What is “power”? It is important to know that a wrong understanding of things can lead to false hope and meaningless expectations. We live at a time when the much noise of Charismaticism has deafened ears of people so that they no longer can hear what Scriptures actually say. Drama has overshadowed reality in many assemblies of Christians.
In the year 2011 I was in Karamoja in Uganda. After a brother from Kenya ended his preaching ( it was a simple sharing which encouraged believers never to worry but to stay strong in Faith), brother John Mark walked to the pulpit to dismiss the small gathering in a tent as he said “We thank the Lord for His mighty hand in this service. The hand of the Lord is through his ministers who bring the Word.” If I was back in my pentecostal faith this would have been confusing: how could he say a ‘mighty visitation of God’ when no sign or miracle had occured?
Consider this: Elijah was a mighty prophet who performed great signs and wonders. His successor was Elisha. This man received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit and signs also manifested in his ministry (2 Kin. 2:9). In the opening of the New Testament we read about a baby who was to be born and named John and was to have “the spirit and power of Elias” (Luk.1:17). Now, if you lived at the time of this prophecy, what would you have expected of John’s ministry? For many, “Spirit and Power of Elijah” equals “Signs and Wonders.” But when we look at John 10:41 we read that in his ministry John “did no miracle“! In this we see that the Truth of Scripture cannot be perceived by merely comparing stories or words. This should lead us to the important question – What was the Power of Elijah?
The Power of Prophets
The Power of Elijah, or any other true prophet, is the Word of God. It is in the prophet’s ability to truly speak in the Name of the Lord that sets him apart. Like the children of Israel were admonished, “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deu.18:22). Now, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…by whom he also made the worlds” (Heb.1:1-2). That was the Word which was in the beginning and by which everything was made (Joh. 1:1-4).
The people who receive the Word are given power to become sons of God (Joh. 1:12). Unfortunately, what many people have received is not the power of the Word but a mere appearance (form) of godliness. Like apostle Paul admonished, they have “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5). The true Gospel is seasoned with power that can convert a person into a truly godly person. That is true salvation – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16)!
In all this we see that the true Gospel is not a mere intellectual teaching or dogma. It has life and power to transform people. Likewise the men who carry this Word of Power proclaim it with authority for it is like fire shut up in their hearts (cf. Jer.20:9). When people heard the Lord Jesus teach, they were “astonished at his doctrine for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the [intellectual] scribes” (Mat.7:28-29).
Out of the Power of the Word flows Deliverance
Many years ago, I took my Bible and with my friend went into the neighbourhood to share the Word of God. As we walked on the roadside we noticed a woman who was sitting at the door of her house. We went where she was and told her we were going round the compound to share the Gospel. She welcomed us. As I began to speak the Word she began to manifest demons. The power of God’s Word was present to challenge the demons that resided in her heart.
Out of the power of the Word flows salvation, joy, healing, and deliverance. The Word never flows out of signs. It should be signs flowing from the Word. Never give ear to any sign that does not proceed from the Word of God. That is a lying wonder (2 Thes.2:9). In this we can discern the true Gospel from the false one. The false one is dead. It has no life-giving power to transform hearts. The false Gospel is like a stove that is supposed to carry electricity but is not connected to any power source. It can have all the claims to have power but yet has none. But the stove with power flowing through it is live and no flies will sit on its hot plates. Just how many times have we seen believers oppressed by evil spirits of worry, depression, carnality, conflicts with other people? The spirits are free to sit on them because they are cold and no power of the Word abides in them! It is important to know that the Gospel is not in Word only, it has Power! (1 Cor.4:20, 1 Cor.2:4-5).
When the Word is spoken and the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart of a person, they will experience the piercing Sword of the Spirit (cf. Luk.2:35). The Spirit will convict the worldliness in a heart (Joh. 16:8) and bring it to repentance. That is what happened to the people Peter preached to on the day of Pentecost – “Now when they heard this [the preaching of Peter], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles , Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Act.2:37). The same Word that brings conviction also comes with the Joy that gives strength and liberates a person (Neh.8:10, Joh. 8:32).
