Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ (American, 1937?-), "O Root" (from the "O Antiphons" series). Of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Tags: Tree of Jesse. Source: http://csjstpaul.org/ansgar_holmbergs_o_antiphon_paintings.aspx; http://yokeofchrist.blogspot.com/2010/12/o-root-of-jesse.html

Saving Revelation: Lion and the Lamb

So, we’re in this series called Saving Revelation. We’re rescuing/saving Revelation from a crystal ball way of reading it. Where it’s about the last few years of world history, and it’s interpreted literally, which makes it a puzzling, for me it was, a puzzling – Revelations was a puzzling and irrelevant book.

Apocalyptic Fever, ebbs and flows throughout history. You can see it rising and subsiding all over the place. But it seems like in America and Europe, it strikes just about every couple of decades. We’re in one of those times, and whenever we get in those times, well, people start to look at the Book of Revelation, as a crystal ball, trying to get a forecast of it, trying to correlate Revelation with current events, and things like that. We’re in one of those times, and so, this is why we’re feeling the need to have this series here. To give a different way of looking at this thing. It’s indicative of how folks tend to read the Book of Revelation, the word for “Revelation” in Greek is the word – we get the word ‘apocalypse’ from. And, the literal reading of Revelation, with all the violence that’s there, has changed the meaning of the word apocalypse. It’s come to be synonymous with “Dramatic End of the World Stuff”. Whereas, in fact, the word “apocalypse” in Greek, doesn’t mean that at all. It means “the unveiling”, or “the disclosure”, or “the revelation”. That’s why it’s translated as “Revelation”. The Book of Revelation. But it’s not a revelation about the end of history. It’s a revelation of Jesus Christ. And you can see that, just from the first three verses of this book. Here’s what it says, I read this last week, it’s worth going over:

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants                         

        what must soon take place.

And we’ve got to understand soon the way the audience would have understood soon, and it wouldn’t have been something’s going to happen 2000 years later. This is 1st century stuff.

He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John, who testifies to 

        everything he saw the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

That’s what the Book of revelation is about, the word of God, even the testimony of Jesus. The word for testimony there is where we get the word “martyr” from. To bare witness, by being willing to lay down your life. So this book is about Jesus Christ. About Christ crucified, and he’ll – what John does, is he’ll take the revelation, the disclosure of Jesus Christ, and he applies it to the situation, that the audience he’s writing to is in. They’re in a time of persecution, they’re facing, likely, martyrdom and so he’s going to unveil Jesus Christ to them, in ways that apply to their life. And once we understand what he’s doing, we can apply it in beautiful and transferring ways to our own life. But this book is about Jesus Christ.

So the background is this: In chapter one, we have the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ shows up. But remember, this is apocalyptic literature. As I shared last week, because it’s apocalyptic literature, its – it uses dramatic symbols that aren’t intended to be taken literally. So also, revelation uses dramatic symbols, sometimes even surrealistic symbols and they all have meaning, they relate to the Old Testament, or sometimes, to other apocalyptic literature at the time, and we need to understand them in that context. But, it’s not to be taken literally, and the folks would understand that. This is the genre of the literature we’re dealing with. So when Jesus shows up, well, we get a surrealistic picture of Him. So He’s got eyes that are on fire, He’s got this white hair, He’s got bronze for feet, He’s got a sword coming out of His mouth. He’s shining like the noon-day sun, and a number of other things. And all of those particular symbols have meaning, when you look at the Old Testament, find out what John’s referring to, and I can’t – don’t have time to do that right now. But the first chapter’s just Jesus Christ showing up. And then, in chapters two and three, we have Jesus addressing the seven churches in the province of Asia. These are actual churches with actual people. And He gives them a word of warning, and, or, encouragement. So, He just kind of anchors the book. Then the content of the book begins really in chapter four. And he said that prelude, we come to chapters four and five.

And chapter four is all about the throne room that John sees, and it’s full of symbolism. The first two verses of chapter four, have played a really significant role, in the thinking of a lot of people, who hold to – who read the Book of Revelation like a crystal ball. Not all of them would hold this, but this is the view that I was taught. Here’s what the first two verses say:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in Heaven. 

        And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet.

That’s one of the things he says about Jesus in chapter one. His voice was like a trumpet. That’s an interesting metaphor. But he said, that same voice said:

        Come up here, I will show you what must take place after this. At once I was in 

        the spirit, and there before me was a throne in Heaven and someone sitting on 

        it.

