The purpose of this article series is to trace the development of the Trinity theory through the centuries, commencing with the pre-Nicene fathers, though the tumultuous events of the fourth century, down to the Reformation.
In the year 325, the Council of Nicaea decreed that the Lord Jesus Christ exists as one substance (homoousios) and as co-equal with the Father. The purpose of the first articles is to determine what Christians believed about Christ and the Trinity in the three centuries before Nicaea.
Matt Slick is a prominent Trinitarian apologist. To prove that Christians did believe in the Trinity during the first three centuries, his brief post, “Early Trinitarian Quotes,” provides a collection of proof texts from prominent second and third centuries theologians.
Sean Finnegan—a Unitarian (believing that the Father alone is God)—responded to Slick’s article with an article titled Trinity before Nicaea. His purpose was to show that Christians in the first three centuries did not believe in the Trinity. He discussed Slick’s articles but added further quotes. Dr. Tuggy’s podcast 262 presents his response. Dr. Tuggy is a well know Socinian Unitarian, which means that he believes that Christ did not exist before His human birth.
The current article series analyzes the quotes from both these articles to see what the Christian authors believed in the first three centuries about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The purpose is not to determine whether what those early Christians were correct in their teachings, but rather to understand whether the Nicene and later creeds were consistent with the teachings of the early Christians.
To simplify these articles, many of the quotes below are summarized. For the full quotes, refer to Finnegan’s article.
Slick’s definition of the Trinity, in summary, is as follows:
God is one, but is a Trinity of three distinct persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each has a will and is self-aware, but they are not three beings. They consist of one substance. Each person is the one God and is eternal, equal to the others and equally powerful.
Jesus, as a man, has both a divine and human nature.
In this definition, “each person is the one God.” This means that God = the Father = the Son = the Holy Spirit. This sounds like Modalism, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three different Persons, but three modes of the same Being. But then Slick also says that they are “three distinct persons.”
The three-ness of God is expressed as three separate wills and self-awareness.
The one-ness of God is expressed as a single substance, understood as a single Being.
The conceptual progression and historical development of the Trinity theory can be described as follows:
Jesus is God.
Based on the High Christological statements in the Bible, Trinitarians believe that Jesus is God as much as the Father is God. This was the main point of the Nicene Creed of the year 325, which identified the Son as “true God from true God.”
Three Persons in One Being
This creed caused much dispute and controversy in the church for the next 50 years, for the Bible is clear that only one God exists (monotheism). Trinitarians, therefore, developed the concept that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are a single Being; together they are the one God of the Bible. However, since there are differences between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, such as that the one is begotten and the other not, the thought developed that they are three different Persons within the one single Being. The Three Person in One Being theology was clearly enunciated by the first council of Constantinople in the year 381.
The word Trinity has two possible meanings. With a lower case, “trinity” simply means a group of three. But we currently use the word “Trinity,” with a capital “T,” as a proper name for the single Being who consists of three divine Persons.
But then, Christ Jesus, when He was on earth, did not know the day and hour of His return, and said that only the Father knows that. And in many other ways, He indicated that He is subordinate to the Father. For example, He was sent by the Father and that the Father gave Him what to say and what to do. Trinitarians, therefore, developed the thought that Jesus had both a human and a divine nature. In His human nature, He did not know the day or die hour, but in His divine nature He knows all things. This “two natures” theory was articulated at the council of Chalcedon in 451.
The conclusion that the Son is God as much as the Father is God is, therefore, the foundation on which the Trinity theory rests. Both the One Being/Three Persons and the dual nature theories simply are secondary attempts to reconcile the Bible with the conclusion that the Son is God.
The concepts in this section will be brought out in more clarity in the articles that will follow.
In the fifty years after Nicaea, that creed was rejected by most church leaders. Arianism was the main competitor for the Trinity theory and held the sway until the year 381. This theory is analyzed in a later article. In summary, Arianism argues that the Son is not equal to the Father, but was begotten by the Father before time and that God created all things through the Son. In other words, in the infinity beyond time, the Father was before the Son, using the word “before” metaphorically.
The articles below discuss the Christologies of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons), Tertullian and Origen; the greatest and most influential Christian theologian before Augustine. The purpose is to evaluate the following aspects from the definition of the Trinity against their works:
1. The Son is God. 2. The three Persons are equal. 3. The Holy Spirit is self-aware. 4. The three Persons consist of one substance. 5. Jesus has both a divine and human nature.
