How the Greeks Destroyed the Jewish Church
By Pastor Hal Mayer
Welcome to Keep the Faith Ministry. Thank you for joining me once again as we try to understand our times by God’s word and history. I pray that the Lord is blessing you and your family and that you are preparing for the soon coming of Jesus. As we begin this new year, we must thank God for His providence and recommit ourselves to Jesus. Let this year be the year you get victory over the enemy. Thank you too for your prayers and support. I’m so thankful for how God has blessed us this last year through your kind gifts and gracious support.
One of the most incredible changes ever to happen to God’s church took place at a time in which there is no biblical record. Yet the changes were so profound and so devastating that it is vital that we understand them in our own time. The Jews were led by Satan to their ultimate rebellion and to their rejection as God’s church. There are many lessons for us today that we had better learn if we are going to avoid making a similar mistake in our day.
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I have presented this message some time ago, but I have decided to share it again because so many of you are new subscribers that have not heard it before. But it is so very important to understanding our times. Moreover, in light of last month’s message on the direct attack on last generation doctrine and on the three angels’ messages from within God’s church, this message will have more impact on all of us. We need to understand why we are in the spiritual condition we are in. May God bless you as you listen to this important message.
Now, before we read God’s Holy Word, we must bow our heads and ask for His wisdom to understand what He wants to tell us today. Our Father in heaven, thank you for your holy word and the TRUTH that it contains for us today. Please send Your Holy Spirit to speak to us about this truth and help us to understand what you wish to say to us. Help us to see how that what happened to the Jews before Christ came to this earth the first time has its parallel in our day, just before Jesus comes the second time. And we thank you in Jesus name, amen.
To begin, turn with me in your Bibles to Proverbs 2:6. “For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.”
If we are going to understand the lessons we are going to hear today, we need wisdom. We need knowledge and understanding but we especially need wisdom. Perhaps I can share with you a few thoughts from something that came my way recently from Pastor Dan Vis of FASTMissions. He put these thoughts into the most succinct and cogent expression that I can ever remember hearing. I thought I would share them with you. I have modified them a little bit and edited in some of the thoughts the Lord has shared with me as well. I hope you’ll find this very interesting.
The Bible teaches that there are three levels of brain comprehension, knowledge, understanding and wisdom. They are like brass, silver and gold. They are progressively more valuable like silver is to brass and gold is to silver. Character is often referred to as metal. For instance, Fundamentals of Education, page 500 says, “Take heed, lest what you now think to be pure gold turns out to be base metal.” And in Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, page 101 we read; “The pure and the base metal are now so mingled that only the discerning eye of the infinite God can with certainty distinguish between them. But the moral magnet of holiness and truth will attract together the pure metal, while it will repel the base and counterfeit.” My friends, let the moral magnet of the Bible work in your life so that you are drawn away from the base metal of the world as you purify your life. Let me explain about these three metals in relation to comprehension.
The Bible explains the connection between understanding and silver, and wisdom and gold. Ezekiel 28:4 says, “With thy wisdom and with thine understanding thou hast gotten thee riches, and hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasures.” So, wisdom is like gold and understanding is like silver. And Proverbs 16:16 says, “How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!”
So, it is pretty obvious that silver and gold are like understanding and wisdom.
Knowledge is a discovery of Bible truth through a thoughtful examination of what is written. These include historical facts, doctrinal declarations, and even scientific statements. With knowledge we know what the Bible actually says. Each fact is truth and is trustworthy. But it is not all you need. Knowledge has to be useful in some way. I liken it to like brass. It has reasonable valuable, and knowledge is need, but it is the least valuable of these precious metals. Children can be loaded up with facts, and if they get a lot of Bible training in their early years, they can recite facts better than us older folk. They have knowledge, but it’s not enough.
Understanding involves the principles of scripture. These are the timeless laws that make up the moral fabric of our universe. Understanding is found in promises, warnings, commands and the stories of scripture. If you interpret the facts correctly, you comprehend what is right and what is wrong. When you can distil the principles out of the facts of scripture, you have understanding of how God wants you to live. It’s like silver. It is precious, and it is important to have, but it is still not the most precious metal.