And that’s when the rest of the chapter then flushes that out in symbolic ways.

Now, what I was taught, and it’s a pretty common teaching, is that, when the voice says: “Come up here.” That’s John’s way of referring to “the rapture”. And the rapture, as I mentioned last week, is this belief that when Jesus returns, Christians are literally going to be suctioned up into the clouds, and they’re going to go away some place else, and then all the nasty stuff found in the Book of Revelation is going to take place. That’s when Jesus comes back and slaughters a lot of people, and the beast and the Antichrist and all those earthquakes and all that kind of stuff. So, but the Christians will be away. We’re going to be safe and all this world is going to, kind of go to hell in a hand basket. But right now, I just want to share a few reasons why I think that interpretation of these verses is mistaken.

Whether you believe in the rapture or not, I don’t think you can find it in this passage. So, the first thing is this: We have to understand the passage the way that the first century audience would have understood it. And when the voice says, that trumpet voice says, to John: “Come up here. I want to show you some things.” Now maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thinking that probably they would have understood, the voice to be saying to John: “Come up here, I want to show you some things” You don’t find that hint of a church in that verse, let alone a church at the end of history in that verse. He’s talking to John and then He shows John what He wanted to show him.

The second thing is that: This theology, which I call an “escapist” theology, cause the hope is that we’re going to escape, and the world’s going to be in all sorts of trouble and we get to escape. The New Testament, the hope that we’re given, is not about us escaping the earth, or escaping tribulation. We’re promised that we’re going to go through tribulation. The hope isn’t to escape the earth, to go to Heaven. Rather, the call, all throughout the New Testament, is to bring Heaven down to Earth. God loves this earth. And so, Jesus says that, when we pray, we should pray:

   

Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come

That’s just the rule of God, that your rule come. Which means that:

Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

We’re to live in a way, and we’re to pray in a way where we’re bringing Heaven down to earth, so the – the world can see in the church, a preview of – of Heaven. As much of Heaven as possible. There’s a commission that we’re to be landlords of this earth. So I think it just gets that, that – the hope of the New Testament wrong. It also, many who hold this view, I wouldn’t say all of them, but many folks who hold this view – it can lead to a mistaken view of the earth. In fact, I can tell you from personal experience, that if you start preaching that God is passionate about the earth and wants people to be passionate about the earth, you – some groups will label you a liberal. You’re a liberal, tree-hugging, animal loving, veggie loving. It’s just a word they throw around when they don’t like you. Liberal. Which is crazy, because our first mandate, in Genesis one, the very first thing we’re told is: “Take care of the earth and the animal kingdom”. We’re to extend God’s loving dominion to the earth. That’s our magna carter, that’s our charter, that’s our job description.

The third problem with it is this: If Jesus shows up at the end of time and slaughters everybody, we’ve got a different Jesus on our hands. This is a quote that I’ve used before by a very well known pastor, whose name I’m not going to mention. He’s pastored for a very, very large church, and large movement and he said this in a very popular Christian magazine. He says: “In Revelation, Jesus is a pride-fighter…” Now, pride-fighter, it’s not a typo, people think I meant prizefighter, a pride-fighter, is a cage fighter. An Ultimate fighting. Where two guys who get in the ring and they don’t have any gloves or anything, they just can kick, and they can hit and they go pit bull on each other. Well, that’s what Jesus is, apparently. He shows up and He’s a pride-fighter, a cage fighter. Driskel continues, “…with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. This is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippy, diaper wearing, halo Christ, because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

You wonder how a pastor can’t worship a guy he can beat up, when he already crucified him. He must have forgot that. But, beyond that, if that’s true, if a cage fighter shows up, with the commitment to make someone bleed, if you’re taking Revelations literally, you’re talking about nations being slaughtered. Well, then we’ve got a different Jesus on our hands. So Jesus in the gospel, He tells us and He models for us, that He’d rather die for enemies, than at the hands of enemies, than call legions of angels to destroy enemies to protect Himself. He tells us, and He models for us, how to love and to bless our enemies, to feed our enemies, to serve our enemies, to pray for our enemies, to do good to our enemies, even when they’re life threatening. And He tells us to swear off all violence, and to put down the sword, and if we’re struck, to turn the other cheek. It’s the very center of His message. This is about this. It’s a criteria for being a child of God. That you may be children of your Father in Heaven.

