Decoding Armageddon (Part 2) (12-17-17)

Imagine yourself living in a part of the world where your religious beliefs become your death sentence. Imagine living under the rule of an emperor who demanded that all whom addressed him, verbally or in writing, must do so by first calling him “lord and god.” Living in a society where its proud citizens viewed their emperor as divine because he is identified by them as the incarnate manifestation of their goddess Roma. Roma, the goddess who was the epitome of the strength and power that was Rome as an empire. Because of this, her followers determine that she is entitled to be given homage in the form of worship. This consensus gives life to a national idolatrous practice, born from the people, and anyone who refused to partake in this practice is viewed as disloyal and ungrateful to the mighty Rome. This blatant act of defiance (in their eyes) ignites the flames of society’s hatred and anger toward you because you will not burn the pinch of incense or say “Caesar is Lord.” Your refusal to participate in this ritual reaches the ears of the self-proclaimed god-king and his wrath becomes kindled against you. Thus, you are imprisoned under the accusation of betrayal and contempt against Rome, condemned to be executed because you hold firm to your conviction that only Jesus of Nazareth is both Lord and God. Imagine, that as you await your brutal death to be made into a public spectacle for an angry mob thirsty for violence and gore, you hear a gentle voice say, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11, emphasis added). In that moment when, from your prison cell, you hear those words read from this coded book, what do you imagine your reaction would be? Knowing that it is the Spirit who speaks this promise to you, would it not comfort and encourage you? Although it has been this author’s intent to try to experience this horror by means of imagination, the scene described with these words was very real during the cruel reign of Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96). Son of Vespasian and younger brother of Titus (both predecessors of his on the throne), Domitian has often been cataloged by historians as cruel and cold-blooded, who had a high sense of imperial grandeur and insisted (rather demanded) to be addressed as “master, lord, and god” Domitian. History reveals that anyone who would not do so would be mercilessly persecuted and punished by him with death. Some historians compare Domitian’s blood reign and insatiable thirst for worship to that of Caligula. However, historians are also quick to point out that Caligula’s antics were a product of his mental insanity, whereas Domitian was fully aware of his actions. This important difference between the two rulers is what made the latter Caesar extremely dangerous. Biblical scholars agree, that John’s Revelation was written during Domitian’s tenure as emperor of Rome. Thus, the Caesar’s proclamation that every man, woman, and child had to refer to him as god or die is the setting for the book of Revelation. Domitian had declared his war on God by persecuting His church. Indeed, Domitian’s assault was met with the Master’s warning of, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). However, unlike Saul (also known as Paul), Domitian had no intention of ending his cruel campaign against the church of Christ. Also unlike Saul, his motives for his unrelenting attack upon the people of God were selfish and dishonorable in nature. Remember that when Saul persecuted the church he “did it ignorantly in unbelief” due to his “being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of [his] fathers” (1st Timothy 1:13b and Galatians 1:14b, addition mine). Observe that Saul was not seeking to establish a new form of worship nor did he sought to be viewed as a god. Domitian, on the other hand, had made a royal decree that all announcements made on his behalf should begin by first promulgating him as “lord and god.” Domitian’s defiant action against God is clearly defined by the Holy Spirit as Paul described men like this king to be a “son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God showing himself that he is God (2nd Thessalonians 2:3b-4, emphasis added). Therefore, all Christians had a choice to make: Caesar Domitian or Jesus Christ. Curio sly, both choices carry in them the threat of death. It is wise, though, to understand the key difference between the nature of death in both options. Once more, it is imperative not to forget that the lesson being taught in Revelation is spiritual and not literal. Hence the solace Christians found in the assurance by the Holy Spirit that “he who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11b, emphasis added). This clarification made by God is necessary to fully grasp. In the immediate context of this passage, John confirms that several of them would suffer death by torture. God did not deceive His chosen people with false hope. Instead, He echoed the teachings of His Son that “blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12, emphasis added). Undeniably, Rome’s deplorable justification for the cold-blooded murder of innocent Christians matches the Master’s description and validates the Divine inspiration of them. Because this is so, the promise of a spiritual reward to those who gave their lives for the sake of the Master was the source of their strength when it came time to make their choice. Those who chose physical death and held on to their faith, did so because their inner man was mightier than their flesh. Therefore, the predicament created by Domitian’s decree was a power struggle between man’s flesh and spirit. It is this eternal struggle that enlightens the true meaning of Armageddon. To be continued…

Comments are closed