Revelation 2-3 (CONT)

SERMON TOPIC: Revelation 2-3 (CONT)

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 19 May 2024

Topic Groups: REVELATION, PROPHECY, CONSTANTINE

Sermon synopsis: In Matthew 13 this 3rd church age corresponds to the Parable of The Mustard Seed.

Matt 13:31 (NIV) He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.'


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REVELATION – chapter 2-3 (CONT)

In Matthew 13 this 3rd church age corresponds to the Parable of The Mustard Seed.

Matt 13:31 (NIV) He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.

Matt 13:32 (NIV) “Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

In this third parable, there are 3 things to note:

1) The mustard seed is small and insignificant.

2) It experiences incredible growth, despite its size.

3) It gets so large, the birds eventually start to perch in it.

The plant referred to by Jesus (Greek σίναπι, sinapi) is generally considered to be black mustard. In Jesus’ day, “a grain of mustard" was an expression for any small, insignificant object.

Modern mustard seeds are usually about 1 to 2 mm. *

* https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Mustard_seed

According to Alfred Edersheim (1825-89), a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar, “the expression, ‘small as a mustard-seed,’ had become proverbial, and was used, not only by our Lord, but frequently by the Rabbis, to indicate the smallest amount, such as the least drop of blood, the least defilement, or the smallest remnant of sun-glow in the sky.” *

The smallness of the mustard seed represents the insignificant beginnings of the kingdom.

* The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, ch. xxiii

The Son of Man grew up in a despised province; he did not appear in public until his thirtieth year; then taught for two or three years in neighbouring villages, and occasionally at Jerusalem; made a few converts, chiefly among the poor and unlearned; and then falling into the hands of his enemies, died the shameful death of the cross; such, and so slight, was the commencement of the universal kingdom of God. *

* R.C. Trench, Notes On The Parables Of Our Lord

Zerubbabel led the returned Jewish exiles who were rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.

Compared to Solomon’s temple, which the elderly could still remember, the new building was inferior.

Their dreams of the temple and a kingdom, restored to its former glory, suddenly died in a day of small things.

Haggai 2:1-5 (NIV) … the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel … governor of Judah… and to the remnant of the people.

Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?

How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?

But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘… Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.

This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’”

Zech 4:6-10 (ESV) … “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.

Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” …

“The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it …

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.

MacLaren comments:

… God’s work always begins with little seeds, as the history of the Church and of every good cause shows.

‘What do these feeble Jews?’ sneered the spectators of their poor little walls, painfully piled up, over which a fox could jump.

They did very little, but they were building the city of God, which has outlasted all the mockers.

Men might look with contempt on the humble beginning, but other eyes than theirs looked at it with other emotions.

He was born in an obscure village The child of a peasant woman

He grew up in another obscure village, Where he worked in a carpenter shop, Until he was 30.

Then, for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home.

He didn't go to college. He never lived in a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where he was born.

He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away, One of them denied him

He was turned over to his enemies And went through the mockery of a trial

He was nailed to a cross between two thieves While dying, His executioners gambled for his clothing The only property he had on earth

When he was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave Through the pity of a friend

Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race.

I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned--put together--have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.

[Dr James Allan - 1926]

Among seeds sown in a garden the mustard plant was one of the smallest. However as a plant, it reaches ten to fifteen feet in height.

The mustard seed is always used by Jesus to speak of exponential growth from small and insignificant beginnings.

He used it on another occasion to describe how faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains (Matt 17:20).

Similarly, the Kingdom of Heaven may have started small and seemingly insignificant, but it would ultimately grow and flourish.

The tremendous growth of the Church would belie its humble beginnings.

According to GotQuestions:

In this parable, Jesus predicts the amazing growth of the kingdom of heaven. The mustard seed is quite small, but it grows into a large shrub—up to ten feet in height—and Jesus says this is a picture of kingdom growth.

The point of the Parable of the Mustard Seed is that something big and blessed—the kingdom of God—had humble beginnings.

How significant could the short ministry of Christ be? He had but a handful of followers, He was a man of no rank and without means, and He lived in what everyone considered a backwater region of the world. The life and death of Christ did not catch the world’s attention any more than a mustard seed would lying on the ground by the road.

But this was a work of God. What seemed inconsequential at first grew into a movement of worldwide influence, and no one could stop it (see Acts 5:38–39). The influence of the kingdom in this world would be such that everyone associated with it would find a benefit—pictured as the birds perched on the branches of the mature mustard plant. *

* https:// gotquestions.org/ parable-mustard-seed.html

They conclude:

The history of the church has shown Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed to be true. The church has experienced an explosive rate of growth through the centuries.

It is found worldwide and is a source of sustenance and shelter for all who seek its blessing. In spite of persecution and repeated attempts to stamp it out, the church has flourished.