The fourth-century saw a huge controversy about the nature of Christ. The Arians proposed Him to be a created being. Others believed that He was eternally begotten. A flurry of councils and creeds followed, all trying to explain who Jesus is. The Fourth Century website lists 17 councils, from the Nicene Creed of 325 to the Constantinople creed of the year 381. Some concluded that the Son is equal to the Father. Others, particularly the councils in the eastern part of the empire (Antioch), made Him subordinate to the Father. None of the creeds presents the Son as a created being, as the Arians proposed.
The Creed of the Long Lines, also called the Macrostichs, is one of those creeds. In response to the Nicene creed of 325, the Greek-speaking Bishops at Antioch formulated the creed in the year 344. Their leading scholar was Eusebius of Caesarea; the famous church historian and philosophical grandchild of Origen (185/6–254).
In the next year, the bishops in Antioch presented their creed to the Latin speaking Bishops in the western part of the empire. Avoiding, as far as possible, controversial, non-biblical language, the eastern bishops hoped that their creed would be acceptable all around, even to partisans of the 325 creed at Nicaea. This creed is informative as far as the school of thought at Antioch goes.
The Long Lines Creed is discussed here because it contains some very important and valid concepts and also reflects the views generally held in the church before the fourth century. The creed proposes that the Son had a beginning and that He is subordinate to the Father, but still manages to conclude that He was begotten, rather than created, and always existed.
We believe in one God the Father Almighty, the Creator and Maker of all things, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.
This is the standard opening of all creeds, including the Nicene and later creeds. This formulation is found in the earliest known baptismal creeds of the second century. It a remnant from the past (the centuries before the fourth) when the church generally still believed the Father to be the “one God.” The Trinity theory, in which the monotheistic God of the Bible consists of three equal Persons, was only developed in the fourth century. But even after the Church generally accepted the Trinity doctrine, this opening phrase was retained due to its strong traditional status.
The creed continues:
And in His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, by whom all things were made, in heaven and on the earth
The phrases in bold are discussed below, using the explanations in the latter part of the creed.
Before all ages
Firstly, the Son was begotten “before all ages:”
Later, in the anathemas, the creed reads:
Those who say, … that there was a time or age when Hewas not, the Catholic and Holy Church regards as aliens. … Yet we must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun … with the Father … we acknowledge that the Father who alone is Unbegun … and that the Son hath been generated before ages.
The Father “generated” the Son because He was “begotten from the Father.”
It states that the Father had no beginning (is “unbegun”). But the Son had a beginning (is not “co-unbegun”).
Arians claimed that the Son was created at a specific point in time, and consequently that there was a time when He did not exist (“was not“). This creed rejects that notion, saying that “the Son hath been generated before ages.” In other words, the Son had a beginning, but that beginning was before time. Therefore, there never was “a time or age when He was not,”
The creed later adds that “through Him, both times and ages came to be.” The Bible teaches that the Father created “all things” through the Son. In Eastern thinking “all things” include time, and God created time through the Son.
To add a personal perspective: Concerning time, the Son is like the universe, for the universe had a beginning but always existed, because time was created when the universe came into being (in my view) and because there is no such thing as time before time began. There never was a time when the universe did not exist.
The creed avoids the well-known phrase “eternal generation” with respect to the Son, but the thought is clearly present.
The Nicene Creed was designed to refute the Arian view. The Long Lines Creed objects to the Nicene creed, but its claim that there never was a time when the Son did not exist, shows that it also objects to Arianism.
In summary, the Son had a beginning but always existed, because God created time through Him.
Begotten from the Father
Secondly, the Son was “begotten from the Father:”
The creed denounces “those who say, that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God.” The word “from” appears three times in this sentence. Perhaps the Arians claimed that God created Jesus “from nothing, or from other subsistence.” In contrast, the eastern bishops claim that Jesus is “from God,” which is another way of saying that He was “begotten from the Father.”
Concerning the Father, the creed asserts:
“The divine Word teaches that the Ingenerate and Unbegun, the Father of Christ, is One.”
