Parade of Triumph
In Paul’s first century world, a parade of triumph looked like this:
On the day of his triumph, the general wore a crown of laurel and the all-purple, gold-embroidered triumphal toga picta (“painted” toga), regalia that identified him as near-divine or near-kingly. He rode in a four-horse chariot through the streets of Rome in unarmed procession with his army, captives and the spoils of his war. […] All this, to the accompaniment of music, clouds of incense and the strewing of flowers. (Wikipedia)
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:14,
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.
First, Paul thanks God. Then, Paul describes the reason he thanks God, that is, what God does. How very appropriate, given that this website is called What God Does. What does God do? He leads us in triumph in Christ. However…
In the Reign of God, things are not always as they seem.
God’s parade of triumph is not lead by a general wearing a “crown of laurel and the all-purple, gold-embroidered triumphal toga picta, regalia that identified him as near-divine or near-kingly,” it is lead by Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe drenched in His own blood and the spit of His tormentors, who said “Save yourself if you are the Son of God” and “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” God’s parade of triumph is not lead by a celebrated general riding “in a four-horse chariot through the streets of Rome,” it is lead by the Messiah, rejected by His own people, dragging the heavy instrument of His death, along the Via Dolorosa.
His conquering power is not in money, politics, military force, and the like. Charles Spurgeon said
Remember, that Christ viewed as living, and not as having died, is not a saving Christ. He himself saith, “I am he that liveth and was dead.” The moderns cry, “Why not preach more about his life, and less about his death?” I reply, Preach his life as much as you will, but never apart from his death; for it is by his blood that we are redeemed. “We preach Christ.” Complete the sentence. “We preach Christ crucified,” says the apostle. Ah, yes! there is the point. It is the death of the Son of God which is the conquering weapon.
There’s an interesting parallel between 2 Corinthians 2:14 and Colossians 2:15, the only two places in the New Testament that you’ll find the word thriambeúō (thriambeuonti/thriambeusas are conjugations of thriambeúō).
The word Paul uses to describe the parade of believers in 2 Corinthians 2:14 is thriambeúō.
The relevant phrases are (2 Corinthians 2:14) thriambeúō us in Christ and (Colossians 2:15) thriambeúō over them in him. Notice that the word over is NOT found in this translation of 2 Corinthians 2:14, yet it IS found in this translation of Colossians 2:15.
To thriambeúō a person or group of people is to lead him/her/them around and make a spectacle of the fact that he/she/they have been defeated. The word thriambeúō literally means “to triumph over.” The translators choose not to include the word when it refers to believers but to include the word when it refers to rulers and authorities that have been disarmed by Christ. Why is that?
Disappointed in the Knowledge of Him?
Perhaps the idea of Christ parading us around as His defeated subjects is unappealing to us. It reminds us of the imaginary king in the beginning of The Reign of God Is Within You. We don’t want to be ruled by a king like that. We don’t want to be captives in a triumphal procession to the place of our execution. We don’t want to be on display as the evidence of a conquering power, and we certainly don’t want to be identified with the disarmed rulers and authorities in Colossians.
Colossians 1:16-20 says,
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
When Christ died, it was the ultimate triumphal demonstration. He had every right to fight back, but He didn’t. He allowed the sentence of death to be imposed upon Himself in order to reconcile all things. When Christ was “born” from death, it made sense out of the idea of death = triumph. In His parade of triumph, those who live, live for Him and His purposes. If we are to live for Him, we must first die with Him.
When the time of Jesus’ crucifixion was drawing near, Jesus said,
The hour hath come that the Son of Man may be glorified; verily, verily, I say to you, if the grain of the wheat, having fallen to the earth, may not die, itself remaineth alone; and if it may die, it doth bear much fruit; he who is loving his life shall lose it, and he who is hating (3404 miséō – properly, to detest on a comparative basis; hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone/something else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another) his life in this world — to life age-during shall keep it; if any one may minister to me, let him follow me, and where I am, there also my ministrant shall be; and if any one may minister to me — honour him will the Father. Now hath my soul been troubled, and what? shall I say — Father, save me from this hour? — but because of this I came to this hour.
