Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Neglected Passages #2: Revelation 5:1-13

If we're gonna talk about neglected passages, pretty much anything in Revelation would do, apart from 666 and Armageddon. Revelation 5:1-13 offers one of the most captivating image plays in all of the Bible, and it's often -- and unfortunately overlooked. This passage is key to understanding Revelation as a whole.

The setup is this. John has ascended into heaven, where "the one seated upon the throne" -- that's God in apocalyptic literature -- holds a sealed scroll. As we'll soon find out, the scroll will relate the unfolding of human history; its contents pretty much amount to the rest of the book of Revelation. John "weeps bitterly" because no one is able -- or worthy -- to unseal the scroll.

Then one of the heavenly elders speaks up: the Lion of Judah has conquered, qualifying him to open the seals. Good news! A fierce lion to take up the cause! Up to this point Revelation has been all about conquest, enduring the forces of evil despite the churches' evident weakness, despite persecution. What these vulnerable little communities of Jesus followers need is a lion. The Lion is worthy....

So John looks for the Lion, and you know what? There ain't no Lion. No Lion ever appears in Revelation. In its place stands a Lamb "standing as if it had been slaughtered." The Lamb is worthy to unseal the scrolls because the through its death it has redeemed a people. Through its faithful witness (1:5), the Lamb has demonstrated its worth.

Throughout the rest of Revelation, we'll see the Lamb. No Lion, but the Lamb. The point? In the face of overwhelming imperial pressure ("Who is like the Beast, and who can fight against it?" 13:4), in the face of ostracism and persecution, God rules not by Lion Power but by Lamb Power. Faithful witness, endurance, boundless love. Those win the day. Lamb Power, not Lion Power.

How I wish communities of faith would soak this in.


Sean said...

What a helpful reflection. Thanks.

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