“We acknowledge that the Father who alone is … Ingenerate, hath generated inconceivably and incomprehensibly to all”
In other words, the Father was not brought into being by any other being (is “ingenerate”). He, therefore, exists without cause. He exists by Himself. Concerning the Son the creed declares as follows:
“We must not consider the Son to be … co-ingenerate with the Father … the Son hath been generated before ages, and in no wise to be ingenerate Himself like the Father, but to have the Father who generated Him as His beginning; for ‘the Head of Christ is God.’
Therefore, in contrast to the Father, the Son has been generated, namely by the Father, when He was “begotten from the Father:”
Later the creed says:
We do not understand Him (the Son) to have been originated like the creatures or works which through Him came to be, for it is irreligious … to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him … For divine Scripture teaches us really and truly that the Only-begotten Son was uniquely generated.
The Son is here called “the Creator,” but notice the word “through.” The opening phrase of the creed identifies the Father as “the Creator and Maker of all things.” The Bible says that God created all things through the Son (John 1; Hebrews 1; Colossians 1). The Father is the Force and Cause of creation. The Son is the Means or Hand through which God created.
The Son Himself was not created, but was “uniquely generated.” This means that the creed makes a distinction between created and generated, similar to people who create things but beget children.
The Nicene Creed uses the term ousios (substance or essence), claiming that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father,” and therefore that the Son is equal to the Father. Although the Long Lines Creed says that He is “from God,” and “begotten,” it avoids the term ousios. It does not use that term even once, probably because the Bible never says that the Father and Son have the same substance. Since the Long Lines Creed presents the Son as subordinate to the Father, it does not use the ousios argument.
In summary, the Son was not created, but was begotten by the Father.
God From God
Thirdly, the Son is “God from God:”
“His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God”
The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “true God (the Son) from true God (the Father),” but the Long Lines Creed omits the word “true” in both instances. It refers to Jesus only as “God from God.” This is consistent with John 17:3, which declares the Father to be the only true God.
Only the Father is God
The creed defends itself as follows against an accusation of polytheism:
In confessing three realities and three Persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, (we do not) therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.
In other words, we must not talk of three Gods because only the Father exists by Himself, without beginning or cause, and gives existence to all other things. There cannot be two Ultimate Beings, for an Ultimate Being is the Cause of all else.
The Son is subordinate.
The quote above refers to “Gods three.” The following similar statement in the creed interestingly refers to “two Gods” and to a Triad:
Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the Most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being Headover the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will.
The Father alone, therefore, is “Head over the whole universe wholly.” The Son is “subordinated to the Father.” Only one monarchy or reign exists. The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father. Partisans of the Trinity theory would argue that Jesus is functionally subordinate to the Father, but not ontologically (by nature of being). However, this creed does not make that distinction.
God of the Old Testament
The ancients used the Greek word theos (god) for all gods. Even exalted people are called gods; even in the Bible. See the Meanings of the Word THEOS. The Long Lines Creed explains as follows why it identifies the Son as theos:
In saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only Ingenerate, do we (not) therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages … for He it is, to whom the Father said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’ (Gen 1:26), who also was seen in His own Person by the patriarchs, gave the law, spoke by the prophets, and at last, became man …
The creed, therefore, refers to the Son as God because “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him” (John 2-3). Furthermore, the creed argues, whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it was the Son who was seen. For that reason, it is proper to refer to the Son as God, but we must not confuse Him with the Uncaused Cause, who is the Father alone.
In this context the translation “Triad” (see above) is appropriate. A translation of “Trinity” would have been anachronistic, for this creed does not present God as three divine Persons of one divine Being. Rather, it thinks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a hierarchical group of “three realities and three Persons,” where only the Father is the ingenerated Source of all else, who also generated the Son.
Origen, the philosophical father of the bishops in Antioch, once said that he does not hesitate to talk of God in different senses. He said that just like man and his wife are one in flesh, and Christ in His followers are one in spirit, so the Father and Son are one in God. Both are God, but not in the same sense, for only the Father is the uncaused Cause of all else.
This explains how we should understand the statement “God from God.” The easterners probably would have preferred to say “God from true God,” but they attempted to stay as close as possible to the wording of the Nicene Creed, which declared the Son to be of the same substance (homo-ousios) as the Father. The Nicene Creeds used that term to present the Son as equal to the Father. The Long Lines Creed, on the other hand, like many of the other creeds of that era, presents the Son as subordinate to the Father.