With the grain of wheat analogy, Jesus explains that His death results in (fruit) life. He then goes on to explain the analogy as it pertains to those who are perishing and those who are being saved. By holding on to life in this world, as if it were the be-all-end-all of this experience we call living, one loses it. Such a person is called one who is perishing, or one who is being cut off from aionios zoe (to know God in the life Jesus gives, with duration that extends into the coming age). By renouncing the life of this world in comparison to knowing God in the life Jesus gives, since knowing God in the life Jesus gives is the be-all-end-all of this experience we call living, one keeps it. Such a person is called one who is being saved, or one who is possessing aionios zoe.
Not only this, but with the grain of wheat analogy, Jesus explains that where He is, there those who are being saved will also be. So, where is He? He is leading the parade of triumph that leads from death (i.e. life in this world without aionios zoe) to death (cut off from aionios zoe in the age to come) and from life (life in this world with aionios zoe) to life in the coming age.
Believers are identified with the disarmed rulers and authorities in Colossians 2:15, lumped together with everything and everyone created through Him and for Him, held together by Him, and ultimately subjected to Him, not through a conquering power that is corrupt and self-seeking, but through a conquering power that is reconciling through selfless love. Should we want to be saved from the parade of triumph? No, it is the purpose for which we live in Christ — to be humbled, misunderstood, falsely perceived as liars or lunatics, and giving up whatever is required of us in order to align ourselves with His purpose.
Now, the operative questions are:
- Why is God pleased with what is happening to those who are perishing?
- How does this relate to the new wine in the old wineskin versus the new wine in the new wineskin? (See New Wineskin for the New Wine…)
Think about how rulers and authorities operate. In the hands of someone with selfless love, power is beneficial and good. But in the hands of someone with corrupt motives, power is oppressive. What weapons do such powers wield? It can take your money or your property. It can cause mental, emotional, or physical harm and even death to people or those they love. But once it kills, there’s nothing more it can do. It can’t extend beyond the grave. It is limited “according to the flesh.”
We think that the human problem is that life ends with death. As it turns out, death ends with life, because Jesus, by death, conquers both sin (corruption, oppression, etc.) and death, and as the first “born” from the dead, He gives a kind of life that cannot ever be subject to death.
To those who are perishing, these concepts are a fragrance of death to death, or as Paul explains elsewhere, “the message of the cross is foolishness” to them. This perishing doesn’t refer to a fixed state, it is an ongoing process. To those who are being saved, these concepts are a fragrance of life to life, or as Paul explains elsewhere, “the power of God” to them. Like the perishing process, this saving doesn’t refer to a fixed state, it is an ongoing process.
Why is God pleased with what is happening to those who are perishing?
In order to understand what really happens to those who are actively involved in the ongoing process of perishing, we need to look to what is happening with those who are actively involved in the ongoing process of being saved. The apostle Paul can be counted among them, and he explains what is happening much better than I can:
For this cause, I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you the nations, if, indeed, ye did hear of the dispensation of the grace of God that was given to me in regard to you, that by revelation He made known to me the secret, according as I wrote before in few [words] — in regard to which ye are able, reading [it], to understand my knowledge in the secret of the Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it was now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit — that the nations be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in the Christ, through the good news, of which I became a ministrant, according to the gift of the grace of God that was given to me, according to the working of His power; to me — the less than the least of all the saints — was given this grace, among the nations to proclaim good news — the untraceable riches of the Christ, and to cause all to see what [is] the fellowship of the secret that hath been hid from the ages in God, who the all things did create by Jesus Christ, that there might be made known now to the principalities and the authorities in the heavenly [places], through the assembly, the manifold wisdom of God, according to a purpose of the ages, which He made in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have the freedom and the access in confidence through the faith of him, wherefore, I ask [you] not to faint in my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in the heavens and on earth is named, that He may give to you, according to the riches of His glory, with might to be strengthened through His Spirit, in regard to the inner man, that the Christ may dwell through the faith in your hearts, in love having been rooted and founded, that ye may be in strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, to know also the love of the Christ that is exceeding the knowledge, that ye may be filled — to all the fulness of God; and to Him who is able above all things to do exceeding abundantly what we ask or think, according to the power that is working in us, to Him [is] the glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus, to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen.
