The Church Ages - Sardis, The Fifth Age, 1520 AD-1750 AD
Nicholas V ( 1447 – 55 ) was the best Pope of the century. He realized that a desire for reform was sweeping Europe. He sent the great cardinal Nicholas of Cues to lead the reform movement in Germany. But he also permitted the Portuguese, who were exploring the west coast of Africa, to get involved in the lucrative African slave trade. Wrong ways of earning money was always the downfall of the church. Earning money in dubious ways is still a problem for Christians today.
After Nicholas the Popes did nothing to support and guide the strong local reform movements that were springing up all over Europe. The Popes focused shamelessly on collecting money to build St Peter's basilica or church and other Vatican monuments, using two and a half thousand loads of stone blocks from the deserted Colosseum which had been built by 60 000 Jewish slaves after the fall of Jerusalem. About 400 000 people had been killed in the Colosseum, including many early Christians who were thrown to the lions. Building St Peters as the biggest church in the world obsessed the Popes once building began in 1506. It took 120 years to build. They avidly collected money by any means.
The Catholic reformers, who were not interested in big building projects, began to look to political leaders for support. Individual churches initiated reforms inspired by middle class religious zeal as towns and workers began to unite together which gave them economic and political power.
Powerful religious forces erupted around the year 1500. People wanted reform, they wanted to get closer to God. The Popes provided no leadership as their obsession was for land, even if they had to go to war, as well as an endless greed for money. Pope Leo X ( 1513 -1521 ), desperate to build St Peters church, got one third of Rome’s money by selling the offices of bishops and archbishops and cardinals as well as selling indulgences whereby you could buy forgiveness of your sins. A growing discontent with Rome simmered strongly under the surface. Europe needed a strong leader who could give direction by carving out a channel that these religious forces could flow through and sweep together to form an irresistible tide.
Historians admit that Luther preached little that was new. Jan Hus had preached much the same a hundred years before in Bohemia. But Luther’s greatest quality was to satisfy the growing need of that time for a strong, determined, and faith-driven leader.
Luther and the other reformers became the first to skillfully use the power of the printing press to give their ideas a wide audience and kindle the enthusiasm of millions. No reformer was more adept than Martin Luther at using the power of the press to spread his ideas. Between 1518 and 1525, Luther published more works than the next 17 most prolific reformers combined. Luther translated the New Testament into German which demolished Rome’s hold over the German people as church services previously had been held in Latin which people did not understand.
Luther’s reform had three simple steps.
- Man is saved by grace through faith alone.
EPHESIANS 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
The Catholics relied on faith combined with good works.
- Truth is established by Scripture alone.
PROVERBS 30:5 Every word of God is pure:
II TIMOTHY 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof,
for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
II TIMOTHY 4:2 Preach the word;
The Catholics relied on the Bible and church tradition.
- There is no priesthood between the congregation and God because of the priesthood of all believers.
I PETER 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,
The Catholics depended on a Pope and a priesthood who alone could administer certain sacraments that were necessary for salvation. The Pope alone had the right to interpret Scripture.
In 1302 the Pope had declared that there was no salvation outside the Catholic church.
Slowly these Catholic beliefs crept back into the Protestant churches.
Before too long, as it still is today, many Protestants believed that they must get truth from the Bible as well as their leader’s quotes.
Christians do not or cannot prove what they believe from the Bible, by linking its verses together. They always end up quoting what some person has said.
Many non-Catholics believe that salvation depends on accepting Jesus as Saviour and then also depends on regular church attendance in a specific denomination or church. Salvation, they are convinced, is only sure when you are in a certain denomination or church group and you do not argue with the church leaders.
1963 THE THIRD SEAL
"If it ain't connected with my organization, it is--nothing to it."
Non-Catholic leaders or pastors were, and still are, elevated to stand between God and the people.
There is a priesthood of the five-fold ministry that claims to have formed between God and the congregation.
A huge spontaneous following flocked to Luther carried along by the deep religious feeling of the age, long before any princes took a hand in the Reformation.
Printing and preaching spread the message of the Reformation. The first years were unorganized and spontaneous and salvation spread rapidly around Europe, guided by the Holy Spirit.
The corruption and immorality in the Catholic church had disillusioned many. Dante, a firm Roman Catholic and the greatest Italian poet of the Dark Ages, around the year 1300 put Popes Nicholas III and Boniface VIII in hell in his poem “Inferno”. Reformers were fighting against entrenched corruption and unscriptural doctrines.