The Power of the Spirit makes you a Witness
In Acts 1:8 we read that, “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” The word “witness” used here doesn’t mean going about from house to house trying to make converts to a doctrine. Neither does the word “witness” mean performing miracles. The word used in the Greek manuscript is “Martyr”, a person who dies for the cause of Christ. Yes, when a person has truly received Christ, they die to their flesh as they yield themselves to the leading of the Spirit. They become ‘martyrs’. Like Paul they can say, “I die daily” (1 Cor.15:31). In dying to their will and desires, they let Christ manifest in them and by that they truly become His witnesses. Yes, through them the world will see that Jesus Christ is still alive and living in people – “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal.2:20).
Here is counsel: Seek not signs and wonders. Seek for a closer relationship with God. Abide in His Word and live simply as a child of God. There is a time for everything. At the time of Elijah God used his prophet with miracles. But in John, a man who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, no miracle was wrought. However, at all times God’s Word has always manifested with Power. The question is: have you the eyes to know what is the power of God?
Someone once had that idea when she saw the Lord Jesus preaching. It was a woman, she got excited and exclaimed in the audience saying, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked” (Luke 11:27). But the Lord Jesus in answering attached no spiritual or religious value to the womb of Mary that bore him – “he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
What about Mary herself, how did she regard her relationship with the Lord? Did she feel a little more important and deserving of special attention? Well, one day when there was a crowd, gathered in and around a home where the Lord was teaching, she and her other sons arrived desiring to see him. But they “could not come at him for the press” (Luke 8:19). A word reached the Lord Jesus telling him, “Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee” (v.20). Think of it: Were the people not supposed to have made a way for Mary to come into the house? And was Jesus’ family desiring to interrupt preaching to have a little time with their now famous family member? Whatever it was, the Lord spoke what many (if you were his mother, brother or sister) would have felt offended – “And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the Word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).
There is nothing wrong with respecting anyone, but it should be clearly discernable when the word ‘respect’ has become a misused term for what actually happens – Worship! This is not about someone’s right intentions to please and honor God. A person can be sincerely wrong because sincerity does not define Truth. Remember Cain: he tried to offer a beautiful and best sacrifice of his farm-produce but it was rejected because it was not according to the Word!
During the reign of Valerian the Roman empire faced various dire challenges of unrest, disorder, and war. The eastern side of the empire was under threat of being taken over by the Sasanian Empire. Antioch and Armenia which used to be under Rome had already fallen under Sassanid rulers.
Sensing the imminent disaster that his huge empire was faced with, Emperor Valerian decided to appoint his son to take care of problems in the West as he marched eastward to repel Persian forces. The Neo-Persian empire was ruled by Shapur the Great. This ruler was known for religious tolerance. His attitude enabled Christianity and other religions to flourish during his reign in his empire.
In 257 AD Antioch and Syria were recovered. In this same year when Valerian went to war against the Persians he sent two letters to the Roman senate asking them to order Christians to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods or face severe punishment. The following year in 258 AD he wrote a second letter in which he ordered the killing of Christian ministers and confiscation of their properties and treasures. It was at this time that the sad but wonderful testimony of saint Lawrence, a minister of the Gospel, happened.
Lawrence presents Treasures to the Emperor
Lawrence was a deacon in Rome, serving under Sixtus, the bishop of Rome. Lawrence had been entrusted with keeping the treasury and wealth of the church, out of which distributions used to be made to the needy.
In August 258 AD Emperor Valerian commanded that all Christian leaders, including deacons and bishops, be killed and their properties confiscated and surrendered to the Imperial treasury. On 6th August 258, Bishop Sixtus was killed. Next Lawrence was ordered to surrender the riches of the church.
