Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Triumph Of Jesus (part 1)

He has a name written on His clothing and on His thigh: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” – Revelation 19:16  (NET)

In the time period in which the Apocalypse of John (also known as the book of Revelation) was composed, there was a well known ritual within the Roman Empire.  This ritual was referred to as a “triumph.”  All were familiar with this ritual, especially the residents of the city of Rome, as this would be the place at which the greatest of “triumphs” would take place.  Along with those who were privileged to witness such things in person, those who participated in the Caesar cult, who worshiped Caesar as a god (or son of god), though residing in far-flung regions of the empire, would most assuredly have been aware of this glorious celebration, as it would serve to reinforce proscriptions concerning the divinity of the Caesar.  This is especially true if the “triumph” was in celebration of the Caesar himself, though the ritual was not limited to the emperor, and could be afforded to a general of Rome. 

Speaking of the worship of Caesar, which must be comprehended in accordance with any thoughts about the “triumph,” one must realize that the cult that was dedicated to the worship of the emperor and his household was believed to be one of the most popular (if not the most popular) cults of the ancient world in which John the revelator would take up his pen.  An excellent example of the honor afforded to the divine emperor an inscription from the Provincial Assembly of Asia that took place in the year 9 B.C. 

It reads: “The most divine… we should consider co-equal to the beginning of all things…; for when everything was falling [into disorder] and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave to the whole world a new aura; …then common good fortune of all…The beginning of life and vitality. …All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine as the new beginning of the year…Whereas Providence, which has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (this man), whom it [Providence] filled with strength  the welfare of men, and who being to us and our descendants as Savior , has put an end to war and has set all things in Order; and [whereas] having become [god] manifest, has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times… in surpassing all the benefactors who proceed him…, and whereas, finally, the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of the good news concerning him [therefore let a new era begin from his birth]”. 

One must presume that John, exiled to the island of Patmos by the empire, would also have been familiar with the grand celebratory event of the “triumph”.  To go along with this point, the seven cities of Asia Minor to which John writes in his apocalypse, are believed to be strong centers of emperor worship, which serves as a bit of a backdrop to John’s message to those churches.  The Revelation, “Apocalypse” in Greek because of its use of almost exclusively apocalyptic language (“apocalyptic” meaning “behind the veil”) to present the Creator God’s perspective on things, as can be seen in regular use in the writings of the Hebrew prophets (while also being scattered throughout the historical and poetical/wisdom writings as well), asks to be read with the Roman empire, its Caesar cult, and its imperial pronouncements, standing in the background and most assuredly coloring the thoughts of its intended audience. 

Evidence of this worship was to be found in virtually every significant city of the empire, with cities even competing with each other to show forth their commitment to the cult through the erection of temples and statues and the offering of substantial sacrifices, so as to receive greater imperial (and therefore divine) benefaction.  Indeed, a portion of the liturgy surrounding the worship of Caesar indicated that Caesar had been faithful to his subjects, so his subjects, in turn, were to be faithful to him.  The Greek phrase that was employed to communicate this message was “ek pistis eis pistin.”  This is generally translated as “from faith to faith,” and is co-opted by the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans (right under Caesar’s nose), and made to more properly apply to the true King and His subjects.   

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