We Conquer By Lamb Power NOT Lion Power

October 4, 2009

Jesus is the main character in the book of Revelation.  The book's opening line tells us that it is an "apocalypse of Jesus Christ."  Revelation's primary purpose is to tell us the story of Jesus, not to predict end-times events in Europe and the Middle-East.  And who is Jesus?  Jesus is first presented in the book as a majestic, human-like figure with the sword in His mouth.  But this depiction is quickly eclipsed by the portrayal of Jesus as a Lamb.  Once He is introduced, the Lamb dominates the rest of the action!  It is the Lamb who gathers the 144,000 holy warriors on Mt. Zion (Revelation 14:1); it is the Lamb on whom the armies of evil make war (Revelation 17:14); it is the Lamb who marries and rules after the war (Revelation 19:7; 22:3).

In this final article we will look at the person of Christ as presented in Revelation.  As stated before by strong implication, Dispensationalists would have us look at Jesus as the Lion-destroyer.  But John's view of the Christ is that of Lamb.  In the time of the Roman Empire (the same time in which John writes the Revelation), the Lamb becomes an amazing and yet wonderfully disarming vision.  In the face of Rome's ideology of "conquering" and "victory," the victorious Lamb of Revelation looks almost out of place.  In place of overwhelming military strength we are given the image of the Lamb's nonviolent power.  In place of Rome's image of inflicting slaughter on the world, Revelation tells the story of the Lamb who has been slaughtered - and who still bears the scars of that slaughter.  This reversal of images must have come as a big surprise to the first readers of John's Revelation in the late first century.  They were accustomed to Rome's images of power and victory.  Revelation undertakes to reveal what true power and true victory is:  At the heart of the power of the universe stands Jesus, God's slain Lamb.

We first meet Jesus as the Lamb quite unexpectedly in chapter 5 of Revelation.  He appears in the heavenly vision that follows the seven opening letters of chapters 2 and 3.  In keeping with the apocalyptic pattern of Revelation, the book takes us on a journey behind the veil into heaven itself where we see God seated on a beautiful throne.  All creation is singing praise to God.  Singing and worship are central to Revelation, a fact often overlooked by people who see the book only as a system of end-times predictions and timetables.  In Revelation we sing our way into God's new vision for our world, more than in any other book of the Bible.

Seated on the throne in heaven, God holds a scroll sealed shit with seven seals that must be opened.  But who is worthy to open this scroll?  God's voice from the throne tells John in chapter 5, "Do not weep, for the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. (Revelation 5:5).  Two words in this admonition lead us to expect that a fierce animal will appear to open the scroll with its claws.  These words are lion and conquer.  A lion would be typical for an apocalypse like Revelation.  Such fierce animals are often introduced to advance the plot.  There was an apocalypse called Second Esdras, written around the first century B.C., which portrayed the Messiah as a roaring lion prophesying judgment against the Roman eagle and its violence.

Revelation, however, pulls an amazing surprise.  In place of the lion that we expect, comes a Lamb!  Notice in Revelation 5:6 these words: "Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered."  It is a complete reversal.  Actually the Greek word John uses is not just "lamb," but the diminutive form, a word like "lambkin" or "little lamb."  One could call Him "Fluffy."  The only other place in the New Testament that this Greek word is used is where Jesus says He is sending His disciples out into the world, "as lambs among wolves" (Luke 10:3).  No other literature of this type (apocalyptic) ever pictures the divine hero as a small lamb - Revelation is unique among writings of this type in this image.  The depiction of Jesus as a Lamb shows him in the most vulnerable way possible, as a victim who is slaughtered but standing - that is, crucified but risen to life.

Reminiscent of the servant-lamb of Isaiah 53, who "is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep to the shearer is silent," the Lamb of Revelation became the victor - the conqueror not by militaristic power and slaughter but rather by being slaughtered.  From beginning to end, Revelation's vision of the Lamb teaches a "theology of the cross," of God's power made manifest in weakness, similar to Paul's teaching of the cross in First Corinthians.  I call this LAMB THEOLOGY.  This is the whole message of the Book of Revelation.  Evil is defeated not by overwhelming force or violence but by the Lamb's suffering love on the cross.  The victim becomes the victor.

Lamb Theology is what true victory is.  The word used most often in the Book of Revelation (other than the obvious references to Christ, God and evil) are the terms "victory," "overcome" and "conquer."  These three words come from the same Greek word nike.  This theme runs through the entire Revelation and we can safely conclude that the theme of Revelation is "VICTORY."  Nike is the same Greek word used in the Roman Imperial armies for "successful conquerors."  Romans celebrated victory, but more than that - they worshipped Victory.  This is a key to grasping the urgency of Revelation, for John wrote the book in opposition to the empire's entire ideology and worship of victory.  The Roman goddess of military victory was named Victoria in Latin, or Nike in Greek.  She was portrayed as a winged goddess, she is the inspiration for the wing-like symbol on the Nike running shoes today!

Victory personified was emblazoned everywhere in the Roman Empire.  Soldiers carried images of Victory into battle on their flags and trophies.  Senators burned incense to Victory as they entered the Roman senate building.  Cities erected statues of Victory - or Nike - with her foot on the globe, symbolizing Rome's conquest of the whole world.  It is against this backdrop that John write the Book of Revelation and sees a crucified lamb as the ultimate Victor.

The Lamb's conquering of evil's ultimate weapon (death) is paramount.  This is one of the amazing features of the book.  Much of Revelation can sound so violent, but we have to look at the subversive heart of the book - the redefinition of victory and "conquering" - to understand how Revelation subverts violence itself.  Just like the Lamb, God's people are called to conquer not by fighting but by remaining faithful, by testifying to God's victory in self-giving love.  This subversive power of Lamb theology throughout the Book of Revelation is what Left Behind and the Dispensationalists completely miss!

Key to understanding our role as followers of the Lamb and his way of life is chapter 14, the picture of 144,000 people who "follow the Lamb wherever He leads" (Revelation 14:1-5).  If we can resist getting fixed on the number 144,000 and instead go deeper into the scene, we find a marvelous picture of the Christian community.  IN the view of Chilean scholar Pablo Richard, Revelation 14 is the central scene for the entire book that gives a picture of our life as the people of God on earth.  The Christian community is portrayed as "those who follow the Lamb."  Our calling as Christians is simply to be followers of the Lamb, standing with Him, going wherever He leads us.

Revelation wants us to see that we have the Lamb's power in us.  The Lamb is an image John's Revelation wants us to carry with us into our lives, like a children's nursery rhyme.  Wherever we go, to school, to work, or shipping, everywhere in the world, the Lamb is with us, leading us into a new way of life.

"Lamb Power" is what one of my professor's called Revelation's new way of life.  It is a lifestyle oriented around Jesus' self-giving love.  Lamb power is the power of vulnerable but strong love to change the world.  It is the power of nonviolent resistance and courage in opposition to injustice; it is the power of solidarity and forgiveness.  In all of life we constantly must choose between the way of the Lamb and the way of the beast.  Living by Lamb power means we accept the cross as the ultimate expression of love.  For me, the apocalyptic events of 9/11 (September 11, 2001) have convinced me all the more of the necessity of Lamb power.  If we are to follow the Lamb, we cannot remain safe and secure for vulnerability includes the possibility of suffering.  Don't forget vulnerability is the primary characteristic of Lamb power!  Lamb power is the power of our acts of hope and resistance, our songs and solidarity to overcome the terror of the beast.

At the very heart of the Book of Revelation and at the very heart of God is a slain Lamb - Jesus.  The key to the book is that this slain Lamb has CONQUERED!

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