Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from Rick Renner’s book No Room for Compromise: Christ’s Message to Today’s Church
Turbulent winds of tribulation began hitting the Early Church almost from its inception, although the impact was sporadic and was usually confined within the realm of jealous Jewish authorities in certain cities.
Those winds picked up significantly when persecution reached an official level as early as 64 AD, starting with the persecution of Nero. In the years that followed, Church leaders and believers were pounded again and again by sporadic waves of opposition that rose against the truth of Jesus Christ. It was a pattern that would last nearly 300 years.
What began under Nero as a localized persecution in Rome soon morphed into a tempest that eventually affected the Christian community at varying degrees of intensity in every part of the Roman Empire. Over the next three centuries, spiritual storms with devastating turbulence were spawned by many tragic events like Nero’s persecution of believers in Rome. These spiritual tempests spread out across the entire Roman Empire with far-reaching consequences and resulted in the martyrdoms of countless saints in the span of those early years.
The Effects of a Hurricane
To understand the unrelenting nature of the attacks waged against the Early Church and to glean a picture of what lies ahead in our own future, let’s consider the effects of a hurricane. As a hurricane approaches, its impending presence can be felt by the torrent of pounding rain and rising sea tides that precede it. These raging rains and swelling tides can be sufficiently deadly by themselves — but they are merely symptoms of the real storm that is still gathering strength and preparing to hit land. As the massive storm pushes the sea toward land, the swell of the waves grows higher and usually strikes the land before the devastating winds of the actual hurricane. When these rising tides strike the shore, everything in their path is in danger of being ravaged with catastrophic consequences.
Hurricanes consist of multiple belts of rain and wind that pound the land in sequence, one after another, with relatively brief pauses in between each violent phase. Individuals who are caught in the tempest but don’t understand how hurricanes behave may wrongly assume that the storm is calming down after each belt passes. Yet more belts of rain and wind are inevitably on the way to strike with equal or even greater intensity.
When the eye of the storm arrives, the sky may appear blue and clear, giving the illusion that the storm has passed. In this brief moment of calm, some find a false sense of security in thinking the storm is over. Yet in reality, the fiercest impact of the entire storm system is still approaching — on the backside of the eye wall as the hurricane continues to move inland. Some people mistakenly assume that the worst has passed during the eye of the storm. They emerge from their places of safety, not realizing that the hurricane is far from over, and consequently place themselves in harm’s way. Much of the physical and human loss in a hurricane results from people mistaking this temporary calm as a sign that the storm has passed. Because they misread the signs overhead, they face the full force of the hurricane’s backside, getting swept away in the ensuing floodwaters or hit with deadly debris that would have had no effect on them if they had stayed in a place of safety just a little longer.
Yet this is still not the full picture of a hurricane’s impact. Another major outcome of hurricanes is the turbulent weather systems they create in their wake, which affect huge geographical regions. These storms often spawn tornadoes that angrily sweep across large swaths of land or torrential downpours that cause widespread, devastating floods and destroy homes, farmland, and buildings far from where the hurricane first struck land. By the time the storm system has run its course, hundreds or even thousands of square miles have been affected and many people have been displaced, have suffered damage to their personal property, or are missing or deceased.
Persecution in the Early Church
Now let’s apply this illustration of a hurricane to the situation of the Early Church during the first three centuries AD. For hundreds of years, believers were attacked by pounding belts of demonic opposition — and the effects of this tempest were felt far and wide throughout the Roman Empire. At first, the effects were minimal, just as the early winds and rain and the rising tides of a hurricane are merely symptoms of a much stronger, impending force. Yet as time progressed, each wave of persecution intensified, with brief reprieves between the attacks. Finally, the full impact of the storm hit with the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in the early Fourth Century AD. However, the Church of Jesus Christ resolutely withstood the fierce winds of opposition throughout those three tumultuous centuries, and in 313 AD, the edict of toleration was issued and a final reprieve was given to the Church. Christianity had triumphed over the dark pagan religions of the past.
Since that time, there generally has been a lull from this ferocious storm, at least in Western society, which has given much of the Church the impression that the worst is over. However, the Bible prophesies that a dramatic change in society will occur at the end of the age, which will cause the winds of opposition to rise up against the Church once again with serious consequences.
