Thursday, May 04, 2006

Review of Post-Biblical History (4)

This is part 4 of chapter 8 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

During the Dark Ages, Genghis Khan dominated Persia and the Orient with his Mongolian Empire. He fought the Chinese, who, having mastered gunpowder, began using rockets in battle. Khan’s grandson would later establish the largest empire the world had even seen. Marco Polo also traveled from Europe to China and back in the thirteenth century, and when the Holy Roman Empire collapsed, the Hapsburg Dynasty began its 640-year reign in Austria.

The fourteenth century, still feeling lingering effects of the Crusades, was dominated by battles all around the globe. The Bubonic Plague fell upon Europe, killing perhaps over one-third of the continent’s entire population in just a six-year span. While Christianity and Islam were at the center of attention, Hinduism and Buddhism continued to quietly spread throughout the east with little influence from the other faiths. Judaism, the oldest faith in the world, still survived as a minority, maintaining its stance that the Old Testament’s promised Messiah had yet to come.

The fifteenth century saw an end to many of the wars that had been ongoing for years. The Inca Empire in South America began its dynasty, and in 1436, Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press. As mentioned earlier, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks, whose dominance was just getting underway. As the War of the Roses, a civil war, concluded in England, Ivan the Great unified Russian provinces, and the age of exploration began alongside the Renaissance to lead into the sixteenth century.
While art and exploration dominated the thoughts of Western Europe, the Middle East remained plagued by wars between the various Arab tribes and nations. England broke from the Roman Catholic Church with Henry VIII’s excommunication over his various marriages and divorces. The Protestant Reformation had begun with Martin Luther and John Calvin leading the way back to Biblical authority from, as some would say, the apostate Roman Catholic Church. We will examine the Reformation in more detail in the next section of this chapter.

The seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries are more familiar to us than previous times, so I do not want to occupy a great deal of space with generally understood or at least accepted information. To vaguely summarize, as exploration continued, the entire world was precisely and accurately mapped; science continued disproving old truths, which in actuality, were never true to begin with. Take for example, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo observing that the sun, not the earth as previously thought, was the center of our galaxy. Technological breakthroughs continued as world population grew; an increase in obtained knowledge on various subjects led to specialization in academic fields.

As the twentieth century rolled around, technological capabilities began to separate first-, second-, and third-world nations. As tyrannical dictators gained political control in some of these first-world nations, they began looking to exploit anything and everything from lesser nations. Regard for humanity decreased as Biblical values were left in the dust. Guided by manmade philosophies such as evolution, leaders such as Hitler and Stalin pillaged, plundered, and purged innocent people groups, which were thought to be of an inferior race due to their less-evolved state.

Nations still standing firm on Biblical values, such as the United States in the early and mid-twentieth century, were able to stop “that hideous strength” from doing further damage. The world and its current nations, still ever-changing, are nevertheless continuing to fall further away from Biblical ideals; God is continuing to lower His “hedge of protection” (see Job 1:10; Isaiah 5:5) around all the nations of the world, even those nations claiming to look to Him for guidance. We will learn what can be expected to happen next in the following chapters.

How did Christianity spread?

Having reviewed almost 2000 years of world history in a matter of paragraphs, we now want to see how Christianity spread throughout the world during that time.

As mentioned earlier, a great testimony to the truth of the Gospel lies in the martyrdom of those eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. With the exception of John, all of the apostles and countless other Christian martyrs suffered horribly on account of their faith. As eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, they knew firsthand that Jesus is God, and they were willing to endure extreme pain—even death—while fulfilling His command to preach His message to all the nations. The apostles died by the following means:

- Simon Peter was crucified upside down at the hands of Roman Emperor Nero in 67.
- James, son of Zebedee, was beheaded in 44 at the orders of Herod Agrippa I.
- John, son of Zebedee and brother of James, the only non-martyr, was exiled to the island of Patmos and presumably died an old man in seclusion.
- Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, was crucified in 74. It has been said that Andrew preached while hanging from the cross for two days before giving up his life.
- Philip was scourged, imprisoned, and crucified in present day Turkey in the early to mid-50s.
- Bartholomew, or Nathanael, was either skinned alive, crucified, or beheaded in the early-50s.
- Matthew was either beaten and crucified or killed by the sword in 60.
- Thomas was assassinated, perhaps thrust through with a spear in India, in 52.
- James, son of Alphaeus, was stoned to death in 60.
- Thaddaeus (Jude or Judas) was crucified in 72.
- Simon the Zealot was either crucified in Britain or sawed into pieces in Mesopotamia in 74.
- Paul, writer of much of the New Testament, was beheaded in Rome by Nero in 66 or 67.

(Recall that Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ and committed suicide; Paul was also an apostle, though not one of the original twelve.) With the apostles’ deaths, other leaders stepped up. Most of these leaders also died martyr’s deaths.

For example, James, the brother of Jesus and author of the Book of James in the Bible, was stoned to death in the mid-60s; Jude, also the brother of Jesus, was executed with a battle-axe in the early-70s; Barnabas was stoned to death in 73; Mark, the Gospel writer, was dragged and burned to death in 74; Luke, the Gospel writer, was hanged on an olive tree in Greece in 73; Timothy was beaten to death in 73; Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death in the early-to-mid-30s. These men, most of whom were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus Christ, likewise suffered and died while standing firm in the faith.

With all of these martyr deaths, how did the Church survive? The Church actually survived and spread because of these martyr deaths. Because many people knew eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, these events were quite familiar in those days. Martyrdom became admirable to these people; as mentioned earlier, they knew that no one suffers and dies willingly for what they know to be a lie. The strong conviction of these early leaders led to greater numbers of Christians. Christianity spread by suffering, just as Christ Himself suffered.

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