Thursday, July 31, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 10)

The tale of the “triumph,” offered from an attendee’s perspective, simply followed a pattern to be found in the same chapter from which that verse was drawn.  Revelation nineteen, quite obviously, presents  a “triumph of Jesus,” providing the Creator God’s point of view on His world, doing so as Rome continues to celebrate itself as the greatest of empires while not realizing that it has already become subject to one that is greater by far.  As the fictional but historically plausible “tale of the triumph” was being told in the course of this study, those that have ears to hear (or eyes to see), will have recognized the almost exact parallel with the Scriptural text. 

Looking to those words now (and it may be worthwhile for the reader to quickly review the “eyewitness account” before doing so), one can read “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the lamb!’  He also said to me, ‘These are the true words of the God.’  So I threw myself down at his feet to worship him, but he said, ‘Do not do this!  I am only a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony about Jesus.  Worship God, for the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ 

Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse!  The one riding it was called ‘Faithful’ and ‘True,’ and with justice He judges and goes to war.  His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on His head.  He has a name written that no one knows except Himself.  He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and He is called the Word of God. 

The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following Him on white horses.  From His mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it He can strike the nations.  He will rule them with an iron rod, and He stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful.  He has a name written on His clothing and on His thigh: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’  Then I saw one angel standing in the sun, and he shouted with a loud voice to all the birds flying high in the sky: ‘Come, gather around for the great banquet of God, to eat your fill of the flesh of kings, the flesh of generals, the flesh of powerful people, the flesh of horses and those who ride them, and the flesh of all people, both free and slave, and small and great!’ 

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the One who rode the horse and with His army.  Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed signs on his behalf---signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.  Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur.  The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the One who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh” (Revelation 19:9-21).  Though this is obviously  much shorter, primarily owing to the fact that the first century reader would not need any background information to provide context for the visuals on offer in a triumphus, the parallels to the Roman triumph “observed” earlier in the this study should be inescapable. 

Triumph Of Jesus (part 9)

With this, one should think of the Pauline words from the letter to the Colossians.  The “triumph” is in mind when reading: “And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He nevertheless made you alive with Him, having forgiven you all transgressions.  He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us.  He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.  Disarming rulers and authorities He has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15).  Combining that with words from the second letter to the church of Corinth: “But thanks be to God Who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and Who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2:14-16).   

This study began with setting the background for the path by which one should approach the book of Revelation.  One must realize that, first and foremost, the book of Revelation employs apocalyptic language (behind-the-veil language) to present what is believed to be the Creator God’s perspective on the events of the day.  One is also required to understand that the language employed, obscure as it may be, would have been readily understandable by the audience to whom it is directed---especially those who have ears to hear (the repetitive refrain from chapters two and three of the book). 

To have any hope of understanding revelation, an individual must attempt to become appropriately situated within the Rome-shaped world of the late first century, and hear the message accordingly.  Failing this, the message will be missed, there will be no controls around interpretation, and one will become engaged in all manner of fanciful interpretation that would be completely incomprehensible to the author. 

The presence of the Caesar cult has been effectively highlighted.  Reference has been made to the effective employment of imperial propaganda that speaks in exalted language of both Rome and its divine Caesar, and mention has been made of the fact that early Christians, with Paul being an example, co-opted such propaganda (“from faith to faith” as but one minor example), putting said propaganda to use on behalf of the One they saw as the world’s true Lord and what they saw as the world’s truly glorious kingdom.  Thus, one should be unsurprised to find the apocalyptic author doing the same type of thing in the course of his presentation to the churches of Asia Minor. 

Furthermore, details concerning the Roman “triumph,” have been observed; and with those details, a historical-fictional account of a “triumph” has been constructed, viewed from the perspective of one in attendance, with this construction presuming a knowledge on the part of the attendee of the history and symbolism at play.  All of these things have been done in the course of a study that has been given the title of “Triumph Of Jesus,” commencing this study with a single verse from the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, which was “He has a name written on His clothing and on His thigh: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’” (19:16). 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 8)

The headless body of the king was added to the altar, to burn along with the white bulls, while a fragrant incense was added to the flames so as to cover up the sulfuric smell of the burning flesh.  With that completed, the bodyguards of the adopted son of Caesar, each holding their fasces that symbolized Rome’s power to execute the justice that Rome alone could bring to the world, used those very same instruments in a physical demonstration of that power, slaughtering the traitorous rebels that had taken up with the enemy.  These men, traitors that they were, and branded with the mark of that beastly king, were not considered fit to be buried or burned, so their bodies were taken outside of the city and thrown into the dump.  Before their bodies would have a chance to burn, I’m sure that the vultures and the scavengers gorged themselves on their rotting flesh.  A fitting end.  Now, we are off to celebrate.  Caesar has ordained it!”