Lawrence requested to be given three days to collect the treasures of the church. The Roman officials waited. Lawrence began to gather the treasures, going to homes of poor Christians and gathering them into one place. On the third day he stretched his arm over a gathering of poor Christians and boldly proclaimed to the roman prefect:
These are the precious treasure of the Church; these are the treasure indeed, in whom the faith of Christ reigneth, in whom Jesus Christ hath His mansion-place. What more precious jewels can Christ have, than those in whom He hath promised to dwell? For so it is written, ‘I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.’ And again, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ What greater riches can Christ our Master possess, than the poor people in whom He loveth to be seen?
The Emperor Valerian was so enraged at this defiance that he ordered for the immediate destruction of Lawrence:
Kindle the fire (he cried)–of wood make no spare. Hath this villain deluded the emperor? Away with him, away with him: whip him with scourges, jerk him with rods, buffet him with fists, brain him with clubs. Jesteth the traitor with the emperor? Pinch him with fiery tongs, gird him with burning plates, bring out the strongest chains, and the fire-forks, and the grated bed of iron: on the fire with it; bind the rebel hand and foot; and when the bed is fire-hot, on with him: roast him, broil him, toss him, turn him: on pain of our high displeasure do every man his office, O ye tormentors.
Valerian decreed for all Christian civil servants (who refused to offer sacrifices) to be made slaves! This time, at Edessa, it seems the heavens could tarry no longer for the judgment that awaited the evil rulers of Rome.
Battle of Edessa and Humiliation of Valerian
As Valerian prepared to confront the Persians, in 259 AD, a terrible plague fell on his army. This was in the town of Edessa. A number of soldiers died and the Roman army became very vulnerable. The Persians besieged the town and defeated the Romans. Valerian requested for a peace treaty with the Persian ruler but he got betrayed, captured, and made a slave in Persia! These events greatly shook the Roman empire into a confusion of hopelessness.
In Persia Valerian suffered extreme humiliation: he was used as a stool by the Persian ruler when climbing his horse. It is said that one day when Valerian asked for his release in exchange for a great ransom, Shapur forced him to drink molten gold after which he was skinned. The tormentor was severely tormented and died.
> Forthcoming: The Ninth Persecution
Numerous persecutions took place during the reign of Decius. There was a vehement desire to exterminate Christians. One account of persecution involved chastity and unwavering faith in the face of seduction.
Beautiful but chaste Agatha
It is the story of Agatha, a very beautiful woman who lived in Sicily. The governor of Sicily, Quintian, got so attracted to Agatha’s beauty that he made several attempts to be in love with her but it was to no avail. Next he conspired with Aphrodica, a promiscuous woman, to lure Agatha into an immoral life.
Aphrodica tried all she could to influence Agatha into prostitution but she failed. The evil conspirators could not understand the impregnable discipline and chastity of this attractive virgin. Unknown to them was the power of the Gospel in her heart which kept her from sin. That’s how a true believer is consecrated; he or she remains faithful even when sin becomes so attractive or luring. It is not so with some professed believers: they appear clean and innocent not because that’s what they truly are but because they haven’t had an opportunity to sin secretly, where no man can see them!
Quintian became frustrated over his failure to have Agatha. His lust turned into anger and resentment. When Agatha confessed she was a Christian Quintian found an opportunity to frustrate and persecute her. Events that followed next, in Agatha’s life, was horrendous.
Agatha had her breasts cut. She was stripped naked and thrown on hot coals of fire which were mingled with glass. She was later taken to prison where she died on 5th February, 251 AD.
Soldiers defy an Order
In the same year Agatha died the emperor, Decius, ordered the people of Ephesus to offer sacrifices to idols in a pagan temple he had erected. Strangely, seven of his soldiers defied the order. This was not good for the emperor: their refusal clearly testified of the growing influence of Christianity. He decided to give them time to reconsider. He proceeded to attend an expedition giving the soldiers time to reflect on the grave offence they committed. However, after he left the soldiers escaped and went into hiding in a large cave. On his return the emperor was informed about the matter and the whereabouts of the soldiers. He ordered for the mouth of the cavern to be closed up with a huge stone. There the soldiers perished with hunger.
