God’s New Testament Church officially began on the day of Pentecost, June 17, a.d. 31. Revelation 2 calls this first era of the Church the Ephesus era. This era could not have had a better beginning. Jesus Christ personally laid its foundation.
Luke is the unquestioned author of the book of Acts. He wrote it around a.d. 62, thirty-one years after the true Church began. It was written to a man named Theophilus as a companion book to Luke’s gospel account (Acts 1:1).
Bible scholars agree that the book of Acts contains important early Church history. But a close study of this book reveals that its history is quite selective. Luke’s account is best known as the Acts of the Apostles. However, the book is silent on the acts of at least 10 of the original apostles. Does that mean these apostles did not do an important work? Absolutely not! They did many mighty works.
In this book, Luke records only those events that affected the early Church in a major way. His exclusion of certain events shows that God canonized only those events that were vital for God’s Church of the future to know.
The Ephesus era began very small. Jesus Christ led His disciples for 3½ years, and then the world killed Him. Verse 15 reveals that even after all of Christ’s preaching and miracles, there were only 120 disciples!
Most of the persecution against God’s people came from false religion. If Christ physically headed a little group today, this world would kill Him again! The chief culprit would be false religion.
On the day of Pentecost after Christ’s death, the original disciples and new converts were given the Holy Spirit and inflamed with a passion to proclaim Christ’s gospel. The newly Spirit-begotten Church had a significant impact on the people and society, beginning at Jerusalem. The Ephesus era began to grow. Three thousand members were added during the Pentecost season (Acts 2:1, 41).
The fantastic events of Pentecost in a.d. 31 began to create a stir within the Jewish community and among Jewish leaders (Acts 2). Then came a dramatic healing of a man just outside the temple gate called Beautiful (Acts 3). This man was well known as having been lame from birth. Many had given him alms before entering the temple grounds. Not many days after Pentecost, Peter and John were entering the temple. When this man begged for money, they healed him instead. Peter and John were immediately summoned before the Jewish high council. They were threatened—yet they were undaunted!
The preaching of Christ’s gospel gained momentum. The Church experienced rapid growth from 120 to about 5,000 members by the time of Acts 4:4. This growth provoked serious persecution. Jewish leaders became incensed and fearful. The apostles were thrown in prison (Acts 5:18). An angel released them and told them to return to the temple and preach. When they obeyed, the Work grew even more.
Jewish leaders wanted to stop this new, overzealous faction. Their persecution became far more intense—and deadly. Men, women and even whole families were slaughtered.
Stephen, one of the original seven deacons, was a man of faith and zeal. God was able to work many miracles through him—and his work was noticed. Stephen was arrested and brought before the Jewish council. At his trial, in his own defense, Stephen preached a convicting and condemning sermon (Acts 7). His message of truth enraged the Jews. The high priest and council went mad.
“Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (verses 57-60).
These religious leaders stoned Stephen to death. His only “crime” was preaching God’s truth! Remember, these men represented a religion that talked much about love! May God protect us from such “loving” religions!
Notice that Luke mentioned Saul in that account (Acts 7:58). Acts 8:1 shows that he consented to Stephen’s murder. “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.” The persecution against the fledgling Church was so severe that all the brethren—except the apostles—were scattered from Jerusalem. True Christians were driven from their homes to towns all over Judah and Samaria. They fled for their lives!
“And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (verses 2-3). Saul led the Jewish persecution against the Church. He had the backing of Jewish leaders to stamp out the followers of Christ. He personally imprisoned many people. Many men, women and families were destroyed because of Saul.
Verse 4 shows that the Church persecution did not stop the preaching of the gospel. Although the Church was gone from Jerusalem, in the long run, these early efforts to stamp out the Church failed. This scattering of God’s people actually furthered the gospel, causing it to spread throughout the known world.
Saul had been persecuting true Christians to death, but Stephen’s stoning must have had a deep impact on him. Shortly afterward, Saul was on his way to Damascus to harm more of the brethren living there. But Christ miraculously intervened and stopped Saul’s reign of terror—by personally calling him! (1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 26:14). Saul was converted and renamed Paul, which means “small.”
Sometimes it takes a dramatic event for God to get our attention. God the Father and Jesus Christ planned to use Paul powerfully, and in a way that was to be very different from the other apostles. It’s not easy to convert a killer of Christians into a zealot for God! So we see Stephen’s stoning served several good purposes.
