As we have been covering, the church at Pergamos faced one of the greatest trials of all — going from one of the worst periods of persecution to being elevated to the highest position of authority in the empire.
It also dwelt at the place of “Satan’s throne.” As the church and state “married” during this period, the church took on many of the ways of the world and adopted the Empire’s hierarchal form of government.
The Emperor then elevated the Bishop of Rome over all the other bishops and called him the “pope” or “papa,” the father over the entire church. Many resisted, and John referred to Antipas as the “faithful witness.” Antipas means “anti-pope.” William Miller wrote of this, saying:
It is supposed that Antipas was not an individual, but a class of men who opposed the power of the bishops, or popes, in that day, being a combination of two words, “Anti,” opposed, and “Papas,” father or pope. Many who opposed this form of government for the church suffered martyrdom in Constantinople and Rome, where the bishops and popes began to exercise the power which soon after brought into subjection the kings of the earth, and trampled on the rights of the church of Christ.…
Jesus warned His people not to call any man on earth “father” because we have one Father in heaven. This elevation of one position in the church over the entire church claimed to usurp Christ’s rightful place as the Head of His church.
This began a fall into the darkest period of church history — and possibly human history — becoming known as “the Dark Ages.”
In the New Testament, the church had been given the simplest but most effective form of government for its administration. One church in every city would have multiple meeting locations. T here was a council of elders for the church in the city, often made up of the leaders of the different congregations.
Deacons who served the church at the direction of the elders were often elevated to the position of an elder when there was an opening or need. One would usually be a presiding elder in a city, as we see James presiding over the apostles and elders in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts. These positions of authority were for service, not for controlling or lording it over the saints.
Apostles were over the elders of the local churches. The apostles traveled about to help set things in order in the churches, mostly through teaching and helping to build the churches.
Christ was over the apostles and presided personally over His church universal. He directed His church through His apostles and prophets, but the life of every church was in their relationship to Christ, not just to an authority structure or organization. This made the church the most dynamic and unique entity the world had ever seen. Multitudes were drawn to it as they were born again by powerful personal encounters with Christ through His Holy Spirit.
During the persecution, being an elder was an honorable thing, mostly because it made you a special target for persecution. In some places during this time, the life expectancy of an elder was very short. Because of this, only the most devoted and noble minded would even consider the position.
The apostles and prophets had laid a strong foundation in the church and understood that all the testing they endured enabled them to grow stronger in Christ and His nature.
Once the persecution lifted, and the church was elevated in stature, and these positions of authority in the church became positions of increasing power and wealth. They became sought after by some of the most corrupt and unsavory people.
Quickly the leadership of the church was permeated by the foulest and greediest men who knew and cared little about spiritual authority. Many discerned that this was not the doing of their LORD and fled from the church. Others did not and were taken over by an antichrist spirit, just as John and the other apostles predicted.
Once you start down the wrong road, it never turns into the right road and you get further from your purpose as you go. Once the church embraced and married the ways of the world, the darkness got greater and greater. However, there was a remnant that did not go with the rest of the church. To those who overcame the temptation, the LORD had a great promise:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” Revelation 2:17.
The hidden manna and stone with their name on it that no one knows speaks of a secret provision and relationship with the LORD. All Christians that refused to bow their knee to the new institution of the church had to remain hidden because they were hunted and persecuted by the increasingly corrupted church.
We can only imagine how confusing this was, but God took care of the faithful. There has always been a remnant that kept itself from the corruption of the world.
In Roman trials, the accused would be given a black stone if found guilty and a white stone if found innocent. By the LORD promising those who overcome in this period a white stone, He was saying to the overcomers that He found them innocent and has given them a new name, even if it could not be revealed yet.
To be given a new name is one of the greatest honors from the LORD, such as when He gave Jacob the name Israel, and He also gave different names to some of His disciples.
The names given by God are a reflection of how He sees us, who we really are. It is far better to be known by God than by all men.
~ Pastor Rick Joyner