1. A PURE ARMY
a. What was seen when the first seal was opened? Revelation 6:1, 2. What does white symbolize in Scripture? Revelation 3:4, 5; 19:8; Isaiah 1:18.
b. Describe the early Christian church and her spiritual conquests. How did persecution gain advantages for the gospel? Acts 8:4; Colossians 1:23.
“In the days of the apostles the Christian believers were filled with earnestness and enthusiasm. So untiringly did they labor for their Master that in a comparatively short time, notwithstanding fierce opposition, the gospel of the kingdom was sounded to all the inhabited parts of the earth. The zeal manifested at this time by the followers of Jesus has been recorded by the pen of inspiration for the encouragement of believers in every age.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 578.
“If primitive Christianity could enter the hearts of all who claim to believe the truth, it would bring to them new life and power. The people who are in darkness would then see the contrast between truth and error, between the teachings of God’s word and the fables of superstition.”—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 580.
2. TRIUMPHS OF THE FIRST CENTURY
a. In what sense were the early Christians a peculiar people? Revelation 2:1, 3.
“The early Christians were indeed a peculiar people. Their blameless deportment and unswerving faith were a continual reproof that disturbed the sinner’s peace. Though few in numbers, without wealth, position, or honorary titles, they were a terror to evildoers wherever their character and doctrines were known.”—The Great Controversy, p. 46.
“The members of the church were united in sentiment and action. Love for Christ was the golden chain that bound them together. They followed on to know the Lord more and still more perfectly, and in their lives were revealed the joy and peace of Christ. They visited the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and kept themselves unspotted from the world, realizing that a failure to do this would be a contradiction of their profession and a denial of their Redeemer.
“In every city the work was carried forward. Souls were converted, who in their turn felt that they must tell of the inestimable treasure they had received. They could not rest till the light which had illumined their minds was shining upon others.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 579.
b. How did the early church deal with unfaithful leaders? Revelation 2:2 (compare Acts 20:28–30). Yet sadly, toward the end of the first century, why did the church lose her primitive godliness? Revelation 2:4, 5.
“After a time the zeal of the believers began to wane, and their love for God and for one another grew less. Coldness crept into the church. Some forgot the wonderful manner in which they had received the truth. One by one the old standard-bearers fell at their post. Some of the younger workers, who might have shared the burdens of these pioneers, and thus have been prepared for wise leadership, had become weary of oft-repeated truths. In their desire for something novel and startling they attempted to introduce new phases of doctrine, more pleasing to many minds, but not in harmony with the fundamental principles of the gospel. In their self-confidence and spiritual blindness they failed to discern that these sophistries would cause many to question the experiences of the past, and would thus lead to confusion and unbelief.”—Ibid., p.580.
3. FIERCE PERSECUTION
a. What was seen when the second seal was opened? Revelation 6:3, 4. What does red stand for? 2 Kings 3:19–23.
“Great numbers sealed their testimony with their blood. Noble and slave, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, were alike slain without mercy.
“These persecutions, beginning under Nero about the time of the martyrdom of Paul, continued with greater or less fury for centuries. Christians were falsely accused of the most dreadful crimes and declared to be the cause of great calamities—famine, pestilence, and earthquake. As they became the objects of popular hatred and suspicion, informers stood ready, for the sake of gain, to betray the innocent. They were condemned as rebels against the empire, as foes of religion, and pests to society. Great numbers were thrown to wild beasts or burned alive in the amphitheaters.”—The Great Controversy, p. 40.
“Under the fiercest persecution these witnesses for Jesus kept their faith unsullied. Though deprived of every comfort, shut away from the light of the sun, making their home in the dark but friendly bosom of the earth, they uttered no complaint. With words of faith, patience, and hope they encouraged one another to endure privation and distress. The loss of every earthly blessing could not force them to renounce their belief in Christ. Trials and persecution were but steps bringing them nearer their rest and their reward.”—Ibid., p.41.
b. Why can it be said that “by defeat they conquered” (The Great Controversy, p. 41)? Revelation 7:14, 17.
“Thousands were imprisoned and slain, but others sprang up to fill their places. And those who were martyred for their faith were secured to Christ and accounted of Him as conquerors. They had fought the good fight, and they were to receive the crown of glory when Christ should come. The sufferings which they endured brought Christians nearer to one another and to their Redeemer. Their living example and dying testimony were a constant witness for the truth; and where least expected, the subjects of Satan were leaving his service and enlisting under the banner of Christ.”—Ibid., p.42.
4. ENCROACHING APOSTASY
a. What change was taking place under the third seal, at the beginning of the fourth century? Revelation 6:5, 6.
“Satan . . . laid his plans to war more successfully against the government of God by planting his banner in the Christian church. If the followers of Christ could be deceived and led to displease God, then their strength, fortitude, and firmness would fail, and they would fall an easy prey.
“The great adversary now endeavored to gain by artifice what he had failed to secure by force. Persecution ceased, and in its stead were substituted the dangerous allurements of temporal prosperity and worldly honor. Idolaters were led to receive a part of the Christian faith, while they rejected other essential truths. They professed to accept Jesus as the Son of God and to believe in His death and resurrection, but they had no conviction of sin and felt no need of repentance or of a change of heart. With some concessions on their part they proposed that Christians should make concessions, that all might unite on the platform of belief in Christ. . . .
“Most of the Christians at last consented to lower their standard, and a union was formed between Christianity and paganism. Although the worshipers of idols professed to be converted, and united with the church, they still clung to their idolatry, only changing the objects of their worship to images of Jesus, and even of Mary and the saints. . . . As the followers of Christ united with idolaters, the Christian religion became corrupted, and the church lost her purity and power.”—Ibid., pp.42, 43.
b. How was the apostasy predicted by the apostle Paul? 2 Thessalonians 2:7–9.
“As persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles for the pomp and pride of pagan priests and rulers; and in place of the requirements of God, she substituted human theories and traditions.”—Ibid., p.49.
5. CONTROL THROUGH INTENSE PERSECUTION
a. What was seen under the fourth seal? What was the name of the fourth rider? Revelation 6:7, 8. How was papal Rome gaining political control in the sixth century?
“ ‘The noon of the papacy was the midnight of the world’—J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, b. 1, ch. 4. The Holy Scriptures were almost unknown, not only to the people, but to the priests. Like the Pharisees of old, the papal leaders hated the light which would reveal their sins. God’s law, the standard of righteousness, having been removed, they exercised power without limit, and practiced vice without restraint. Fraud, avarice, and profligacy prevailed. Men shrank from no crime by which they could gain wealth or position. The palaces of popes and prelates were scenes of the vilest debauchery. Some of the reigning pontiffs were guilty of crimes so revolting that secular rulers endeavored to depose these dignitaries of the church as monsters too vile to be tolerated. For centuries Europe had made no progress in learning, arts, or civilization. A moral and intellectual paralysis had fallen upon Christendom.”—The Great Controversy, p. 60.
b. What actions of the papacy fulfilled these verses: Matthew 24:21, 22; Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:7; 17:6?
“No other power could be so truly declared ‘drunken with the blood of the saints’ as that church which has so cruelly persecuted the followers of Christ (Revelation 7:6).”—Ibid., p.382.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
a. What is symbolized by a white horse?
b. Since the church is considered an army, and since we are in a spiritual war, describe the victorious experience of the early Christians.
c. How is apostasy seen during the second seal?
d. During the third seal, what further lowering of standards occurred?
e. Why is “pale” the color of the fourth horse, and how did the papacy try to control the people’s conscience?