However, within a short time, persecution against the Church took on a new twist.
Samaria’s Unsavory History
One of the most defining aspects of the first-century Church was its encounter with Simon Magus. This is the earliest record of the conflict between God’s true Church and the great false church that was to rage through the centuries. It is extremely important history for us to understand.
Mr. Armstrong set the stage in his book The Incredible Human Potential: “In Samaria, north of Jerusalem, lived a Gentile people whom the Jews of Christ’s day spurned, calling them ‘dogs.’ They had been moved there from areas of the Babylonian Empire about 700 b.c. by various kings, including Shalmaneser of Assyria (2 Kings 17:18, 21-24, etc.).” The people of Samaria were not Israelites; they were largely Babylonian by birth. After Israel was taken into captivity, people from five Babylonian tribes were moved into Samaria. They brought their Babylonian and Assyrian gods and their pagan practices with them.
Study 2 Kings 17. It is quite a revealing story. Soon after possessing the land, these Babylonians were attacked by lions (verse 25). The new colonists superstitiously believed that the lion attacks were coming upon them because they had failed to honor the god of the new land (verse 26). They failed to recognize that God had sent Israel into captivity because of their idol (calf) worship.
The newly settled Samaritans asked the Assyrian king to send back a priest from Israel to teach them how to worship the God of the land. The king complied (verse 27), but what they received was a priest who taught them the pagan practices of northern Israel. Thus, they were taught a religion of Old Testament teaching mixed with paganism.
The Samaritans began to worship Israel’s God using the false teachings of the evil King Jeroboam. Remember, Jeroboam was an outright rebel. He formed his own religion. He forced true priests of God to flee to Jerusalem and Judea (2 Chronicles 11:14). He established calf worship at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-30). He changed the fall holy days from the seventh to the eighth month. He made priests of the lowest of the people, those who were not of the tribe of Levi (verse 31).
So the Samaritans were deeply deceived by an Israelite priest who taught them pagan practices while showing them God’s name. They began to refer to themselves as the people of God, but essentially they remained Babylonian idolaters (2 Kings 17:41).
Now notice what Mr. Armstrong said about the Samaritans during the time of the apostles: “They had brought with them into the land of Samaria their own Babylonian mystery religion. In the eighth chapter of Acts you’ll read of their religious leader in the time of Christ, Simon Magus the Sorcerer” (ibid; emphasis mine throughout).
Exposing Simon Magus
Acts 8 says that Simon “used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God” (verses 9-10). These verses reflect more than just an ordinary encounter with a man converting to Christianity.
Luke gives more detail about this man than about many of the apostles!
Why? For a profound and vital reason!
Simon was the greatest religious figure in Samaria. He was an impressive man. He relied greatly on demonic powers in his religious life. He used sorcery and magic to bewitch the people of Samaria. He believed he was “some great one.” This man wanted the people to look to him in an extraordinary way.
A true minister directs people to look to the living God—not to some puny man!
The whole population of Samaria gave earnest heed to Simon. All those in Samaria, from the least to the greatest, believed him! In fact, the people worshiped him as the “great power of God.” They believed he was God in the flesh.
This man is known in secular history as Simon Magus. The surname “magus” reveals that he was a member of the priestly caste of ancient Persia. (See any encyclopedia or dictionary for the definition of magus.) In other words, this Simon was a priest of the Babylonian mystery religion.
This account actually reveals the beginning of the great false church described in the book of Revelation as “the great whore” and“Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth”! Simon Magus was going to play an earthshaking, foundational role in the history of that church!
Satan used this man to begin building that church. It all began right here. Christ raised up His Church in a.d. 31—and Simon Magus immediately came on the scene in a.d. 33! That is not difficult to prove. Even Catholics will tell you today that their church began in a.d. 33!
Wherever God’s Church is, you will always find a counterfeit religion.
It is staggering how quickly this church began to grow on the world scene. This was Satan’s special church—a tool he has used mightily throughout the ages! It has committed many violent crimes—especially against God’s true Church (e.g. Revelation 17:1-6). The Bible describes how that church grew—though a lot of that history has been blotted out, as we will see.
When Mr. Armstrong revealed this understanding, it was stunning! There was a certain electricity in the air among God’s people as he talked about this.
Mr. Armstrong’s explanation was simple and understandable. As I study the history the way he wrote about it, I marvel at how plain it is. It is simple if we don’t trust too much in worldly scholarship. If you follow Mr. Armstrong step by step, it all becomes clear and easy to understand.