Wisdom is the final and most important level of comprehension. Wisdom is the application of the facts and principles that we learn from scripture. We have to attach them to specific, concrete attitudes and actions. Real changes can happen in your character when you apply wisdom to the principles of the Bible in your own life. It is the gold standard! A person who is wise is one who not only understands God’s will, but acts on it in a timely way. Wisdom tells you what you need to do right now and how to plan for the future. For example, Daniel used wisdom when he asked to see the king when his life and the lives of all the Chaldeans were in jeopardy. His wisdom was very timely. He then used wisdom to give the king spiritual counsel from God and warn him against arrogance and pride.
To be wise, we need to have facts, we need to understand the facts and draw out the moral principles, and we have to then apply those moral principles in a practical way in our lives.
Please turn with me in your Bibles now to the book of 1 Corinthians 1:18. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
Notice the contrast between the preaching of the cross and the thinking of the Jews. The Jews were looking for sensational manifestations of truth in order to make them willing to believe. This is not wise, because even the enemy can create a sensation. They were in some ways like the charismatics of today, who want a religion that mostly involves their senses and feelings, but which largely ignores the intellectual and truly spiritual. On the other hand, notice that the Greeks were emphasizing the intellectual and avoiding the emotional. “The Greeks seek after wisdom,” Paul said. Verse 22. Paul saw that something happened between these two groups of people, the Jews and the Greeks that he believed would also threaten God’s church. He could see what had happened to the Jews under the influence of the Greeks and he warned all of God’s people down to the end of time what was to come.
Originally, the educational system God gave the Jews was simple, practical, natural, and designed to create love and loyalty to God, and an understanding of His law in their hearts. If Israel had remained loyal, God would have blessed them so much that they would have been the admiration of the world and consulted regularly. God’s educational plan would have prepared Israel to announce the Messiah’s salvation to the world.
Do you think that we have a problem in following the counsel of the Lord today in our educational system? Somehow we think we know better than God! We think we can educate our young people the way we want with all the trappings of modern ideas of education, and it won’t matter. We’ll still produce “good men and women” who live good lives. But friends, if we refuse to follow God’s plan of education, His blueprint, we will end up doing just as Israel did, and turn our backs on God, and refuse to give the announcement that Jesus is coming soon. We will turn our backs on the special work that God has given us to do in these last days as His unique generation, reject the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in latter rain power, and fail to do the work that God has give us to do.
God’s chosen people, the Israelites stoned the prophets, went whoring after idols, languished in Babylon, and ultimately rejected Christ the Messiah. After returning from captivity, being fearful of idolatry they hedged themselves with rules and regulations to prevent apostasy. Satan knew it would be extremely difficult to entice Israel into rank idolatry again, so he tried another angle.
At the end of the Medo-Persian Empire, Alexander the Great conquered the civilized world, but his sudden death left the empire divided between his four generals. The Greek empire championed worldly masters of wisdom. Aristotle, Socrates and Plato laid the foundation of Western Culture. They tried to solve the moral dilemmas of society using worldly, pagan philosophy. Though Greek civilization flourished economically, their system of philosophy and education failed to produce the moral system that could change the heart and make it truly noble. It had no divine system of evaluating right and wrong. No standard other than itself to judge righteousness.
Do we have this problem today? The idea that what is right for you, is right, is now quite pervasive in society, and it has crept into the church in many ways. For instance, there is this popular idea that we can have unity in diversity. You can believe what you want about doctrine, and I can believe what I want, and we can still all worship God in church on Sabbath and have unity with one another. Friends, that is not God’s way. True unity only comes in truth. Nor is it actually possible. It is sort of an ecumenism within the church. Because if someone raises an objection to a false doctrine, someone else will say, “please don’t do that. You are just causing controversy.” Meanwhile, error continues to grow while good people are silent.
Sophisticated Greek culture required highly developed colonization and city life. The city-state was the only social concept of mature Greek culture. But it was not a city with walls and fortifications. They were more interested in the usefulness of the city in which to engage Greek culture. Grecian kings were known for establishing large cities, colonizing and mixing cultures together under Greek principles. Colonizing large cities removed people from the natural simple influences of the country and engaged them in the complex, man-made and the artificial.
Previous empires forcefully imposed their culture and religion on those nations they conquered, but it was always difficult. By contrast, Alexander was the first emperor to leave national culture and religion alone from a military standpoint. Nevertheless Hellenistic philosophy, economics, lifestyle, language, and the arts sunk in very deeply. By popularizing their culture and education they could integrate it into other cultures, resulting in one vast “Greekdom” under their intellectual masters.
