Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! (Rev. i.17b-18)
Before this, John spent considerable time lofting up the authority of Jesus with magnificent titles, contrasting him with and placing him as a superior authority above that of the Roman Emperor. And while the Emperors died and remained dead, despite their claims of deity, Jesus died and is alive, forever and ever.
Now when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. They cried out with a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been. (Rev. vi.9-11)
From the sixth century commentary by Oecumenius,
και απο Ιησου Χριστου, ο μαρτυς ο πιστος ο πρωτοτοκος των νεκρων και ο αρχων των βασιλεων της γης
. . . and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the Earth. (Rev. i.5a)
Whether The Apocalypse (a.k.a. Revelation . . . without the ever popular but still incorrect s added at the end) was written before AD 70 or closer to the end of the first century, by the time John was exiled on Patmos and wrote what he was told to write, the word μαρτυς had “already been loaded with the new meaning of one who witnesses” to the truth of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, and pays for that with his blood.1 Now, that’s not to say in every case the word is found we need to interpret the use as if there was bloodshed; context always determines the meaning of a word.
The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Lk. ix.22)
This ominous proclamation from Jesus, which was followed by Peter’s foolish rebuke-inducing-rebuke of the Master (see Mk. viii), led into the a great call to discipleship:
Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (v. 23)
Fortunately, Jesus revealed the alternative. He called it “The Kingdom of God.” It’s a political way of life based not on triumphant violence, but rather humble service. The politics of Jesus makes sure everyone has daily bread, it seeks to forgive debts and sins, it avoids the temptation to commit evil against our neighbors, and it calls us into a life of forgiveness.
I thought this Palm Sunday piece from Adam Ericksen was excellent. Read it at Sojourners.
In recent posts I have discussed the discipleship call from Jesus found in Luke ix, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Later on in Luke’s story, Jesus again, but this time with much more force and emphasis, made clear what it cost to follow him.
There is probably nothing Craig Hovey’s book, To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church, does better than make as clear as crystal the connection between martyrdom and baptism:
In baptism, a human individual is transferred from the world to the church. The world registers a loss in loyalty; the church registers an advance in loyalty.. . .
It is here that we explicitly encounter the connection between martyrdom and baptism. Perhaps the most extreme way that the church encounters extinction is at the hands of a hostile world through persecution and death.. . . The world attempts to regain its lost members, to secure its former loyalties, and to establish its earlier power.. . . Transferring citizenship from one kingdom to another is the action performed in baptism, but it also signals entrance into a temptation to trade the new citizenship back for the old,. . . The most desperate way the world has for attempting this is the martyrdom of Christians. (Hovey, To Share in the Body, 32-33)
Christian martyrdom and its role within the Church is best understood when we first understand the Church itself, and the community we become a part of.
(This is written in a note-taking sort of way. I’m hashing out some thoughts.)
Jesus’s crucifixion was more than the inspiration for elaborate devotional practices: it was the paradigm for what his closest followers could expect. The savior was himself a martyr who had suffered a violent death by execution. “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24, Luke 9:23)–were these just words? If Christians took seriously this command, they too might meet with tribulation and death. (Brad Gregory, Salvation at Stake, 110)
Were these just words? Did Jesus talk for the sake of talking? Or did he mean for his so-called followers to take him seriously?
Designers work with clients to understand the project. They don’t merely ask for the company name, an image they want to use, and slap a logo together, using whatever typeface they like–at least good designers don’t. There is a lot more thought involved. A lot!
A 14-year-old Pittsburgh-area student, Suvir Mirchandani, came up with a plan to save his school thousands of dollars annually by changing the typeface they used for printed documents. His science fair work garnered him not only CNN coverage, but more importantly the interest of the Journal for Emerging Investigators (JEI) which challenged him to test his work on the federal government. He did so and concluded a type change would save hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
You can read the detailed discussion of his findings on JEI’s site: A Simple Printing Solution to Aid Deficit Reduction
I have to touch on something else Candida Moss did in her book, The Myth of Persecution (see the previous post here). There is a section in Chapter 2 where she made a connection between the death of Socrates and the death of Jesus. In it she compared the accounts of Jesus’s death as they have been found in the gospels of Mark and Luke. I will post here the development of what she said regarding Luke’s writing, then discuss the problem a bit…though I think you might see it for yourself. This is quite odd.
In her book The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom, Candida Moss took a very Bart Ehrman like approach to engaging with the reader: act like the reader knows absolutely nothing about the history of or stories in the Bible, and assume the reader will take your word for it, believe you, and change their way of thinking about the Bible and Christianity.
The book is obviously written to a generally un-scholarly audience. Proof is in the pudding: I bought it! The intent with this book was not to engage in the conversations and debates. Like Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, Forged, and Jesus, Interrupted, the point was to communicate a particular interpretation of history and a specific perspective to a people sorely lacking in the information, tools, and resources necessary to engage well with what they read. At least that’s how it comes off.