It was born into the world back near the beginning, when the man and the woman both turned away from Life. At first it was weak and tentative; its presence remained unknown until brother envied brother, and selfish rage fuelled the hand that rose and struck down the one had done well. Then it stood revealed, and its presence was accepted as inevitable. Soon it was stretching its power, and man after man, woman after woman, sooner or later became its lawful prey. There was only one jarring exception: the man called Enoch, who walked straight past it into the presence of God, and it could not lift so much as a claw against him. That was disconcerting, and troubling, implying a weakness in its absolute tyranny, but, as time passed and humanity expanded, that one anomaly was almost forgotten. There were no other exceptions, everybody else, however strong, wealthy or good, was forced, in the end to submit to it.
The centuries passed and it grew stronger and stronger, with more to feed upon, though there was a niggling sense of weariness even in its insatiable appetite. Flexing its muscles, feeding its hunger, it developed more and more weapons to use for its purposes: violence, famine, disease, flood, fire, foolish superstitions and corrupt religion which gave it little children and men and women at their finest strength offered up in useless sacrifice. Its favourite of all was war. When clan fought against clan, or, better still, nation fought against nation, men women and children were fed to the beast in such quantities that it was left marvelling that humanity could so hate itself! Oh yes, there was the strange anomaly of Elijah, so many centuries before, managed to bypass its claims, but what was one against so very, very many?
Then came the time that changed everything. It loved the Roman armies, for they fed it well, so well that it had no particular attention to spare for one more crucifixion in a small provincial town. But on that particular day, when that particular man died, and Death, the great Beast, took Him down into its jaws, something indescribable happened. This prey did not stay lifeless and limp in its jaws. Instead the hunter became the prey, the victim became the victor. In the darkness of the tomb, beyond the reach of human sight or understanding, cosmic battle was waged on mankind’s behalf by one who was a man, yet more than a man. And Death itself was defeated, the Beast was chained, its power broken.
What were Enoch and Elijah compared to this? They may have bypassed Death for themselves, but this man, this Christ, this illegitimate shabby Jewish teacher, had destroyed death in the very act of his dying, and offered freedom from the Beast for all mankind. Oh, until the last Act of the drama was played out, men’s bodies would still endure death. But his jaws held no more terror now, his gums were toothless. The Beast was now on a chain, and one day, very soon, the chain would be pulled in and the end would come. He was the Last Enemy, but one day every enemy would be conquered. Death would die, its death sentence had already been given in the court that could not be gainsaid.