This study has been entitled the “Triumph of Jesus,” though it can rightly be said that Jesus has yet to be seen playing a role.  Before tying everything together, let it be said that the Gospels present a picture of Jesus’ “triumph.”  The best example of said “triumph” is to be found in the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew. 

Keeping in mind the description of the “triumph,” along with the speculative (historical-fictional) narrative that has been constructed, along with the fact that the original audience of this Gospel (like the audience of Revelation) would have been well aware of the tradition of the Roman “triumph,” one reads: “Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the governor’s residence and gathered the whole cohort around Him.  They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe around Him, and after braiding a crown of thorns, they put it on His head.  They put a staff in His right hand, and kneeling down before Him, they mocked Him: ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’  They spat on Him and took the staff and struck Him repeatedly on His head.  When they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe and put His own clothes back on Him.  Then they led Him away to crucify Him.  As they were going out, they found a man from Cyrene named Simon, whom they forced to carry His cross.  They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘Place of the Skull’) and offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink” (Matthew 27:27-34a). 

One can easily identify the stark contrast.  The world in which Jesus lived viewed the triumphal procession in Rome, in celebration of its glorious military victors and their prowess, as the greatest possible public event.  Yet the Creator God, through Jesus His King, did something dramatically different, new, and completely unexpected.  His King will undergo a mock coronation and will then experience a triumphal procession of shame, suffering, and humiliation.  His procession would not end on Capitoline Hill, with the execution of a vanquished king.  His procession, however, would end with a sacrifice, albeit of a different kind.  Jesus’ “triumph” would culminate in a thorn-crowned King carrying His own cross to an ignominious hill named for the skull, so as to undergo death Himself.   

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 7)

The procession had wound through the city.  The crowds had cheered the triumphator and his army, while mocking the defeated foes.  Finally they reached Capitoline hill.  It is here that the exalted general and his armies would pay homage to the one from whom they received the power to conquer, and where those conquered would face the image of mighty Jupiter, realizing that the great god of Rome had overcome their pithy deities. 

The defeated army was forced to part, to give way to their king and to his bedraggled generals.  They were marched through the midst of their men, bound in heavy chains.  Then they were forced to trudge through the midst of the army that had broken the spirits of their fighting men and hastened their demise.  Finally, they were presented to the triumphator, who dragged them, by their chains, up the steps of Jupiter’s temple, where he would force them to participate in a sacrifice in honor of Rome’s supreme deity before employing them as gruesome examples of the eternal might of Rome. 

It was reported, quite comically I might add, that the king had attempted to infiltrate the ranks of Rome’s army, promising some of Rome’s soldiers all of the splendor and treasures that his kingdom had to offer, if only they would turn their backs on Rome, leave their posts, fight for him, and encourage others to do the same.  Comical, for what king could offer something that glorious Rome could not provide?  Surprisingly and tragically, some had been won over to his side.  Traitors!  They too had been identified and captured.  Infamy would come upon them and their fates would not be dissimilar to the one that wooed them.  I’m sure they wished that they had not joined his side. 

They had renounced the marks that had been placed on their bodies, identifying them as members of the Roman legion.  As part of their disavowal of Rome, they had scraped those various marks from off of their skin.  This new mark, they were told, the one that showed that they had left the side of Rome, would cause them to be honored by their new people and their gods.  They had genuflected before gods that were doomed to fall.  They had even consented to worshiping that king as if he was a god in the mold of blessed Caesar.  How absurd.  Now, that same mark, an anti-mark really, was one of ignominy.  It branded them as traitorous rebels.  Many have attempted to mount campaigns of propaganda against Rome, against its emperor, and against its gods.  All had failed.  All will fail!  Futility indeed. 