I have read other Church writers in the Philadelphia era and the Laodicean era who wrote about true Church history, where it wasn’t as focused and as clear as it should have been—because they didn’t stick closely enough to Mr. Armstrong’s very accurate Bible script! They trusted too much in their own scholarly ability.
Philip, another of the original seven deacons, carried the gospel into Samaria—right where Simon Magus was headquartered—and started working with the people there. But notice what he faced: “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits [demons], crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:6-8). A lot of people there were bothered by demons that were trying to attack and plague God’s Church from its very beginning. God used Philip to drive those demons away.
Those verses ought to electrify and sober any believer of the Bible! This is about Satan and his demons possessing people in the great false church.
Today, ministers in most churches rarely discuss Satan and demonic possession! They hardly even mention Satan and his powerful demons! No wonder this world is so easy to deceive (Revelation 12:9). It is high time this world woke up to its worship of Satan the devil! (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Satan and those demons that plagued Samaria are still on Earth to this day!They are still working to harass and deceive the people of God. We had better know that. Those same evil spirits are doing a mighty work. God tells His people that we must publish His message in spite of their activity.
Simon Magus was there, and he brought a large legion of those demons himself. Acts 8:11 says, “of long time [Simon] had bewitched them with sorceries.” Simon had been at this job for some time. Satan was inspiring this impressive man, and demons were very active in his ministry and in the area.
Look at the impact Simon Magus had on the Samaritans. Do you really understand the power Satan has? This is why it is so important that we stay on our knees, trying to get as close to God as possible: We have a powerful enemy!
Satan and these demons have deceived most of God’s people during this Laodicean era—and nearly all of God’s ministers! So many of the most exalted ministers in the Church, who knew so much of God’s truth and were such effective educators, shamefully lost that precious knowledge!When someone begins to show contempt for God’s apostle, you can be sure those demons are going to be close at hand! They recognize vulnerability, and they will be knocking at the door.
The Power of the Spirit
The people of Samaria were deeply impressed when they heard Philip preaching. Many believed and were baptized. Simon was also fascinated. “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done” (Acts 8:12-13).
Though Simon was baptized, his conversion was false. He was mostly impressed with the spiritual power Philip displayed. He spent most of his time “beholding the miracles and signs which were done.” Luke makes it clear that Simon only professed Christianity.
Reports of Philip’s success in Samaria soon reached Jerusalem. It was incredible news, especially considering Samaria’s dubious past. Peter and John quickly journeyed to the region. Once there, they prayed over those who had been baptized so the people could receive the Holy Spirit (verses 15-17).
When Simon Magus saw that the Spirit of power came with these apostles’ laying on of hands, he was impressed. He decided that he wanted to take Christ’s name; he wanted to call his perverse religion Christianity. The Church had the Spirit of God, and Simon Magus tried to buy that Spirit and the office of an apostle.
Peter perceived the reality of the situation immediately. “But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (verse 20).
Notice that: Peter called the Holy Spirit “the gift of God.” God’s people possess this wonderful gift!
God gives us that power because we need it to do the job He gives us to do and prepare for the Kingdom of God! We must have that power!
Simon Magus wanted the power of the Holy Spirit. Even this carnal-minded man could recognize there was power in that Spirit! And indeed there is. God’s people do not lack for power. We all have human nature to overcome, but God gives us the power to overcome it. He does not leave us without power. The problem is that we too often fail to use it. The large majority of God’s people today have shamefully lost most or all of that power!
Simon Magus revealed his true intentions. He had wielded considerable power over the people. Now he recognized that the apostles held even greater power. So he wanted to buy an office, an apostleship. Peter told him he would perish with his money. You cannot buy an office of God! God’s ministers are placed in those offices by God! It is an exalted calling, and no office is for sale!
The Gall of Bitterness
Peter blistered Simon Magus with what is surely one of the greatest rebukes in the Bible.
“Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter,” he said, “for thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21). You have absolutely no part with us! he said with extreme emphasis.
“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, ifperhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (verse 22). Peter wasn’t sure that Simon could even be forgiven! This false prophet might have already gone beyond ever repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness. He was the epitome of evil, and Peter recognized it. He knew something terrible was happening.
