1. DANGER TO THE FLOCK
a. What danger did Jesus warn that the church would face? Matthew 24:4, 5, 11. What would eventually develop? Acts 20:28–30; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12.
“Within a few brief years many of those who had stood as teachers and leaders in the church were to lay down their lives for the gospel. Soon grievous wolves were to enter in, not sparing the flock. But none of these things were to bring discouragement to those whose hopes were centered in Christ.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 528.
b. What could the church do about this danger? 2 Timothy 3:13–15; Romans 16:17, 18.
“Paul trembled for the church as, looking into the future, he saw the attacks which she must suffer from both external and internal foes. With solemn earnestness he bade his brethren guard vigilantly their sacred trust.”—Ibid., p.395.
2. THE THREAT OF PERSECUTION
a. What did the unbelieving Jews do to their Christian countrymen? 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16; Acts 14:2. What happened as a result of persecution? Acts 8:1, 4.
“The work of proclaiming the gospel message among the Gentiles was now to be prosecuted with vigor; and as a result the church was to be strengthened by a great ingathering of souls. The apostles who had been appointed to lead out in this work would be exposed to suspicion, prejudice, and jealousy. Their teachings concerning the breaking down of ‘the middle wall of partition’ (Ephesians 2:14) that had so long separated the Jewish and the Gentile world, would naturally subject them to the charge of heresy.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 161.
“If those who know the truth would practice it, methods would be devised for meeting the people where they are. It was the providence of God which in the beginning of the Christian church scattered the saints abroad, sending them out of Jerusalem into many parts of the world. The disciples of Christ did not stay in Jerusalem or in the cities near by, but they went beyond the limits of their own country into the great thoroughfares of travel, seeking for the lost that they might bring them to God. Today the Lord desires to see His work carried forward in many places. We must not confine our labors to a few localities.”—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 330.
b. Was this persecution something they should expect? John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12. What happens to cause a person to lose his or her faith in the face of persecution? Mark 4:16, 17.
c. How should we respond to persecution? Matthew 5:10–12; Romans 8:37–39.
“[Matthew 5:10–12 quoted]. Jesus here shows [His disciples] that at the very time when they are experiencing great suffering in His cause, they have reason to be glad and recognize that their afflictions are profitable to them, having an influence to wean their affections from the world and concentrate them upon Heaven.”—The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, pp. 211, 212.
3. JUDAIZING TEACHERS
a. How did the fear of persecution continue to affect some church members? Acts 15:1, 2.
“While the apostles united with the ministers and lay members at Antioch in an earnest effort to win many souls to Christ, certain Jewish believers from Judea ‘of the sect of the Pharisees’ succeeded in introducing a question that soon led to widespread controversy in the church and brought consternation to the believing Gentiles. With great assurance these Judaizing teachers asserted that in order to be saved, one must be circumcised and must keep the entire ceremonial law. . . .
“The Jewish converts generally were not inclined to move as rapidly as the providence of God opened the way. From the result of the apostles’ labors among the Gentiles it was evident that the converts among the latter people would far exceed the Jewish converts in number. The Jews feared that if the restrictions and ceremonies of their law were not made obligatory upon the Gentiles as a condition of church fellowship, the national peculiarities of the Jews, which had hitherto kept them distinct from all other people, would finally disappear from among those who received the gospel message.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 188, 189.
b. What was the spirit behind these movements? Galatians 6:12–16. What qualities will a true Christian reveal in situations like this? 2 Timothy 1:7.
c. How did the apostle Paul meet the heresy in his letters? Romans 2:25–29; 1 Corinthians 7:18, 19; Galatians 5:6.
“Paul had dedicated himself and all his powers to the service of God. He had received the truths of the gospel direct from heaven, and throughout his ministry he maintained a vital connection with heavenly agencies. He had been taught by God regarding the binding of unnecessary burdens upon the Gentile Christians; thus when the Judaizing believers introduced into the Antioch church the question of circumcision, Paul knew the mind of the Spirit of God concerning such teaching and took a firm and unyielding position which brought to the churches freedom from Jewish rites and ceremonies.”—Ibid., p.200.
4. COURAGE AND COMPROMISE
a. Like the apostle Paul, what spirit should we have? Galatians 6:14; Romans 1:14–17.
b. What compromise was the great apostle persuaded by his brethren to make, and how did it lead to his arrest? Acts 21:17–24, 26–30.
“The brethren hoped that Paul, by following the course suggested, might give a decisive contradiction to the false reports concerning him. They assured him that the decision of the former council concerning the Gentile converts and the ceremonial law, still held good. But the advice now given was not consistent with that decision. The Spirit of God did not prompt this instruction; it was the fruit of cowardice. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem knew that by non-conformity to the ceremonial law, Christians would bring upon themselves the hatred of the Jews and expose themselves to persecution. . . . Should the believers in Christ be condemned before the Sanhedrin as breakers of the law, they would suffer swift and severe punishment as apostates from the Jewish faith.
“Many of the Jews who had accepted the gospel still cherished a regard for the ceremonial law and were only too willing to make unwise concessions, hoping thus to gain the confidence of their countrymen, to remove their prejudice, and to win them to faith in Christ as the world’s Redeemer. Paul realized that so long as many of the leading members of the church at Jerusalem should continue to cherish prejudice against him, they would work constantly to counteract his influence. . . . But he was not authorized of God to concede as much as they asked.
“When we think of Paul’s great desire to be in harmony with his brethren, his tenderness toward the weak in the faith, his reverence for the apostles who had been with Christ, and for James, the brother of the Lord, and his purpose to become all things to all men so far as he could without sacrificing principle—when we think of all this, it is less surprising that he was constrained to deviate from the firm, decided course that he had hitherto followed. But instead of accomplishing the desired object, his efforts for conciliation only precipitated the crisis, hastened his predicted sufferings, and resulted in separating him from his brethren, depriving the church of one of its strongest pillars, and bringing sorrow to Christian hearts in every land.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 404-406.
5. THE MYSTERY DEVELOPED
a. After the revolt of the Jews from the rule of Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, how did the focus change among compromising Christians? Revelation 2:2–4.
“Early in the history of the church the mystery of iniquity foretold by the apostle Paul began its baleful work; and as the false teachers concerning whom Peter had warned the believers, urged their heresies, many were ensnared by false doctrines.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 587.
“What was the origin of the great apostasy? How did the church first depart from the simplicity of the gospel? By conforming to the practices of paganism, to facilitate the acceptance of Christianity by the heathen.”—The Great Controversy, p. 384.
b. Discuss how the popular contempt of the Jews throughout the Roman empire contributed to the decline in the observance of the Sabbath.
“In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept by all Christians. . . . But with great subtlety Satan worked through his agents to bring about his object. That the attention of the people might be called to the Sunday, it was made a festival in honor of the resurrection of Christ. . . .
“Now, taking advantage of the false light in which he had thus caused [the Sabbath] to be regarded, [Satan] cast contempt upon it as a Jewish institution. While Christians generally continued to observe the Sunday as a joyous festival, he led them, in order to show their hatred of Judaism, to make the Sabbath a fast, a day of sadness and gloom.”—Ibid., pp.52, 53.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. What spirit was the root of the development of the mystery of iniquity?
2. How will a truly converted person respond to the threat of persecution?
3. Explain the issues surrounding the first doctrinal controversy in the early Christian church.
4. What prompted the advice given to Paul when he was in Jerusalem? Why?
5. How does the mystery of iniquity still insinuate itself into the church today?