Thus Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin did not wish to reform the papacy they wanted to abolish it.
They wanted to abolish monasteries as unscriptural. They regarded the Roman Catholic church institutions as corrupt but were more concerned that the priests had corrupted the faith and were false teachers. The reformation was more of an attempt to restore Biblical Christianity which resulted in a full-scale attack on the Catholic church doctrines and rites. It took on the nature of a revolution.
MATTHEW 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
In the corrupt and money-grabbing state that the Catholic church was in 1500, the reformation came not to reform but to destroy.
Luther’s great success was to launch the doctrine of Justification by faith. No human merit can save a person. God does not accept us because of our good works. Human intellect is chained in darkness and can only choose between different degrees of sin. All we can do is accept Jesus because of His good works but it is only God’s grace that enables us to do that. Salvation relies entirely on the merits of the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. Nothing we can do can in any way compare with what He did. All we can do is sincerely repent of our own sins and eagerly accept His sacrifice on our behalf. That way we accept Him as our personal Saviour. There was no way in which we could save ourselves.
Why did the Reformation start in Germany?
In France and Spain the king had great power over the princes.
But Germany was different with no strong centralized government. Seven electors from seven different regions elected the German king who was also called the Holy Roman emperor. The German kings had endlessly fought against the Popes, and this had weakened the position of the German kings. Thus the German electors were able to stand up to the German king. Charles V was elected as Holy Roman emperor ( or German king ) in 1519. He was also king of Austria, Spain, Netherlands, half of Italy and parts of France. As such, Charles V was the most powerful king in Europe.
He decided to give his full support to the Pope.
As such, Luther had a formidable rival to oppose him.
But Germany, as far as Charles V was concerned, was his weakest power base because it was not one kingdom but was broken into numerous smaller independent regions. Elector Frederick III of Saxony, though a Catholic, was able to protect Luther because the great Dutch theologian Erasmus could not find anywhere where Luther contradicted Scripture. So Frederick III, being a just ruler, felt it was unfair to persecute him. This was a remarkable act of religious tolerance.
Charles V had another problem. His empire was too big. Communication and travel were slow in those days. So he put his brother Ferdinand, a cruel persecutor of Anabaptists in Austria, in charge of Germany and Austria. But the Ottoman Turks were moving up to Vienna in Austria so Ferdinand, who needed all the help and money that he could get from Germany, was not going to try to persecute Protestant Germans. The Ottoman Turks played a crucial role in tying down the resources of the Holy Roman Empire ( basically Germany and Austria ) and thus the military strength of Charles and Ferdinand was directed against the Turks and not against Germany.
The yellow in the above map shows the final extent of the Ottoman Turk empire by 1580.
In addition, Charles V, a Roman Catholic, was endlessly fighting France, whose king was also Catholic. This tied up his resources and effectively took the attention of Charles V away from Germany.
This effective balance of power created a situation where the world’s most powerful man was unable to silence a turbulent monk who in 1517 had nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in the city of Wittenberg in the German state of Saxony in protest against the selling of indulgences whereby people thought that they bought forgiveness for sins.
The world was electrified by this remarkable scenario.
Europe at last found a voice that had been raised to utter what most of them felt, that the whole system of indulgences was a fraud that had no place in the Gospel.
Europe watched in fascination as a poor monk now faced and fought the whole vast Papal religious and political power.
After the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 they dominated a large portion of eastern Europe. As the Ottoman Turks pushed towards Vienna they became an alarming threat towards Europe. France, and at times even the Pope, would make an alliance with the Ottoman Turks in order to limit the power of Charles V. Thus Charles V was caught between two strong enemies, as is shown on the map above, who took up much of his time, effort, and wealth.
His complete empire in Europe is shown in red in the above map.
Saxony, where Martin Luther lived in northern Germany, was safely far away from Charles V even though it was part of his empire. God had performed an amazing balancing act of political power.
In Germany, certain of the seven electors combined to oppose Charles V which severely limited his power in Germany and thus Charles V was powerless to act effectively in Germany. In addition, due to his struggle against France, he spent most of his time outside of Germany, leaving Luther free to continue with his Reformation.
The Suevi and Visigoths had become the Portuguese and Spaniards and they had opened up central and South America where they looted huge amounts of gold and silver for the Catholic church and added vast new empires to the Catholic church making Charles V the most powerful king on earth. This was Luther’s main political opponent.