The famous statement (“Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness”) is quoted from Genesis 1:26. Some dispute that God was talking to the Son, saying that God spoke to His angels, but others object and say that man was not created in the image of angels, but in the image of God. The Son Himself “existed in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6).
The creed continues:
And we believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the Apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things.
This creed has a very scanty treatment of the Holy Spirit. Similar to the Bible, this creed never explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit as God, or as God from God. To the contrary, the phrase “three Gods” in the following implies that the Holy Spirit is not God:
“The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods”
The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that Father and Son and Holy Ghost are the same. This is aimed against Modalism, which is the theory that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three modes of God and not three separate Beings.
The creed justifies this view by saying that, if the Three were the same, then the unlimited and impassible (incapable of suffering or feeling pain) Father has become limited and changeable when the Son became a man. Rather, the Father, who sent the Son, remained unchangeable when Christ was incarnated.
The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that the Father had no choice but to beget the Son so that He begat the Son unwillingly. It says that God is absolute and sovereign over Himself and generated the Son voluntarily and freely. In saying this, the creed responded to some other voices from that era:
Those that view Jesus as equal to the Father sometimes propose that it was not the Father’s will to generate the Son, but that the Father ‘always’ was the Father and the Son ‘always’ was the Son. (“Always’ is perhaps not the best term, if in our view God exists outside time.) Perhaps the Long Lines Creed responds to this view and proposed that the Father begat the Son by will to emphasize that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.
Another possibility is that the view, that God made all things through the Son, and that the Son is the God of the Old Testament, may create the impression that the Father is an un-personal Force and not a separate Person with His own will. Perhaps the Long Lines Creed reacted to such a view.
Who is Jesus? This is the question in these creeds. He is the Son of God, is worshiped with God, received from God to have life in Himself and to judge the world, and He identifies Himself as the First and the Last. So, what is His relationship with God? The church had to struggle with this question. The Nicene Creed went to the one extreme by declaring the Son to be of the same substance as the Father. It is not possible to postulate a higher level of unity between Father and Son.
Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea and the bishops in the Antioch—the focal point of Christianity in the eastern part of the empire—recognized the Son as generated by and subordinate to the Father. They also identified the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not as one Being, as in the Trinity theory, but as “three realities and three Persons.” The Long Lines Creed, therefore, does not accept that they are one in substance. In its place, they offered the following:
We do not … separate Him from the Father … For we believe that they are united with each other without mediation or distance, and that they exist inseparable; all the Father embosoming the Son, and all the Son clinging to the Father, and alone resting on the Father’s breast continually.
These words are probably true, and an interpretation of passages such as:
“I and the Father are one” (John 10:29), and
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).
On the other hand, similar to what the Bible consistently does, this creed identifies the Father alone as God, and the Son as subordinate to Him. This is true even of the gospel of John and Paul’s writings, in which we find the highest Christology of the New Testament.
An Attempt at Reconciliation
The Christian church originated in Jerusalem, but in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church. In the fourth century, however, after Christianity became the official Roman religion, the church in Italy became powerful in influence and authority.
In the closing section of the creed the bishops in Antioch state their purpose as “to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions, … and that all in the West may know, … the audacity of the slanders.” This implies that the easterners were criticized before the powers in Rome, and through the creed, the bishops in Antioch attempted to reach out and clarify their position. It is for that reason that it has these long-winded explanations and therefore is called the Long Lines Creed.
The Long Lines Creed attempts to remain as close as possible to the position of the bishops in the West, as reproduced in the Nicene Creed, to avoid to be seen as Arian and to be modest and to only use Scriptural language. But the bishops in Italy rejected the creed.
Summary of the view of the Long Lines Creed
The Father had no beginning, while the Son had a beginning. The Son, nevertheless, always existed, for the Father created all things through the Son. Since “all things” include time, God also created time through the Son. There, consequently, never was a time or age when the Son did not exist.
The Father was not brought into being by another being. He alone exists without a cause and gives existence to all other things. The Son, in contrast, exists because of the Father. He was not created but was uniquely begotten from the Father.
The Son is God, for He existed in the form of God. Whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it actually was the Son who was seen. But the Father is the only true God.
The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father. The Father is the ultimate Head over the whole universe.
