Jesus Christ the Nazarene said, “I am no part of the world.” [John 17:14] Our Lord also told his private apostles, “You are no part of the world.” [John 15:19] What did Jesus mean by these statements? What, exactly, is the “world” and why were Jesus’ “friends” no part of it? [John 15:14]
The English word “world” is the general rendering of the Greek kosmos. The roots the English word “world” is drawn from “the age of man” and may refer to the earth and all of its inhabitants.
Regarding the Greek kosmos Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Volume 1, pages 521f], makes a commentary on the meaning and use of the word: “The noun kosmos, attested from Homer onwards, denoted originally building and construction. ... But more specifically it denotes order. ... later the regulation of life in human society. ... It also often means ornament and adornment (esp. women). ... In Greek philosophy kosmos is the basic term for the world-order, the world-system, the sum total of things preserved by this ordering, the world in the spatial sense.”
In the Christian Bible the word kosmos occurs 185 times and generally follows the above meanings. This falls into several categories or nuances: 1] The “world” may be the sum-total of created things. [See notes on John 1:3 in Nazarene Commentary; Acts 17:24] 2] The sphere or place of human life. [Mark 8:36; Matthew 4:8] 3] Or, humanity, the world of humankind. [John 3:16, 19; 2 Corinthians 5:19]
The “world’s foundation” began with the birth of Abel and thus all who have been born have come into the world. [Luke 11:50, 51; see notes on MT 25:34; John 17:24; see notes on EP1:4] It is this world that God has purposed a means of salvation by means of His Son. [John 3:16]
However, who is the “ruler of the world”? Who presently exercises authority over the world? The Bible makes it clear that Satan the Devil is world ruler. We note in the temptation of Christ that, without objection from him, Satan claimed the authority of all the kingdoms of the world: “[Satan] showed Jesus all the world’s kingdoms and then told him: ‘All of this I will give you if you bow down and worship me.’” [See notes on MT 4:8, 9.] Luke 4:6 adds, “I [Satan] will give you this authority and their glory, because it has been given to me.” Jesus seems to allude to Satan when he calls him “the ruler of this world.” [John 12:31]
The apostle Paul also identifies Satan with this world when he calls him “the god of this world.” [2 Corinthians 4:4] In describing the Christian warfare Paul lists: “We are engaged in a warfare not against something human, but a fight against celestial governments, demonic authorities, dark rulers of this cosmos, spiritistic evil in celestial realms.” [See notes on EP6:12 in Nazarene Commentary.] The beloved apostle John also writes regarding the influence on this world: “We are aware that God is our Source; but the entire world lies in the grasp of the Wicked One.” [See notes on 1JN5:19 Nazarene Commentary]
As its “god” and “ruler” Satan has blinded virtually the entire inhabited earth to the Gospel of Christ. John writes of this in Revelation: “The great Dragon was thrown down, the Old Serpent, the one called The Devil and The Satan, the one making the whole inhabited earth err.” [See notes on Revelation 12:9 Nazarene Commentary.] In this context Satan is described as a seven-headed Dragon. Many scholars view these seven heads as world powers around the Mediterranean Sea. This agrees with what we read earlier about Satan’s power over the world’s kingdoms. Since Revelation 12:9, 11 shows the entire world of mankind has been misled save for those Christian Saints who are alive after the Dragon is ousted from heaven, the breadth of the Devil’s domain is virtually absolute.
How, or by what means, does Satan rule this world? There seem three major instruments by which the Devil controls and influences mankind. These three are identified in Revelation.
First, as seen above, the Devil rules the political realm. Judging from thousands of years of human rule history confirms a Satanic influence among the governments of this world. All the major kingdoms of the world were oppressors of first the Jews and then the Christians. [See Nazarene Commentary on Revelation chapters 13 and 17.]
Second, it seems apparent from Revelation that Satan controls the religious empire of Babylon the Great. [See Revelation chapters 17 and 18.] Each of ancient Mediterranean powers had a state religion with their own doctrines and ceremonies. All were idolatrous and given to demonic practices. This religious “kingdom” has “made all the inhabited earth drunk” allowing the political agencies to rule and control. This drunkenness was described by Karl Marx, “Religion is the opium of the people.”
Jesus himself foretold a fermenting influence even within his own Church or Christendom. [See notes on MT 13:33 in Nazarene Commentary.] The Nazarene makes it clear that his “field” -- the “world” -- though having wheat planted by him, would become over run with “weeds” [zizania]. These he identified as “sons of the Wicked One” or the Devil who sowed them. [Matthew 13:38, 39] Later inspired disciples of Jesus Christ echoed this prophecy. Paul foretold: “After my departure rapacious wolves will come into your midst and will not handle the flock with gentleness. From among you [elders] will arise humans speaking crooked doctrines in order to led disciples after them.” [Acts 20:29, 30]
Just so Paul writes to the Corinthian church: “I fear that just as the Serpent beguiled Eve by its craftiness, your minds might also be corrupted away from the simple purity belonging to the Christ.” [2 Corinthians 11:3] How does Paul say this would be done? Note his answer in 2 Corinthians 11:12-15: “I wish to remove the claim of those [Corinthian elders] who wish to give the impression they are equal with us in the apostolic office. These [elders] are pseudo apostles, deceptive workers, changing themselves in Christ’s apostles. This should not surprise you because Satan himself continues to change himself into an angel of light. It is not difficult, then, for Satan’s ministers to continually change themselves into ministers of righteousness. However, their end will be in harmony with their deeds.”
