“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” 2 Cor. 2:14 (ESV)
I found the phrase “triumphal procession” to be of interest in this verse. This same idea is rendered in the AV as “causeth us to triumph.” It may seem like a minor difference, but when the idea of “triumphal procession” (qriambeu,onti) is placed in its historical context the meanings between the English translations are quite divergent.
The Roman triumphal procession of Paul’s day was the result of a long development that went back to the pre-Roman Etruscan dynasties. A triumph of the first order featured the conquering general riding in a triumphal chariot drawn by four horses (and in some triumphs, even elephants). He was clothed in a purple toga and a tunic stitched with palm leaves. In his hand he carried a scepter crowned by an eagle, and his face was tinted red in reference to the god Jupiter. Appian described General Pompey’s 3rd triumph in 61 BC as follows:
In the triumphal procession were two-horse carriages and litters laden with gold or other ornaments of various kinds, also the son of Hystaspes, the throne and scepter of Mithridates Eupator himself, and his image, eight cubits high, made of solid gold, and 75,100,000 drachmas of silver coin; also an infinite number of wagons carrying arms and beaks of ships, and a multitude of captives and pirates, none of them bound, but all arrayed in their native costumes.
Add to this the pagan priests burning incense and musicians. This was a grand display of all the senses. Paul appeals to smell specifically in this passage.
So what was Paul trying to communicate through this picture? How did Paul view himself in relation to the idea of being led in triumphal procession? Paul is not communicating that he is one of the victors leading in the triumphal procession, but rather Paul is being led as a conquered subject. There is somewhat of a difference in processions, however. Typically conquered enemies were led in a triumphal procession and were put to death at the end of the processional as a sacrifice to the Roman gods. In one way, we as conquered enemies are put to death, but through dying to self we are made alive in Christ Jesus, and in that way share in His victory, not because we are victors, but because we are in Christ, the victor.
May we rejoice in knowing that God powerfully and graciously waged a holy war against our rebel souls. As believers we should praise God that we have been defeated and taken captive by the power of the gospel. We have been brought to faith, forgiven, and justified. God has made us to be glad and willing servants of the greatest victor, Jesus Christ.
But thanks be to God! He has made us His captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession.
We have been conquered by the gospel for a specific reason. It is for the gospel. We will take a look at this idea in the next article.