They are two separate Beings, but the Father and Son exist inseparably. As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”
As stated above, at least 17 creeds, with contradicting explanations of who Jesus is, were formulated in the fourth century. Eventually, the Nicene Creed, as adjusted by the 381 creed, became generally accepted. But we should not be persuaded by this consensus:
Firstly, this view of Christ differs from the view that was dominant in the earlier centuries.
Secondly, these creeds were produced after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, after the power base in the Church shifted from Jerusalem and Antioch in the East to Rome in the West, and after the emperor became dominant in the formulation of doctrine by calling and chairing councils. As can be seen in the anathemas that were attached to the fourth-century creeds, and by the aggressive and insulting tone of writings of Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief defender of Trinitarianism at the time, these creeds were produced with an air of dictatorship and intolerance. (Listen to podcasts 169 to 171 on Trinities.) These creeds made an end to religious freedom and shifted persecution from persecution of the church to persecution by the church.
The Apostle Paul lamented that the Corinthians would follow those who abused them and even slapped them in the face (2 Cor. 11:20). Carnal people respond to carnal strength and carnal leadership. By the biblical definition, the church in this era became carnal. Christ Himself demonstrated Christian leadership when He went to the cross. In Revelation 3, He stands outside the door of His own church knocking to see if any will open to Him. He does not force Himself on us. Our only leader must be Christ. When leaders compel Christians to accept a doctrine, they are not leading people to Him. The Truth is a Person.
This is the sixth article on the War in Heaven, as described in Revelation 12. The first article identifies the role-players in this war:
● The Male Child, who was caught up to God,
● His mother, who existed both before and after Christ,
● The Dragon, that stood ready to devour the Child. and
● Michael, who wages war in heaven with the Dragon.
The second article concludes that the actual chronological sequence of events in Revelation 12 is as follows:
● The war rages in heaven,
● The Male Child ascends to God,
● The victory in the war in heaven,
● Satan thrown down to earth and
● The woman flees to in wilderness.
The third article explains how Michael overcame Satan. Satan deceives and accuses. To explain how “the blood of the Lamb and … the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11) were able to overcome Satan’s accusations, this article discusses the origin of evil and Satan’s tactics.
The third article concluded that Christ’s death defeated Satan, but verse 11 of Revelation 12 claims that “they” overcame him because of “their testimony.” The fourth article therefore asks who they are, and why their testimony was required to expel Satan from heaven.
The fifth articleasks what the accuser of our brethren (Revelation 12:10) accused God of, and what evidence Christ provided that was able to refute Satan’s accusations.
God made peace with the “things in heaven” because of the blood of the Lamb, but Revelation 12 indicates that the war continued on earth. The current and final article asks why did God not make an end of evil immediately after the Cross.
Rejoice, O heavens
Because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the testimony of our brethren, Satan was driven out of heaven and thrown down on earth (Revelation 12:8-13). A loud voice then announced:
“Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, … For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them” (Revelation 12:10-12).
Events on earth made an end to the war in heaven. Through Christ, God made peace with the “things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). This world became the test ground for God’s righteousness, with huge implications for the entire cosmos.
Woe to the earth
But the voice continued:
“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath” (Revelation 12:12).
The war continues on earth. This planet is the only place in the universe where Satan still has power.
Why does evil continue?
Why did God not make an end to sin immediately after the Cross? One seldom hears this topic discussed, probably because the standard theory of the atonement has no answer for the question. In this theory, Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of an angry God. Is God’s wrath then not yet fully satisfied?
Satan’s weapons in this war are deception and accusations. God responds, not with violence or with force, but with the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of “our brethren.” These means provided the evidence required to repudiate Satan’s charges. This probably includes evidence about God’s love and grace, and evidence about Satan’s intentions and the consequences of his principles. Since Satan attacks with accusations, and since God responds with evidence, the only possible conclusion is that sin continues because some evidence is still outstanding.
For what purpose is evidence required?
If we understand Revelation 12 correctly, the earth is the only place where the rebellion against God still rages, for Satan has been banished from the courts of heaven after Jesus’ ascension. Therefore, to remove evil from this planet is to remove it entirely from God’s creation:
“The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption” (Rom. 8:21).
Evil will be exterminated when “the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10), and with him, anyone whose “name was not found written in the book of life” (20:15). After this event we will hear God say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).
The eradication of evil in 20:13-15 is preceded immediately by the judgment before the great white throne (20:11-12). The extermination of evil is therefore the consequence of this judgment. The evidence is therefore required for the final judgment, in which “books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12).