The huge problem with this church age was that religion and politics were completely intermixed. And politics always puts the emphasis on money. Thus money played a dominant role in this church age.
The Popes wanted money for building up St Peter’s church and the Vatican city.
Looting South American gold and silver made up for all the losses Rome suffered due to countries in northern Europe breaking away from Rome and becoming Protestant.
The poor wanted to reject Catholicism so that they could loot the monasteries and the houses of the rich.
The princes wanted to reject Catholicism so that they could seize all the valuable church properties.
The sheer wealth of the Roman church made it a tempting target for Protestants to loot.
Many became Protestants just for the financial gain. This was a very poor motive.
Philip of Hesse, one of the most important Protestant rulers in Germany, dissolved the monasteries and nunneries in his territories and although he was only able to keep 41 % of the money for himself, his financial gain was considerable. He had a good name because he refused to kill “heretics” or religious dissenters. By introducing Protestantism into his state, he also increased his control over the church. This was a big mistake as the reformed church became dependent on political power for protection and money.
By breaking with Rome the princes were able to achieve their ambition of usurping the authority of the Pope and the bishops. The princes now began to rule some of the Protestant churches.
The Reformation was starting to replace one set of elevated human Roman Catholic leaders with another set of elevated human Protestant leaders.
In the territories ruled by a prince the religion of the ruler was binding on his people.
We humans have an infinite capacity for self-deception to justify our decisions. The self-gain in terms of power and money was often the reason for a person’s choice of faith.
In 1534 King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic church who refused to give him a divorce so that he could re-marry. Thus he broke with Rome and England, for all the wrong reasons, set off on the path where they would finally become Protestant in 1559 under his daughter Elizabeth I.
PSALM 76:10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee:
Such is God's power that he used the violent anger of the English king who wanted to divorce and re-marry ( which is not allowed in the New Testament ) to break Rome's hold over England.
MARK 10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
Tetzel was selling indulgences for the archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg in the city of Wittenberg when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door. The archbishop had borrowed money to buy more than one bishopric, so he needed the sale of indulgences to settle his debt. The Pope had a finger in the pie because he would get half the money for building St Peter’s church in the Vatican in Rome.
Luther’s indignation exploded in the form of his 95 Theses against indulgences and many other antiPope tracts.
At the Diet of Worms in 1521 when Charles V told him to recant and deny his teachings, Luther gave this classic answer which made him the leader of the biggest upheaval to hit the church.
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”.
Church unity, which for hundreds of years had been submissive to the Pope, was finally shattered.
82 words stated in three sentences, launched a new church age and changed Europe forever, religiously and politically.
North Europe went Protestant and starting with the Dutch Calvinists they developed the enormous power of a capitalist economy.
Central Europe accepted Protestantism but succumbed largely to the Catholic counter Reformation that started about 1540.
From the year 1540 to 1570 "it is proved by national authentic testimony, that nearly one million of Protestants were publicly put to death in various countries in Europe, besides all those who were privately destroyed, and of whom no human record exists" (J.P. Callender, Illustrations of Popery, 1838, p. 400).
Southern Europe remained a Catholic stronghold.
In mountainous Switzerland Zwingli, then Calvin picked up the Reformation fire. John Knox went to Scotland and uprooted Catholicism more effectively than it was done in any other country. Many were angry with the Catholic church in Scotland, which owned more than half the real estate and gathered an annual income of nearly 18 times that of the Scottish king. This was too big a financial prize for the Protestants to ignore.
Luther’s big failure was to be involved in politics.
The tyranny of the monks who saw their position and privileges vanishing, were violent without measure. The Pope’s authorities decided to use their old methods of cursing and killing to crush this new movement. Luther wrote about Freedom in Christ and the peasants and workers interpreted this as freedom from their lords and princes. They failed to grasp that Justification by Faith should lead to living a Christ-like life. Because Luther condemned the monasteries as being a perversion of the Gospel, the peasants felt that they could loot and ransack the monasteries. So the spiritual freedom that Luther preached became intertwined with the desire for political and financial freedom of the oppressed peasants. Between 1524 -1526, demanding freedom, 300 000 peasants and land workers rose up in revolt against their oppressive and despotic lords and princes, pursuing their material and financial aspirations with evangelical zeal. They hoped that this new Protestant religion would enable them to rob the houses of the rich and free them from paying taxes to the Catholic church. Luther, sadly, grew too dogmatic and backed the despotic princes against the people. 100 000 peasants were killed which cast a bleak shadow over the Reformation in Germany. This fatally tied the Lutheran church to the protection of the princes and as time went on the Lutheran church became a state church of the conservative upper and middle classes.
