December 17, 1637, was the beginning of a terrible time for Christianity in Japan. Even though it was 380 years ago, a rebellion of some Christians that started then had repercussions that lasted for centuries—and there’s some similarity of erroneous beliefs then to those of some Christians now.
The Christian Century in Japan
The introduction of Christianity into Japan began with the arrival of Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier on the shores of southern Kyushu (the southernmost major island) in August 1549. As a result of his remarkable influence, and that of other missionaries who came later, a sizeable number of Japanese people in southern Japan became Christians.
The number and influence of Japanese Christians in the decades following 1549 led to the designation of that period as “the Christian century in Japan.” (The British historian C.R. Boxer published a book with that title in 1951.)
By the 1630s, some estimates say that there were as many as 750,000 Christians in Japan—or about half as many as now and, of course, a much larger percentage than now.
The growth in the number of Christian believers did not last for a century, though. The disastrous rebellion of 1637-38 reduced the number of openly professed Christians to almost zero—and it also resulted in Japan being completely closed to Christianity, and to most of the Western world, for some 220 years.
The Shimabara Rebellion
|A British historian's 2016 book|
Shimabara is the name of a peninsula in Nagasaki Prefecture, and the historical events that began there on Dec. 17, 1637, and lasted until April 15, 1638, are usually called the Shimabara Rebellion.
That disastrous rebellion was primarily by Christians. It was largely due not to religious motives as much as to widespread dissatisfaction with overtaxation and the suffering caused by famine conditions in the area.
Amakusa Shirō, a charismatic 16-year-old youth was chosen as the rebellion’s leader. He was considered by local Christians as “heaven’s messenger,” and miraculous powers were attributed to him.
As the shogunate troops began to gather in Shimabara in a concerted effort to put down the rebellion, the rebels holed up in Hara Castle—and the troop’s siege of the castle lasted until April, when the resistance was finally broken and destroyed.
(The ruins of Hara Castle are about 40 miles east of Nagasaki City.)
It is said that some 37,000 rebels (men, women, and children) were beheaded at the end of that disastrous rebellion.
This was in spite of the hope/belief of Amakusa and some of his followers that this was going to be a Japanese “battle of Armageddon”—the time for the intervention of God and the beginning of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Apocalyptic Fervor Then and Now
The German Peasants’ War of 1524-25 and the Münster Rebellion (also in Germany) of 1534-35 were earlier “Christian” rebellions that shared similar characteristics to the Shimabara Rebellion. There were apocalyptic overtones, or underpinnings, to each of those rebellions also.
The leaders of both of those earlier rebellions believed that violence was sanctioned by God and was necessary to establish God’s new world order. But the rebels in both Germany and Japan learned by sad experience that those who take the sword die by the sword.
Now, there are those who see DJT’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in apocalyptic terms. For example, consider this Dec. 11 article: “Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem excites apocalyptic fervor.”
DJT’s “spiritual adviser” Paula White says that “evangelicals are ecstatic” at the decision to move Israel’s capital to Jerusalem, for that means Jesus’ Second Coming is nearer.
But might this be the beginning of another disaster similar to but far, far worse than the Shimabara Rebellion?