Paul was drawing on an image from the Roman culture, a procession in which a triumphant general is celebrated as he returns from his campaign. the conquering general is preceded into the city by the captives takes in war and is followed by his triumphant troops. As the troops paraded through the city, they shouted, “Triumph!” The triumphal procession in which we marched is headed by Jesus our Conqueror. It is one continuous triumphal march that began at the Cross and goes on into eternity. We can march through life with the shout of “Triumph!” on our lips.
Included in the triumphal procession were priests swinging censers filled with incense. When the procession reached its destination, the captives were led away to slavery or execution. The aroma of the procession was a smell that denoted victory for the triumphant and death for those triumphed over. The same smell held different meanings, depending upon one’s position in the procession.
The aroma of Christ is disseminated in the world, both to those who are in the process of being saved and to those who are in the process of dying eternally. To one it is the smell of life, to the other, it is the stench of death. It attracts the one and repels the other. We are the censers that hold the sweet-smelling incense. Jesus’ life is operating on earth in and through us. Only Jesus smells like Jesus.