Gladiator fights became common entertainment. 50,000-80,000 spectators usually attended. Admission was free. The actual money was made in gambling on the fighters. Slaves and prisoners of war were trained as gladiators, and the Roman courts could sentence criminals to “death fighting.” Eventually free men enrolled as gladiators, some for the glory and some for the money to pay their debts. Even some of the emperors were said to have been former gladiators, so that position could lead to political advancement as well.
The life of a gladiator was full of risk. Not only could they be killed by another gladiator, but all prospective gladiators had to swear an oath and enter a legal agreement to submit to beating, burning, and death by sword if they did not perform as required. Life must have been desperate for those who entered it willingly.
The last gladiator fought on January 1, 404 AD, over a millennium and a half ago. What startled me, though, was one of the reasons given for the rise of this type of entertainment. Gladiator fights were seen as a way to appease the gods and avert disaster in the Roman Empire.
To appease the gods? Here you have yet again a big difference
between Jehovah God and manmade gods. Our God hates fighting among his children. Here are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers, Prov 6:16-19.
Seven times in the New Testament He is called the “God of peace,” and Jesus said in his most famous sermon, Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God, Matt 5:9. How did he tell us the world would recognize us? [I pray] that they may be one…so that the world will believe that you have sent me, John 17:21. Getting along with one another can actually create faith in unbelievers.
Over and over in the New Testament the disciples are told to “be at peace,” to “avoid things that gender strife,” and to be longsuffering with one another. Peace would be the defining mark of this brotherhood, not the constant wrangling that often mars manmade organizations.
The only fighting we participate in is a spiritual warfare against the Adversary. Otherwise we are to be a peaceful people who call attention to ourselves only by the good we do to others, not the evil, and by our goodwill to one another despite our differences. All the way back to the apostles, Jesus expected people with huge ideological differences of opinion to get along. Matthew the publican and Simon the Zealot would never have eaten a Passover meal together until they both professed allegiance in something and Someone far bigger than their opinions.
James makes it very clear in his epistle exactly where fighting comes from. When we turn ourselves into gladiators against one another, when others of us watch from the sidelines, egging each one on and enjoying the battle, it is clear that our loyalty is to a master other than the Prince of Peace.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace, James 3:13-18.