Origen the Theologian and Apologetic
Origen, known as “the greatest genius the early church ever produced” taught logic, cosmology and natural history. Although some of his teachings were controversial and considered heretic, he was a Christian scholar, theologian and apologetic whose writings established fundamental principles of theology. Christian churches in Palestine and Arabia regarded him as the ultimate authority on all matters of theology.
Famous writings of Origen include On The First Principles, Contra Celsum, and the Hexapla. In On the First Principles Origen established the fundamental principles of Christian theology. This became a very important work for Christian scholars. Contra Celsum was a defense of Christianity against the pagan philosopher Celsum. In Origen Celsus met a mind that could challenge his wit. Thus, Contra Celsum became the most important reference work for early Christian apologetics. Hexapla is a large volume of the Bible consisting of six columns. The columns compare the different languages into which Scripture was written. There is a column with the Hebrew text, another column with the Greek transliteration of it, and four other Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and a revised version of the Septuagint.
At the age of 64, in 250 AD, Origen fell in the hands of the persecutors. He got arrested and was so severely tortured. John Foxe wrote that Origen was “thrown into a loathsome prison, laden with fetters, his feet placed in the stocks, and his legs extended to the utmost for several successive days. He was threatened with fire, and tormented by every lingering means the most infernal imaginations could suggest.” It so happened that the Emperor Decius died around this time. His successor, Gallus, was engaged in a war which took some attention away from persecuting Christians. Origen retired to start living in Tyre where he shortly died from injuries he suffered from the tortures.
 McGuckin, J.A. (2004). The Westminster Handbook to Origen. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.
 An apologetic is a person who provides a formal or logical defence or justification for a belief or doctrine.
During the time of Emperor Maximus “numberless Christians were slain without trial, and buried indiscriminately in heaps, sometimes fifty or sixty being cast into a pit together, without the least decency.” Maximus was succeeded by Gordian “during whose reign, and that of his successor Philip, the Church was free from persecution for the space of more than ten years.” However, the terrible beast was not yet satisfied with the blood of martyrs. More persecution was yet to happen.
>The Seventh Persecution
Some records indicate that Emperor Severus was kind towards Christians, and others present him as a persecutor. Tertullian for example writes about Severus employing a Christian as his personal physician. However, during his reign many persecutions occurred which historians like Eusebius have attributed to him.
Among the Christians killed during this time was the renowned teacher of the Word and preacher against heresy – Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum (this place is situated in France and is now called Lyon). Irenaeus originated from Smyrna (the place is now called Izmir in Turkey). He was mainly influenced by ministry of Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of apostle John, scribe of the book of Revelation. Irenaeus wrote the famous work, Against Heresies, in which he taught against heretical teachings of Gnosticism. He admonishes a believer to base his faith on Scripture and traditions of the apostles and their successors. Irenaeus’ ‘war’ against heretics made him noticeable before roman authorities. In 202 AD he was beheaded.
Another account of martyrdom that brings sorrow to the heart occurred in Africa. It involved some Christian women – Perpetia, Felicitus, Revocatus, Saturninus, Secundulus, and Satur.
Saturninus, Revocatus, and Satur were made to run between two rolls of armed men. They were severely injured as they passed.
Felicitus was heavy with child (she was pregnant). Together with Perpetua they were stripped naked and then thrown to a mad bull. The bull first attached Perpetua. She lay unconscious dying. It then darted at Felicitus and gored her dreadfully. The executioner then used his sword to kill the two Christian women. All this happened on 8th March, 205 AD.
The sight of cruelties suffered by Christians became too much to behold by spectators. At the writing of these words, as I read through the account of the fourth wave of persecutions, I shuddered with disgust and anger:
Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc. upon their points, others were scourged until their sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.
Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, the church to which the Lord Jesus had sent these prophetic words – “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev.2:10) – had this to answer to his tormentor who had offered him freedom if he denounced Christ: “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?”