A Roman foot soldier stood watch outside a prison cell holding but a single occupant. The polished steel armor plates of his cuirass were draped snuggly over a burgundy tunic to protect his chest and back, while his helmet and scutum, a rectangular semi-cylindrical shield, were hanging on a nearby wall. Attached to his belt were his standard-issue gladius, or double-edged short sword, and a set of jailor’s keys. The lone prisoner sat chained to the wall by a set of wrist manacles in the far corner of his cell. Hitherto, the accused hadn’t said a word, and simply seemed to be silently praying to the god who had abandoned him.
All of the other Christians had been released earlier into the Coliseum to battle a myriad of wild beasts. The first round saw the weaponless victims fight wild boars. Surprisingly one of the animals was severely injured and had to be put down by a spearman at the end of the melee. Before removing any of the dead, a second round saw enraged heifers trample and kick to death two women who were both pregnant and near to full-term. One of the women actually delivered her screaming child as she lay dying; the spearman was again called in to finish the combat.
The bloody remains of the martyrs were being carted off to clear the arena for the third round which would soon see the remaining Christians feebly attempt to survive against a ravenous leap of leopards. However, these men and women would be given an ever so slim fighting chance, as each would be armed with a wooden training gladius and a small round wooden shield.
The soldier stared out the barred window which revealed the spectacle. “Well, it won’t be too much longer now; your time is nigh.”
The aged Ephesian church leader remained silent, so the young legionnaire continued, “Looks like your prayers are falling on deaf ears old man, or else your chains would be broken and your cell door would be unlocked…no?” He referenced the tall tale of the Apostle Peter and cruelly shook the keys on his keyring for effect. The crowd cheered loudly as the timid Christian civilians entered the Coliseum nervously wielding their toy weapons and inadequate defenses.
As the soldier peered out the window, the disciple of Christ chose to finally respond, “God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”[i]
One of the spotted cats snarled and landed a vicious claw across the face of one of the men who cried out in anguish as he was blinded by his own gore. “Well it doesn’t look like your glorious savior listened to that poor soul…he must be a sinner.”
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,”[ii] the venerable cleric flatly stated, and then he stood up to look out upon the ensuing travesty through his jail cell window. When he spoke again, the heartbreak on his countenance was evident even through his thick graying beard. “I know that man, he was always a faithful worshiper…but even more so…the good shepherd knows his own and his own know Him.”[iii]
The voracious predator tore the flesh from the dying man’s throat. “You know that man?” the soldier mocked. “I’m no physician, but I think you mean knew.”
The prisoner locked eyes with his captor as his voice had a hint of ire, “If anyone keeps His word, he will never see death! God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”[iv]
The soldier crossed his arms, “Old man, you sound like the priests of Pluto! They say that when we die we will be met by Jupiter’s son Mercury, the messenger god, and after crossing the river Styx we will live on forever in Pluto’s underworld.” He glanced through the bars as he heard the screams of two more victims fall to the foul felines, and then he laughed aloud, “An absurd fantasy! I see neither hide nor hair of Mercury, and I’m definitely not seeing any sign of your god’s angels stepping in to ensure that these criminals do not meet their deaths.”
Christ’s disciple was intrigued, “So you do not believe in anything higher than yourself? This pride of which you speak is not from God, but from the world, for in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[v]
The old cleric’s words seemed to give the guardsman some pause. “Logos, that word you used; it’s Greek. To this soldier, what you describe of the beginning of time has depth…and an air of truth.”
For the first time since being brought to Rome, the convict smiled. “So, you are not just a mere soldier but also a scholar?”
The sentinel shook his head, “Not really; I just thought your word Logos is similar to the word Genius. Although I do not believe in the gods, I do believe in Genius.” The inmate knew the term, but remained silent so his overseer could further explain. “Genius is the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present within every individual being. I’ve been lucky in battle; by all rights I should already be dead were it not for my Genius following me since the hour of my birth. All priests claim that we have an immortal soul…however, I believe that I don’t have a soul, but together with my Genius I am a soul.”
The prisoner could not hide his utter surprise, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied scripture?”[vi] A roar came up from the crowd beyond as the last Christian met his grizzly end. The captive’s time was now very short, so he tried to keep his conclusion brief, “The world has not revealed this truth to you, I believe it has come directly to you from God the Father. You might say that Christians call this Genius, the Helper, the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, or the Spirit of Truth. In the beginning, God breathed into the first man’s nostrils the breath of life, and that man became a living soul. Even so, unless you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God, you will die in your sins.”[vii]
An announcement abruptly came from the podium that the last prisoner should be brought forth, but the centurion delayed, “Who are you, that Emperor Domitian has chosen to employ Nero’s favorite form of execution upon you?”
“Some call me the Evangelist, some call me the beloved disciple, and others call me the Apostle John. You can just call me John, but please, I would like to know the name of my executioner…so I can pray for his redemption.”
Stunned, the guard unlocked the cell door and obliged, “I am Thaddeus Tarquin, First Centurion of Legio Minervia.”
As John was escorted to the platform containing a man-sized cauldron of boiling oil, he said a prayer for Thaddeus’ conversion, and the Roman soldier knew instinctively that what was taking place was patently wrong. He suddenly stopped as John mounted the first of seven steps. His blood boiled at the injustice that was about to occur; nay the injustice that had transpired all afternoon! “I cannot go through with this! Quickly, come with me; I will help you to escape!”
“His peace I leave with you, Thaddeus. You are free to do your duty.” John then simply turned away and continued to climb the stairs. Once upon the platform, the Evangelist shouted over the noise of the mob, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Whoever hears the Word, and believes in Him has eternal life. We will not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life!”[viii]
With that, John hooked his manacles upon a winch and gave Thaddeus a nod. The executioner reluctantly heaved the chains that lifted the Apostle up and then dunked him into steaming liquid death. What took place next astonished the entire throng, not to mention the dumbfounded centurion. For over an hour, while slaves continually stoked the fire below the cauldron, the Apostle John preached.
Eventually, the frustrated Emperor gave the order to have John extracted and banished to the Isle of Patmos where he would later write the Revelation. Even though the Imperial Cult had declared Christianity “pernicious superstition,” many thousands came to God through witnessing this extraordinary miracle. One of them would follow John to Patmos as not only his jailor but a secret disciple. John’s closing prayer before his execution was answered, and Thaddeus Tarquin finally understood the truth.
[i] John 9:31
[ii] 1 John 1:8
[iii] John 10:14
[iv] John 8:51, John 3:16
[v] 1 John 2:16, John 1:1
[vi] John 7:15
[vii] Genesis 2:7, John 8:24
[viii] John 14:17, John 5:24