THE ROMAN EMPIRE: THE THEBAN LEGION
But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” Acts 4:19
In A.D. 286, the 6,666 men of the Theban Legion were ordered by Emperor Maximus to march to Gaul and to assist him against the rebels of Burgundy. Every member of this division was a devout Christian.
After traveling a difficult trail through the Alps, Maximus demanded a general sacrifice before going into battle. Every man of the Theban Legion refused to dishonor God. The emperor was angered by their insubordination, so he sought to persuade them by having every tenth man slain with the sword. Yet the legionnaires were no less resolute in their stand. The emperor tried to change their position by having his soldiers go back through the ranks again, killing every tenth. These men died with great dignity and poise as if in battle. But this second massacre was no more effective than the first.
If anything, the remaining soldiers were more determined than ever to resist after the slaughter of their companions. Not desiring to die, and at the direction of their officers, they drew up an article of allegiance to the emperor. They declared that their faith and dedication to God only made them more loyal to the emperor. They had hoped this would appease the emperor, but it had the opposite effect. Enraged, he ordered the rest of the legion from Thebias slain.
Insubordination is the highest military offense. Yet, the Theban Legion had no other choice, for to disobey God would have been an even greater crime. Humans rule with authority. However, only God grants authority. The Bible gives examples of how God’s people chose to overrule human authority when it conflicted with God’s command. Consider the Hebrew midwives and also Moses’ parents who disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders. Consider Daniel and his companions who refused to serve foreign gods. Their examples and the examples of these brave soldiers remind us we have a duty to recognize human authority. Yet we must respect God’s authority most of all. When human orders are in direct conflict with God’s commands, you must consider the risk of insubordination.