And it’s only a small picture of the ultimate manifestation of the kingdom of God, when Jesus returns to earth to rule and reign from Zion. *

* Ibid.

Diocletian ordered an unrelenting and fierce persecution of Christianity, which had been steadily gaining ground for two centuries in spite of martyrdoms.

4th century church historian Eusebius records that “It was enacted by their majesties Diocletian and Maximian that the meetings of Christians should be abolished.” (Ecclesiastical History, 9:10:8)

The persecution by Diocletian was so severe and universal that initially it seemed to be successful.

Eusebius notes elsewhere: “Imperial edicts were published everywhere ordering that the churches be razed to the ground, that the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, that those holding office be deposed and they of the household be deprived of freedom, if they persisted in the profession of Christianity.

“This was the first edict against us. But not long after other decrees were issued, which enjoined that the rulers of the churches in every place be first imprisoned, and thereafter every means be used to compel them to sacrifice.” (7:2:4)

Galerius (Roman emperor from 305 to 311), a staunch pagan and fiercely anti-Christian, is blamed for instigating the Diocletian persecutions. But during his last bout of illness he had a change of heart.

Fearing, perhaps, that his illness was the vengeance of the Christian God, he issued on April 30, 311, an edict grudgingly granting toleration. *

No sooner had Diocletian and Galerius left the scene, than the faith they had supposed they would suppress forever sprung up with new force, and defied any future attempt to crush it.

* https:// www.britannica.com/ biography/ Galerius

By 311 AD, Constantine was now emperor in the West and Licinius in the East. They issued the Edict of Milan in 313 permitting citizens to accept Christianity without fear of persecution and releasing all religious prisoners.

This second edict went beyond the first edict of 311: "it was a decisive step from hostile neutrality to friendly neutrality and protection”. [Philip Schaff]

Constantine went on to become the sole Emperor (323 - 337) of the Roman Empire. As the first Christian emperor, this initiated the start of unprecedented growth in Christianity.

Christians accounted for approximately 10% of the Roman population by 300, according to some estimates. Christianity then rapidly grew in the 4th century, accounting for 56.5% of the Roman population by 350. *

* https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Spread_of_Christianity

The tree's transformation from a tiny seed to a large shrub symbolizes the organic and ever-expanding nature of the Kingdom.

Christianity also spread to areas and people groups who were not part of the Roman Empire.

314 - Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates III (298-330) of Armenia to the Christian faith. Armenia thus became the first Christian state.

In Persia, Christianity made an appearance in the 3rd century and went through periods of persecution and also royal favour. Persia became the center of Nestorian Christianity. and the source of missionary activity along the trade routes to the Far East.

Major missionary advance as Ulfilias takes the gospel to the barbarian Goths in mid-4th Century.

Patrick (c. 390-460) goes to Ireland where he undertakes monumental mission.

397 - Ninian established a monastery on Whithorn Island in Scotland. From that base, he laboured for the conversion of the Picts and Celts. Columba (c. 521-597) goes as missionary to Scotland.

496 - Frankish King Clovis converted to Christianity and baptized. Conquers half of France and paves the way for Charlemagne’s “Holy Roman Empire.”

After the Franks, the Visigoths became the next of the Germanic peoples to convert to Christianity.

Matt 13:32 “Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

In the fall of the year, the mustard plant’s branches become rigid, and it often serves as a shelter for birds of many kinds.

Jesus never explained this parable. However, we must remember to interpret Scripture with Scripture.

Jesus seems to be referring back to a passage in Ezekiel 17 with a similar theme. It contains a prophecy of the coming Messiah. Similarly, it refers to a tree which will start out small and insignificant – “a tender sprig,” “a low tree” and “a dry tree.” But it will “grow tall”, produce branches and fruit, and birds will nest in it.

Ezek 17:22-24 (NIV) “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar.

Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish….”

This same ‘tree’ analogy is used before in Daniel where it represented the world power of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 4:10-12 (NIV) I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land.

Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth …

Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar, “You, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.” (Dan 4:22)

In Ezekiel (31:3-6) a similar analogy is also used of Assyria, another world power. “Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon… So it towered higher than all the trees of the field… All the birds of the air nested in its boughs…”

In Daniel and Ezekiel, the trees with “all the birds of the air” nesting in it, represented the world powers of Babylon and Assyria respectively, which dominated the earth.

Thus, in the 3rd kingdom age Jesus prophesies that the Church will become a world power and dominate the earth.

The Church becoming a world power was mainly due to Constantine who became the first Christian Roman Emperor.

As the most powerful person in the world, his conversion had far-reaching effects not only on the common practice of religion in his day, but also on us today.

There were multiple contenders for leadership of the Roman Empire. Constantine and his army marched on Rome to face his co-emperor, Maxentius.

