Satanic agencies confederated with evil men in leading the people to believe Christ the chief of sinners, and to make Him the object of detestation. Those who mocked Christ as He hung upon the cross were imbued with the spirit of the first great rebel. He filled them with vile and loathsome speeches. He inspired their taunts. But by all this he gained nothing.
“Could one sin have been found in Christ, had He in one particular yielded to Satan to escape the terrible torture, the enemy of God and man would have triumphed. Christ bowed His head and died, but He held fast His faith and His submission to God. ‘And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night’ (Revelation 12:10).
“Satan saw that his disguise was torn away. His administration was laid open before the unfallen angels and before the heavenly universe. He had revealed himself as a murderer. By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he had uprooted himself from the sympathies of the heavenly beings. Henceforth his work was restricted. Whatever attitude he might assume, he could no longer await the angels as they came from the heavenly courts, and before them accuse Christ’s brethren of being clothed with the garments of blackness and the defilement of sin. The last link of sympathy between Satan and the heavenly world was broken.” The Desire of Ages, 760, 761.
“When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.” “The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days”—“a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach” (Revelation 12:13, 6, 14).
Who was this woman (church) that Satan pursued into the wilderness for 1,260 years? Soon after Jesus opened His public ministry He “went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve”—designating them apostles—“that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:13, 14). “The first step was now to be taken in the organization of the church that after Christ’s departure was to be His representative on earth.” Ibid., 291.
At the close of His ministry on earth, Jesus gave His life on the cross. Through His shed blood, He gained authority to “rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (Revelation 12:5). With this authority, Jesus commissioned His disciples saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
Soon after He gave them their commission, He “was snatched up to God and to His throne” (Revelation 12:5). While the disciples were watching, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).
This newly organized apostolic church grew very rapidly baptizing 3,000 in one day, this rapid growth raised the need for more workers to be appointed for the church. So the apostles said to the church members, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:3, 4).
“The appointment of the seven to take the oversight of special lines of work, proved a great blessing to the church. These officers gave careful consideration to individual needs as well as to the general financial interests of the church, and by their prudent management and their godly example they were an important aid to their fellow officers in binding together the various interests of the church into a united whole.
“That this step was in the order of God, is revealed in the immediate results for good that were seen. ‘The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.’ ” The Acts of the Apostles, 89, 90.
Satan, knowing that Jesus had gained the victory over him by His death on the cross, and seeing the rapid growth of the church, became alarmed that he was losing control over the people of this earth. In desperation, “he pursued the woman [the true church] who had given birth to the male child” (Revelation 12:13).
Very early in the development of the Christian church, Satan began his attack on the purity and character of the woman (this true church) who was standing on the moon, clothed with the sun of righteousness. Jesus Himself warned the disciples to be on the alert, for deceivers and false prophets would enter the church. He said, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10–13).
The extent and seriousness of the apostasy is witnessed by the fact that all the New Testament writers speak of this problem.
Paul counseled the Thessalonians saying, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 10). [Emphasis supplied.]
To the Galatians, he writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6, 7).
Paul discusses the subject in both of his letters to Timothy. In his second letter to Timothy, he warns, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away” (2 Timothy 3:1–5 NKJV)!
Peter indicates that many will become involved in this apostasy. “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words” (2 Peter 2:1–3 NKJV).
Luke, who traveled with Paul much of the time, tells of Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian church. “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29–31 NKJV).
Jude very graphically describes these apostate leaders. “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3, 4 NKJV). “They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 12, 13).
The apostle John refers to this great apostasy as the spirit of the Antichrist. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (I John 4:1–3 NKJV). [Emphasis added.]
There are many more texts that could be cited by these writers, which give evidence of Satan’s ruthless attack on that early apostolic church. His pursuit of the woman continued for centuries until only a remnant of faithful believers was left.
There is another very graphic description of Satan’s war against this young Christian church. It is found in Revelation 6.
“I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
“When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
“When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’
“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:1–8).
Because the first horse is white, there are some who believe that the first seal is a depiction of the Christian church going forth to conquer the world for Christ. There are at least three reasons why this cannot be a correct interpretation of these verses. When the weight of evidence is considered, it will be seen that these four seals reveal Satan’s attack on the apostolic church during which time he turned it into the “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9; 3:9).
- There are two things that are common to the first four seals. They are the riders and the horses. The item that changes in each seal is the color of the horse. It should be noted that the color does not include the rider. There is no evidence to support the view that the rider represents two different beings, such as Christ in the first seal and Satan in other seals. The rider is simply unidentified in the first three seals, but he is finally identified in the fourth seal.