In conclusion, the war still continues because there still is some evidence outstanding that is required for the final great judgment. The eradication of evil, and with it all the people and angels that were corrupted by it, will be a most traumatic event for all the universe, including for the people that are saved. God want to make sure that all of His intelligent creatures understand and agree with the decisions made in that judgment.
What evidence is still outstanding?
What and why evidence is required, we can see from the end-time events as described in the book of Revelation:
The Mark of the Beast
Jesus’ arrival on earth caused a major crisis. In a few years much was revealed both about God and about Satan.
Revelation predicts a similar crisis in the end time, when “the image of the beast would … cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Rev. 13:15). It will attempt to give all people “a mark on their right hand or on their forehead” (Rev. 13:16). People who refuse to receive this mark will not be allowed “to buy or to sell” (v17).
What the mark of the beastis, requires more in-depth study of the prophecies, but we can safely say that it will be some sin which people will be forced to commit, the modern equivalent to Nebuchadnezzar forcing all people to worship the statue he made, at the threat of death (Dan. 3:5-6). The beast itself is an earthly power (cf. 13:1-2; 17:9-10; 12). To worship it is to accept its authority.
At the same time the truth will be preached with more power than ever before (Rev. 14:6). The evil one attempts to blur the distinctions between what is holy and what is common, but these distinctions will be made clear by God’s end-time messengers. All people will have to choose between the mark of the beast and “the seal of the living God” (7:2; cf. 14:1). This will be the valley of decision for all people:
“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near” (Joel 3:14).
God’s people will be “victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name” (15:2). They “had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand” (20:4).
There will come a turning point, during this final crisis, when “the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple” (15:8). After this, the plagues are poured out (16:1), but only “on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image” (16:2). This will give them clear evidence that they are persecuting God’s people, but “they did not repent” (16:9, 11). They will continue to oppress God’s people.
Christ’s return will make an end of the persecution of God’s people, but only temporarily. At the end of the 1000 years all people that opposed God, from all ages since the creation of the world, will “come to life” (20:5) and “Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations” (20:7-8). “They … surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (20:9). This describes, in a few words, the final and major battle between good and evil. It is described only briefly because we have no way to understand the circumstances or nature of that battle.
The outstanding evidence
Why would God allow an end-time crisis in which His people are killed? Why does God pour down horrible plagues on the earth when there is no possibility that sinners will repent? And why would God bring the lost back to life, 1000 years after Christ’s return, only to consume them again by fire?
These are to provide the evidence required for the final great judgment.
God’s people will be “victorious over the beast.” The evil one will take away from them all they have, but they will refuse to “worship the image of the beast” (13:15), “even when faced with death” (Revelation 12:11). This will reveal their faith: “They overcame him (the accuser) … because of the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). The Cross demonstrated God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:25-26). God’s end-time people will similarly demonstrate, to the universe for all ages to come, the justness of God’s grace for His people.
God’s persecutors “did not repent,” even when they have clear evidence that they are persecuting God’s people. This will reveal their true nature. They pretend to work for God, but their actions will show that they are fundamentally opposed to God and to His principles, like the pharisees of old, who opposed Jesus. This will confirm God’s condemnation of them.
All the seeds—both good and evil—that have been sown over the centuries, will come to maturity in this last battle. Through this crisis good and evil will both be fully revealed (cf. 3:10).
God allows the human race—created in His own image—to show the nature and consequences of Satan’s principles. The entire universe is watching events on this little planet with intense interest (e.g. Job):
“The manifold wisdom of God (is) … made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places“ (Ephesians 3:10).
First century Christians expected Jesus to return in their time. See The Lord is coming soon. When He did not, they asked questions, and Peter explained:
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Over the centuries God’s persecuted people complained about the delay:
“How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:10)
In Revelation 7:1-3 an angel ascends from the rising of the sun (the east), “having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads’.”
God delays the final crisis because His people are not ready, and He is “not wishing for any to perish.” He will only allow the end-time crisis when the 144000 are sealed. The number 144000 is interpreted here not as a literal number, but a symbol of the quality of their faith:
“These are the ones who have not been defiled with women … who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. … And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.” (14:4-5).
Satan was driven out of heaven because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the testimony of our brethren. God made peace with the “things in heaven,” but the war continued on earth.