Luther also made the mistake of condemning the Jews. Hitler finally rose up to fulfill his condemnation of the Jews.
63-0318 THE FIRST SEAL
When Martin Luther made the proclamation that all Jews ought to be run off and their buildings burned down because they were antichrist... See? Martin Luther made that statement himself in his writing.
Now, Hitler just fulfilled what Martin Luther said. Why did Martin Luther say that? Because he was a reformer, not a prophet. God that... My prophet blessed Israel. He said, "Whosoever blesses you will be blessed, and who curses you will be cursed." How can one prophet stand and deny what the other prophet said? He can't do it. It's got to be in harmony.
After carrying out several brilliant reforms, Luther then continued with certain Catholic church traditions.
Luther carried over from the Dark Ages church of Rome the general practice of baptizing infants.
He also adopted the Catholic system of parishes where a priest was in charge of an area and then a bishop was in charge of a number of priests.
Another mistake that Luther made was to accept the Roman Catholic Trinity. He emphasized being Scriptural but ignored men like Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More who pointed out that the words used to define the Trinity were not in the Bible. Zwingli and Calvin, the other two great reformers in Switzerland, also backed down from opposing the Trinity. When Servetus, a Spanish doctor, dared to take the great step of rejecting the Trinity as unscriptural, which all the great reformers were not prepared to do, the reformer Calvin had him burned at the stake.
The Anabaptists tried to restore adult baptism but the reformer Zwingli in 1525 approved that Anabaptists should be drowned. The reformers used a clause in the law of Justinian, the Roman emperor who died in 565 AD, which had demanded the death sentence for anyone who got re-baptized or who denied the Trinity. The Reformation, based on a return to the Bible, was grinding to a halt.
The reformers believed that the political security of a country meant that everyone must obey it laws, as passed by the government, as well as obeying the religious laws of the leader of the country. There had to be uniformity of belief. If the leader of the country was Protestant, you had to be Protestant. If he was Catholic, you had to be Catholic. Politics and religion had become too intertwined.
The union of church and state was maintained. Political leaders could punish dissenters.
The religion of a territory became identical with the religion of its prince. The only religious freedom of choice that you had was to emigrate to a country whose prince shared your beliefs.
The emergence of kings and princes as the ones to decide the religion of their dominions gave the religious struggle a new political violence. Except for England, the kings in Europe became Catholic. Provinces and cities resisted the power of kings to control them and they, especially in northern Europe, became Protestant so that they could gain their own political independence.
Then Calvin came up with a convincing explanation of predestination which reduced man to being a robot who was either saved or not saved purely by God’s will. This extreme view demolished any form of human free will.
It would take a lot more insight before Christians would be able to grasp that free will and predestination could co-exist. The mistake of this age was not realizing that they only had part of the truth. With extreme bravery they had broken the Roman Catholic monopoly and dazzlingly presented Justification by Faith to get people saved. But instead of leaving the difficult and controversial ideas open until they could be resolved better when God revealed more truth in later years, they insisted on establishing viewpoints which were based on some Scriptures and ignored others.
Thus the Reformation slowly ground to a halt as the different groups in Europe formed denominations that entrenched their own ideas. They would ignore any further revelation of Scripture. So God would finally have to bypass them.
The reformers had made a good beginning, but then they stopped in their pursuit of what the original church believed. So the Reformation was a big step forward but it would be left to a later generation of men like John Wesley and the missionaries to take the Gospel further.
Wesley became famous for saying, “The world is my parish”.
This laid the basis for the golden missionary age of Christianity where the technological development of big ships could carry missionaries over the oceans and railways could take them inland.
By 1500 the papacy was spiritually bankrupt but Luther’s reformation forced the Catholic church to start reforming themselves which led to the establishment of the Jesuits in 1540 who preached total submission to the Pope ( “If the Pope says white is black then I will believe it”, said their founder Ignatius of Loyola ) and the Council of Trent that met three times between 1545 and 1563. Then they established and were able to launch a very effective counter reformation against the Protestants which won back lots of territory in central Europe from the Protestants.
The Protestants declared that the Pope was the antichrist but the Catholics took the future prophecies back into the past and claimed that the emperor Nero was the beast and that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD was the Tribulation. People who preferred this interpretation reverted back to Catholicism.
