These kinds of passages are written for people who suffer under intense oppression or persecution, who have no hope other than God’s divine help.
So our Old Testament lesson for today comes from the book of Daniel, which, we think, was written around 175 BC, during the reign of a Greek general named Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus Epiphanes thought that everybody should be like him. Everybody should follow Greek culture because it was the best. Everybody should follow Greek religion, because it was the best.
So he persecuted the Jewish faith, and sacrificed a pig to the Greek god Zeus in the temple.
People felt there was nothing they could do. God had abandoned them. Antiochus Epiphanes had all the weapons, all the money, all the personnel, all the power. The message of the book of Daniel is that God has not abandoned us. That God, in fact has the power, and that, even though things are bad and may get worse, God will bring a better day.
In our Old Testament lesson from Daniel, Daniel sees “one like a human being,” literally, “like a son of man,” coming with the clouds of heaven,” to whom will be given domino and glory and kingship over the nations forever.”
Where have we heard about a son of man before? Jesus is referring to this passage in the Gospels when he speaks of himself as the “Son of Man,” or literally, “Son of Humanity.” But now he adds to, or deepens the message of apocalyptic. Jesus says in the Gospels, the Son of Man, who will come with great power on the clouds of heaven to end oppression and persecution and bring about God’s great turning of the world toward life, the Son of Man comes not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly, and be killed, and on the third day rise.”
Now, God’s power is not just overwhelming force. God’s power suffers with us and for us.
In the book of Revelation, we see all kinds of overwhelming power. People who first read Revelation would have wanted overwhelming power. We think Revelation was written during the reign of the emperor Domitian around 95 A.D. Domitian instituted a heavy persecution of Christianity, and people wanted his reign to end, they wanted the current order of the world to come apart because the current order of the world was killing them.
So there is scary stuff in Revelation, like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, bearing war and famine and disease and death. There are the seven bowls of the wrath of God poured out on the earth, so that a third of the trees are burned and a third of the grass, and so on.
And it’s not like stuff like that is all wrong. There is a place for scary things. The fear of God is an appropriate. The fear of God is like this. We are afraid when we hold a baby, because this person of infinite value has been placed in our hands. So we don’t want to drop the baby. If we are carrying a precious work of art, we are careful, we are afraid because we don’t want to stumble and wreck it. So also we are careful in the way we treat and speak about other people, especially people who are desperate and have no hope. We don’t want to drop them because in God’s eyes they are infinitely valuable. This bright earth is a work of art God made. We don’t want to wreck it.
There is a place for the wrath of God. It’s just that, God’s love is deeper than God’s wrath. For example, in the book of Revelation, there is a scroll with seven seals. Seals have to be opened for all of the shaking up to begin, which will eventually lead to a new creation. The only one in heaven who can open the seals is the Lamb. The lamb who was slaughtered. Lots of other images for Jesus in the book of Revelation but the Lamb appears far more than any other. Angels sing in heaven, “Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain.” As we do in a couple of places in worship, we sing the songs of angels.
So the Lamb opens the seals, and begins the great change. The deepest power of God is the power of the Lamb.
So also in the Gospel lesson for today. Jesus stands before Pilate, who sits in judgement over him. Pilate mocks throughout. “Are you the king of the Jews?" or perhaps if you read the Greek differently, “You are the king of the Jews!” “Do you ask this on your own, or because of what somebody told you?” “I am not a Jew, am I?” Later on, Pilate’s guards put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, and a purple robe. Pilate brings him out before the crowd and says “Here is your King!” puts a sign above Jesus when he is crucified, reads “The king of the Jews.”
The more closely we look at this account, the more clear it becomes. Pilate sits in the judgement seat, but Pilate himself, and everything he represents, is the one being judged.
And Jesus, somehow and I don’t understand it fully, somehow we realize that Jesus is one with the true power here. Jesus is the one who saves.
Jesus, with his crown of thorns, stands in our halls of power. Always has. Let us pray for the people there to see him.
Jesus, with his crown of thorns, stands in our lives. Even though we do not care properly for the babies of this world, we drop them. Even though we do not care for the people of this world as God would have us do, but rather dishonor the presence of God in them and in ourselves, even though we wreck this masterpiece of art that God has built, this bright creation round us, Jesus still comes to our least pretty, least holy, least worthy places and loves us there, at the cross. Let us pray to see Jesus in our lives, in the lives of this whole world, reigning with his crown of thorns, his crown of glory.