Keep in mind that culture and religion go hand in hand. Religion is part of culture. But culture can effect religious belief and practice in dramatic ways.
This strategy of the Greeks was very effective, not by creating an empire controlled by military power, but by creating a cultural empire built on ideas and a way of thinking that would influence nations throughout all the rest of time. What Babylon and Medo-Persia had failed to do by force of arms, the Greeks did by force of intellect and by the power of their culture. Though their military power was relatively short-lived, the power of Greek intellectualism is still with us today in every aspect of our lives. No wonder Paul wrote what he did – “The Greeks seek after wisdom.” But it was worldly wisdom and worldly philosophy that could not resolve the moral problems of men. That can only come by relying on the sure word of God.
Today, we have the same problem in our western cultures. There is a massive turning away from the word of God and a turning toward more and more of the Greek ideas of solving the world’s problems. And this influences the church. It infiltrates and revises the thinking of young people especially. They in turn have their families and teach their children nothing higher than they themselves believe. And if our lives and the lives of our children are not referenced to the moral principles found in the word of God they degenerate to where they are no better able to be righteous than a dog or a cat.
Devastating effect on the Jewish church
The effect of Hellenistic (or Greek) culture on God’s church during the 400 years between the last Old Testament prophet and the time of Christ is instructive to His church today. There were no prophets to speak to God’s church, and the Bible is otherwise silent concerning the history and condition of the church during this period. Tragically, many of the same principles the Greeks used on the Jewish church, which led to its terrible rejection of Christ, are being used on God’s church today to prevent it from receiving the latter rain.
Most of God’s people don’t see themselves as part of the last generation. They do not see that God has given them a special work to do that is unique from all previous generations. And now, the assault on last generation doctrine is on.
One of the four generals that took control of the southern part of the Greek empire after the death of Alexander the Great was Ptolemy I. He began the Ptolemy dynasty that ruled from Alexandria, Egypt. This kingdom had the most influence on the Jews during the 400 years just before Christ came to this earth as a babe in Bethlehem. Moreover, the change that took place during that time had far more impact on the Jews and their faith than it did on other nations. The reason was because the Jews were so different from the Greeks than those other nations.
The Ptolemys were very willing to let other nation’s leaders close to the circles of power in Alexandria. They invited these leaders to participate in at least certain aspects of their government. They also involved them in key aspects of Greek culture including religion and the arts. It was a sort of “political and cultural ecumenism,” but it had powerful effects on Jewish religious thinking.
Today, we have a similar convergence within politics and within religion. On one hand there is a strong ecumenical movement within religions leading the churches and religions to tolerate each other, cooperate together and even enter into alliances with each other in the name of peace and co-existence. Of course, that has its own destination which is leading the churches back toward Rome. On the other hand, there is also a political effort to moderate the nations into a sort of global political harmony that tolerates almost all ideas, including serious abominations, and leads to a so-called “peaceful co-existence.” U.S. presidents have preached that message routinely, as does the pope in Rome.
The basis of these movements within religion and politics comes directly from Greek philosophy upon which both the Papacy and the Western nations are founded. Political and religious ecumenism is merely a continuation of the trajectory of Greek ideas. The main idea is that nationalism, cultural extremes and even war can be reduced or eliminated if everyone is mixed together and governed by a central global authority. That’s why migration from poor nations into wealthy nations is so important to the Vatican. The chaos that mass migration brings to a nation is an excuse for greater control. The Vatican promotes this principle because ultimately she can use it to lead the nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples, to look to her for moral guidance. Remember, the Bible tells us that “power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”
This strategy of integrating political and thought leaders into Greek government and culture was intended to strengthen Greek cultural integration back home. But in no place was this more effective than in Israel. It was a Trojan horse that eroded Jewish uniqueness and undermined God’s special purpose for the Jews to get the world ready for the first coming of the Messiah.
The pagan Greeks were very friendly to the Jews. Alexander and Ptolemy I offered them equal rights, benefits and protections with all other citizens. This friendly relationship between the Jews and the Greeks caused large Jewish communities to arise in Alexandria, Egypt.
The Ptolemy strategy to integrate Greek culture into Jewish life was a multi-pronged approach through their educational system, their economy, and through entertainment and the arts. The Jews were intrigued by the intellectualism of the Greeks, and eventually became enthralled with it.