This resulted in a battle on 28 October 312 AD at Milvian Bridge over the Tiber in northern Rome.

In his Vita Constantini (Life of Constantine), Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea and church historian, says that the Emperor personally related the story to him.

Before this crucial Milvian Bridge battle, the Emperor was “convinced, however, that he needed some more powerful aid than his military forces could afford him, on account of the wicked and magical enchantments which were so diligently practiced by the tyrant, he sought Divine assistance, deeming the possession of arms and a numerous soldiery of secondary importance…” (1.27)

He reasoned “that those who had already taken arms against the tyrant, and had marched to the battlefield under the protection of a multitude of gods, had met with a dishonorable end … and therefore felt it incumbent on him to honour his father's God alone.” (1.27)

Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties.

And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person.

But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, when he was honoured with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? (1.28.2)

He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS.

At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle. (1.28.2)

Lactantius was an early Christian author who later became an advisor to Roman emperor Constantine. According to Lactantius, Constantine also had a dream that same night:

“Constantine was advised in a dream to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers and then engage in battle. He did as he was commanded and by means of a letter X turned sideways, with the top of its head bent around, he marked Christ on their shields. Armed with this sign, the army took up its weapons.” *

* De Mortibus Persecutorum, 44.5–6, cf. Vita Constantini, 1.29

There was a battle at the Milvian Bridge between the forces of Constantine and Maxentius. This resulted in a victory for Constantine, in spite of overwhelming numbers (classical historian Otto Seeck estimates 100,000 in Maxentius’ army against 20,000 in Constantine’s).

Constantine attributed his victory to the power of “the God of the Christians” and committed himself to the Christian faith.

Following the battle and death of Maxentius, Constantine performed a ceremonial entrance to the city.

But he ignored the altars to the gods prepared on the Capitoline Hill and did not carry out the customary sacrifices to celebrate a general's victorious entry into Rome, instead heading directly to the imperial palace. *

* https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Constantine_the_Great_and_Christianity

Constantine became the undisputed emperor in the West. Eusebius says that “he determined thenceforth to devote himself to the reading of the Inspired writings. Moreover, he made the priests of God his counselors, and deemed it incumbent on him to honour the God who had appeared to him with all devotion.”

He ordered the symbol of Jesus’ name (Chi-Rho) to represent his army. Constantine continued to wear the symbol for Christ against every hostile power he faced.

In 313 Constantine and Licinius announced “that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best,” thereby granting tolerance to all religions, including Christianity. The Edict of Milan went a step further than the earlier Edict of Serdica by Galerius in 311, returning confiscated Church property. *

Previous victims of persecution were granted compensation directly from the Roman treasury. Constantine issued an edict in 323 AD for the restitution of confiscated property, the recall of exiles, and various other rectifications of injustices.

* https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Constantine_the_Great_and_Christianity

Constantine effected many improvements in Roman law, reflecting his Christian values. His civil reforms included:

Gladiatorial games were ordered to be eliminated in 325. At these games, men had previously fought to the death and Christians were fed to the lions for the “amusement” of the people. *

He was the first Roman to forbid the practice of forced abduction marriage.

He permitted the freeing of slaves without the previously difficult process in the civil courts. *

* https:// humanitiesweb.org/ spa/ hcb/ ID/ 41

Crucifixion was abolished because of his respect for Christ and replaced with the more humane hanging. *

A prisoner was no longer to be kept in total darkness, but had to be given the outdoors and daylight. *

He stopped killing of unwelcome children.*

He rendered divorce more difficult, especially when the demand for separation came from one side only. *

He forbade sacrifices to idols.

* Ibid.

Christian clergy were free from public service, that they might not be disturbed in their worship of God. *

Considering that a large number of Christians were slaves of heathen masters, and were not allowed to cease their labour on Sunday, Constantine came to the help of the church and legalized the observance of the Lord’s Day.

He allowed Christian soldiers leave to attend church on Sunday.

He forbade work on Sunday (a big deal to the slaves). Sunday was declared a day of rest, on which markets were banned and public offices were closed (except for the purpose of freeing slaves).

* Second Letter of Constantine to Anulinus (313).

Constantine granted the Church the right to receive property by bequest and Church lands were exempted from general taxes.

He sponsored the building of churches,* the most famous of which was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. **

He rebuilt the church of Nicomedia which had been destroyed by Diocletian.

In 313 AD, he donated a royal palace, known as the Lateran, as a residence for the Bishop of Rome. A succession of Roman bishops inhabited this palace for about a thousand years.

* First Letter of Constantine to Eusebius (323) ** Letter of Constantine to Macarius (325).

Constantine started to replace pagan government officials with Christians.