Like Jesus, Paul foretells an apostasy from the primitive Church and the Nazarene’s teachings: “[The Return of Christ] will not come unless the apostasy arrives first and that lawless human is exposed, the son of destruction. That one is an opposer and exalts himself above every divinity or object of respect. He takes his seat in the God’s Temple [ = the Church -- 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; see notes on EP2:19-21] and displays himself as a divinity. Do you not remember that when I was among you I taught you these same things?” [2 Thessalonians 2:3-5] Paul continues to show Satan’s influence within the Temple of God: “The lawless [Apostate] presence [in the Church] is due to Satan’s manipulation, using every kind of ‘miracle’ and lying signs and omens. With every kind of unrighteous deception to those [in the Church] who are going to perish -- this in payment for their failure to love the truth unto salvation -- This is the reason The God allows this wicked deception among them [in the Church] so that they believe the Lie. So that all may be condemned who did not believe the Truth.” [2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, see notes in Nazarene Commentary]
Other matters involved in this apostasy from the early Church and the original teachings of Christ, are further explained by Paul: “Now the Spirit expressly declares that in later days some will leave the Faith and devote their attention to subversive doctrines inspired by devils.” [1 Timothy 4:1 Modern Versions] And again in his second epistle to Timothy, he warns: “You are aware of this Timothy that in these last days ... [some humans in the Church] will have only an outward form of godliness but resist its true influence. From such [dishonorable vessels = 2 Timothy 2:20] turn away. ... For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak and silly women who feel crushed by their burden of sins. These are always curious to learn and yet never able to arrive at a heightened knowledge of the truth. ... For the time will me when they [in the Church] will no longer tolerate sound doctrine; but according to their own inclinations they will get for themselves great number of teachers to satisfy their own fancies. And they will give up listening to the Truth and will wander off after man-made fictions.” [2 Timothy 3:1, 5-7; 4:3, 4 Modern Versions] Thus, a large portion of the apocalyptic “Babylon the Great” now involves the Satanic Zizania or weeds in the Lord’s worldly field.
The third major instrument used by the Devil is commercialism. The great merchants of the earth, including all the great captains of merchant ships, have supported and been supported by Babylon the Great. In chapter 18 of Revelation it is these who mourn over the burning of the Babylonish city: “For because of the wine of the anger of [Babylon’s] [1. religious] fornication all the nations have fallen [victim], and the [2. political] kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the traveling merchants of the earth [3. commercialism] became rich due to the power of her shameless luxury." [Revelation 18:3 NW] Satan uses greed and pleasure as the engine that drives his world. As a result even some Christians have self-inflicted wounds as Paul writes: “[Those Christians] who are determined to become rich get tempted and then trapped, falling into many senseless and hurtful desires which plunge humans into destruction and ruin. Because the love of money is the source of all kinds of evil which some [Christians] reaching after have been led away from the Faith and have been self-inflicted with many sorrows.” [2 Timothy 6:9, 10 Modern Versions]
To Timothy Paul cautions: “Therefore [Timothy] endure hardships as a good solider of Jesus Christ. No person enlisted in the army gets involved in commercial enterprises for making a living so that he may satisfy the officer who enlisted him.” [2 Timothy 2:3, 4] James also warns certain Christians about commercialism: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into this city and spend a year there going into business and make money.” [James 4:14]
Thus it is through these three main agencies -- religion, politics, and commerce -- that Satan misleads earth’s inhabitants. But, what was the early Christian attitude toward the world?