The Ptolemy dynasty controlled Egypt in the south, Judea, Phoenicia and the surrounding regions. The Ptolemy kings wanted to merge religions by taking the good parts of each and integrating them into a combined Greek religion. This ecumenical project was difficult from the standpoint of the Jews. They were unique and peculiar. But for the Jews to remain faithful to God, they could not intermingle their religion with others. They had to remain separate and distinct. In fact, they were forbidden to associate in an ecumenical way with all false religions. After all, none of the other nations had religions that were based on God’s holy word. They were all pagan. The Jews would have to change in order to merge their faith into the religion of the empire. Other religions could more easily be adjusted to fit the mold, but not the religion of Israel. Dramatic revisions would have to be made to integrate the Jewish faith into Greek culture.
To accomplish this project the Ptolemy kings established an educational center and library in Alexandria. The library was unique. They tried to bring all the religious texts of the various religions throughout the empire to this library, have them translated to the Greek language, and then made available for study.
One of the Ptolemy kings strategically commissioned 70 rabbi scholars to come from Judea to Alexandria and translate the Old Testament (their sacred oracles) into the Greek language. The result of this translation project was called the Septuagint. This would no doubt also open opportunities for the Jews to become more familiar with the culture of the Greeks by exchanging ideas with the Greek master philosophers. The Jews would have vainly seen it as an opportunity to influence the Greeks with their own sacred texts.
But that was only the beginning. Promising and talented Jewish youth were, no doubt, invited to Alexandria’s schools and then with their degrees came back to teach in Jewish schools. Because Greek culture was becoming quite popular, the Jews thought this a good way to bring fresh thinking and new perspectives into Jewish life. The average Jew was enamored with Greek lifestyle and materialism. And the prospect of wealth strengthened the Jewish fascination with Greek thinking and culture. Meanwhile, Greek intellectualism crept into Palestine.
The Jewish priests had made themselves singularly wealthy from the offerings of the people and had become corrupted. Their chief aim it seemed was to gain money. What does the scripture say? “The Love of money is the root of all evil.” Since the priests were essentially the national leaders, they guided the course of their country according to their ambitions and became easy prey to Hellenic influences, which improved their chances of increasing their wealth and influence even further.
But a broader economic principle was to come into play in Judea, which would affect everybody, not just the priests. The Ptolemy king made a certain Jew the head of tax collection from Phoenicia to the borders of Egypt. He, in turn, appointed his own countrymen to help him. These enriched themselves and, in turn, invested in Judea, showering it with money and wealth and improving economic conditions. This investment in Judea raised the people from poverty to prosperity and changed the course of Judean history.
Please understand that Satan was primarily interested in the Jews. He already controlled the Greeks and the other pagan nations. The Jews were the object of Christ’s supreme regard. They were His church. They were going to have the Messiah. Satan knew that they must be prevented from accomplishing their mission at all costs. Perhaps that is why the Jews were so courted by the Greeks. Their lifestyle and principles were so different from the Greeks hence the Greeks concentrated on them. In the end time, Satan’s primary object is to get God’s people off of their mission; off of their spiritual principles and prevent them from proclaiming Present Truth.
Do you think he has been trying to get God’s remnant people to forget their message and mission and thereby miss the latter rain and not proclaim the near or imminent second coming of Christ? Of course he has! Why should we see all this modernism as a good thing? It is undermining our love and loyalty to God, and making us less and less willing to witness for our faith, particularly when it involves sacrifice.
The newfound wealth from all this investment in Judea helped turn admiration for the Greeks into emulation. Jewish tastes became more refined. They became interested in less practical arts, especially painting. Their homes became more beautiful. Their clothing copied the fashions of the Greeks. But the simple habits and customs of the Jews designed to keep them loyal to God and separate from pagan idolaters was lost. Though they no longer bowed down to idols, they were guilty of a new idolatry to the gods of reason, materialism and fashion. It involved a new way of thinking, a new way of acting, and a new educational system more compatible with the prevailing ideas of the Greek empire.
But it was the Jewish leaders that led the youth of the day to adopt extravagant habits and frivolous customs. They copied the Greeks in everything from eating and drinking to fashion and finances. They indulged in wine, music, drama, theater and other entertainments. They placed more importance on making money than on spiritual values. Greek fashions became customary in Judea. The youth would exercise under Greek hats, and flaunted the popular Greek country dress through the streets of Jerusalem. As the new educational system advanced within Jewish society, so did the corresponding love of worldliness and monetary gain. These enchantments greatly appealed to the youth who were quickly drawn into dissipation and unchastity.