The white bulls were offered in sacrifice.  Then, the king and his generals were brought forward, with the generals forced to take a knee.  The very dagger that had been used to slit the throats of the sacrificial bulls was placed in the hands of the triumphator.  With one swift motion, each of the generals, in turn, was dispatched from this mortal existence---their immortal souls sent to wander the underworlds in punishment for their crimes against the empire of the son of god.  Then the king himself, who had attempted to stand against the power of almighty Caesar, was forced to kneel before the altar of Jupiter.  He was forced to bend his knees, acknowledging the being who is supreme over all.  Having done this, the triumphator, having had one of the fasces placed in his hand, drew back, swung the axe, and decapitated the now permanently fallen king. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 6)

Today and today only, he bore the titles ultimately reserved for Caesar.  Along with the crowds, I read the embroidered titles and hailed him as the greatest of all kings and greatest of lords.  When I read them I thought of Caesar, for the triumphator merely bears the title and the power in proxy.  Though he is the greatest of Rome’s generals, and though he has achieved an exalted position, at any moment Caesar could demand him to turn over his army and he would have no choice but to acquiesce.  He will, however, get to keep the crown, the robes, and the baton for the remainder of his life, though I’m sure that if the Caesar asked him to return them for any reason, he would gladly do so. 

He’s a man of humility, and that is part of the reason that he is being so celebrated.  His popular support is so great and his army so loyal that he could have, at any time, easily marched on Rome and overthrown Caesar himself, but he has chosen not to do this.  It probably never even crossed his mind to grasp at Caesar’s throne, which is yet another reason to hail him.  Listen to me going on and on.  It’s almost like I’m worshiping him as if it were he that was the son of god, rather than the Caesar himself.    

As I continued to watch, and as I continued to be enveloped in a sense of amazement at the sight before me, I heard the voice of the heralds.  They were traveling through the crowds reminding all on-lookers that the celebration would not end at the conclusion of the ‘triumph,’ but that the Caesar expected all the citizens of Rome to carry the festivities into the night, doing so with joyous feasting.  The heralds walked the crowds, speaking of the great exploits of the soldiers, of their service to Rome, and of their felicity to that which was symbolized by the eagle emblazoned upon their banners, saying ‘Open your homes to the fighting men of Rome!  Invite them to your banquets!  Let them eat their fill!  In service to Rome, they have taken their lives in their hands to conquer generals and all manner of powerful people!  They faced down charging horses so that all, free men and slaves, might continue to enjoy the benefits of all that Rome has to offer!  You owe them your hospitality and your very lives!  Honor them!’  I certainly hoped that I would have the honor of hosting one of these brave warriors. 

Behind the triumphator and his army came those that he had conquered.  Foolishly, they had attempted to do battle with Rome’s greatest general.  Not unexpectedly, they had failed; and now, they were going to suffer the end of all that attempted to stand against the glorious Roman empire, its Caesar, and its legions.  I saw the king of the conquered peoples.  I saw the greatest of his generals.  Poor fools.  They did not realize the futility in which they were engaged.  They did not realize that their doom had been sealed when Caesar sent out his armies under the command of this particular triumphator.  Examples were going to be made of these men, and that example was going to be published far and wide as a warning against those that might attempt the same.  The king and his generals, so used to riding at the front of their army in all of their regal splendor, had been forced to come last in the procession, stripped of all semblances of power and bearing the scorn and insults of the crowd.  For them, shame was heaped upon shame. 

Triumph Of Jesus (part 5)

I could spend all day describing the triumphator alone, but of course, no man does what he has done by himself.  An army is required to conquer, and his is a fine one.  So yes, the army of Rome followed him triumphantly, as would be appropriate, and they were certainly decked out in all of their military splendor for this occasion.  Some walked and some rode horses---fine steeds indeed.  Rome has the finest horses, of that there is no doubt.  The spoils from this war must have been great, as it looked like they were all wearing brand new uniforms and brand new armor.  Normally, one would expect to see evidences of battle, especially some spatterings of blood, but there were none to be seen.  They looked sharp.  Crisp and clean.  That certainly said something about the way that Caesar felt about this man and his accomplishments on behalf of glorious Rome. 

Getting back to the triumphator, I could see that he was carrying the ivory baton.  You don’t see this every time either.  Yet more evidence about the nature of Caesar’s feelings toward this general, as if the fact of the adoption wasn’t enough to communicate such things.  He held the baton aloft like a sword, as if he is charging in to battle right now, with army in tow.  I wonder if he lead his army into battle or if he called out the execution of battle plans from the safety of the rear.  Something tells me that this general was out front, risking himself bravely for his king, his gods, and his fellow countrymen. 

Between him and his army came his bodyguards.  He had a group of them.  I’ve never seen that many, though I’m told that if this was a ‘triumph’ for the Caesar, that he would have that many, if not more.  A general has never had that many bodyguards.  I suppose being the newly adopted son of Caesar affords one such luxuries.  Perhaps they are necessities?  After all, Caesar does have his enemies---there’s always rumblings among the people.  One hears things.  Each of the bodyguards is carrying a ‘fasces.’  Ah, the symbol of Rome and its power. 