First, those who are being saved are proclaiming good news among the nations. What is the good news? Paul calls it “the untraceable riches of the Christ.” Elsewhere in scripture these riches are:
- of His kindness
- of His glory
- for the world
- for the Gentiles
- of wisdom and knowledge of God
- of His grace
- of the glory of His inheritance
- of Christ
- to fill all needs
- of the full assurance of understanding
- of the reproach of Christ (and subsequent rewards)
Second, those who are being saved are causing all, not just some, but all, to see this: The fellowship of the secret that hath been hid from the ages in God.” What is this fellowship? What is this secret? Right now, in this age, the assembly of those who are being saved (aka, the Church, that is not the institutional church, but those who are being saved, whether part of the institutional church or not) are demonstrating something to the principalities (rulers) and the authorities in the heavenly (2032 epouránios referring to the impact of heaven’s influence on the particular situation). What are we demonstrating? The manifold wisdom of God. And this isn’t just His wisdom in a general sense. It is a specific kind of wisdom, that is, according to a purpose of the ages.
Think about that…
We see the tramp of armies and of battles upon the graphic page, and an account more or less intelligent of the different and concurrent causes; but with what fuller insight and appreciation mast the heavenly world look down upon the vicissitudes of time! Amid the conflicting policies of different states and nations, the missionary enterprise appears as the one consistent and uniting policy. The elevation of the world’s peoples into one consecrated whole, into one mighty family, into one organic whole, is surely worthy of a God. And this is what the Church exhibits; it was for this Paul suffered, it is for this we in our respective spheres must struggle too. — R.M. Edgar
Those who are currently being saved are called “firstfruit.” The reason for this is that in scripture, firstfruit is a demonstration that the entire field belongs to God. Those currently being saved, that is, the first portion of all creation from this particular age, are a demonstration that the entire creation belongs to God, “according to the purpose (4286 próthesis, from 4253 /pró, ‘before’ and 5087 /títhēmi, ‘purposefully set forth’ – properly, providence – literally, ‘a setting forth in advance’ for a specific purpose, ‘God’s pre-thesis’) of the ages.”
It is no accident that those who are being saved are identified with the disarmed rulers and authorities in Colossians 2:15. We are evidence in God’s pre-thesis of the ages. To state in the most simple terms the answer to the question, “Why is God pleased with what is happening to those who are perishing?” this parade of triumph is just getting started. The evidence of the redemptive work of Christ, completed in His death (“It is finished.”) and resurrection, is just now beginning to become apparent. We’ve just begun to crack the lid on the treasure box of His riches. There is a purpose for those who are perishing, and that purpose is not apparent in this age. Those who believe in this age are only beginning to understand what Paul meant when he said that the living God is “the Savior of all people, especially those who believe.”
How does this relate to the new wine in the old wineskin versus the new wine in the new wineskin?
Let me put it this way, if it makes you terribly uncomfortable to read the previous paragraphs or similar ideas elsewhere, if you feel a sense of fear that believing such things is heresy, or if you stopped reading this blog (unfortunately you won’t see this) or similar content elsewhere because of such reasons, chances are you’ve got some old wineskin. You can feel the old wineskin tearing as the knowledge of God overwhelms the limitations of your traditional beliefs. To you, it is the fragrance of death to death.
In contrast, if His Spirit within you stirs as you read the previous paragraphs or similar ideas elsewhere, if you feel a sense of hope that believing such things helps you understand the aionios zoe you have in Christ, or if you keep on reading this blog or similar content elsewhere because of such reasons, chances are you’ve got a new wineskin. You can feel the new wineskin stretching to take in the knowledge of God. The limitations of your traditional beliefs are a thing of the past. To you, it is the fragrance of life to life.
The word “aroma” or “euódia,” […] is used only six times in the New Testament […]
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)
In John 12:3, fragrance is not the Greek word euódia, rather, it is osmé. I try to be careful, but occasionally I make mistakes. That’s why readers are encouraged on the Home page to “Test everything. Hold on to what is good.”