Has this happened to God’s church today? Today, there is a similar fascination with fashion. God’s people often dress like the world. For many years women have worn that which pertains to a man (though designed perhaps, to be a little more feminine), and now some men are even wearing that which pertains to women. See Deuteronomy 22:5. It is so common now, that most of God’s people don’t even realize what they are doing. God’s people, both men and women often dress to express and expose their sexuality. And it is not just out on the street, but also it is often in sacred worship services in God’s church, of all places. Also, I don’t know how many Christian weddings I have been to in recent years where modesty is thrown to the wind.
Even though we are living in the anti-typical Day of Atonement, jewelry now seems to be everywhere. Frivolous fashion draws attention to the outward appearance, which means nothing to God, and offends Him. Remember what God said to Samuel, “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” That’s 1 Samuel 16:7. So why should we dress and adorn ourselves in ways that draw attention to the outward appearance. I’m not saying that we should not look neat and tidy, or that we should not have nice clothes. I’m referring to the misuse of fashion and modesty to draw attention to ourselves or parts of ourselves.
For many reasons, gender roles in modern society have become so confused that there is now so much disorientation that it has led to great social controversies in things which God never intended should arise, such as homosexual lifestyles and even gay marriage. God’s people today seem to have the idea that because we have to love everyone, we had better not speak out against sin. We have been leavened by the very same Greek principles that were used on the Jews.
The Greeks loved their festivals, which consumed a large share of public life. Some important Jews, familiar with Ptolemy’s court, witnessed, and even participated in the corrupt orgies connected with the numerous Greek festivals. These leading Jews brazenly introduced them at Jerusalem, including the wine, dancing women and pagan music in among God’s church. The result was that there was less interest in the festivals that God had given to His people to inspire them with truth and soul-saving education. Moreover there was a steep decline in morality particularly among the young. You see, the Jews had been gradually re-educated into the thinking of the world.
Some of the leading Jews knew that in order to Hellenize the Jewish church, they would have to control the education of the young so the Jews could become as much like the Greeks as possible. Some of the most influential Jews shamelessly conspired to systematically Hellenize the Jews through education and eventually abolish the faith of their fathers. The goal of these “progressives,” if we should call these liberals that, was the complete incorporation of Jewish life and customs into worldly Greek culture.
It should be no surprise that the same thing has happened to us. We are living in a time when many of God’s people want to be as much like the world as possible. They even think that we should do away with the three angels’ messages and anything else that has made us distinctly the last generation.
Greek education put a high priority on sports. The Jewish revisionists introduced games, races, wrestling matches and contests of all sorts in Jewish schools, even though Jewish law sternly opposed these innovations. One of the High Priests named Jason introduced the Olympian games into Judea and built a gymnasium for this purpose in the heart of the city close to the temple. Jewish youth flocked to this Olympic shrine within their own borders. Greek sports masters were hired to teach them their games. The Jews crowded the stadium. Even the priests neglected their duties in the temple so they could participate in the games.
There was one embarrassment to the Jews. The participants in the Olympic games were required to compete naked. One of the distinctive marks of Jewish singleness to God was circumcision. Yet this became a mark of shame under the influence of the Greeks. To prevent derision, Jewish Olympians undertook a special operation to disguise this. And little wonder. Competitive sports are contrary to God’s system of education, and this symbol of their singleness to God was a constant reminder of their new idolatry.
Perhaps for the benefit of those that are new to the Bible’s condemnation of competitive sports, I should refer you to Philippians 2:3 which says “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory.” There can be no doubt that sports are a form of organized strife. After all, the Greeks had invented them, particularly the Olympics, in order to keep their soldiers fit for the battle.
Most people who have played or watched the more dramatic sports games recognize the overt physical brutality and strife, both among the players and even among the fans at times. But the same principles are at play in games with less physical contact. The players still try to overcome their opponent rather than cooperate with him or her.
And there is still the competition, which is contrary to the spirit of Christ. Many people think that competition is a good thing, because it teaches some good lessons. But friends, all competitive games are focused on taking advantage of another’s weakness in order to gain the point or win the game. This is not the principle of Christ who urges us to help one another on the path to heaven.
