II CORINTHIANS 2:12 - 3:18
II Corinthians 2:12-17 A triumphant ministry II Corinthians 3:1-3 A commended ministry II Corinthians 3:4-18 A ministry of splendor II Corinthians 4:1-6 An honest ministry II Corinthians 4:5-18 A tried ministry II Corinthians 5:1-10 A courageous ministry II Corinthians 5:11-6:10 A dedicated & reconciling ministry II Corinthians 6:11-13 An exhorting ministryII Corinthians 2:14, "Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph..."
If we are not careful, little phrases like this are easy to overlook in a study such as this. But to the Corinthians and anyone in the civilized world at that time, this was vivid imagery. Everyone had heard of the triumphal parades that the Romans put on to honor their victorious generals. Similar scaled-down parades were held on foreign fields sometimes as the Roman armies entered a great city or on payday for the troops - all meant to impress the locals with Rome's wealth and magnificence. But stories were told everywhere of the great triumphs held in Rome itself for its returning victorious generals. Records were kept, and parents told the tales of triumphs long past. They were done with great pageantry, for the Romans had real showmanship. Better than any other people at that time, they knew the art of staging a spectacle and the awe it would inspire.
The origin of this triumphal parade is as old as Rome itself. This victory celebration was enshrined in the very birth of Rome. Romulus, the founder of Rome, was the initiator of this favorite Roman spectacle. With the expansion of the Republic and then the Empire, the triumph developed in complexity and splendor.
To be eligible for a triumphal parade, a general had to have been voted "Imperator" by his own troops. He had to have won a decisive victory over a foreign army. He must have been the commander-in-chief in the field. The campaign must have been completely finished, the region pacified and the victorious troops brought home. Upon arrival back in Rome, the troops and the general had to stay outside of Rome proper and appeal to the Senate for permission to hold a triumphal parade. The Senate would consider the number of enemy subdued and the amount of wealth and/or territory gained from the campaign and either give or withhold their consent for a triumph.
When a triumph was granted, it was the most festive of days. The government and businesses shut down in order to give honor to the victorious general and his troops. This was his day and no one was to detract from the honor due him on this day.
The procession assembled at a park on the outskirts of ancient Rome and began up the Via Triumphalis (Triumphant Way) very early in the morning for the procession would last for hours. They would slowly enter the Circus Maximus amid wild cheers where up to 250,000 people could witness the procession, including the two Consuls of the year (presidents) who were always invited to be part of the parade. But it was not considered good form for them to accept, because all honor that day would belong to the general.
The parade began with the magistrates and Senators (up to 300) in their white togas with their wide purple stripe of office across their left shoulder. The Senate was followed by the booty taken from the enemy - their armor and riches. Great floats were constructed to display significant or odd findings, unusual animals and plants, models of the great cities conquered, reenactments of the battles by hired actors, and the final surrender. The more elaborate and the more in number, the better. Then came the sacrificial white oxen, followed by a few significant prisoners or the conquered king. (It's not fun to follow the animals in a parade.) The humbled king was to wear his kingly apparel along with his diadem (crown) and all his jewelry to show whom Rome, in all its glory, had subdued and conquered.
The conquered were doomed to hear the loudest cheers all day long, for they were followed by the conquering general's procession. The general's lictors, body guards, censors swinging their burning incense, dancers, musicians, drummers and trumpeters would herald the arrival of the general driving the antique triumphal chariot pulled by 4 white horses. He would be wearing the toga picta, the all-purple toga, lavishly embroidered in gold. The kings of Rome before the Republic had worn the toga picta, and so, too, did the statue of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in his temple on the Capitol. In his hands, the general carried an ivory scepter with a Roman Eagle on top and an olive branch. (No wonder they started calling some of them as gods.) His face would be painted with minim, a kind of red stain. Why was his face stained red? Don't know. But perhaps it was to show his humility amid all the pageantry, for immediately behind the general in the chariot was a slave holding the crown of Jupiter over the general's head, but whispering the entire way, "Remember, you are just a man." Behind the general and his gilded chariot was his beloved troops, not carrying their weapons, but wooden staves, and wearing the honors they had earned and olive wreaths and shouting "Io Triumphe," behold the triumph!
The procession would wind its way slowly through the major streets of Rome, up and down its hills on a prescribed course to allow everyone a view as it made its way finally up the Via Sacra (Sacred Way), through the Roman Forum to the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (Jupiter, Greatest and Best). There the priests would sacrifice the oxen to Jupiter on behalf of the general before the Senate and people of Rome.
The conquered king who had been dressed in his finest and smelled the incense burning for the general and not for him in his palace, and who had been humiliated by jeers from the crowd all day long, was led off up the hill to be sacrificed also, either by hanging or, if he was to be further humiliated, to be stripped and shoved down a hole or vast cavern underneath the Tullianum and left in torment, often with broken bones, to rot.
Pomp and Circumstance, with no detail too small, was definitely the picture Paul has painted for the Corinthians as he describes Christ's triumph as the General who has conquered sin and death for us. We are left to tell the tale of the greatest General who conquered what no man could conquer. We are left to spread His fragrance of a true God. And like those present at a Roman Triumph, to the victors the aroma will be pleasant and appealing. But to the conquered, the fragrance will be detestable and repulsive - a fragrance of death.
Paul's few sentences here remind us of the final triumph described in the book of Revelation where the conquered Satan will be cast into the lake of fire and smelly sulphur. Our General has long since made His sacrifice. On that day of triumph, all honor will go to the Conqueror, as every knee shall bow. The conquering troops who have been faithful to their General will wear the laurels and smell the incense mingled with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne (Revelation 8:3).
The whisper in the ear by the servants will be replaced with "Worthy Art Thou." And the shout of the victorious troops will be "Holy, Holy, Holy."
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR