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Lessons From Church History Volume 1

Volume 1. This gives a short history of the Church from the apostles to the Roman War, including Luke’s account of Paul’s journeys in the book of Acts. It includes Paul’s fourth missionary journey to Spain and Britain.

Category - Long Book

Chapter 23

The Final Work

We do not know how Paul arrived in Rome the second time. He was either arrested and brought to Rome (as in his first trip), or he came on his own volition. We only know that he was martyred in Rome on his second occasion to be there, and that Peter too was executed in Rome about the same time.

James had been martyred already in 62 A.D. We will cover this in our next chapter. Paul and Peter must have known this, and everyone knew that Judea was becoming more and more restless under their Roman rulers. A revolt was brewing and would break out in open revolt at the Feast of Tabernacles of 66 A.D. It is likely that Peter and Paul were executed some time in 67. Christians would have discussed often the prophecies of Jesus in regard to the temple’s destruction and the “tribulation” that was to occur, for Matthew’s gospel detailing these matters had been circulated since 37 A.D.

Of the three apostles who had witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, only two remained. James had been dead for over 20 years already. Only Peter and John remained. Jesus had indicated that John would live the longest (John 21:22), although he too was to partake of the same “cup” and “baptism” (Mark 10:39) that Jesus Himself had experienced.

Hence, though some believed that John would live until the return of Christ, John himself denied this at the end of his gospel. Even so, he lived until the turn of the century.

Peter and Paul, however, knew that they were soon to be executed by Nero. Paul had accepted this as a fact when he wrote his second letter to Timothy from Rome. 2 Tim. 4:6-8 says,

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Peter, too, knew of his impending death. 2 Peter 1:14 says,

14 knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind.

In both letters we find a certain urgent task that they felt compelled to complete before they died. In verse 15 above, Peter was hinting to his readers that he would be leaving them some written material to read after his departure, so that they would be able to remember his teaching.

Paul, in turn, was writing to Timothy, asking him to come to Rome immediately. “Make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Tim. 4:9). Paul had a little time yet before his execution—enough time to write to Timothy in Ephesus and time for him to make the trip to Rome. They did not have a modern postal system in those days, nor did they have speedy transportation. It is not likely that Timothy could have arrived in Rome before at least a month or two had passed.

13 When you come, bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.

It is not likely that Paul needed to obtain an overcoat all the way from Troas. After all, the Pudens family was residing in Rome, and they were wealthy enough to give Paul an overcoat if he needed one for the coming winter (4:21). It is more likely that the Greek word phelonen, “cloak,” was being used in its secondary meaning. In Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, we read,

Phelonen was a wrapper of parchments, and was translated figuratively in Latin by toga or paenula, ‘a cloak,’ sometimes of leather.” [quoted from Restoring the Original Bible, by Dr. Ernest Martin]

It is certain that Paul was asking for copies of his own letters, which he had left in Troas with his trusted friend, Carpus. These were protected by a phelonen, some sort of carrying case.

Of greater interest to us is the reason why Paul needed those books and parchments. Did he simply need material to pass the time in prison? Or did he have a much more urgent motive? He could have obtained reading material in Rome, but Paul needed THE books and THE parchments. They were obviously specific writings that were important to complete his task before his death.

Peter and Paul were in the process of canonizing their portions of what would become the New Testament. They wanted to be sure that the churches had their authoritative writings, in view of the coming apostasy, which, in fact, appears to have already occurred.

Many of the Jewish Christians were being caught up in the great Revolt against Rome that was brewing. The military conflict itself began at the Feast of Tabernacles in 66 A.D., as I will show in Volume 2. This was shortly before Paul's death.

The Jews had just completed the last remaining work on the temple in 64 A.D., as Josephus tells us in Antiquities of the Jews, XX, ix, 7,

“And now it was that the temple was finished.”

This was widely viewed as a sign of the soon-coming Messiah, for it was believed that he would only come after His dwelling place had been finished. So the completion of the work on the temple encouraged the people to prepare for revolt, for the way was then prepared for the great military messiah to come and help them throw off the yoke of Rome.

Obviously, Jesus Himself had already come, though not to overthrow Rome. However, most of the people had rejected Him for being a Prince of Peace and because He followed Jeremiah’s instructions to submit to this divine judgment. But as in Jeremiah’s day, so also was the heart of the people in a state of revolt against God Himself. And for this reason, their yoke was soon changed from a wooden yoke back to the yoke of iron, where the people were cast out of the land and scattered into all nations.

Christian Jews, who had maintained close ties to the temple in Jerusalem and had continued sacrificing animals according to the Old Covenant, finally became disillusioned that Jesus had not yet returned. They were swept up in the spirit of revolt, and many joined the “freedom fighters.”

For this reason, Peter and Paul both warned that “the day of the Lord” would not come until the “apostacy” (lit., the casting out) had taken place (2 Thess. 2:3). The word apostasia does not mean to “fall away” passively, but rather to actively “cast out.” The word is used also in Acts 21:21, where James expresses his concern that the people might think Paul had forsaken (cast aside) Moses’ teaching. 2 Thess. 2:3 reads this way,

3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction [perdition].

Most commentators believe that Paul had in mind a time when Christians would cast aside Jesus’ teachings. That, they say, is “the apostasy.” Certainly, this apostasy has occurred, both then and now. But I believe that Paul was speaking of the casting out of the bondwoman (Jerusalem) and her son (Gal. 4:24-30).

In other words, Paul was saying that the day of the Lord (the resurrection and the coming of Christ) would not come until Hagar-Jerusalem had been cast out. This was an event that was shortly to take place in 70 A.D., then again in 135 A.D. And because Jerusalem has again been reclaimed by the Zionists with the support of Christian Zionists, it is necessary to cast it out a third time.

As in Paul’s day, this casting out of Hagar was accompanied by Christians who had rejected the teaching of Jesus in order to join with the unbelieving Jews in their fight for “freedom” led by a militant messiah. Peter himself stated this in 2 Peter 2:19-22,

19 Promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption, for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’.”

These Jewish Christians had returned to Judaism, and by joining the Revolt, they had betrayed Jesus in favor of a militant messiah who was expected to deliver them from Rome. They became the Judas of their day, claiming to be Jesus’ friends, but joining with those who had usurped His throne in the temple of God.

Hence, Paul speaks also of the “man of lawlessness” (anomia) and “the son of perdition,” a term used of Judas in John 17:12. The “man of lawlessness” was perhaps embodied by the high priest of that day, who was pictured as sitting in the temple as a usurper of the throne of God that rightfully belonged to Jesus. In 2Thess. 2:4-6, Paul writes:

4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. . . 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he [God] who now restrains will do so until he [the high priest usurping place of God in the temple] is taken out of the way [that is, until Hagar-Jerusalem is cast out].

In view of the impending Revolt and the return of so many Christian Jews to Judaism, Paul and Peter felt it necessary to warn the people. The specific ministries of Paul and Peter finally reached their zenith in full unity, in view of the disastrous result of the Christian stubborn resistance to leave the old temple and its religious system. But since both Peter and Paul knew they were about to die, it was urgent that they leave behind an established body of writings for future generations.

And so, Timothy and Mark brought the books and parchments to the Roman prison, where Paul and Peter could decide which to include in the New Testament canon—and in what order. Paul chose 14 epistles, including his Book of Hebrews, which was extremely important at that time, as it gave the New Covenant reasons for not joining the Jewish Revolt against Rome. These were no doubt sent (as intended) to John in Ephesus to complete the final canonization by the end of the first century. With the death of Peter, the second of the witnesses of Jesus’ transfiguration passed from the scene. Only John was left to complete this very important work.