Between 66 and 68 A.D. over one million Jews were slaughtered during what is called the Great Revolt. Most of them, however, died at the hands of their kin.
After that heartening victory at the Roman garrison, word spread through Galilee that the Romans could be defeated and the Ka-na-im’s ranks began to grow exponentially. But the Romans came back in a fury with 60,000 professional soldiers destroying or scattering the rebellion. Refugees from the north scurried to Jerusalem, now a fortified city and the last bastion for the insursency. These were bitter souls who’d escaped massacres and when they arrived in the Holy City they executed anyone who wasn’t as radical as they were. So it was that even before Jerusalem was invaded and the Temple destroyed in 70 A.D. no moderate person who had been in Jewish leadership before the rebellion was left alive. Though some escaped and fled to Roman held territory, most of the officials paid with their lives for the years of placating they did while the Romans occupied their nation. While the Romans butchered or sold into slavery an estimated 100,000 Jews in Galilee, this paled in comparison to the political cleansing that went on inside the Holy City for nearly four years. During this time citizens of Jerusalem found themselves caught in the frenzy of revolution. Living or dying depended on joining or avoiding the Sicarii.
And now you find yourself one of those trapped between life and death. You’re caught between your convictions…which have been frayed and weakened like no other time since your baptism…and your circumstances. Your friend who once was closer than a brother has brought you here, helped the others tie your hands behind your back, and though you think you see the slightest hesitation in his eyes, he still is screaming at you “Join us or die Ishmael!”
“Let’s just kill this Samaritan dog. Why let him join us anyway?” you can’t see who says this, there must be at least six of them now and more seem to be joining in the dark courtyard by the minute. You haven’t heard anyone speak to you in this way in years. In the church the fact that you were Samaritan made no difference. Jews, gentiles, Samaritans…the fellowship was sincere in its’ acceptance of one another; so much so that you sometimes forgot the prejudices that fueled the hate engine driving the rest of the world. Someone hits you again and you can barely see through the sweat and the blood dripping in your eyes.
“Samaritan? He’s worse. He’s one of them. Christian.” you can’t see the face that goes with this voice either, but you can see Daniel, and you think…you hope…that you see remorse in his eyes.
“I told you, he’ll come with us. They all will. The church of Christ is not for Rome,” and so now Daniel is pleading, “Ishmael, tell them. We’ve got Pharisees, Sadducees, and Christians. The church is just another sect of our religion. Tell them brother and stop this senseless beating. Join us.”
So it was true. The church had gone so far underground to stay alive that in the minds of many they were accepted as another sect of Judaism. The words of the letter come back to you, “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, becauseto their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
You wanted these words to help your convictions win the battle over your circumstances, but you are so afraid. You wanted to be fruitful for the Lord but had found so many reasons not to share your heart, your faith with anyone in this rebellious climate. Oh, stop lying to yourself, even before the insurgency you’d had doubts and distractions that made you weak before the real challenges ever came. “God forgive me,” you cry to yourself, not realizing that it wasn’t a silent prayer. The men laugh and then suddenly, a hush comes over them.
Someone new enters the courtyard. He comes into the circle with an authoritative air that makes the others quiet and still. He pulls Daniel aside. You hear whispering and suddenly everyone is gone except for Daniel and you.
“You are lucky. They have given me time to change your mind brother.” he helps you to your feet and together you move through the dark alleys, while…
…the old man still reads, alone, in the dim light, only now, he’s softly saying the words aloud, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
All his life he was never one who could be called timid. Before he met the Lord he was a wild man out of control and before that, even as a youth, he was reckless. His reckless abandon had paved the way for the great sickness to take him over. Since following the Lord the only word that described him as well as the word ‘thankful’ was the word ‘fearless’. But he was so concerned these days for his people, his flock. He was afraid for them and often wondered if his protectiveness was a mask for fear. Was he getting soft? Was he, God forbid, pampering the church?Pampering himself? He hears his voice continue to read aloud though his mind is racing with all these other thoughts, “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.