He had his statue removed from pagan temples. The repair of pagan temples that had decayed was forbidden. These funds were given to the favoured Christian clergy. 1

Whenever in the field with his legions, Constantine set up a portable chapel. He prayed regularly, and before major engagements. 2

1 New Catholic Encyclopedia 1908 2 MacMullen, Ramsey; Constantine, 1969

He would even write discourses, something like sermons, reading them aloud in the palace to all his courtiers. 1

Eusebius relates that “he took the sacred scriptures into his hands, and devoted himself to the study of those divinely inspired oracles; after which he would offer up regular prayers with all the members of his imperial court.” 2

1 Sketches of Church History, from AD 33 to the Reformation - J. C. Robertson (1904) 2 Life of Constantine (Book IV), Ch 17

In AD 325, Constantine convened and sponsored the Council of Nicaea to resolve the controversy of Arianism, a doctrine which held that Christ was not divine but a created being.

The resultant Nicene Creed is considered to be one of the most important creeds of Christianity, and it is still recited in many churches around the world today.

Prior to the council, Constantine had already gifted several Christian leaders with funds and buildings, but at the closing banquet, he again showed generosity by bestowing funds on many bishops.

At the closing of the council, the emperor went around the hall greeting bishops, asking them to remember him in prayer, and urging them to hold firmly to the peace that had been attained at the council.

“Confessors” was a term often used of believers who had suffered and been maimed in times of persecution, but had not been killed. According to some accounts, at the council Constantine kissed many of these confessors on the wounds that had been caused by the former pagan persecution of Christians.

Constantine gently kissed stubbed fingers that had been hacked off; he kissed the empty eye socket of Paphnutius.

Paphnutius of Thebes was a bishop from Egypt, a confessor among those whom Maximinus, after gouging out their right eyes and cutting off their left leg at the knee, had condemned to the mines. *

* Lactantius describes the policy of Maximinus, who, after succeeding Galerius in 311, had reversed Galerius’s policy of toleration and “ordered Christians to be maimed.”

In his later years Constantine rebuilt the ancient Greek city, Byzantium, and relocated the Empire’s capital there from Rome in 330 AD.

He renamed the city Nova Roma (New Rome) and intended it to be a Christian city untainted by pagan religion. The figures of old gods were replaced. On the site of a temple to Aphrodite, the new Church of the Holy Apostles was built.

According to Eusebius, in 331 AD Constantine commissioned him to deliver fifty volumes of scriptures for the churches of the city.

After Constantine’s death in 337 AD the city’s name was changed to Constantinople, becoming the seat of the Byzantine Empire for the next 1100 years. From the mid-5th century to the early 13th century, it was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe. It was also the centre of Orthodox Christianity.

In 360 Constantius II, the son of Constantine, declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Paganism didn’t give up without a battle. Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363) persecuted Christians and attempted unsuccessfully to reestablish paganism.

In 363-364 Jovian revoked the edicts of Julian against Christians, re-established the Christian religion and restored the labarum ("Chi-Rho") as the army's standard.

The Western emperor Gratian (367-383) refused the pagan title of pontifex maximus, and against the protests of the Senate, removed the statue of the winged goddess Victory from the Senate floor.

He removed the privileges of Vestal Virgins, and confiscated money designated for sacrifices and ceremonies. *

He declared that all of the pagan temples and shrines were to be confiscated by the government and that their revenues were to be joined to the property of the treasury. *

* https:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Gratian

Christianity (as per the Nicene Creed) was officially made the state religion by Emperor Theodosius I.

Excerpt from his Edict of 380: “It is our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans … that is, according to the apostolic discipline and the evangelic doctrine, we shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity.”

In 529 the Eastern Roman emperor, Justinian closed the Platonic Academy in Athens, replacing it with a Christian with a Christian philosophical school.

He closed it because it was propagating, not philosophy, but pagan religious ideas, and trying to re-introduce the worship of the ancient Greek gods. Justinian’s decree forbade city council funds to be used to hire pagans in education.

In 535, at the insistence of the empress Theodora (wife of Justinian), an edict was issued that banished pimps and keepers of brothels from all major cities of the empire.

In the final decade of the 6th century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 -1821), emperor of France, was one of the greatest military commanders of all time.

While exiled on St. Helena, the conqueror of Europe had time to reflect on the measure of his accomplishments. and expressed the following thoughts to his General Henri Gatien Bertrand.

“I marvel that whereas the ambitious dreams of myself, Caesar, and Alexander should have vanished into thin air, a Judean peasant - Jesus should be able to stretch his hands across the centuries and control the destinies of men and nations.”

“Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity…”

“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires.

But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.” - Napoleon

I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me… but to do this is was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice.

When I saw men and spoke to them, I lightened up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts… Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. 

Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother.

He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful!

In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. 

All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him.

This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers.

Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range.

This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ. – Napoleon

AUTHOR: Gavin Paynter

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