One might think that once the first 300 years of persecution had subsided, the storm was over — but the truth is, the Church had merely passed into the eye of the storm. Although the clear skies we see today give the illusion that the storm has passed, the strongest winds are still on the horizon. During the more than 1,700 years that have transpired since 313 AD, widespread missionary activity has occurred and brought the Gospel to the ends of the world; many denominations have been established and flourished; and mighty moves of the Holy Spirit have swept large regions of the earth, despite sporadic periods of opposition. It is difficult to think that paganism could ever reemerge in light of these accomplishments.
However, according to the Holy Spirit’s prophetic predictions in the New Testament, the backside of the spiritual storm that struck the Church at its inception will once again slam against society with devastating consequences. Those Christians who are uninformed or ill-prepared or who simply refuse to see what is happening in front of them will be the most adversely impacted. Just as human loss in a hurricane often occurs because people make wrong assumptions about the danger of the storm, those who look at the centuries of the Western Church’s relatively peaceful coexistence with the world and view them as a sign that the storm has passed may be the very ones who face the full force of the storm’s backside.
We must hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in our own generation. Many prominent Christian leaders and prophetic voices of our day are speaking a common message: that the disturbing legal and moral changes currently taking place in society are signs that the full fury of this end-times storm is fast approaching. Preparation is essential. Thus, it is imperative that we look to the past to learn more regarding what believers faced, endured, and outlasted when the front side of the storm hit them nearly 2,000 years ago.
What Will Happen in the Last Days
Just as a hurricane affects large geographical areas far from where it first hits land, the spiritual storm that will strike in these last days will affect large sections of society. In fact, according to the Holy Spirit’s prophetic alerts, by the time this last part of the storm system has run its course, every part of the world will be affected. Given this inevitability, it is vital to recall the Holy Spirit’s promise in Joel 2:28: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions….”
This prophecy in Joel 2 explicitly calls for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power in the last days. A mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit occurred at the beginning of the Church Age, and it will occur again at the end of the age. In fact, it will be the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the history of the Church, reserved specifically for these difficult and challenging times we are entering into. And then when the storm is finally over, we will surely experience that long-awaited moment when Jesus comes back for His Church.
Just as a hurricane arrives in belts of wind and rain with brief pauses in between, there will be deceptive moments in the backside of this impending spiritual storm that will give the illusion that the tempest is over. But it isn’t over until it is over. That moment will come only when Jesus gloriously returns for a Church that is without spot or blemish — a miraculous transformation that only God could perform.
Between now and the time of Jesus’ triumphant return, society will race toward a cataclysmic collision of end-time events that coincide with the backside of the storm. These effects may have been delayed for a season — one in which it may have seemed that the blue skies overhead would last forever. But the spiritual climate is dramatically shifting now, and we are ordained by God to live in this crucial hour. The changes taking place before our eyes will result in one of two choices for every believer: a decision to accommodate the world or a refusal to compromise. Riding the fence will no longer be an option.
Those who yield to temptation and try to accommodate the spirit of the age may avoid the pressure of overt persecution, but they will also lose their capacity to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who make no room for compromise must be ready to face the backlash of a world that is growing increasingly intolerant of those who believe in and stand for moral absolutes. However, they can also expect to experience the empowering strength of the Spirit of might that will uphold them and see them through to victory in every situation.
You Have Been Chosen
The Holy Spirit did not warn us of these end-time events to scare us — He did it to prepare us. You and I have been chosen and specially ordained to live in this critical hour.
To effectively stand against the backside of the spiritual storm of these last days, we must turn our attention to the message Christ spoke to His church in Pergamum when the front of the storm was first beginning to hit during the latter half of the First Century. We must hear what the Spirit was saying to those early believers. Those men and women of God endured great pressure from an unforgiving pagan society that surrounded them on all sides. At the same time, they grappled with the internal pressure of errant church leaders trying to convince them to conform to the world’s moral standards.
By studying Christ’s message to the church at Pergamum, we will know not only what He commanded and expected of those early believers, but also what He commands and expects of us today. Therefore, I earnestly recommend that you read each page of my book No Room for Compromise: Christ’s Message to Today’s Church with a sober and alert heart. It is imperative that we hear what the Spirit is saying to us in this hour we live in, for this may be the most seriously challenged time the Church has confronted in more than 1,700 years.
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