Moreover, competitive games are full of vanity. The winner is bathed in glory, particularly if it is an important national or international tournament. But even in the local Christian elementary or primary school, the winner is the one that get’s picked first for the next game, and is the one on whose team everyone else wishes to be. This vanity increases pride and arrogance, a spirit that is contrary to the principles of heaven.
Furthermore, many sports games involve deception. You fake one move and then do another. This is breaking Jesus’ commandment, which says “thou shalt not bear false witness.”
Some say that you cannot avoid competition in this world. While this may be true, the Christian can avoid it as much as possible and minimize his involvement. He certainly does not have to fill his mind with sports games. Competitive sports and games have become to this generation what they were to the Jews during the Greek empire. They are a form of idolatry, which has been sanctified and approved by the churches, pastors, and teachers. How can we be so undiscerning? How can we lead our children to Jesus when we first lead them to the spirit of competition and supremacy over each other?
If you would like more developed thoughts on this topic ask for our sermon “Like the Idols of the Nations.” We will be glad to send it to you.
Loss of distinctive doctrines and the sanctuary message
The decline in standards fostered by the liberal leaders led to a general disregard and even denial of the fundamental truths of the Jewish faith. “By the act of its own people,” wrote one historian, “Jerusalem had renounced its age-long isolation and come into line with the great Hellenic world.” The increasing fascination with Hellenic culture led to less interest in the old Jewish laws and ways. Little by little the things that made the Jews distinct; their very identity, became open for discussion. Even conservative Jews began to question their old traditional beliefs. They wondered if the teachings of Judaism were actually correct. They could see that their old teachings were in conflict with Greek reasoning. Yet the Greeks were so “successful,” could it not be the blessing of God that they were so beneficial to Jewish economy? They gradually replaced God’s definition of success with Greek ideas.
Do you see this happening today? Actually, it is quite easy to see. We’re living in a time when the old landmarks are being undermined and eroded, whether in prophecy, doctrine or in practical standards.
It became so bad in Israel, that many leading Jews, began to wonder if God really required self-denial, and whether God was really concerned about man at all. You see, these two things go hand in hand. How can we understand that God loves us deeply and sacrificed Himself for us, if we ourselves have no desire to help others and sacrifice for them? Self-sacrifice is one of the ways that God helps us understand His love for us. God ordained sacrifice to help us grasp the principles of heaven.
Yet in today’s society self-sacrifice is rarely practiced. We build large homes for our personal use and then have to buy all sorts of furniture to put in them. Then we have to maintain them and keep them working properly. The idea seems to be that the larger the home the better. Would it not be better to place these resources into God’s work and live simply, even if we have the resources to purchase more extravagant homes than we need?
The rabbinical schools of the Jews continued to operate. But as Alexandria-trained rabbis held sway over the curriculum, the training in these schools became greatly compromised. Increasingly they were less practical, less biblical, and more theoretical. There was an emphasis on the study of the Greek philosophers instead of the Jewish prophets. Sports, games, wealth and luxury were glorified. Worldly motivation replaced an interest in service in God’s cause.
Year after year the word of God was studied less as the educational curriculum moved toward intellectualism and rationalism. Year after year man was exalted and God was less thought of. The degreed rabbi was extolled and the unlearned depreciated. No wonder Jesus never attended the schools of the rabbis or the theological seminary in Jerusalem. What would happen if ministers today refused to attend the seminary like Jesus did? Would they be more pious? Would they preach more from scripture? Would they be more willing to preach about the sanctuary and the Investigative Judgment? What about the sanctity of the Sabbath or other distinctive principles of our message rather than ecumenical ideas that merely focus on love and unity?
In Judea ceremony increased as piety diminished. More emphasis was placed on the Mishna and the Gemara. The Mishna was a commentary on the Bible, which added many laws and ceremonies. The Gemara was a commentary on the Mishna, which again added more regulations and rules. There was a saying in “The Ethics of the Fathers,” another commentary, which went something like this; “A child of five years should study the Bible, at ten the Mishna and at fifteen the Gemara.” As a student advanced in years and increased in mental ability, he studied God’s word less and man’s writings more.
What do you think this did to their understanding of the great principles of the sanctuary, which were designed to protect God’s people from worldliness and teach them the way of salvation? In the Jewish mind these things began to become less and less important. Fidelity to God’s law was seen as too narrow and restricting. Attendance at temple services was less and less. Truths of the sanctuary message failed to impress their minds anymore.