This was a clever tactic whereby future prophecies are neatly nullified. According to them, the Bible is a record of past events that does not tell us of the future.
Today Message believers consider the great Cloud that appeared in the past in 1963 near the city of Flagstaff in northern Arizona to be the fulfillment of the future Coming of the Lord or of the future coming down of the mighty Angel of Revelation Chapter 10. Thus they claim that the mysterious seven Thunders have already uttered. Placing the future into the past, thus repeats itself as a classic tactic of spiritual error.
The Inquisition in Rome established in 1542 rooted all Protestants out of Italy by tracking them down confiscating all their goods and lands, imprisoning them or killing them. The Spanish Inquisition established in 1478 had kept Protestantism out of Spain.
The great reformer Calvin had to flee persecution in France and go to Switzerland.
By 1560 a vigorous Catholic church was fighting back.
The fighting got literal. For almost a century the Catholics and the Protestants would be at each other’s throats in a civil and religious war.
The ambition of the Catholic kings for centralized control over all their countries and the desire of Protestant cities and provinces to defend their own local liberties thus became a political power struggle with an added intense religious dimension. The certainties of faith were mixed inextricably with the passions of politics. The struggle became absolute, incapable of compromise.
This awful time ended in the 30 year’s war in central Europe between 1618 and 1648. It was the deadliest and most destructive religious war in Europe where 6 to 8 million people died. Devastation, famine, and disease as well as mercenaries and soldiers looting and terrorizing the inhabitants became the standard conditions. The war ground to a halt as most of the countries involved became bankrupt. Territories lost up to a third or more of their inhabitants. The south-west of Germany had hardly one-third of their pre-war population left. Sheer exhaustion stopped the fighting. It took 100 years before some regions of Germany in 1750 got back to their 1618 population numbers.
The one exception was the Dutch Republic.
In 1648 they had fought the Spanish to a stand-still and finally ended their revolt against Spain and then enjoyed a time of great prosperity and development. They became one of the world’s foremost economic and naval powers. The economic boom of capitalism was starting to take off in Protestant countries.
Sardis was a church that looked strong but was actually weak.
They began well but then reacted to the conditions of the age, the frightening waves of awful violence and like Simon Peter they took their eyes off the Bible that they had started returning to, and began to sink.
But despite their faults, this fifth church age turned a dramatic corner.
Thanks to them people now began to get saved. Luther was the first man to lead a revolt against Rome that actually enabled people to escape and form Protestant countries that could stay separate from Rome.
The seven-branched candlestick that had gone so far away from the early church in the Dark Ages of the fourth church age, now had a flame on the other side. Justification. The just will live by faith. Despite all the problems and errors of the age, this great truth had caught hold in people’s hearts.
HABAKKUK 2:4 : but the just shall live by his faith.
The huge improvement was one of direction.
For the first time since the apostolic age, the church had taken a step of restoration towards the early church, rather than away from it. EVIL spelled backwards is LIVE. The church had rediscovered salvation by faith. There was still a lot to restore but they were starting to head in the right direction, back towards the first church age. The church was coming alive. The sun was starting to rise after the long dark night of the Dark Ages.
REVELATION 3:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
Sardis means "the escaped ones".
Luther, the great angel or messenger to his age, had managed to escape from Rome. But God has seven stars, seven messengers who were allocated to the seven church ages that would cover the 2 000 years of church history. There are still two more church ages to go. God manifested a different aspect of His Spirit to each of the seven ages because each age faced totally different situations and conditions. It looked like God was behaving in seven different ways. Seven totally different men would be raised up to guide each age in their seven different ways. Truth got lost in stages and now truth would be restored in stages, making each age and its challenges different.
But the followers of the reformers made a big mistake. They thought that they were the last church age and that the reformers had restored the full truth. The reformation churches built their doctrinal walls around themselves. The reformers tried to reveal the whole Bible, not realizing that enough truth had not yet been revealed. The reformers were the green leaves of the restored church that grew out of the dirt of the Dark Ages where the true seed had been buried since the council of Nicaea.
The works of these reformers were tremendous. Aided by the printing press they spread salvation far and wide. But their followers then called themselves by human and other man-made names like Lutheran, Calvanist, Anabaptists.
Thus the reform movement stopped and they built monuments of big church buildings.