These words had to cut Simon Magus to the bone. Yet Peter continued, “For I perceive that thou art in [into, it should read] the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity [or lawlessness]” (verse 23). Simon Magus was captured and in the bonds of Satan!
The Greek word translated “gall” appears in only one other scripture: Matthew 27:34. Vincent’s Word Study says “the gall of bitterness is bitter enmity against the gospel.” It is “the gall of bitterness”—not a gall of bitterness. The gospel is the good news of the coming Family of God! How could someone hate that? Well, Satan does—and Simon had also gotten into that gall of bitterness. He was absorbed in it. He had a bad attitude like you have never seen in anybody—and it was against God and God’s message!
A similar expression is found in the Old Testament. “(For ye know how we have dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the nations which ye passed by; And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them:) Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood [bitterness]” (Deuteronomy 29:16-18). The phrase “gall of bitterness” in ancient Israel referred to a person who attempted to introduce pagan practices into the nation’s religion. Peter knew Simon would do this in the future. Peter’s rebuke of Simon was a grave prophetic warning.
The Bond of Lawlessness
The word “bond” means a close, firm bond together. It refers to that which holds together, like a bond of the ligaments by which the members of the human body are united together.
Simon was completely bound up in lawlessness!
The word carries this sense: “that in which all the virtues are so bound together that perfection is the result, and not one of them is lacking to that perfection” (Thayer’s Lexicon). Simon had perfect lawlessness!
This is what Satan is all about!He is bitter, hateful against God, and perfectly lawless. His false religion preaches that doctrine of lawlessness—though he does a remarkable job of masking it as righteousness. That is a fundamental teaching of the Babylonian mystery religion that emerged from Simon: thatthe law is done away.You see that teaching in the mother church as well as in her Protestant daughters.
The epistle of Jude speaks of these followers of Simon Magus: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Mr. Armstrong explained that these “certain men … ungodly men” were Simon’s disciples, who, as we will later see, by that point were infiltrating the true Church of God! Their doctrine was to turn God’s grace into lawlessness!
Realize: We desperately need God’s grace, which includes the unmerited pardon from sin that only God can give. It is wonderful that Christ came to this Earth and suffered and sacrificed Himself and bled to death so that, when we repent, God can forgive us for our sins and we don’t have to die forever!
However, Satan has deceived an enormous number of religious people—including Catholics, Protestants and, in far too many cases, even those in God’s true Church—into turning that spectacular grace into a license to disobey. They teach that we don’t need to keep “that old law”! That doctrine of lawlessness is what that great false church is all about. That was its beginning, and that is the way it is and will be to the end! And that lie is precisely what Simon Magus preached! He was bound up in lawlessness!
Jesus Christ came to Earth and died for our sins—and you can be sure that Satan is going to counterfeit something so important.
Simon was Satan incarnate. Again, who is really in the bond of lawlessness? Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 show that this is Satan’s lifestyle; it is the way he lives! He hates the law! He turned away from God, turned a third of the angels away from God, turned this world away from God—and in this end time, even turned most of God’s own people away from God. He is in the bond of lawlessness! And he has frightening power to deceive and destroy!
A Momentous Prophecy
Simon did not repent of this extremely wicked sin. “Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:24). Simon displayed no hint of repentance. Spiritually, his mind was filled with bitter poison. How can you reason with a mind like that, someone with a bitter gall against what you try to teach him from God’s inspired Word, the Bible? Only God can open his mind to the truth and give him repentance.
Simon Magus craved power. He wanted to be a leader with a large following—but he wanted even more. He wanted to have his own organization, and he wanted political power to implement his message and force it on people—even to kill them if they didn’t submit!
History shows that Simon became a great antagonist of the early Church. Here is what the New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language states about him: “Rebuked by Peter, he begged him to intercede with God on his behalf, and appears no more in Acts. Later literature shows him reappearing in Rome in the time of Claudius in a new movement of his own, curiously combining Christian and pagan elements, and in which he figures as a god.”
There are many accounts of Simon traveling to Rome and becoming one of the great gods to the city and to the people of Rome. Records show that Simon “prophesies that Rome will be the scene of his crowning glory, when he will be adored as a god” (Dictionary of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 11). In Simon’s case, this was a monumental problem for this world! He wanted a following of other deceived men to delude themselves into thinking he was a god!
