Last week we talked about the mezuzah that hangs on the doorframes of our Jewish neighbors. It is a reminder to them of obedience; they live under God’s authority. It also identifies them to others. The Romans also had a tradition, which would identify them and reveal where their allegiance stood. Many Roman cities had an arch over the entrance to the city. On the arch would be the name of the emperor or the prominent deity of the town. To pass under the arch was to acknowledge the authority of the god written there.
This became a big problem for the early church. An emperor, a man declaring himself to be god, is claiming allegiance and authority. Can you imagine the debate about whether they can go through the arch? Church tradition, based on some history, is that the apostle Philip was martyred in Hieropolis for refusing to pass through their arch. That arch was dedicated to Emperor Domitian, who declared himself divine. Philip lived in, and pastored to, Hieropolis and was apparently known for going around the Domitian arch. They eventually tired of his rebellion and killed his daughters in front of him before executing him as well. But even knowing his danger, Philip refused to acknowledge this blasphemous man claiming to be a god.
I don’t know about you, but I might be tempted to justify going through that arch. I might reassure myself that it was false anyway, so it didn’t matter (that’s what the Nicolaitans did, by the way). Or maybe I’d appeal to a greater good. But Philip didn’t do that. He refused to be identified by the blasphemy on the arch, even symbolically. God was his ultimate authority.
Philip loved the city of Hieropolis, the people that he was called to serve, but he refused to compromise his identity as one who follows God alone.
My identity is in Christ. He is my authority and is God alone. There are many other things that put claim to my allegiance and identity – ideologies, politics, popularity, materialism, even relationship. May I cling tightly to God’s banner with the same love and commitment to his community that Philip did, whatever the cost.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5:20