In light of all the uncertainty and turmoil surrounding the US presidential election, there is an obvious anxiety and concern that our nation is in crisis. What the future holds seems unknown and frightening. We're told that the very essence of what makes America great is at stake. We're told we need a revolution and a leader who can guide us safely into the uncharted waters of our future.
As all this unfolds, we argue and fight and become divided. We cling to our perceived rights in desperation and seek protection and safety in the inspirational words of candidates who we believe will champion our cause and bring the hope, change, and security we seek.
And the momentum keeps growing, fueled by the media and the politicians and all their promises.
And I can't help but notice that much of the current political dilemma seems to be grounded in fear - fear of the outsider, of the elite, of the poor, of the immigrant, of the refugee, of big business, of the system, of the populace, of the right, of the left. [This is, of course, a useful political strategy for politicians. Their popularity grows as they prey on our greatest fears and posit themselves as the solution.]
I can't help but observe and marvel at the way we've so quickly allowed our hopes, dreams, anxieties, and fears to become tied to a person, a politician, a party, a nation, or a vision of the future.
The Book of Revelation [that still-crisp-paged book at the end of our Bibles], often [ab]used as a blueprint for the end times [ahem, the Left Behind series], was written at a time of perceived crisis in order to encourage loyalty to and faithful worship of the one, true God. Its vivid imagery offers a profound account of the nature of God and the relevance of his being to the course of human history.
In those early days of the church, the core of the Christian dilemma was a refusal to worship the Hellenistic gods. To do so was nothing less than an act of rebellion, a subversion of imperial authority. And so these early Christian disciples were imperial antagonists, threats to the Roman empire.
Whether or not Christians were being persecuted at the time of John's writing is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the church was in crisis. It is likely that Christians were compromising in the face of fear, confusion, and uncertainty - trying to be loyal to both Rome and Christ. And so the vision that John [the author of Revelation] receives from God and relays in very symbolic images was intended to specifically oppose the Roman imperial cult, and thereby stir readers out of their small-mindedness into a bigger, heavenly vision of reality.
One theologian, GK Beale, suggests that the main goal of Revelation was "to exhort God's people to remain faithful to the call to follow the Lamb's paradoxical example and not to compromise, all with the goal of inheriting final salvation." This vision of Jesus as the slaughtered Lamb on the throne in Revelation 5 is one of the book's key images, and I think that we would do well to allow this image to speak into our situation and the political milieu of the present day.
"Who will mediate history?" is the burning question at the start of Revelation 5. No one in heaven or earth is worthy to open the scrolls, and so John begins to weep in grief over the fact that no one is sovereign, no one knows the future. Then he's told that "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered so that he can open the scroll" [5:5]. These two titles are powerful, messianic designations in the Jewish tradition that were associated with strength and violence. The titles suggested that the long-awaited Messiah would overcome by military conquest. As a result, it's incredibly striking that John turns and sees not a strong military commander but "a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" [5:6]. This paradoxical vision, therefore, reinterprets messianic expectations: the Lamb's victory consists in his being slain.
In offering this image, John is reminding his readers that their Leader and Messiah overcame through suffering. Here, John is not only encouraging imitation of but also participation in the death of the slain Lamb. Sure, believers may overcome by way of suffering, but more importantly, the overcoming of all evil is ultimately a result of the Lamb's victory through suffering.
The power of these images is all the more meaningful as John identifies this slaughtered Lamb with YHWH himself. In the hymns of praise in Revelation 5:9-12, the Lamb is being given praise and authority like that of God. In effect, the Lamb is being worshiped as God: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"
This is revolutionary. The one true God whom John is encouraging his readers to worship is one who has been slain. Here, John is offering his readers a profound account of the nature of God: he has suffered and died. He's not the strong, imposing conqueror they've expected. He's a slain Lamb. And yet, he still conquers and overcomes through his death.
More than that, this doctrine of the nature of God is intended to do something: to bring about endurance, inspire similar behavior, encourage true worship of God, and inspire participation in this sacrificial way of life. John is lifting up and glorifying the slain Lamb in order to demonstrate how Jesus' death radically changes how we ought to think about God and therefore, how we live.
And so as we consider this image and our current state of affairs, as we seek a leader for our earthly nation, as we wonder "who will mediate history?" this vision reminds us that there is a King who stands sovereign over all things. We already have a Champion of our cause. He has and is bringing hope. He is, in fact, our only hope.
Our King is unlike any other king. He isn't characterized by military prowess, business experience, or political prestige. In fact, he's portrayed as a Lamb slain, yet standing. He has overcome and continues to overcome through sacrifice, through death. As Christians, we're invited into this life way of life - not merely to mimic it, but to participate in it. The Lamb's sacrificial overcoming means victory over evil for all time. So as we participate in his sacrificial death, we will also partake of his victory over evil.
This is a great mystery of the Gospel, a fact we celebrate in the Lenten and Easter season: we are offered life, not by the success and victory of military power and strength, but through the sacrificial suffering and death of one Man: Jesus. However paradoxical, his humble life, suffering, and death conquers, redefines strength and power, and reveals the nature of God himself.
And so it's only right that the slaughtered Lamb, a representation of Jesus on the cross, is attributed the highest honor and praise because he is God. This is what God is like. And because this is what God is like, it changes everything.
Because God is the slain Lamb who has overcome, we don't need to fear because he is on the throne. Because God is the slain Lamb who has overcome, we can persevere because he holds the future. Because God is the slain Lamb who has overcome, we can live his sacrificial way of love in hope and faith that this way of life is effective and leads to life.
I'm not advocating that we as Christians become an antagonistic group of anarchists [though sometimes I wonder if anarchy might be the most faithful way forward]. I'm merely offering my observation that we may be caught in circumstances of crisis and compromise similar to that of the early church.
At this juncture in history, we as Christians would do well to be reminded that we can and ought to live in a manner strikingly opposite to that of our prevailing culture. We ought to be people who, by the power of God's Spirit, advocate life in places of death, bring light in darkness, and administer hope in despair. We cannot compromise. We cannot give in to the fears of our day. We cannot fall prey to the small-mindedness of politics or the idolatrous worship of politicians. We cannot stand with violence, division, prejudice, and oppression. We cannot live with clenched fists. We cannot allow our hopes to be tied to a political party, candidate, or nation.
The paradoxical way of Jesus calls us to something better, higher, more beautiful, and more real. Remain loyal to this way. Worship Jesus. Honor him as King and Mediator of history. Participate in his life. Live with open hands. Cross boundaries. Advocate for the truth. Stand for justice. Live sacrificial love. Remember that we know the end of the story. This is the revolution we await:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. We will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'
"And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'" [Revelation 21:15]