Jesus had described his own apostles as being “no part of the world.” How did they view the world, both in their writings as well as their history? Examine some of the conclusions of the inspired writers. The world’s wisdom off its philosophers and debates was foolishness. [1 Corinthians 1:20, 21] The world has a certain “spirit” or disposition which is not shared by Christians. [1 Corinthians 2:12, 13] The world views real Christians as fools. [1 Corinthians 4:9, 10] Indeed, true Christians are considered the world’s garbage. [1 Corinthians 4:13] Christians were not to make full use of the world. [1 Corinthians 7:31] Enslavement to worldly elements is to be avoided. [Galatians 4:3] Disobedience and fleshly desire characterize the world. [Ephesians 2:2, 3] Those in the world are really with God. [Ephesians 2:12] Worldly philosophy, elementary doctrines, and human traditions are to be avoided. [Colossians 2:8] The Christian is to remain unspotted by the world. [James 1:27] Any friend of the world is God’s enemy. [James 4:4] The world is corrupt. [2 Peter 1:4; 2:20] Christians are not to love worldly things. [1 John 2:15-17]The world has no relationship with true Christians. [1 John 3:1, 13] False prophets are of the world. [1 John 4:1-3] The world listens to those who speak worldly things. [1 John 4:5] Faith conquers the world. [1 John 5:4] The worldly do not believe Jesus Christ came in the flesh. [2 John 7] Ultimately the kingdom of the world will become that of Christ. [Revelation 11:15]
According to historians the early Christians remained very much separate from the world. For example, Christians avoided military service. "A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius, no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service." [The Rise of Christianity (London, 1947), E. W. Barnes, page 333] And, a Christian scholar of the second century CE wrote:
"We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons, our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage,-and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified." [Justin Martyr in "Dialogue With Trypho, a Jew" (2nd century CE), The Ante-Nicene Fathers (1885 Edinburgh edition), edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, Volume I, page 254]
They also avoided political office as historian Edward Gibbon observed: "They refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defense of the empire. . . . it was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes." [History of Christianity (New York, 1891), pages 162, 163]
The Christians also avoided worldly entertainment for as late as the third century Tertullian writes: "[Christians] have nothing to do, in speech, sight or hearing, with the madness of the circus, the shamelessness of the theatre, the savagery of the arena, the vanity of the gymnasium. ...Why should we offend you, if we assume the existence of other pleasures? . . . we reject what pleases you; what pleases us gives you no delight." [Apology, XXXVIII, 4, 5]
Consider to other references. "Early Christianity was little understood and was regarded with little favor by those who ruled the pagan world. . . . Christians refused to share certain duties of Roman citizens. . . . They would not hold political office." [On the Road to Civilization, A World History] "Origen [c270] . . . remarks that 'the Christian Church cannot engage in war against any nation. They have learned from their Leader that they are children of peace.' In that period many Christians were martyred for refusing military service." [Treasury of the Christian World]
It must be admitted that early Christians living in a pagan world could draw such distinctions with greater ease than today. Though much of the world remains “pagan” a very large portion claims to be Christian, particularly America and the Western World. We have considered above that Christ’s “kingdom” or Christendom is filled with lawlessness and scandal. [See notes on MT 13:41] The Christian Church is also largely a form of apostasy away from the original doctrines and worship of the primitive Church. Christendom as we approach the year 2,000 is filled with “doctrines of devils” borrowed from the ancient pagan world. Cardinal Newman wrote in Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine: "The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; . . . holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields; sacerdotal vestments, . . . images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, . . . are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the church."
Review this difficulty of determining what is and what is not “Christian” was an article by Steve Wysall in the Vancouver Sun: "Not all people wearing blue oil-stained overalls are mechanics, even if they look like mechanics, . . . even if they say 'We are mechanics. ... Often you will hear people talk about how this or that was done in the name of Christianity and what an awful thing it was to do. Well, yes, it was awful. . . . But who ever said they were Christians who did those awful things? Oh, you say, the established churches say so. Well, who ever said the established churches are Christian? So the pope blessed Mussolini, and there is evidence of other popes who have done dastardly deeds in the past. So who said they were Christians? You think because a man is the pope he must be a Christian? Just because a person says 'I am a Christian' does not mean he is one-just as a man who claims to be a mechanic may not be a mechanic. The Bible even warns Christians against people who pose as Christians . . . No Christian can war against another Christian -- it would be like a man fighting himself. True Christians are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. . . . They would never, never intentionally hurt one another."
How will a Christian today determine what is worldly even among professed Christian churches or organizations? Does it seem fair to state that a genuine disciple of the Nazarene might ask the following questions?
1] What is the historical source of certain religious doctrines and teachings?
2] What is the historical origin of certain religious ceremonies or holidays?
3] Is this religion or church involved in politics?
4] Is this religion or church involved in commercialism?
5] Does this religion or church support wars against fellow Christians?
6] Does this religion or church make prophecies about the future, which have failed to come true?
7] Does this religion or church teach Jesus while on earth was more than a human?
8] Does this religion teach that God torments the wicked forever?
9] Does this religion of church teach the pagan doctrine of soul immortality?
As the modern Christian approaches with expectation that day of the Lord’s coming is it not wise to make sure he or she is “no part of the world”? No part of is demon-inspire religions? No part of its corrupt politics? No part of its greedy commercialism? When the Christian is in doubt about what is “worldly” is it not the course of wisdom to let the Scripturally-trained conscience guide into godly conduct. Remember, “The world with its desires will pass away but the person who does the will of God remains forever.” [1 John 2:17]
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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