- The fact that the rider is unidentified is a second reason that he does not represent Christ. Christ never works in secret. He always identifies Himself. He wants everyone to know Who He is so they can come to Him with their sins and have them washed away with His blood. He says, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret” (John 18:20 NASB).
- A third reason that these riders do not represent Christ is that they are bent on conquest by force. They are all riding horses, which in scripture represent conquest and war. The first rider is carrying a bow, a weapon of war, and is bent on conquest by force. The second rider held a large sword and took peace from the earth and caused men to slay each other. The third rider had a pair of scales (balances) in his hand. The fourth rider named Death, with Hades following him, was given power to kill by sword, famine, and plague.
These four riders have the same objective—to rule by force. To rule by force is foreign to the government of heaven. The government of heaven is ruled by love. God loved the world so much that He gave His Son to redeem it. By self-sacrificing love, Jesus gained the victory over Satan when He gave His life on the cross. These riders are performing just the opposite to the principles of heaven.
In the fourth seal, Death is personified to represent Satan, the originator or cause of death in this world. Hades is personified to represent all the forces of evil; that is, all of the fallen angels. It could also include all the other followers of Satan.
When Satan began his attack on the young Christian church, it had a pure message of truth, represented by the color of the first horse. The central message of the church was Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who gave His life for the sins of the world. They told how He ascended to heaven to open the holy place of the sanctuary to begin His work as our advocate and high priest to receive and remove the confessed sins of His people on earth. Satan was so successful in obliterating this doctrine that by A.D. 1844 no one on the earth knew that there was a sanctuary in heaven. …
The apostolic church did not long remain in this pure state of truth. As we cited above, all the writers of the New Testament were concerned about the false prophets, the deceivers, and the errors that were creeping into the church. This phenomenon is represented by the red color of the second horse, red being a symbol of sin (Isaiah 1:18).
The third horse is colored black. In the Bible, black represents a condition in which there is an absence of light—the light of truth. At the time of the third seal, the church had drifted so far into sin that God could find no light of truth left in it. And like Belshazzar of ancient Babylon, there comes a time when God will weigh our characters in the balances of the sanctuary. If the one weighed is found wanting, God casts him or her aside. That is what happened to the apostolic church.
During the time of the third seal (Revelation 6:5)—the third horse—the light of truth was turned into error, but “the archdeceiver had not completed his work. He was resolved to gather the Christian world under his banner and to exercise his power through his vicegerent, the proud pontiff who claimed to be the representative of Christ. Through half-converted pagans, ambitious prelates, and world-loving churchmen he accomplished his purpose.” The Great Controversy, 53.
In the time of the fourth seal (Revelation 6:7, 8), we see Death (Satan) and Hades (fallen angels) in charge of the church. Professing to be Christian, this once-pure church had come under the leadership of Satan.
They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth (Revelation 6:8).
“In the sixth century the papacy had become firmly established. Its seat of power was fixed in the imperial city, and the bishop of Rome was declared to be the head over the entire church. Paganism had given place to the papacy. The dragon had given to the beast ‘his power, and his seat, and great authority’ (Revelation 13:2). And now began the 1,260 years of papal oppression foretold in the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. (See Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5–7.) … Christians were forced to choose either to yield their integrity and accept the papal ceremonies and worship, or to wear away their lives in dungeons or suffer death by the rack, the fagot, or the headsman’s ax. Now were fulfilled the words of Jesus: ‘Ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake’ (Luke 21:16, 17). Persecution opened upon the faithful with greater fury than ever before, and the world became a vast battlefield. For hundreds of years the church of Christ found refuge in seclusion and obscurity. Thus says the prophet: ‘The woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and three-score days’ (Revelation 12:6).” The Great Controversy, 54, 55.
This power is represented as “a little horn” (Daniel 7:8, 25) who thought “to change the set times and the laws.” It was during this time that the papacy changed the day of worship from the seventh day Sabbath to Sunday—the first day of the week—in fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7:25. John was also shown this same power represented as a beast coming up out of the sea. (See Revelation 13:1–10.) The characteristics of this beast are the same as those of the little horn in Daniel 7:8, 25. The 1,260-year period in Daniel 7:25 and Revelation 12:6, 14 is the same as the forty-two months in Revelation 13:5. The papacy is also represented as a stern-faced king in Daniel 8:23. …
High Priest & Coming King, by Maurice Hoppe, 48–56.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New International Version.)
Maurice Hoppe is Director of the Steps to Life training programs and a member of the Steps to Life Board. The Training Program for Ministers and Church Leaders is a correspondence course that prepares individuals to serve as pastors or Bible workers. Preparing for the Final Conflict is a correspondence course for the laity. Both of these courses teach present truth that will be an anchor for the soul during the storm of opposition and persecution just ahead. He and his wife also have a correspondence course offered through Revelation Ministry. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.