The Lord Jesus commissioned the church to go into all nations and preach the gospel and make disciples (Matt. 18:20). He promised that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and this baptism would give them the power to become witnesses in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). But, in fact, believers had grown comfortable with home – with Jerusalem. God used Satan to bring persecution into the church through the Roman emperor, Nero. The persecution began with the stoning of Steven by the religious crowd (Acts 8:51-60). God never wastes His people. He always has a plan. God used the stoning of Stephen to awaken believers from their lethargy and energize them to move out. Luke records that a “great persecution began in the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1). This pressure, far from suppressing the gospel, scattered it like dandelion seed in the wind – everywhere (Acts 8:4). Thousands of Christians died during this persecution that was ignited by Stephen’s death, but God was using the death of His saints to propel the gospel around the world.
Fast forward several years. The apostle Paul was excited. The church at Rome was thriving. Persecution continued, but the gospel was moving, and many were coming to personal faith in Christ (Rom. 1:8). At that time, Rome’s major religion was the worship of paganism. How does Satan slow the progress of the gospel? He is the master of illusion, confusion, and delusion. These are his greatest weapons. The great Roman empire was winding down. There arose an emperor, Diocletian, who decided that the empire had become too large for one man to govern. He divided the empire into Eastern Rome and Western Rome. A leader named Constantine declared himself to be the emperor of the West and Galerius of the East. Constantine wanted to reunite the mighty Roman empire. He had a challenger to his Western throne – Maxentius.
Constantine, the first Roman Caesar to claim to have become a Christian, most likely had no evil plan to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. It is this writer’s opinion that he was simply a narcistic ruler who saw a way to elevate himself in the eyes of the people by unifying a divided Roman Empire. Maxentius stood in his way. Maxentius also declared himself to be the emperor of Rome. He led Rome into a civil war against Constantine. Constantine did not have enough men to take on Maxentius. He needed more. This is when his identity as a Christian payed off. He went after the support of the Christians. This could tip the scale in his favor. He promised the Christians that if they would fight with him and restore Rome, he would free them. He would elevate Christianity on a par with the state religion of Zeus, Aphrodite, Cupid, Venus, and more.
This sounded wonderful to Christians who had been meeting in the sewer system – the catacombs of Rome – to escape persecution. Again, myth and truth collide. Constantine supposedly had a dream. In his dream, these words, Hoc Signo Vines (the sign of the cross) came into his mind, coupled with the words “by this sign you will conquer.” The first letters of the name Christ were painted on the soldier’s shields in Greek, chi rho – CHR. Constantine won!
Maxentius died at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD in Rome. After his victory, Constantine met with Licinius, his brother-in-law who had become the emperor of the East. Together they wrote the famous Edict of Milan in 321. This freed the Christians from persecution. It did not make Christianity the state religion; it just allowed Christians to live their faith alongside the state religion of the worship of the Babylonian fertility gods and goddesses. Said clearly, it blended the two together. There were approximately 50 million people in the Roman Empire. Fifteen percent were Christian (7 million), and the rest followed the gods of paganism. Christianity remained a majority in Turkey (ancient Anotalia), Asia Minor, Armenia. It was a minority in Egypt, North Africa, Rome, Syria.
It is my view that the church began to include many of the flashiest forms of the worship practices of the fertility gods and goddesses and blend them with the services of the church of Jesus Christ – there was a mixing. Constantine, Christian or not, loved the show. The church moved out of hiding in the catacombs and meeting in houses and moved into beautiful ornate cathedrals. Constantine and the Greek words en touto nika, “in this victory,” tells the story. The church began to move away from “not many strong, not many wise, not many noble” (1 Cor. 1:26-31) and enter an age of the strong, wise, and noble. The result of the marriage between the queen of heaven and the church of Jesus Christ was the birthing of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. This action began the end of the mighty Roman empire and plunged the gospel into an age of religious confusion and delusion. The gospel remained the power of God unto salvation, but for the next one-thousand years of the medieval age (the dark ages) – it was submerged into a sea of religion. Blessings!