So this week I want to dip a toe into the book of Revelation. Eventually (when I’m feeling a little more brave and spunky and probably snarky, HA!) we will do a longer series on the book of Revelation and talk about some of the more well-known pieces of the text, but today I just want to drill down into …
One small segment.
… And give a little more insight into this idea that God’s not mad at the world – He never was, never will be … He just isn’t.
Like the title of this series says – God’s NOT Mad.
When I was a kid I was taught that Revelation is about the end of the world. Last week I talked about our tall, slim pastor with the suit on who preached through the book of Revelation when I was 10 years old and told us about how it was a picture of what would happen when Jesus came back, raptured all of His believers away, and left the rest of the world behind to be destroyed by the fire of God’s wrath.
Horrifying, to say the least.
And you and me are the objects of that wrath unless we believe that Jesus died to take our punishment.
The church we went to was part of the Christian school I went to and so right around the same time the pastor was preaching these sermons my Bible teacher was also taking our class through the book of Revelation. I don’t remember if it was the same year or a few years later, the specifics of the timing are foggy. But I remember sitting in class watching a movie about being “left behind” after the rapture and I remember the teacher talking about how terrible it would be and why it was so important to make sure that we were “right with God” and that our families and friends were “right with God” so that what happened to the people in the movie wouldn’t happen to us and our loved ones.
“Even though this is Hollywood”, she said, “it’s a really accurate picture of what the end will be like.”
And so all growing up (and even into high school and college) I was taught that whatever the book of Revelation is and whatever view we want to take about it, it’s about one thing and one thing for certain: the end of the world.
Can I say that this ancient book being about the end of the world never really made much sense to me? Again, the tall, slim pastor said it was as did my Bible teachers all throughout school and also my Bible professors in college.
Deep down inside.
… I always thought it all sounded a little crazy and I always thought that anybody who insisted upon having such a firm grasp on a book that is laced with images dragons and fires and beasts and creatures with multiple heads and all sorts of Harry Potter-like imagery … I always thought that such a person was a little too confident and maybe not somebody I shouldn’t give much attention too.
And so I’ve always had my doubts about what this book is REALLY about.
In his book “Sinners In The Hands Of A Loving God” Brian Zahnd gives some much needed and helpful context to the book of Revelation. He points out that Revelation is a subversive form of Jewish writing that served the purpose not so much of foretelling the future, but of poetically and vibrantly interpreting and describing its own present times.
He says like this …
“Revelation is not about the 21stcentury, but nothing could more relevant for the 21stcentury than the dream-like vision John (the writer of Revelation) saw. With consummate skill John shows us how Jesus’ lamb-like Kingdom is the saving alternative to the beast-like Empires of the world. Through his masterful use of drama and symbol, those who read John’s theatrical play are shown that the way of the Beast leads only to the hellish lake of fire, while the way of the Lamb leads to the heavenly city. Revelation isn’t about a violent end of the world; it’s about the end of the evil of violence. The book of Revelation doesn’t anticipate the end of God’s good creation, but the end of death-wielding empire.”
And so rather than John having the end of the world downloaded to his brain and then being told by God to write it down so that all of humanity would have a guidebook for what the end of the world would look like, John took his pen to the page as a peaceful act of rebellion or protest against the Empire super-power of his day, the Romans.
The Empire was about violence, Jesus was about peace.
The Empire was about dominance, Jesus was about humility.
The Empire was about the rich, Jesus was about the poor.
The Empire was about victory through the sword, Jesus was about peace through crucifixion.
On and on the opposites go and all throughout his text John masterfully weaves together the images of dragons and fires and beasts to make his point that the Roman Empire is nothing more than a bully that won’t have the last word.
