Following is a brief foray into history and a moral for our times.
In about the third decade of the current era, in the Middle East, the Jewish Nation was being ruled by the Roman Empire. The Jewish people waited longingly for the arrival of their prophesied Messiah, a military leader who would lift the yoke of Roman oppression from their necks. On the other hand, the Jewish leadership, in order to maintain their power, worked closely with the Romans.
At that time there appeared a charismatic rabbi preaching a new form of Judaism and his growing popularity was seen as a threat by the established religious hierarchy. In a relatively short period of time the leader of the new movement came to be seen as the coming of the promised Messiah. In order to counter this rapidly increasing sect the Jewish establishment colluded with Rome’s local governing body to eliminate the leader of the movement.
And so it was that Jesus was crucified, leaving his closest followers, his twelve apostles, to carry on the work. They spread out across the region, teaching the love, the death and the resurrection of Christ. They succeeded to the point that the Roman Empire itself began to feel threatened and launched an official persecution of the group, now identified as “Christians.”
Despite the effort to squelch the movement, Christianity continued to flourish and grow. At last, in the year 313, the emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. While he did not, as is popularly believed, adopt Christianity as the state religion, his action did allow it to be practiced openly throughout the empire.
Constantine died in 337 and it was the Emperor Theodosius, in 380, who signed the Edict of Thessalonica making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
Fast forward to our time. The upstart religious sect that the Jews and the Romans set out to abolish through the destruction of one man has grown significantly. The mighty Roman Empire has long been in the dust bin of history, the Jewish population on the planet numbers some 14.6 million but the Christians have grown to 2.3 billion followers and are to be found in every corner of the world.
The history is religious, the moral is secular. When you set out to end a popular movement by destroying it’s leader, be very careful to not increase that leader’s appeal by making him a martyr for his cause.