11 July 2019

Lion or Lamb?

Some church leaders claim that though Jesus came previously as the “lamb of God,” today he is rising up as the roaring “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” This is idea is promoted especially by the New Apostolic Reformation and Dominionist movements. The intent is to replace the crucified messiah of Scripture with a figure more to their liking. In the end, it will amount to a lie and little more than a paper tiger.
A verse from the book of Revelation is cited to validate this interpretation (Revelation 5:5, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book and to open its seven seals”), but it misrepresents the passage and the theology of Revelation. As usual, one brief phrase has been completely ripped out of its literary context.
     Apparently, this time Jesus is taking no prisoners; no longer is he the meek Lamb who laid down his life for sinful humanity. Instead, he has become a sword-wielding warrior determined to mete out justice to all who oppose him or oppress his people, and they do not just mean when the Son of Man arrives in glory at the end of the age.
     A new move is coming, supposedly, that will be dominated by the miraculous, great displays of power by anointed saints. Millions will, at last, be won to the kingdom of God in response to the awesome miracles and today’s “apostles and prophets” will then be able to take control of the “seven mountains” of society.

     The voice heard in Revelation 5:5 alludes to words from a messianic prophecy found in Genesis 49:9-10 (“Judah is a lion’s…the scepter will not depart from Judah or a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” [cp. Numbers 24:9]). But Revelation transforms this image into that of a sacrificial Lamb.
     John heard the voice announce the victory of the Lion of Judah, but when he looked, he saw a freshly sacrificed Lamb. What John saw interpreted what he heard. Jesus is the Lion of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah but he fulfills that role as the sacrificial Lamb.
This understanding is confirmed when a myriad of voices break into song to declare the Lamb “worthy” to take the scroll and implement its contents precisely because “you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them for our God a kingdom and priests, and they reign upon earth.” Note well the present tense of the last verb.

This is the first and last time Jesus is called “lion” in the book. It is also the first time he is labeled the “lamb,” which becomes the most used designation for him for the remainder of the book. The Son is called ‘Christ’ seven times in Revelation, ‘Jesus’ fourteen times, but ‘lamb’ twenty-eight times.
      In chapter 5, the Lamb immediately approaches the throne to receive the sealed scroll from the right hand of the One sitting on it. It is the Lamb, not the lion, who then proceeds to break open the scroll’s seven seals (Revelation 6:1-8:1). The first four seal openings unleash the so-called “four horsemen of the Apocalypse,” but each one can only ride forth when commanded by the Lamb and to inflict damage only within the limits set by him.
     When John saw a vast number of redeemed men and women coming out of the Great Tribulation, they were standing before the Lamb (7:9). The saints overcame the Dragon by “the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death,” that is, through martyrdom (12:11). In contrast to the “inhabitants of the earth” that take the Beast’s mark, the followers of the Lamb stand with him on “Zion” with his Father’s name written on their forehead, for they have followed the Lamb wherever he went (14:1).
     The kings of the earth conspire to wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb overcomes them because the Lamb is “Lord of lords, and King of kings; and so also they that are with him, called and chosen and faithful” (17:14). When the heavenly rider on a white horse ventures forth against the kings of the earth and their armies his only weapon the sword proceeding out of his mouth, the word of God, and his robe is sprinkled with blood. Only the blood is on his robe BEFORE he engages his foes; it can only be his own blood (19:11-15).

     In the vision of New Jerusalem, John saw no temple for “the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb are its temple.” There no longer is need of light from the sun or moon because God’s glory illuminates the city and the Lamb is its lamp. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life can enter New Jerusalem (21:22-27). The “lion” is nowhere to be seen.
     In the opening chapters of Revelation, Jesus is identified as the “faithful witness and firstborn of the dead,” references to his death and resurrection as a result of which he now is the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” He is the messiah who “loosed us from our sins by his own blood,” not the might of a predatory lion.
     Because of his sacrificial death, Jesus now possesses the “keys of death and Hades” (1:18). As their all-powerful king, He encourages, corrects, praises, and directs his churches as needed. The seven churches are struggling with opposition from without and false teachers within. Jesus calls them to “overcome,” not by seizing political power or mounting armed revolt, but by emulating him. Saints overcome to reign with him on his Father’s throne “just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne” (3:21).

     Overcoming believers reign with him not as warriors or wonderworkers, but as a priestly kingdom (1:4-6, 5:9-10). The call to overcome is a summons to persevere through sufferings, bearing faithful witness along the way even when doing so means a martyr’s death.
     John serves as a surrogate for suffering churches when he describes himself as a “fellow-participant in the tribulation, and kingdom and perseverance of Jesus Christ” (1:8-9). This is what it means to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
     Perseverance, witness and faithfulness unto an unjust death are precisely how the church triumphs over the Dragon, the Beast, Babylon, and the False Prophet.
     The worldly triumphalism of the New Apostolic Reformation constitutes “another gospel” with a radically “different messiah” from that preached by Paul, John, Peter, etc.