Love Under Fire


Chapter 2—The First Christians Loyal and True

Jesus revealed to His disciples the experience of His people from the time when He would be taken from them to His return in power and glory. Seeing deep into the future, His eye detected the fierce storms that were to beat upon His followers in coming ages of persecution (see Matthew 24:9, 21, 22). The followers of Christ must walk the same path of condemnation and suffering that their Master walked. The hatred that the world's Redeemer had borne would be displayed against all who would believe on His name. LF 20.1

Paganism foresaw that if the gospel triumphed, her own temples and altars would be swept away. For this reason she summoned her forces to light the fires of persecution. Christians had their possessions taken away and were driven from their homes. Great numbers of people—noble and slave, rich and poor, educated and ignorant—were killed without mercy. LF 20.2

Persecutions began under Nero and continued for centuries. Christians were falsely declared to be the cause of famines, epidemics, and earthquakes. For money, informers stood ready to betray the innocent as rebels and pests to society. Large numbers of Christians were thrown to wild beasts or burned alive in amphitheaters. Some were crucified; others were covered with skins of wild animals and shoved into the arena to be torn apart by dogs. At public festivals vast crowds assembled to enjoy the sight and greet the Christians’ dying agonies with laughter and applause. LF 20.3

The followers of Christ were forced into hiding in lonely places. Beneath the hills outside the city of Rome, long corridors had been tunneled through earth and rock for miles beyond the city walls. In these underground refuges the followers of Christ buried their dead. Here also, when they were outlawed, they found a home. Many remembered the words of their Master, that when persecuted for Christ's sake, they were to be very glad. Great would be their reward in heaven, for they were persecuted in the same way as the prophets were before them (see Matthew 5:11, 12). LF 20.4

Songs of triumph went up from the midst of crackling flames. By faith the martyrs saw Christ and angels gazing on them with the deepest interest and approving of their firmness. A voice came from the throne of God, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). LF 20.5

Satan's efforts to destroy the church of Christ by violence were in vain. He could kill God's workmen, but the gospel continued to spread and its followers increased. A Christian said, “The more often you mow us down, the more we grow in number; the blood of Christians is seed.”1 LF 21.1

For this reason Satan made plans to war more successfully against God by planting his banner in the Christian church, to gain by deception what he failed to get by force. Persecution ended. In its place came the attractions of worldly prosperity and honor. Idol worshipers began to receive a part of the Christian faith, while they rejected essential truths. They professed to accept Jesus, but they had no conviction of sin and felt no need of repentance or change of heart. With some concessions on their part they proposed that Christians should also make concessions, so that they all could unite on the platform of “belief in Christ.” LF 21.2

Now the church was in terrible danger. Prison, torture, fire, and sword were blessings in comparison with this! Some Christians stood firm. Others were in favor of modifying their faith. Under a cloak of pretended Christianity, Satan found his way into the church to corrupt their faith. LF 21.3

In the end, most Christians consented to lower the standard. They formed a union between Christianity and paganism. Although the idol worshipers professed to unite with the church, they still clung to their idolatry. They simply changed the objects of their worship to images of Jesus and even of Mary and the saints. False doctrines, superstitious rites, and idolatrous ceremonies became a part of the church's faith and worship. The Christian religion was corrupted, and the church lost her purity and power. Some, however, were not misled. They still remained faithful to the Author of truth. LF 21.4