And so, we’re to believe, when Jesus shows up the second time, it’s the exact opposite of that. When He shows up a second time, it’s like, you know, all the – He comes and He says you’re going to focus all that love – love your enemy stuff, turn the other cheek, well, end of that program. We’re going to slaughter some people right now. You know, this is the exact opposite. The first Jesus was in a good mood, the second, He’s really ticked off. Its – it’s absolutely – the first Jesus reveals the nice side of God, but now we’re going to see the other side of God, the vengeful side of God. You’ve got an entirely different kind of thing going on here, now the problem is, among other things, is that, if that’s right, then it seems to me that Jesus wasn’t quite telling the whole truth when He was here the first time, when He says He’s revealing God, when He says:

If you see me, you see the father

Is that true, or not? Can we trust that that’s what the Father looks like? When He goes to the cross, can we trust that that’s the heart of the Father. Or, is it only the nice side of the Father? Paul says in Colossians 2 that the fullness of the Godhead bodily, the fullness. Not just a fragment, a part, an aspect a characteristic, no. The fullness. Everything that makes God, is revealed in Jesus Christ. So, He’s not concealing the mean side of God from us. This is what God looks like, that’s why Hebrews says, that Jesus is:

the radiance of His glory and He is the exact representation of His very being.

The word there is “hypostasis” and it means “essence”. It means God is Christ like all the way down. You’re not going to find a part of God that’s not Christ like, Christ as defined in the gospels, there’s no – there’s no side of Him that’s different than what we find in Jesus, who, as He ministered to people, gave His life for people, loved enemies down here, which means that He doesn’t change. Which is exactly what Hebrews tells us. It says:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

His mood doesn’t send Him into a killing mode. So folks, that means that, if He was about loving enemies the first time, He’s going to be about loving enemies the second time. If He’s about turning the other cheek the first time, He’s going to be about turning the other cheek the second time, if He’s willing to manifest self-sacrificial love the first time, He’s about manifesting self- sacrificial love the second time, if He’s against violence the first time, He’s going to be against violence the second time, which means, we can’t find in Revelation, a different Jesus than we find in the gospel.

The bible tells us a number of times, in the New Testament, that the cross disempowered Satan and the powers and brought end to their reign, in principle, it totally collapsed the kingdom of darkness, they feared they were being brought to nothing we still live in a world that doesn’t manifest that yet, but that’s because we’re living in deception, and in principle, they’d already been defeated.

When God defeated Satan, He didn’t have to act violent – He didn’t lift a finger against him. He just manifested the truth of who He was. And that light dispels darkness, that revelation of that character, is what does – everything else just takes care of itself. He ends up – and this is what we find throughout the bible – turning evil back on itself, through His wisdom and through His love. And so, the cross, how it’s brought about? What we learn, that the cross, which defeats Satan, which is brought about by Satan.

That brings us to this throne room. And here’s where things really get interesting, in fact, this throne room is all about addressing the question I just asked. What is the character of God, when it comes to ruling and judging the world? John was taken up in the Spirit, and now he’s getting view of the throne room, it’s described in various ways in four, and then it says:

Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on 

        both sides and it sealed with seven seals.

Cause the scroll is just an ancient book, they didn’t bind books the way we do today, they just wrote them on scrolls. So this is a book. And it’s held in the right hand of God, God is the one sitting on the throne. The right hand, throughout the Bible, and in all of the apocalyptic literature, is an idiomatic way of referring to power or sovereignty of God. When Moses says, in Exodus 15, “We be held thy right hand of God.” He’s not saying he saw a Monty Python movie where literally a little hand came down and grabbed people. No, there’s no actual hand, they weren’t referring to actual hands. It was a metaphor for power. We saw the power of God the sovereignty of God put on display.

And so, this scroll, being held in the right hand of God, is a scroll that holds the secret about God’s power, about God’s rule, about how God overcomes evil, how he defeats poises. It’s all found there, and therefore, it’s a scroll, about the character of God.