Has there ever been a kingdom more glorious than Rome?  Has there ever been an empire so powerful?  When Rome strikes, nations fall.  Sure, other empires may have been larger geographically, but none has ever been united in the manner of Rome, with its roads, its aqueducts, and especially its religion.  Combined with the wonderful system of Roman justice and the ever-present military to help preserve the occasional outbreak of revolution (though why anybody would want to revolt against Rome, I have no idea), Caesar’s rule is iron-clad.  Rarely does Caesar have to execute his power on a grand scale, but when he does, it can indeed be furious, like the falling of the wrath of all-powerful Jupiter himself. 

We have all heard tales of the fury of Rome’s legions when unleashed---the ‘gates of hell’ I believe it is called.  I would never want to experience it, that’s for sure.  Pity those who do.  Once the full force of Rome’s military might is marshaled, battles tend to come to an end very quickly.  This triumphator, I’m told, had done this very thing.  He probably could have refrained from doing so, but then the war would have dragged on and on, and more would have died needlessly.  He had an enemy to defeat.  He knew that if he could bring down or capture just one general in particular, then Rome’s victory would come quickly.  Owing to that, his strategy was to bring it all to a grand conclusion, at a single time and place, and that is just what he did.  He risked a great deal by this, but the enemy was defeated and many were spared. A plan executed flawlessly!  So not only does it seem that he has very much earned this adoption by Caesar, but he has earned the titles that he bears on this day, which were embroidered on his tunic. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 4)

I saw the special gates, only used for these ‘triumphs,’ opened to reveal the ‘vir triumphalis,’ as he used to be called.  Now they refer to him as the ‘triumphator.’  I wonder why that has changed.  I’ll bet a previous Caesar used it, maybe Augustus, and didn’t want anybody else to ever have that same name.  Will Rome ever have another one like him?  Oh, we could only hope.  Either way, if I was down among the people, I would have simply referred to him as the ‘man of triumph,’ as we normally do, but since I’m being asked to write a report for the Emperor, and since it was a possibility that it was going to be sent around to a number of cities that he plans to visit soon, along with the general that is being celebrated, that calls for the use of proper terminology.  So I thought that I might as well start thinking along those lines, so ‘triumphator’ it is. 

The gates were opened and I saw him.  The triumphator was riding in a brilliant white chariot, being pulled by a team of the most beautiful white horses that I had ever seen.  The chariot had writing on the side.  I could just make out what it read: ‘A faithful son of Rome.  A true leader of men.’  I was able to have a bit more background information than usual, and I was told that he was personally chosen by Caesar to lead this campaign, and that he was hand-selected to bring and impose Rome’s glorious justice upon the peoples of the enemy against which Rome was forced to go to war.  Truly, they will benefit from the ‘pax Romana,’ and will come to understand just what it means to experience ‘pax et securitas.’ 

His face was painted red, like Jupiter.  It made his face look like it was on fire.  They had done something with his eyes.  It was almost like they were glowing.  It was very impressive.  Naturally, he was wearing the laurel wreath crown.  Not surprisingly, given the extra special nature of this parituclar ‘triumph’ and triumphator, he was wearing the ‘corona triumphalis.’  For those that may be unfamiliar with this, that doesn’t happen with every ‘triumph.’  The corona triumphalis is a gold coronet that is fashioned in the shape of a laurel wreath, with dangling gold ribbons. 

I noticed that there was another inscription on the chariot.  I asked about that and was told that the triumphator asked to be able to write another name on the chariot---the special name given to him by his father.  The writing was a bit odd.  I couldn’t make out the language in which it was written, and nobody else around me was able to read that particular language either.  I made a notation to ask about it, so perhaps I’ll be able to learn what it said at a later time.  Written above that, however, was his proper Roman name.  Everybody could read that name.  Apparently, Caesar has adopted him as his very own son and he is going to function as Caesar’s mouthpiece and royal emissary.  Truly incredible!   

As one would also expect, the triumphator was dressed splendidly.  Not only was he wearing the customary ‘tunica palmata,’ which is the tunic embroidered with palm leaves, but he also wore the ‘toga picta,’ which is the painted toga.  As is the custom, the toga was the royal purple and it had a border of embroidered gold.  The gold reflected brilliantly in the light, and it must have been catching a reflection, because the gold, from time to time, looked almost red.  Because the toga is the traditional dress of the ruler of Rome, it was an excellent reminder that this particular man has been chosen as Caesar’s royal emissary.  It’s difficult to get my mind around this.  From now on, he is going to speak for Caesar.  His words are to be taken as Caesar’s words.