Soldiers, we live in perilous times!
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Some of our fellow soldiers are confused, frightened, exhausted by the battle. When it seems like the foe is gaining ground and ready to storm the ramparts, remember to pray. The Creator of the Universe is still in control of all that happens. It was the prophet Habakkuk who reminded God’s people that conditions would get worse, but God’s people will not give up.
He knows that your heart is disquieted as you stand your watch in the darkness. It’s time to pray. Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. (Ephesians 6:10) Reinforcements will be here soon!
O Lord, how long shall I cry,
And You will not hear?
Even cry out to You, “Violence!”
And You will not save.
Why do You show me iniquity,
And cause me to see trouble?
For plundering and violence are before me;
There is strife, and contention arises.
Therefore the law is powerless,
And justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.
Habakkuk 1:2-4; 2:1-4 (NKJV)
The first-century AD covered by the New Testament Scriptures is unique in history because it overlaps almost exactly with what is called the Roman Julio-Claudian imperial dynasty. The first five Roman emperors—Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero— came from the two branches of the imperial family: the Julia (Julii Caesares) and Claudia (Claudii Nerones).
Augustus (Octavian) Caesar—27 BC-14 AD The first emperor mentioned in the Gospels is Octavian. “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” (Luke 2:1) He was the adopted son of Julius Caesar and the first of the Imperial era to control Rome. He became the undisputed and sole emperor after defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the great maritime Battle of Actium in 31 BC.
Tiberius Caesar—14-37 AD John the Baptist began his public ministry in Tiberius’ reign (around 26/27 AD). “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar… the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:1a, 2b) The city of Tiberius was named for the emperor and is referenced in John 6:23. The city was located on the Sea of Galilee, which was also known as the Sea of Tiberius and is referenced in John 6:1. Many other references to Caesar (or “the emperor” in some other translations), without further specification, would seem to refer to Tiberius. Similarly, the “tribute penny” (KJV) or “denarius” (NKJV) in Matthew 22:19, Mark 12:15, Luke 20:24 was probably a silver denarius coin bearing the image of Emperor Tiberius.
Gaius (Caligula) Julius Caesar—37-41 AD The great-nephew of Tiberius followed Tiberius as emperor. There is no specific mention of him in the Bible. The early half of his five-year reign was relatively uneventful, but when an illness upset his mental stability, he embarked on a reign of terror against enemies real and imagined. (He was nicknamed Caligula, or “little soldier’s boot” because as a child he accompanied his father General Germanicus on military campaigns in Germania.)
Tiberius Claudius Caesar—41-54 AD Caligula was succeeded in 41 AD by his uncle, Claudius, who invaded Britain in 43 AD. Claudius was the emperor when a famine in 44 AD prompted Saul and Barnabas to take a gift from the church in Antioch to Christians in Jerusalem. (Acts 11:27-30) Though in general Claudius treated the Jews, especially those in Asia and Egypt, with great indulgence, in approximately 49 AD he banished Jews from the city of Rome. (Acts 17:7) This banishment included Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2). In this edict the Christians were included because they were, as was supposed by Rome at that time, a sect of Judaism. According to the Roman historian Tacitus who wrote in 52 AD, the ejection of Jews from Rome was because the Jews were always fighting about “Cristos”—possibly a reference to the ongoing conflict between traditional Orthodox Jews and Jewish Christians. This banishment from Rome lasted only a few years until things calmed down and Jews were allowed to return.
Nero Claudius Caesar—54-68 AD Claudius was followed by his 17-year-old stepson Nero in 54 AD. Paul appealed to the Emperor Nero in 57 AD. (Acts 25:11) It is believed that Paul was subsequently acquitted after a hearing before the emperor in about 62 AD. Nero later turned into a brutal psychopath (again possibly due to a medical condition that caused insanity), blamed Christians for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, and sent many to their deaths in the Roman Amphitheatre. Both Paul and Peter were executed by Nero around the time of the start of the Roman-Jewish War in 66 AD, when anti-Jewish frenzy was at its height.
The Year of the Four Emperors—68/69 AD The suicide of the emperor Nero in 68 AD ended the Julio-Claudian family dynasty and was followed by fourteen months of civil war. The Year of the Four Emperors, 68/69 AD, was a violent and tumultuous period when four emperors ruled in succession: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.
Caesar Vespasianus (Vespasian) Augustus—60-79 AD Vespasian is not mentioned in the Bible, but was the emperor responsible for what is called the First Jewish-Roman War, 66-73 AD. He personally led early battles in Judea and then sent his son, Titus, to destroy the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Titus eventually wiped out the last resistance at the siege of Masada in 73 AD.
Caesar (Domitian) Augustus—81-96 AD Domitian is the last emperor with some bearing on the New Testament. He was the emperor when the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation near the end of the first century AD. When Domitian ordered people to give him divine worship, Jews, and no doubt Christians, refused. The resulting persecution of Jews and Christians is well-documented. The bloodthirsty beast in Revelation 13 and 14 is the Antichrist, but some think it could also be an allusion to the rule of Emperor Domitian.
“…above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” Ephesians 6:16-17
Awake, Ye Soldiers
by Robert Lowry *
Awake, ye soldiers of the Lord,
With shield of faith and Gospel sword,
The trumpet echoes from afar,
And Zion shakes with sound of war.
Awake! awake! the call obey;
Awake! awake! and march away;
With sturdy blow beat down the foe,
For truth will win the day.
The hosts of sin in dark array,
With haughty front await the fray;
Close up the ranks with sacred glee,
The Lord will give the victory.
Unfurl the banner; lift it high;
Take up the march with battle cry;
Draw out the blade, ye sons of light,
And put the alien foe to flight.
And still the battle rages on,
From morn till night, from dark till dawn;
But God’s elect, to glory sealed,
Will spoil the foe and keep the field.
* Robert Lowry (1826–1899) Lowry attended the University at Lewisburg (now Bucknell University), where he became a professor of literature. He was ordained a Baptist minister and served numerous pastorates in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. He also helped found the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. Lowry wrote about 500 Gospel tunes, and was a music editor at the Biglow & Main publishers.
Welcome fellow soldiers!
Your cohort leader here with important news for all troops. Today is the first installment on a blog series with short lessons about the Christian’s spiritual warfare. Roman military examples, illustrations, and metaphors are replete in the New Testament. I invite other soldiers to join me in a series I’ve called The Centurion Chronicles. We’re reminded in Ephesians 6:10-13 that our enemies are not physical but spiritual. God issued us all the spiritual armor and weapons that we need to fight our daily battle. Our duty, fellow soldiers, is to train ourselves and use them!
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (NKJV)
We’ll take our time looking at Roman soldiers in the New Testament and lessons we can learn from them. Some military men are laudatory and others shameful, but we can learn from them and move forward. We’re all centurions together in this battle!
Make no mistake, fellow soldiers—living the Christian life is a moment-by-moment battle against spiritual forces intent on causing us to stumble, fall, and stay wounded on the battlefield. But God has made us more than conquerors in Christ and INVICTUS is our motto for the coming campaign. See you at our next formation!
Take your weapons!