Meanwhile, the life moved out of them as they denominated around the quotes of their leaders and the Life would go into the tassels that would blow the pollen over the field in the great missionary age that would follow. But the green leaves were drying up as time went on. They had carried the Life for a while but life moves on and sadly they did not, as they rejected further revelation.
Death by organization and denomination.
Each church believing that they had it all. So God had to raise up another church age of the greatest of missionaries to pick up the baton that had been dropped by the followers of the reformers.
REVELATION 3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
They had justification by faith. They had taught people the need to be saved. They had broken from many Roman Catholic beliefs. But in that cruel age, instead of focusing on what they got right which was salvation, Protestants began to persecute people that they disagreed with.
They also relied on the state for money, protection, and the enforcing of their doctrines.
They attempted to interpret all the Bible and in the process they established many wrong doctrines. Infant baptism. A church hierarchy of bishops and archbishops that was above the pastors. Each church was dominated by a pastor. Churches took on human or man-made names. Anglican church. Presbyterian church. Zwinglian church. Huguenots. Doctrinal errors were established like Trinity, Eve ate an apple, a seven-year Tribulation.
Denominational zeal replaced revelation of the Scripture. This age got off to a good start but was then unfulfilled.
They put their denomination first. It was more important to them than the Bible.
REVELATION 3:3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
Justification by faith was a great start. But then they moved on to state control of the church and forcing people to believe what the leader of the territory believed. Protestants even drowned Anabaptists just because they practised adult baptism. The great reformer Zwingli began preaching in Zurich in 1519 but was killed in 1531 because he tried to apply an unsuccessful food blockade against the Catholics in Switzerland. They attacked unexpectedly and killed him.
Protestants did well to break Rome’s stranglehold but did much wrong also that they needed to repent of. The Gospel was mixed with political violence. Many Protestants wanted to confiscate the wealth of the Roman Catholic church. They became too involved with earthly pursuits and relaxed their guard.
God removed from them their spiritual desire to understand more truth. Thus they got so far, and then stopped.
REVELATION 3:4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
Amongst the politics and the violence and the desire to loot the rich Catholic churches and the homes of the rich Catholics, there was a minority who actually served God just to draw closer to Him and to live by His Word. They surrendered their lives to Him, repented of their sins and genuinely accepted Jesus as their Saviour. Many were unnoticed by historians, just being ordinary men and women. But the focus of their lives was on serving God and getting others saved. Their motive was neither wealth nor the awful religious violence that swept this age until about 1650. They sought to persuade their enemies, not to kill them even though they were often killed. But the tide would turn and after 1650 there was more tolerance as Catholics and Protestants realized that a century of devastating religious warfare had left Europe split into two camps, Catholic and Protestant, neither of which were sufficiently strong enough to be able to destroy the other.
This can be compared to the deadly civil war that began in Syria in 2011. By 2017 there were about 400 000 dead and about 12 million displaced refugees. The cities where fighting happened had large areas reduced to rubble. Can anyone claim victory in this tragic scenario? The ancient Romans would devastate an area and reduce it to ruin, and then call this peace. Around 1650 there were many parts of Germany that looked like modern day Syria. It would take another hundred years before the population of many parts of Germany returned to the numbers who lived there in 1540.
REVELATION 3:5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
Those who were able to get saved and spread the Gospel of Justification by Faith, despite all the senseless violence and horrific cruelty that was rampant in this age, had tragic circumstances that they had to overcome. But with great courage they were prepared to die for their faith. Many were blotted out and destroyed in the savage counter-Reformation that the Roman Catholics launched around the year 1540. White garments speak of their upright righteousness. Though blotted out physically by ruthless enemies, no-one could blot their names out of the Book of Life that God keeps in Heaven. That is all that really counts because they will all come up in the resurrection and then live on earth forever. Those who killed them lived a little longer on earth but will end in the Lake of Fire, which is a dismal prospect.
God will stand for those who had the courage to stand for Him. That is one virtue that Martin Luther infused into this church age: courage.
REVELATION 3:6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
God’s plea to each age which is ignored by the majority. Get back to the Bible. The Spirit will only teach you what is in the Bible.
But somehow men will continually have more faith in the unscriptural quotes of their leaders than in what is actually written in the Bible. Human wisdom cannot guide us through troublesome times. We just need to stick to God’s Word, even though it costs us. This age had many martyrs. Brave Protestant reformers stood up to Rome but sadly we also read of Protestant reformers agreeing to the killing of other Protestants. That would never have happened if they stayed with Scripture.