Around the year 167 Before the birth of Christ, the people of Judea were in a bad way. Since Alexander the Great had conquered their land around 332 BCE, they had experienced a succession of rulers and conquering kingdoms. Now they were under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes IV. Until his rule, Greek and Egyptian rulers before him had treated the Jews with respect and left their religious beliefs alone; but Antiochus demanded that they worship Zeus in the temple to God in Jerusalem, and Jews simply refused. There followed a horrible slaughter, by some records of tens of thousands of Jews who refused to give in to Antiochus’ tyrannical expectations. This is considered by many the first pogrom, something which would in Christian history would become all too common—the slaughter of Jews simply for being Jews. The greatest pogrom of all, of course, was the Nazi holocaust. Antiochus Epiphanes was engaged in what we would call today genocide.
Most of the Jews who were killed went to their deaths non-violently, that is to say, they did not bring weapons and they did not resist. They wanted to bear witness to their faith in God by simply refusing to submit to Antiochus Epiphanes’ decree. These are the first believers in the Judeo-Christian God to whom the phrase “martyr” is applied. These are non-violent people who are killed because of their faithfulness to God. They are martyrs in the truest sense.
But others decided they must resist violently. These became known as the Maccabees, after their leaders, a band of brothers committed to overcoming Antiochus Epiphanes via revolution. Ultimately the Maccabees would claim victory, though what victory actually was was subject to very broad interpretation.
But another group, possibly tied with the Maccabees, chose yet another form of resistance, by writing what amounted to a religious manifesto and justification for their resistance to Antiochus. This group wrote the Book of Daniel. In Daniel, this group of religious leaders framed the events of their present day as being predicted centuries before by a faithful Jew during the Babylonian exile named Daniel, who has a dream of the future. In this dream, all the empires from the time of Babylon to Antiochus are represented by animals: First there is the age of the lion, the Babylonian Empire; second is the bear, the Medean empire; third there is the leopard, meaning Persia, and finally there is “the terrible beast”—the Greek empire, of whom Antiochus is depicted as “a little horn” who has a big mouth and thinks a great deal of himself.
But after this “terrible beast” comes “one like a Human Being.” The Hebrew is generally translated as “one like a Son of Man.” This Human Being, this Son of Man, is sent by God to finally start the age in which God and humanity are at last united, and all the rule of flawed human empires is ended. The Age of the Human Being, the age of the Son of Man, is God’s age. It ends the age of the bestial empires. This Human Being comes down from heaven surrounded by the saints. Who are the saints, you ask? The saints are the martyrs—all those who died because of their faithfulness to God, who refused to submit to the tyrannical behavior of Antiochus Epiphanes. They are honored for their faithfulness by becoming, after their deaths, co-rulers with the Divine Human Being in the Age of the Human Being, when God’s peace will reign at last and the arrogance of empire will be ended forever.
What we may not realize is that in Seventh Chapter of Daniel we are witnessing a revolution in Jewish thinking that will change the world forever. In chapter seven and in the remaining sections of Daniel we have the first confirmed Scriptural evidence of the Resurrection of the Dead. At that time, Jews were in quite a debate about whether there was life after death. Some believed then, as most Jews do today, that after you die you are dead, period, end of story; so the point is to glorify God with your life right in the here and now.
But people at the time of Daniel started to wonder: what about the martyrs? What about these brave people who are willing to die by the thousands because they would rather worship God than Zeus? What is their reward? Is this life all there is? And they realized, it can’t be: there has to be more. There must be a resurrection of the dead. There must be life after death, because God is just, and God will not let their sacrifice go unnoticed and un-honored. The saints will certainly rule forever in the age of the Son of Man.
For us Christians all this is confirmed finally and irrefutably in the life, death and resurrection of the person we call the Son of Man, or perhaps more appropriately, the Human Being: Jesus Christ. In him we know that the saints who have preceded us into God’s Kingdom will certainly live forever, and that they—and we—will live eternally in the Kingdom of God, that place of justice, mercy, equality, oneness with God and each other and nature; and peace, peace, finally, peace with love and companionship forever.
This is our hope. This is why we live lives of faith, daring to take risks, to live lives of service and sacrifice to others. It is because we know that the age of the unjust empires is destined to end; and the age of the Human Being, the Age of Divine and Human Unity, the age of the New heaven and the new earth, will certainly come. This is why we stand up for God’s values when the rest of the world tells us to sit down. We know that those values of love, peace, mercy, and equality will certainly be established as the ultimate and eternal standard; that to live that way is to live into God’s divine plan; that by living that way we live in the Age of the Human Being; that by living that way we ARE human beings, living into the divine intention for what Human Beings have always been meant to be.
And that is why we gather today to celebrate the saints. We mourn, yes; but we also celebrate them. We admire their faithfulness. We want to emulate it in our own lives. And we celebrate the Gospel Good news that those who live their lives faithfully have by no means died in vain; in fact they are not dead at all; they join that great cloud of witnesses who will one day return to earth in the Age of the Human Being to rule the world with Justice, mercy and peace, in unity with the God whom they love and continue to love and serve through all eternity. We celebrate them.
But we also celebrate that we shall certainly be among them. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Rev. Dr. Fritz Ritsch
November 3, 2019 (All Saints)
Daniel 7: 9-14