The most transcendent truth of the Bible is the wonderful future God has planned for human beings. God is trying to get us to see that He is re-creating Himself in mankind! That is our mind-staggering human potential! God is creating sons of God! And yet the most these men can think about is to gain a following! When a person descends into that attitude, there is no end to it. He just wants more power, and more, and more. We should never even start thinking that way! We should simply try to serve God any way we can, or we can get ourselves in serious trouble.
Simon did not accomplish his goal during his lifetime. But later, the church he founded, being headquartered in Rome, did gain guiding power over the Roman Empire. When you look at the history of that church, you see what happened. It has been a murderousaffair! That church is the most violent church ever, yet it appears to be the most righteous, and people believe it is.
If you have a Catholic background, I am not trying to offend you. But I do challenge you to look at the history! It is available for anyone to study—yet the vast majority of people ignore it and pretend it does not exist. Most people are shallow and ignorant about their Bibles and about history. They are totally deceived about their religion.
God is going to save Catholics, Protestants and people from all religions. But He is going to do it His way and in His time frame. All of those billions of people who have died not knowing God are going to be resurrected and get to know God! So the truth of this history, condemning as it is, must be viewed in that spectacular context.
Do not forget Acts 8:23: “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”
The King James translation of Peter’s words to Simon Magus is not the best. What Peter said was very prophetic! The sense of his words conveys what would happen to Simon if he did not repent. “In” may be used to expressdestination;inotherwords, “You aredestinedfor bitter anger, that is, toexperiencethe wrath of God (on the assumption that you do not repent)” (International Critical Commentary, Acts: Vol. 1:1-14). That is what the book of Revelation shows will happen to Simon’s church! Really, Acts 8:23 contains the seed of the prophecy in Revelation 17 about what that false church does on this Earth!
According to Lange’s Commentary, Peter’s words literally mean, “I regard you as a man whose influence will be like that of bitter gall and of a bond of unrighteousness, or, as a man who has reached such a state.”
This is a prophecy about that church—that old Babylonian religion—coming on the world scene. God revealed a lot to Peter, and showed him a lot about the gall of bitterness that permeates that church. Peter saw it all in a prophetic vision!
And who does that church hate most of all? Who has it fought throughout history? History reveals a battle between two Christian churches, and one is false. It claims the title Christianity. Revelation 12 is about two churches—both claim that Christ is leading them, but one is lying.
This is why Luke recorded so much for us concerning Simon Magus. Remember, Luke wrote Acts around a.d. 62. Simon by this time had caused the true Church of God serious trouble. The letters of Paul reflect much of the trouble Simon and his ministers caused the true Church of God. Luke had to show the people that Simon was not part of the Christian Church as he claimed to be. Most scholars recognize that Luke gives us so many details about Simon because of his fame and danger to the Church.
Luke also recorded the fantastic prophecy that Simon Magus was to become the founder of Mystery, Babylon the Great—the great false church of Revelation 17! Simon formed a unique league with the government in Rome. This relationship proved to be deadly for many of God’s true people throughout history.
That church does everything it can to blot out God’s message. And when it sees that it cannot succeed, then it tries to blot out the people who deliver that message! That is what that church has done throughout the ages—so don’t expect it to stop now! God’s faithful people should not fear it, but we do have to recognize what we are dealing with.
That church has killed more of God’s own people—by far—than any other church on Earth!
Peter saw the magnitude of what this man would do and what his work would accomplish. God gave him great insight into that. And Luke recorded it here in Acts because he knew this would be a continual threat to God’s Church. Peter’s scathing rebuke marked the beginning of what has been a continual war between these two churches from that time until today! That war is going to get much worse in this end time.
Here is an explosive comment from Mr. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy: “And where, today, are the ancient Babylonians—the Chaldeans? They migrated west and settled in Italy. Their religion was the Assyrian-Babylonian mystery religion. It is going to come as a breathtaking, awesome, shocking surprise when the world learns that one Simon, the sorcerer of Samaria in the time of the original apostles, leader of the Babylonian mystery religion having the title of Pater or Peter, meaning papa, actually appropriated the name of Christ and the Christian principle of grace, which he turned into license, doing away with God’s law (Jude 4), and started what is today called ‘Christianity.’ How astonished the world will be to discover that it is not, and never was, the outgrowth of the Church of God, founded by Jesus Christ and His apostles!
“This knowledge will soon burst on an incredulous world as a bombshell! People will be shocked to learn how they have been deceived! When God’s time comes, the ‘news-bomb’ will be exploded!”