Caesar or Yeshua!

Ron Cantor —  May 8, 2012 — Leave a comment

In the book of Revelation, John says:

On The Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit… (Revelation 1:10, emphasis mine)

After just listening to one of my favorite preachers this morning mistakenly refer to Sunday as the Lord’s Day, I thought I might share on this subject. Not because I am hung up on days, but rather because John’s true meaning is fascinating when looking at the theme of Revelation.

So, here we go…Many Christians have wrongly assumed that John was referring to Sunday when he said that he was in the Spirit “on the Lord’s Day.” While I understand why people might assume that since Yeshua rose from the dead on a Sunday, also referred to by many as The Lord’s DayJohn was actually referring to a specific day of the year in the Roman calendar.

The one religion that covered the entire Roman Empire wasCaesar worship. Every emperor after Caesar was thought to be divine.  Those who didn’t worship Caesar were considered atheists.  The punishment for this depended on the current ruling Caesar.  During the time of John’s imprisonment on the island of Patmos, Domitian was emperor of Rome.  He was referred to in public documents asOur Lord and God.  In 96 CE he put to death his own cousin for being an atheist. It is widely believed he was actually a believer and the accusation of atheism was for denying that Caesar was God.  Domitian was the emperor who exiled John after he was unsuccessful on boiling him alive in a vat of oil.

Domitian took the idea that he was deity very seriously.

He informed all governors that government announcements and proclamations must begin, “Our Lord and God, Domitian commands” …  They must call Domitian God—or die.  Thus the issue was clear.  It was a matter of gods.  Either the Lord Jesus Christ or the emperor of Rome was Lord-God.  It was Jesus or Caesar.[1]

Other religions were tolerated, as long as they did not conflict with Caesar worship.  This became a problem for the believers as well as for religious Jews who did not believe in Yeshua.

Once a year, everyone in the empire had to appear before the magistrates in order to burn a pinch of incense to the godhead Caesar and to say: “Caesar is Lord.” … to refuse to say “Caesar is Lord,” was treason.[2]

This yearly event was known to be The Lord’s Day. This was the day John was referring to, not Sunday.  This also fits the theme of the early chapters of Revelation, which encourages the believers to stand strong, even to the death, in the face of persecution.  John himself had been exiled because of his faith.

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9)

He had suffered greatly for the Gospel, having been boiled in oil—and survived.  It is no accident that God chose to give this revelation to John on the day that virtually every believer would have a crucial decision to make: Caesar or Yeshua?

Those believers understood both the reference and its implication:

“Many Christians were thrown to the lions, charged with atheism for refusing to sacrifice to the Emperor who claimed to be God.”[3]

Let me also note that this understanding—to publicly confess, “Jesus is Lord”—put one’s life and family in serious peril.  For many years, I thought that Romans 10:9 appeared just too simplistic:

If you declare with your mouth, “Yeshua is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

That’s it?  Really?  Just confess Him and believe?

However, once you understand the background of Caesar worship and the persecution it entailed, you realize that to do this was to say in essence, “I am willing to die for my faith in Yeshua.”  What Paul is doing here is indirectly confronting the issue of commitment, because to confess that you are serving Yeshua was equivalent to confessing that Caesar is, in fact, notyour Lord.  And that could get you a lunch meeting with a hungry lion in a Roman coliseum.

To be clear, I have no problem with Sunday worship, (believers can gather for worship on any day they choose!) but I do have a problem when people maintain that God has changed the Sabbath. This is pure speculation based primarily on one passage in the Scriptures that is not understood in its historical context.



[1] Revelations From Revelations, Patrick M. Jones, 2008, Teach Services, Ringgold, Georgia, pg. 19

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

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