Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Passion of John: The first Christian Martyr

The Passion of  John: The first Christian Martyr. Three early martyrdoms are recorded in the New Testament: John the Baptist in ca. AD 31, Stephen in ca. AD 35 and James the apostle in ca. AD 44, plus countless others that would follow John the Baptist - beheaded for preaching a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

While John the Baptist was the first Christian Martyr tells of others martyred for their faith on the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.l: The Martyrdom of a Mother and Her Seven Sons is recounted in 2 Mccabees

"It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.

One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”  After the torture and death of the seven children 2 Mccabees continues:
"Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother who, seeing her seven sons perish in a single day, bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord." 

While the faith of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah along with  Daniel is tested like the Mother and Her Seven Sons, with a different outcome:  The 
Four Hebrew young men from the same tribe, the royal family line of David, are taken into captivity by an invading Babylonian Empire. The goal was to immerse and integrate the captives into all that Babylonian culture entailed with a view to them serving at the King's court, and their Hebrew names are replaced with Chaldean or Babylonian names. Eventually the three Jewish men are thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon for refusing to bow to the king's image, but they remain unharmed. "Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and rose in haste, asking his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Certainly, O king,” they answered.

“But,” he replied, “I see four men unbound and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God" - Daniel Chapter 3

Fast forward to the New Testament where Mark in Chapter tells how God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ: The Preaching of John the Baptist.

2a As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:* b

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;

he will prepare your way.

3c A voice of one crying out in the desert:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.’”

4John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
6John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.* He fed on locusts and wild honey.
7And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
8* d I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”

John the Baptist was a Jewish prophet of the Jordan River region, celebrated by the Christian church as ‘the Forerunner’ to Jesus Christ.

John preached a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and offered a water baptism requiring people to change their hearts, reject sin and return to God. This meant that they had to express sincere sorrow for their sins, pledge to treat their neighbours justly and to show piety towards God. Only once they had done that were allowed to submit to baptism.

Herod Antipas arrested, imprisoned and executed John because he had spoken out against immorality: Herod Antipas, had repudiated his wife in order to marry Herodias. Herod’s first wife was the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabataea, and their marriage had sealed a peace treaty. With the treaty now broken Aretas waged the war that his daughter’s marriage had been intended to prevent.

According to Mark 6:14-29, John the Baptist was beheaded by the order of Herod Antipas, after a cunning interplay between Herodias and her daughter Salome, according to Flavius Josephus,  (Jewish Antiquities XVIII, 5.4 § 136-137),

In The Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18:116-19), Josephus confirmed that Herod Antipas “slew” John the Baptist after imprisoning him at Machaerus, because he feared John's influence might enable him to start a rebellion.His beheading by Herodias inaugurated the era of Christian martyrs; he was the first witness for the new faith.

In the story of Mark 6 it reads as follows:1

6 14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, 'John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him'.15 But others said, 'It is Elijah'. And others said, 'It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old'.16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, 'John, whom I beheaded, has been raised'.17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her.18 For John had been telling Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife'.19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.22 When his daughter Herodias [other translations: The daughter of Herodias] came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, 'Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it'.23 And he solemnly swore to her, 'Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom'.24 She went out and said to her mother, 'What should I ask for?' She replied, 'The head of John the baptizer'.25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, 'I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter'.26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.27 Immediately, the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

John the Baptist, like his predecessors, the mother with seven sons, and the four Hebrew young man in the Book Daniel, trusted that God would delivered them from their enemies as told by Luke Chapter 12:

4I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.
5I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna;* yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one.
6Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?* Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God.
7Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.d
8I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God.
9But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.e

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