — Paul’s fervent hope was to move his fellow Jews to jealousy (Romans 10:19; 11:13-15; Deuteronomy 32:21), so that they would someday repent (Zechariah 12:10) and God could righteously fulfill His promise to give them the land, enemy-free, in the next age (Genesis 15:18-21; Luke 1:72-75).[/fn] beyond the borders of the land of Israel.[fn]Malachi 1:5,11[/fn] It was exactly what Yahshua, the Messiah, had said would happen — the Kingdom would be taken away from the Jews and given to a nation that would bear its fruit.[fn]Matthew 21:43[/fn] And it would happen as a result of the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
“This doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was the main teaching of Jesus, and which plays so small a part in the Christian creeds, is certainly one of the most revolutionary doctrines that ever stirred and changed human thought.” ~ H. G. Wells[fn]H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, vol. 1, p. 422 (1961)[/fn]
You may never have thought of the gospel as having anything to do with raising up a twelve-tribed nation in the midst of the nations of the earth to be a light to them. And you may never have considered that the gospel had anything to do with the Jews having been called out of Babylon to re-establish the physical nation of Israel. But in reality, the gospel that Yahshua and His apostles preached had everything to do with both.
Yahshua came to call His people out of Babylon to rebuild the Temple and restore the walls of Jerusalem. Of course, it was not the historical Babylon or the physical temple and city walls, but rather the spiritual realities that they represented. However, spiritual does not mean mystical or invisible. The building materials were spiritual men and women, and the building was both visible and tangible, as the following verses describe:
So the Jews said to Him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking about the temple of His Body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel… And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:9-14)
But where did the building materials come from, and how were they gathered? The foundation stones came from the “Babylon” that Israel had become, and they were gathered in the same way that the Jews had been gathered out of Babylon of old: those whose hearts were stirred by the good news that it was time to restore the dwelling place of God on the earth forsook everything to follow the One who was leading the way. They left family, friends, careers, and possessions to follow Yahshua, responding immediately to His call:
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)
That same response was required of all who would follow Him, a fact which even took His first disciples by surprise when they heard His command to a wealthy, religious young man who was seeking eternal life:
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God…”
And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Who then can be saved?” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or wife or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:21-30)
Just as surely as it was impossible for anyone to obey the call to rebuild the Temple while remaining in Babylon (or even to drag his possessions and his unwilling family members along with him on the arduous 700-mile journey to Jerusalem), so it was impossible to follow the Messiah without forsaking one’s life in this world, with all of its material and emotional trappings. And just as back then, most were unwilling to give up their comfort and security. But the Master’s words were unyielding to the excuses of the unwilling:
A scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:19-22)
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple… Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26,33)
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:38)
“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:25-26)
Rebuilding the Temple
It wasn’t that Yahshua was being hard or unreasonable. It was all a matter of where He was going and what He was building: He was going to the cross and into death in order to redeem those whom He would build into an eternal dwelling place for the Holy One of Israel.[fn]John 14:23; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:22; Revelation 21:2-3[/fn] With all His heart He wanted His Father to get the faithful, holy nation He always desired, and He wanted the world He loved so much to be able to see the heart of His Father through the witness of that holy nation[fn]Matthew 24:14[/fn] — redeemed human beings living together in unity,[fn]John 17:21-23[/fn] loving one another as He had loved His disciples,[fn]John 13:34-35[/fn] which was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But in order for that to happen, they would all have to abandon their independent lives in “Babylon” and throw in their lot together in “Jerusalem.”