Zahnd goes on to say that …
“John is very careful never to mention Rome directly. Instead John speaks of Babylon, the beast, the great whore, and elaborate veiled references to Caesar Nero. It’s a form of resistance to the powerful seduction of Roman civil religion that John composes his prophetic and theatrical writing. He wants his readers, who he fears are slipping into a complacent complicity with Rome, to remember that Rome isn’t evil only when it persecutes Christians; rather, Rome is always evil because of its idolatry and injustice. Empire is always a direct challenge to the Kingdom of God.”
And so rather than come right out and declare that “Rome is evil and everyone should stay away”, John paints a poetic masterpiece that would have been well understood by the original readers that he sent the letter to, but has been misunderstood and misread and misapplied by much of contemporary Christianity.
Although I don’t claim to have anywhere near what could be called a tight grip on understanding the book, I do think that Zahnd’s context is a much more accurate way to understand it than viewing it as a word by word or blow by blow description of the “end times” or whatever.
So, let’s talk about that …
One small segment.
… That I mentioned earlier and dig a little bit deeper into this idea that God isn’t mad.
Revelation 4 opens up with a vision of a worship ceremony of sorts that is far greater than anything ever experienced in Rome. Rome, remember, was known for the extravagant ways in which its people worshipped their Emperor (for example, they referred to Caesar as “The Son of God”) and so John amps up the images of worship in his letter and shows that the Only One who is truly worthy of any such worship is Jesus, The Christ.
Then in chapter 5 something strange happens and if we read it too quickly we miss it.
Once we hit Revelation 5 John says that he sees a scroll in the hand of the One who sits on the throne of the universe, a scroll that seems to represent God’s heart and intention and love for all of humanity. Opening the scroll means unleashing salvation for the entire cosmos, but sadly John says that no one was found worthy enough to initiate the redemptive goodness contained in the scroll.
The searching continued.
No one, anywhere, was found worthy. Even great Jewish heroes like Abraham, Elijah, Moses, etc. weren’t worthy enough or strong enough or able enough to carry such a precious task from the hand of the Creator forward into all of His creation.
And so John tells us that when he realized no one was worthy to open the scroll, he began to weep. Wouldn’t you? The thought that a small scroll that if unraveled could restore the entirety of the universe to the way that God intended it to be and save the world and everyone and everything in it … the thought of that going to waste and not being able to be accomplished was too much for John to bear.
And so he wept.
But then something weird happened. An elder who was guiding John throughout this portion of his vision shouted to John and said …
“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scrolls and its seven seals.”
The heir to King David’s throne.
The Great Warrior King.
He is here! And He is worthy to break the seals, open the scroll, and initiate God’s redemptive plan that will ultimately restore the cosmos to the way it was always intended to be.
Interestingly, though, (and this is the piece we often miss) – John looks (expecting to a see a fierce Lion), but doesn’t see a Lion. Instead he says …
“Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing.”
Isn’t that interesting?
John HEARD the elder say that Jesus the Lion was opening the scroll. BUT. Then when John looked with his own eyes he SAW Jesus the slaughtered Lamb.
His EARS heard Lion.
His EYES saw Lamb.
For some odd reason this really resonates with me. I said in an earlier post that I’ve been studying the Bible since I was a kid. I went to a Private Christian school from the 5th-12thgrades, went to a Bible college, went to seminary, pastored churches. And in all of those places I HEARD over and over and over again and even preached and taught over and over and over again the very same words that John heard …
“Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah!”
My professors taught me about Jesus’ power.
My pastors told me stories of Jesus’ strength.
They told me that He is a Lion.
That like Aslan in the CS Lewis stories, He is gentle, but dangerous.
My teachers said He is strong.
They said that He is unable to be defeated.
All of my life my EARS heard that Jesus is a Lion.
Then something happened. Over the last few years I’ve started to really look for Jesus on my own and have been asking questions like …
Who is this mysterious Man?
Why am I so freaking captivated by Him?
Where is He?
What is He doing?
What is He saying?