Why did God not make an end to sin immediately after the Cross? Since Satan attacks with accusations, and since God responds with evidence, we assume that God allows sin to continue because some evidence is still outstanding.
For what purpose is evidence required?Earth is the only place where the rebellion against God still rages. To remove evil from this planet is to remove it entirely from the universe. After the judgment before the great white throne, evil will be exterminated through the lake of fire. The war continues on earth to generate evidence required in the final judgment.
The end-time events show what and why evidence is required. By threats of violence and death people will be forced to receive the Mark of the Beast, which is some sin which people will be forced to commit. But God’s people will be “victorious over the beast.”
At some point, during this final crisis, the plagues will start to fall, but only on the people who are persecuting God’s people. This will give them clear evidence that they are opposing God, but they will not turn to God.
Christ’s return will not be the final end of sin. At the end of the 1000 years all people that opposed God, from all ages since the creation of the world, will “come to life” and continue their persecution of God’s people.
All of this is to provide the evidence required for the final great judgment. These events will demonstrate the faith of God’s people, but will also show that the lost are fundamentally opposed to God and to His principles, thus confirming God’s judgments, for God wants us to trust Him fully.
The arguments of the accuser of our brethren is beyond human understanding, but perhaps include allegations that God is demanding, that His law is selfish and that His judgments are unjust.
This is the fifth article on the War in Heaven.
The first article identified the role-players in this war:
● The Male Child, who was caught up to God,
● His mother, who existed both before and after Christ, and
● The Dragon, that stood ready to devour the Child as soon as He is born.
● Michael, who wages war in heaven with the Dragon.
The second article analyzed the chronological sequence of the major events:
● The war in heaven,
● The ascension of the Male Child,
● The victory in the war,
● Satan cast down to earth and
● The woman hiding in wilderness.
The third article explains how Michael overcame the accuser of our brethren. Satan deceives and accuses. To explain how “the blood of the Lamb and … the word of their testimony” were able to overcome Satan’s accusations, this article explains the origin of evil, God’s judgment of evil, and how evil defends itself against God.
The previous article concluded that Christ’s death defeated the accuser of our brethren, but verse 11 adds that they overcame him because of “their testimony.” The fourth article asks who they are, and why was their testimony required to expel Satan from heaven?
The accuser of our brethren and Jesus’ evidence
Satan specifically accused God’s people (Rev. 12:10). A previous article argued that Satan effectively accused God of bad judgment. The accuser of our brethren claimed that God is unfair when He forgives people their sins, but condemns Satan and his angels. To refute Satan’s charges, God required evidence, and Christ’s death showed that God is just when He justifies sinners.
But exactly what did the accuser of our brethren say, and what evidence did Christ provide? The answer to this question is beyond human understanding, and is not clearly revealed in Scriptures. The following are some of the evidence which Jesus possibly provided:
The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). In other words, Satan said that God did not tell the full truth. If Satan did this with Eve, then we conclude that one of Satan’s basic strategies is to tell lies to about God.
However, Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3); “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), and He revealed the truth about God.
The cruelty of the accuser of our brethren, as displayed in his malicious persecution of the only begotten Son of God, demonstrated Satan’s nature and the consequences of his principles.
Jesus became a human being, and as a man He overcame by faith. In this way He demonstrated that human beings are able to obey God’s law perfectly. In other words, He showed that there is nothing wrong with God’s law.
God justifies sinners “by grace … through faith” (Eph. 2:8), but the accuser of our brethren argued that God is unjust when He justifies sinners by grace. Jesus showed that faith is a valid basis for justification, thereby validating God’s grace.
The conflict between Jesus and Satan, after Jesus became a human being, therefore reveals much about God, about the accuser of our brethren, about God’s law, about God’s redemption and about many other things. This will probably be our main subject of study in the ages ahead, and not something which we can comprehend in this life, even after a lifetime of study.
Some of the concepts above require clarification:
Jesus overcame by faith.
Romans 3:25 indicates that Jesus’ death was a public display of God’s righteousness “through faith.” This is understood as saying that His death demonstrated faith. People do not like to say that Jesus displayed faith in God because they think of Jesus as God Himself. But a series of articles on this website shows that the New Testament maintains a clear distinction between God and Jesus. For example:
“There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:5).
God made the world “through” His Son (Heb. 1:2), which means that God is the Source and Power of all things.