That is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost, ten days after Yahshua’s ascension. Pierced to the heart by the words Peter spoke, 3000 people responded to his call to “be saved from this perverse generation”[fn]Acts 2:37-40[/fn] by forsaking their old lives and banding together to form the nucleus of the new spiritual Israel:
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple courts, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart… The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. (Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-35)
Now, many Christians say that this common life did not last, or even that it was a mistake that God Himself had to break up by sending persecution.[fn]Acts 8:1[/fn] The second claim is ironically absurd, considering the response the Master gave to Peter when he said, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or wife or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, along with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
What happened on the day of Pentecost was the very hundredfold blessing the Master had promised His disciples who had given up everything, and the persecution that resulted was part of His promise, not a punishment for their obedience. In fact, the Master had consistently taught them to expect persecution if they were faithful to Him.[fn]John 15:18-21; 16:1-2; Luke 6:26[/fn]
Furthermore, the hundredfold increase resulting from the wholehearted surrender of disciples was the very means by which the holy nation[fn]1 Peter 2:9; Ephesians 2:12[/fn] would be built as they gave up their homes and farms, which were either sold to meet the pressing needs of existing communities[fn]Acts 4:37[/fn] or became the open door to starting new communities. In the same way that a beehive, when it fills up, sends out a swarm to start a new hive,[fn]See Like a Beehive.[/fn] so the early church multiplied, replicating the pattern of the first community in Jerusalem, and experiencing the same persecution as a result of it.[fn]1 Thessalonians 2:14[/fn]
As for the claim that the common life of the early church didn’t last, that is sadly true, although it lasted much longer than most Christians think. What destroyed it was not persecution from without, but corruption from within. As long as all were full participants in their common life, with each member walking in the works prepared for him[fn]Ephesians 2:10[/fn] and speaking the very utterances of God by the grace and strength He provided,[fn]1 Peter 4:10-11[/fn] the spiritual temple continued to be built.[fn]Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 2:19[/fn] They were truly a spiritual priesthood[fn]1 Peter 2:9[/fn] serving under a faithful High Priest,[fn]Hebrews 3:1-2[/fn] and their spiritual sacrifices were acceptable to God.[fn]Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15-16[/fn] But gradually, self-concern[fn]Philippians 2:3-4, NRSV (other versions water it down)[/fn] crept in like a deadly cancer, cooling off their original fervent love for one another,[fn]1 Peter 4:8; Revelation 2:4[/fn] and taking away their confidence[fn]1 John 3:14,16-22[/fn] and outspokenness[fn]1 Corinthians 14:24-26[/fn] until they were no longer qualified to be called His house:
But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house — whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the outspokenness of our hope firm until the end. (Hebrews 3:6)
Yet Another Babylon
Not long past the end of the first century, Yahshua followed through on His warnings in the letters in Revelation to the churches: He spewed their lukewarm religion out of His mouth.[fn]Revelation 3:16[/fn] He came like a thief in the night and took away their lamp stands (the presence of His Spirit), and most of them didn’t even notice.[fn]Revelation 3:3; 2:5; Romans 11:22[/fn] The few overcomers died off,[fn]Revelation 3:4[/fn] and the rest went on with a form of religion that denied the power to love as they had in the beginning.[fn]2 Timothy 3:5[/fn] They had shifted off the rock they had been founded upon — the revelation that comes from obeying His commandments[fn]John 14:21; Matthew 7:24-27[/fn] — and as a result, darkness overtook them.[fn]Matthew 16:17-18 (see Upon this Rock)[/fn]
In effect, spiritually they were carried off to Babylon. Their walls of protection had been breached because God could not hear their prayers over the clamor of their apostasy,[fn]Apostasy is departure from the apostles’ teachings; see also The Insurgent for more details on the condition of the church at the end of the first century. The following verses speak of what is required for one’s prayers to be heard in heaven: 1 John 3:21-22; 1 Peter 3:12; Matthew 6:9-13; 1 Timothy 2:8[/fn] so the enemy came in like a flood and destroyed the Temple, stone by stone.[fn]1 Peter 2:5[/fn] They were taken captive by the evil one to do his will.[fn]2 Timothy 2:26[/fn] But just as the Jews who were carried away to Babylon, they developed a whole new religion that did not depend on the Temple, that is, the corporeal[fn]Corporeal means: 1) Having material or physical form or substance; 2) Affecting or characteristic of the body as opposed to the mind or spirit. Similar words for corporeal are the following: bodily, corporate, embodied, and incarnate.[/fn]59 expression of the Body of Messiah — the daily laying down of their lives for one another,[fn]Luke 9:23; 1 John 3:16-17[/fn] the daily encouragement of their gatherings in which all prophesied,[fn]Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25; 1 Corinthians 14:24-26[/fn] and the visible unity and economic justice of their common life.[fn]John 17:21-23; Acts 4:32-35[/fn]
This new religion followed the Nicolaitan (clergy/laity) pattern[fn]Revelation 2:6,15; the term Nicolaitan is derived from nikao, “to conquer,” and laos, “people,” hence, “people conquerors.”[/fn] rather than the earlier Judean (one heart and soul) pattern.[fn]Acts 4:32; 1 Thessalonians 2:14[/fn] The people were content to just attend a “worship service” one day a week, in which nothing was expected of them but to follow a ritual of prescribed prayers, rote responses, and solemn hymns, and to hear a sermon prepared by the appointed (or self-appointed[fn]3 John 1:9-10[/fn]65) leader.