And you know what I found? I’ve been looking and looking and looking and searching and searching and searching and rather than find a blood thirsty Lion who is nice one moment and a raging killing machine the next …
My EYES saw a Lamb.
… Yes, a Lamb.
I found a Lamb that is covered not in the blood of someone or something that He has just devoured, but a Lamb that is covered in His own blood after being all but destroyed by those He held close to His heart. I found a Lamb who had been beaten, kicked, spit on, and put down. I found a Lamb who was slaughtered, abused, and ridiculed.
I found a Lamb who is on the side of the weak.
… Weak, like the kid who gets picked on every day during gym class.
I found a God who is on the side of the outcast.
… Outcast, like the LGBTQ person who has been pushed away by his own family.
I found a God who is a friend of everyone.
… Everyone, like the person who is closed to the world because they were molested as a child.
I found a God never gives up on anyone, anywhere.
… Not even the atheist who says she doesn’t believe in God.
I found a God who is beaten down.
… Beaten down, like the single mom working 4 jobs, raising 3 kids on 2 hours a sleep per night.
I found a God who is taken advantage of.
… Taken advantage of, like the husband who lost everything in his divorce with his cheating wife.
I found a God who stands with the abused.
… Abused, like the woman who is afraid every time her husband’s car pulls in the driveway.
I found a God who is united to those in pain.
… Pain, like the teenager who cries herself to sleep at night when she hears her parents arguing.
Yes – if I’m being 100% honest and 100% real, I found something in the Lamb that for some reason I never really found or saw so clearly in the Lion.
Before you tell me that Jesus is strong and He is a Lion and He is Almighty, I know. Relax. Deep breath, friends. I’m not saying He’s not. What I am saying, though, is that I think both images of Jesus have their place:
He’s a Lion.
He’s a Lamb.
BUT (if I’m being super honest) I think He’s much more of a Lamb than He is a Lion. AND I think that sometimes as the North American White Evangelical Church we like to emphasize His Lion-ness over His Lamb-ness because I think we like the idea of following …
A Killing Machine.
Someone who exhibits unbelievable strength.
Someone who is fierce.
Someone who is mighty.
Someone who is known for winning wars in the jungle.
Someone who is vicious.
Someone who is ferocious.
Someone who protects.
Someone who fights back.
Someone who is kind one moment, but hostile the next.
Someone who has dangerously sharp claws.
And I think we like that because it makes it easier for us to justify our own wars, our own hatred, our own discrimination, our own outcasting, our own revenge, our own bitterness, our own judgement, our own politics, our own dangerously sharp words.
If Jesus is a Lion who is ferocious, it gives me permission to be the same.
If Jesus is a Lion who is justified in His anger, it justifies my own anger.
If Jesus is a Lion who fights back, it gives me permission to fight back.
Let’s be real – if God has a mean streak or a mean side or whatever, it makes it much easier for me to justify my own mean side.
Growing up my elders told me about Jesus the Lion just like the elder in Revelation 5 told John about Jesus the Lion. But just like John, I turned around and started looking for Jesus with my own eyes and although I might have heard a Lion and although I might have heard other people refer to Him as a Lion … I’ve come to see a Lamb.
God’s not angry, my friends. God’s not mad. The writer James once said that the Devil prowls around like a roaring Lion looking for someone to devour.
That’s the Devil, not Jesus.
Jesus is the Lion of Judah only because the lion was the actual symbol of the tribe of Judah whom Jesus’ ancestors descended from. The Truth is that Jesus is the Lion of Judah, but the Lion of Judah is a slaughtered Lamb who shouts forgiveness and love and grace and mercy even as His enemies beat Him and deface Him and abuse Him and mock Him and kill Him.
The call is for us to do the same – let the Devil prowl around like a roaring Lion while you and I follow in the footsteps of the slaughtered Lamb, offering love and forgiveness and grace for everyone, everywhere.
Let’s answer that call today.
God’s. Not. Mad.
Much love my friends.