Because His character is revealed in how He rules, and how He overcomes evil. And so, this scroll holds the secret of all that. But, the scroll is sealed with seven seals. Now, when you come to a number in the Book of Revelation, just know that you’re not dealing with a number. You’re dealing with a symbol. It’s common for all apocalyptic literature to do this. And seven, in Judea Christian apocalyptic literature always stands for “completeness”, or “thoroughness”, or “perfection”. So, John is saying that this scroll was completely, perfectly sealed, and now there’s no one who is going to be able to look at this, unless someone is able to open this thing. The question is: What is God’s true character? And that question, by the way, is a central question that runs throughout the Bible. Because, beginning with Genesis three, human beings were deceived by a false picture of God. And, in various ways, we’ve been under a deception, about God ever since. It’s how the enemy holds us in bondage. So this is about the revelation that’ll set us free.

But then, there is this angel, and he says:

Who’s worthy, to break the seals and to open the scroll?

Don’t you think he’d say: ‘Who’s strong enough to open the scroll?’ Or ‘Who’s skillful enough to open the scroll?’ But he’s asking instead a character question. Cause it’s a character issue. “Who’s got the kind of character, that can discern the true nature of God’s rule, the true nature of God’s overcoming of evil, the true character of God?” And just imposing the question that way, he’s telling us this, that, you’re arability, to understand God, in His ways, will be a reflection of our own character. And so only when one agrees to conform to God in their heart, can they really understand what God’s up to. This is why, I think the Book of Revelation is something like a raw shack test, you know, an ink blot test, for what you see says as much about you, as it does about the spot, maybe more. So, when reading the Book of Revelation, the masterful way, that we’ll see here in a moment, the masterful way that John works with symbols, if you’re reading it on a surface level, and you’re trusting in a pride-fighter kind of power, a coercive power, then, you’ll find it, but if you have the kind of character, and a trust in the power of self- sacrificial love and trust that Jesus is not like that, you’ll see, the symbol will take on a different meaning all together. And you’ll find, the same Jesus in the gospels is reflected throughout this whole, entire book. And that is what reveals the true character of God.

So who is worthy? Well, then, we find out that:

No one is worthy, in Heaven or earth, and no one could open the scroll. So John 

    weeps and weeps. He wails because he found, no one was found that was worthy 

    to look inside.

To say that no one is worthy, is simply to say that we’re all – the world is falling, and the world is under deception, the world is blinded. We don’t get God on our own. And so John weeps, because if no one can open the scroll, then it will be forever a secret. We’ll never know the character of God, we’ll never know how God rules, we’ll never be able to understand His aims. We’ll be always in the same position that Job was in, in the Book of Job. Well, He never did find out why disaster fell on his house. God and the world, and everything else will be nothing but a mystery, so John weeps. But then an elder comes to him and says:

Don’t weep. Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, he has 

    triumphed. And he is able to open the scroll and it’s seven seals.

Now this elder, in the previous chapter, it refers to 24 elders, that are around the throne. Remember, a number is never a number. And so, what does this stand for? The best explanation I’ve ever heard, is that, you know, in ancient Israel, they had the 12 sons of Jacob, who became the 12 tribes of Israel, they were founded at 12. In the New Testament, we have 12 apostles, and not coincidentally. And we were founded on that, so, the interpretation that, I think, makes most sense, is that, the elders represent God’s people, throughout the ages, and they’re around the throne of God. The 12 plus 12 equals 24, it’s a symbol for the complete, elder people of God. Old Testament and New Testament are around the throne. And why are we around the throne? Because we are around the throne. Right now, not just when we die and go the Heaven, right now, the Bible tells us that we are – when you surrender to Christ – you are seated, with Christ, in heavenly places. In the present. We are right now seated with Christ in Heavenly places. We are in the throne room, it’s happening right here. So this is the elders that are on the throne. And so, the church says, to John, cause the church is apparently suppose to know this, that: There’s one who can, that’s the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Now the Lion is a standard symbol for the Messiah, it goes back to a prophecy in Genesis 49. And it’s a symbol of the kind of messiah most people were expecting. A ferocious beast who can devour its prey. A messiah who will be powerful and mighty and majestic and will devour our enemies and set Israel free, and restore it to its sovereign nation, no longer under oppression. That’s what everyone wanted. So he says: “There’s a Lion and he triumphed”. So you get the impression that, the one who can open the scroll and will tell us the true nature of God’s rule and power, is one who’s vicious, it’s a violent symbol. And if God’s character is like that, then He would be the one to pen the scroll, but watch what happens:

John looks, and he sees a lamb.

The word here actually means – it’s not the normal word for lamb – It means tiny lamb. A cute little lamb. There’s this cute little lamb:

looking as if it had been slain,

That word can be translated as slaughtered or even as a connotation of freshly slaughtered.