The Peril of Prosperity
Liberal compromises do not bring peace and unity. By the second century B.C. the degeneration of the Jewish faith led to severe internal conflicts creating a reaction. Those that opposed this liberalization banded together and formed the Chasidim or “The Pious.” The conflict between the liberals and the conservatives pushed both parties to opposite extremes so that they could not comprehend each other. The conservatives accused the liberals of backsliding, “breaking the law” and of “fearful sin.” The liberals accused the conservatives of folly in retaining the old landmarks and of undermining national progress, prosperity and stability. As you can imagine, the conservatives trying to uphold the historic principles were accused of causing the disunity. Does this sound familiar?
Arguments arose on all fronts. Disagreements about sports, food, medicine, worldliness, and philosophical problems created general discord. Both parties struggled for political influence. The liberal Hellenizers wanted one of their numbers to replace the conservative high priest and soon the burning question in Jerusalem was whether it was really necessary that the high priest be a descendant of Aaron, leading to fears that the liberals would desecrate the high office. Women’s ordination has become the same thing to us today.
The people generally took the middle course. They enjoyed the luxuries, refinements, entertainments such as drama and theater, and the ever-present sports, but disapproved of the extreme liberal excesses because they did not want to break their connection with the past. Some even began to rationalize that since the Jews were the special objects of God’s affection, these changes to society, buttressed by economic strength, were actually blessings from God and should be accommodated.
The conflict and strife in Jerusalem with its political intrigues drew the attention of Antiochus Epiphanies, who marched on Jerusalem in 169 B. C. Antiochus desecrated the temple, and made the keeping of the Sabbath and circumcision capital crimes, while forcing the Jews to keep the pagan festival to Dionysias. The revolt of the Maccabees and subsequent wars eventually restored the temple and Jewish nationality under the control of conservatives. But the infiltration of Greek principles was never eradicated. The enemy had succeeded.
The Jews had departed from God again, and to supply the lack of spirit, the conservative rabbis made the Jewish religion much more legalistic in order to restrict Hellenism’s progress. Yet the religious leaders had lost sight of the true object of their faith. They multiplied ceremonies without understanding their real message. Meanwhile, the Jewish church had become so compromised that full reform was essentially impossible. By the time of Christ, it was obvious that even He could not change them and had to start a new church.
“As the Jews had departed from God, faith grew dim, and hope had well-nigh ceased to illuminate the future. The words of the prophets were uncomprehended,” wrote God’s messenger in Desire of Ages, page 29. The influences of pagan culture, philosophy and lifestyle had so gutted the religious life of the Jews that when Jesus came to them, only a few humble souls recognized and welcomed Him. Even the masses that followed Him daily looked for a temporal kingdom, and when threatened by the religious leaders, they deserted Him.
Can you imagine how sad heaven must have been to see the reaction of the Jews to Jesus? Imagine their horror at the hatred that was directed at Christ. Imagine the heartsick angels that ministered to Jesus as He was persecuted by the priests, as He anguished in Gethsemane, was beaten by the Romans, and hung on a cruel cross. Imagine the shock and horrified amazement of heavenly beings as the church leaders mocked him and derided him as he hung on that cross. Unbelievable! Satan had been so subtle and so slick in captivating the minds of the Jews with all these liberal compromises, and then creating a conflict that prevented them from coming back into the balance of the truth. It is difficult to imagine perhaps, but is it not probable that Satan is working to do the same things to God’s church today? As difficult as this may be to accept, it is true. Here is how.
Application to Modern Times
In our day, there has been a similar loss of the core principles of the truth in God’s church, and the parallels are phenomenal. For example, to meet accreditation standards, teachers attend evangelical and secular seminaries for advanced degrees (in the Greek tradition no less) and bring evangelical teachings back into the seminaries who should be training youth to give the last message to the world, compromising the training of younger pastors.
Years ago, the liberals knew that the only way to change the church was to control the educational system. This they have done quite successfully. Our schools have replaced agriculture with the Greek pagan concept of games and sports and have tried to become as much like secular schools as possible. The gymnasium or stadium has become the new shrine. The distinctive features of God’s educational system that were to set our educational system apart from the world have been largely eliminated. Academic curriculums now emphasize less Bible and more evangelical theology and ecumenical teachings.