Only two beings have “life in Himself,” namely the Father and the Son, but the Father “gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).
Like the “LORD of hosts” Jesus could say “I am the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; cf. Is 44:6). This is understood to mean that there was no time that the Son did not exist. Nevertheless, He is not the Ultimate Source of all things.
Before He became a human being, Jesus existed in the form of God and had equity with God (Phil. 2:5). This also shows how the NT makes a distinction between God and Jesus. This verse shows this distinction before Jesus became a human being. But Jesus “emptied Himself” (v7) of the form of God. He became fully and only a human being, and had to exercise faith. When He hanged on the Cross, and cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” He did not act in knowledge, but in faith.
Jesus validated God’s grace.
The accuser of our brethren argued that grace is not just.
“Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly … in His blood … to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed … so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:25-26)
Over the centuries theologians explained this passage as that God’s righteousness demanded that sins cannot be forgiven; that someone had to pay. But it is proposed here that God had to demonstrate His righteousness because His righteousness was questioned. This is actually explicitly stated in the text, for it tells us why He had to demonstrate His righteousness, namely “because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins.” In other words, He forgave sinners their sins: He justified them “as a gift by His grace” (Rom. 3:24); “by grace … through faith” (Eph. 2:8; cf. Rom. 4:16). Romans 3:25-26 could be understood as saying that the accuser of our brethren accused God of being unjust when God, through grace, forgives sinners merely on the basis of their faith. Due to Satan’s extremely sophisticated arguments, the heavenly beings were not all convinced that God is just, and God had to demonstrate His righteousness
The standard theory of atonement today also questions God’s grace. It says that God cannot forgive sins, that somebody has to pay, and Jesus paid that price. If Jesus paid for our sins, then our sins were not forgiven, for to forgive a debt is to cancel it without payment. We do not support the standard theory of atonement, for God is love (1 John 4:8), and love ”does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Cor. 13:5). In other words, God does not keep our sins against us.
Jesus showed that grace is just.
“Our brethren … overcame him … because of the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:10-11). These verses do not use the word “faith,” but testimony is another word for faith. Faith is not just a nice feeling; it is what you are; it permeates the entire being; the thoughts, the desires, the words and the deeds. However, they remained sinners. “Through one man sin entered into the world” (Rom. 5:12). Therefore “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Over the centuries many people have overcome Satan’s temptations, but the accuser of our brethren was always able to point out sins in them. The testimony of His people was powerless against Satan’s accusations.
“All have sinned,” but Jesus never sinned. It is therefore assumed that He was born without the human tendency to sin. He did not inherit our inclination to evil. Somehow our predisposition to sin is carried forward from generation to generation, but the Son of God was not Mary’s natural child. Mary was only His surrogate mother.
He was a sinless man in a corrupted world, and had to resist the maximum possible provocation and temptation, but never sinned. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient (without sin – Heb. 4:25) to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8).
God’s people overcame, but always remained sinners. Jesus, through faith, overcame and never sinned. It is possible that Jesus thereby validated the faith of “our brethren” as a sufficient basis for justification; that God is therefore just when He justifies sinners “as a gift by His grace” (Rom. 3:24, 26). Perhaps Christ demonstrated that God’s people will remain free from sin, once God restored them, and they no longer have this lust for sin.
See the article on Romans 3:23-26 for more information. on those verses
Through Jesus’ life
People are “justified … through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). The next verse explains this redemption by saying that Jesus was “displayed publicly … in His blood.” Similarly, in Revelation 12:11 the accuser of our brethren was overcome “because ofthe blood of the Lamb.” These are reference to His death.
However, the evidence was not provided by Jesus’ death, but by His life. If Jesus sinned anywhere in His life, His death would have been without value. His entire life was a test. At the beginning of His ministry, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt. 4:1). The Bible emphasizes on His death because the days and hours before He died was the highest test which He had to pass, and because His death was the end of His test. “He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).
Satan specifically accused God’s people. A previous article explained that Satan effectively accused God of bad judgment, but that Christ’s death showed that God is just when He justifies sinners. These matters are beyond human understanding, for it has been the subject of dispute for many millennia, by intelligences much larger than ours. This article proposes that what Christ revealed includes God’s love, Satan’s cruelty, the benevolence of God’s law and the justness of God’s grace. These and related matters will be the subject of our study in the ages to come.