by Rev. Antony W. Ball
As another Remembrance Day approaches, war seems more “real” to me this year. I guess that never a year passes without there’s a war somewhere or other in the world, but often it’s either so far away that it doesn’t seem to affect us personally or so geographically “limited” (like the “troubles” in Northern Ireland in the 1970s) that it doesn’t seem to affect the whole nation. The present war between Russia and the Ukraine seems different somehow. Our nation is involved – both through the arms we’ve supplied and because of the many individuals who have welcomed Ukrainians into their homes. Everyday our televisions are showing us the homes destroyed, the body-bags and the grieving relatives – it shouldn’t be happening, but it is.
When Isaiah wrote “nation shall not lift up sword against nation”, the world in which he loved was at least as violent as is ours today, nut he was writing “eschatologically”, which means he was writing about what would happen in “the last days”. The Jewish nation at the time of Isaiah believed that their Messiah (their “Christ” or “Saviour”) would be sent by God to establish His reign on earth. They were waiting for God to keep the covenant He had made with Abraham that his descendants would be as countless as the stars in the sky and that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed¹. As the “Chosen Race” they anticipated that God would prioritise them, but in due course God would expect them to make all the other nations of the world aware of Him and His blessing. As a faithful Jew, Jesus would have been brought up to believe all that, but although He did believe Himself to be the Messiah², God had revealed to Him that His role would be rather different: He would be a “suffering Messiah” – an absurd “contradiction in terms” as far as most Jews were concerned. Jesus believed that it was God’s will and purpose that He should suffer and die (the crucifixion) before coming to life again for a while (the resurrection – which showed that God’s power extended even over death) and then returning to God (the ascension) until the advent of the Parousia (Second Coming), which would inaugurate the Messianic reign on earth as foretold in the Old Testament.
Although the first Christians were Jews, they were relatively few and were persecuted (some even suffered martyrdom³) by their fellow Jews as well as by the Roman occupying forces. That persecution hastened the first dispersion of Jewish Christians from Jerusalem to neighbouring countries and Gentiles (non-Jews) gradually accepted Christ as their Lord (helped by Paul’s evangelism and Peter’s vision⁴). So. for both Jews and Christians, suffering and persecution are “a part of life”, but let’s remember that, as Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians, we…
…should not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
We believe that Jesus died and rose again;
and so it will be for those who died as Christians;
God will bring them to life with Jesus.
(i Thess iv 13b, 14, NEB)
Let us remember that as, on Remembrance Day, we remember those who died in the two world wars and later conflicts, whether in the Ukraine or Russia or elsewhere. We also remember Jesus’ affirmation that “There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends”.
Jn xv 13 NEB
¹ Gen xxvi 3b, 4
² Mt xvi 16, 17
³ Acts vii 54-60
⁴ Acts x 9-17