Like the Jews, we have developed an entertainment mentality, which includes celebration-style worship services, mimes and clowns, movies and theater, amusement parks, computer games, dancy music and the ever-present sports. Many of us live in city environments where these entertainments are more easily available. Similar to the Jews, affluence consumes our time and energies, providing little time for God and family. Many are more concerned about making money than about their spiritual life or the eternal salvation of others. And many among us try to become as much like the worldlings around us as possible.
Like the Jews, many now question the distinctive features of our faith. Many “progressive” leaders (as liberals like to be called) are determined to incorporate evangelical religious culture into our distinctive lifestyle and completely do away with the faith of our fathers, the three angels’ messages and the last generation doctrines or principles of our faith. Many of us have become ashamed of the distinctives of our faith and like those Jewish athletes, want to hide or minimize them. It’s interesting to note that Jewish distinctives, such as the Sabbath and circumcision, once compromised, eventually became a target of repression under Antiochus. Will similar compromises lead to persecution of those who uphold the distinctive truths that God has entrusted to the last generation, perhaps even by those of their own household of faith? Conflicts between liberals and conservatives today are so polarized that they often can’t understand each other.
God’s plan of true education, designed to strengthen the loyalties of God’s people to the law of God is almost wholly extinct today. Except for a few self-supporting schools where young people learn the biblical principles of our faith, there would be no place for youth to avoid, what God calls foolish Greek principles that prevail in our Christian educational institutions (see 1 Cor. 1:18-28). Compromise has gutted the spiritual education that is to be given to our youth to the point that many graduates have little or no motivation to serve God’s cause.
The burden rests on you and me, my friends! We cannot wait for others to change the church. We are the ones that must keep the faith. We are the ones that must uphold its principles and reveal it in our characters and live like we believe that Jesus is coming very soon.
The Messiah not recognized
The Jews were so steeped in Greek education and lifestyle that they could not discern that among them was the Promised One – Jesus the Messiah. They viewed him as unlearned and lower class because He never studied in their schools. They hated His pointed public accounting of their infidelity to the Law of God. They despised His simple teaching about how to be saved. But most of all they were angry that He refused to obey their authority and follow their rules. The Greek system of education and philosophy had destroyed the Jews capability to comprehend Jesus’ mission and they ended by crucifying him.
The Latter Rain
Is it possible that many of us are so steeped in worldly (Greek) principles that we will treat the genuine manifestation of the Holy Spirit similar to the way the Jews treated Christ? Is it possible that many will miss the latter rain while it is falling all around them because they have refused to follow God’s simple plan of education? How many among us will miss the last opportunity to cooperate with heaven in the final warning message to the world because they have frittered away their preparation time in sports, entertainment, or other worldly pursuits?
Perhaps we need to rethink our relationship to Christ and the world around us and find where we are personally compromised, and do all in our power to recover our faith and live by it in our homes, schools and churches. Perhaps we could gain much by restudying the sanctuary services that God gave to Israel to illustrate His principles of salvation. If we understood Christ’s powerful love for us personally, and comprehend His purpose for each of us in these last days, we could see the pathway through all the temptations and attractions that the Devil would throw at us. Christ and Him crucified is to be the center of our lives. But we must also understand that He is proposing to mature our experience so that we can have characters that reflect Him so fully that we turn from sin completely. If that is our focus, we will escape the dangers of worldliness and selfishness.
How is it with you? How is it with me? Are we striving to become part of the last group of people that will understand and reflect the fullness of the character of God through Jesus Christ? Will you join me in living for Jesus today, no matter how much ridicule, no matter how difficult it will be, no matter how much persecution?
Will you join me in pleading with God for a true, mature and full experience with Jesus? Will you join me in digging deeply in His word for truth?
Let us pray. Father, it is in Jesus name that we come to you today. We know that we have often compromised our faith and have adopted worldly principles in our lives, even after we have professed to accept Jesus and the truth for these last days. Help us to see how dangerous it is to play with Satan’s devices. Help us to see how to come apart and be separate from the world. Help us to leave these things behind and look only to heaven, for that is where our home is. We are on the borders of the Promised Land – our heavenly home. May you sanctify us and purify us, and make us ready, so that when the Holy Spirit is poured out, we will be part of that great final warning message, and that we will not reject Him and miss out on this crucial time. This is our prayer in Jesus name, amen.
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