Standing at the center of the throne,

That the center of the throne, the center of the universe, the center of everything, is this little slaughtered lamb. Everything revolves around this slaughtered lamb, folks.

encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.

These creatures, they were described in chapter four, and then they go back to some creatures that are mentioned in Ezekiel which, ultimately, they’re these, they’re called “Cherubim”, who are these high ranking angels.

The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

Folks, this is this pivotal scene that we’ve got to lock in. John hears the guy say: “Look, there’s the lamb, the tribe of Judah, the ferocious messiah that everyone’s expecting.” But when John looks and actually sees something, he doesn’t actually see a lion at all, he sees a lamb, a slain lamb, a slain little lamb. And throughout the rest of the Book of Revelation, we read about the lamb, not the lion. This is John’s methodology, it’s brilliant. He will take a widespread, well known, violent symbol, in fact, several times, a graphically violent symbol, and he fuses it with a symbol of its opposite. He puts them together, they’re identified as the same thing, And in doing that, John – you’d almost think he was divinely inspired – he subverts the meaning of it. And in putting these two things together, he’s saying – of course he’s referring to Jesus Christ – who was crucified. But, he says he was “like a slain lamb”, because we know He’s resurrected. We thought He was slain, they thought He was dead, but now He’s back to life. He triumphs over evil, in the end. He accomplishes God’s purpose, by bring this slain little lamb.

And then, John says, that this lamb has seven horns. Now seven is a symbol of perfection, right? The horn, throughout the Old Testament, and you find this in a lot of different cultures, in a lot of different literature, is a symbol of power. Holding a horn is a symbol of having the power. And so what John is saying here, is that this lamb, is perfect power. And that’s why he takes the scroll from the right hand of God. All right? The power of God – he’s able to – he knows it’s the air of the power of God. Because he is the one who manifests how God rules and how God is victorious, that’s about His power, and that’s about His character.

We’ve always depicted God as these Zeus/Thor like kind of beings. A perfect symbol of that kind of power would be Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator, or a cage fighter with a tattoo down his leg, and a sword in his hand with a commitment to make someone bleed. That would be appropriate, if that’s the kind of power that God exercises. But He doesn’t. What John’s telling us in this marvelous book, is that the kind of power He exercises, is the power of laying down your life for your enemies. It’s the power of self-sacrificial love. It’s the power of innocence. In fact, folks, not only is the lamb the example – a symbol of this, but the lamb is it. Because, on the cross, that is where God’s rule was established, and on the cross, that is where God’s foes were, in principle, defeated. And so, revelations five, is simply a symbolic expression of Calvary. The whole thing is about Calvary, the meaning of Calvary. Calvary is where the scroll was opened. Calvary is where the secret of God’s character was unveiled. Calvary is where God’s method for over coming evil was put into practice, and evil was, in principle, destroyed. Calvary is where we see the true character of God.

John is telling us that God is violently anti- violent, He’s ferocious in His self-sacrificial love, and this is a secret, most of the world doesn’t get this. And we’ll see later on that they’re under deception. They make God after their own image. But, God’s people are to know the truth. That, the true God is the opposite of what people have always thought. And John wasn’t the only one to say it. Paul tells us this very thing. In case you’re thinking that this is too crazy, it’s a shocking symbol and it – something must be wrong here. Come on, God isn’t a little lamb, but John wasn’t the only to say it, Paul said it. He says:

The Jews seek after signs and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach 

        Christ crucified.

That’s His message, Christ crucified. And then he says this is foolishness:

a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called,

Those who submit to Jesus

Both Jews and Greeks, Christ

is God’s power and God’s wisdom.

The crucified Christ is God’s power and wisdom. What looks foolish to the world, is the wisdom of God and what looks weak to the world is the power of God. This is how God over comes evil. And John is saying all this, not just to give us good theology, but he’s saying it to these seven churches, in the province of Asia, cause they are facing, likely, persecution, and likely martyrdom. And so, he’s reminding them, remember the cross. Which is the way God rules and the way God is victorious. And so, when it looks like you’re losing, just know that you’re winning. When it looks like the devil is winning, because all the Christians are being put to death, and they’ll all be rejoicing, we find that in the Book of Revelation, they’ll be rejoicing, because they think that now the beast has devoured the lamb.

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