The apostle Paul had warned of the emergence of such a system, as the seeds of it had begun to germinate even while he was still alive:
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…” (Acts 20:29-31)
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
Messiah Himself, in His warnings to the churches, denounced these “synagogues of Satan”[fn]Revelation 2:9; 3:9[/fn] that were beginning to appear as the first century was drawing to a close. Indeed, it was the exact counterpart of the synagogue system the leading Jews had developed in Babylon of old. They were led by those who claimed to be “Jews,” but did not have the obedient heart, faith, or deeds of Abraham.[fn]Romans 2:29; Galatians 3:29; John 8:39; Matthew 3:9[/fn] And of course, their gospel[fn]2 Corinthians 11:4[/fn] was not the same gospel Abraham had obeyed, the one Yahshua had preached, that called everyone to forsake everything to follow Him. Instead, the new gospel made the many comfortable living their independent lives in “Babylon” while giving their offerings to support the few who became the clergy. The “litmus test” for the faith ceased to be the response of love and obedience that produced community,[fn]1 John 3:14,16-18; 2:3-5[/fn] but was replaced by “right doctrine” (as if the two could actually be separated).[fn]See The Paradigm Shift from Community to Doctrine.[/fn]
Of course, this new mystical religion came to be called Christianity. And just as Judaism developed in Babylon of old, Christianity became increasingly ritualistic and rigid, even centralizing its authority in a succession of popes analogous to the “Davidic dynasty” that the Jews had established in Babylon. Through its popes and bishops, Christianity repeatedly grabbed the reigns of the state to impose its will and to exact the support to feed its insatiable appetite for wealth and power, thus leaving a trail of blood stretching over 1,500 years. And lest anyone place the blame on the Roman Catholic Church alone, consider that her wayward daughters of the so-called Protestant Reformation exhibit the very same nature as their aged mother,[fn]See our book The Mystery of the Black Box for a more thorough treatment of this topic.[/fn] culminating in the utter confusion (babel) expressed in the 39,000+[fn]“When Jesus said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,’ did he intend that the people called to bear his name in the world would eventually be divided into 39,000 competing denominations? That is the number of separate Christian bodies worldwide, according to missions statistician Todd Johnson of the World Christian Database.” Timothy George, “Is Christ Divided?” Christianity Today, July, 2005.[/fn] divisions of Christianity today:
And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” (Revelation 17:5)
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” (Revelation 18:2-4)
If you are a Christian, your soul is in great jeopardy. You have received a false gospel that has given you the false hope of going to heaven when you die. You have received another Jesus,[fn]2 Corinthians 11:4[/fn] not the True One,[fn]1 John 5:20[/fn] Yahshua the Messiah, therefore you are still in your sins. But if you are willing to do the Father’s will, you can be released from your captivity, to serve Him where He is.[fn]John 12:26[/fn] We invite you to come!
“Come out of her, My people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Revelation 18:4-5)