thoughts on the lion/lamb, woes, and violent/vindictive language — Rev. 5 and 6

John, knowing his audience’s acquaintance with apocalyptic literature, and their familiarity with the “lion” imagery and messianic expectation, drawing from the Hebrew Bible, and the Testament of Judah and 4 Ezra, transforms the image from a lion to a lamb. But, this is no ordinary dumb, bleating lamb. This lamb is not like the history of God’s people, slaughtered by Empire after Empire. John tells us that this lamb “bears the marks its execution, ‘standing as if it had been slaughtered’ (5:6)” (Reddish, 109). Boring notes “Lamb” is the “definitive title for Christ, occurring 29 times in Revelation” (Boring, 108-9). It is important to note that John’s use of the lamb imagery is multivalent in nature. In other words, John’s source for the great lamb imagery and his Christology seems to be drawn from multiple sources; lambs from the daily sacrifices, the Passover Lamb, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, and the conquering lamb of 1 Enoch 89-90 (Reddish 109). This rebirth of images helps John’s readers to see the significance of the cross, and the victory won there by the Lamb of God not through military power, but through self-sacrifice, and through death. John wants us to see Jesus, “the one who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood” (Reddish, quoting Rev. 1:5, 109). There is a merging of symbols of death and defeat and symbols of power and authority (Reddish, 110).Let us not forgot that as John portrays the lamb he is powerful, acting as God’s agent or on behalf of God. He takes the scroll that was unable to be opened. He his depicted as having all power and insight (seven horns and seven eyes).

“Lamb” is the key Christological noun in John’s beautiful imagery, Boring points out that ‘conquer’ (nikao), also translated ‘overcome,’ ‘prevail,’ ‘win the victory,’ triumph,’ ‘win the right,’ is the key Christological verb,” he goes on toe point out that this verb form occurs some 23 times (Boring, 111). As John rebirths the imagery of the lion-lamb, I think it would be right to say he does as well with “conquering” as well. We are meant to hear conquering as we normally associate it, with a military victory per se, but John has adapted or changed “conquering” to equal dying for Christ. Boring writes that “conquering” is what binds believers and Jesus together (3:21), and goes on to say, “that Christians ‘conquer’ not only by what they do but by what Jesus has done (12:11)” (Boring 111). 2. In Revelation 6, the reader finds a series of eschatological woes. Where else in scripture do we see similar literature?

What is the significance of this vision in Revelation 6? Is John writing about the “end times”? Explain your answer. Other places in Scripture where one would encounter similar eschatological woes are Matthew 24:6, 7, 9a, 29; Mark 13: 7-9a, 24-25; Luke 21:9-12a, 25-26. Across the apocalyptic board, there are similarities as to what these woes entail, they “may include earthly events (earthquakes, wars, famines, persecutions) and cosmic disturbances (stars falling, the sun shining at night, and the moon shining by day)” (Reddish 123). The eschatological woes from Revelation 6 reveal the traditional apocalyptic expectation of judgment and catastrophe. I think this is significant for interpretative purposes, for we are once again reminded that John is writing a certain type of literature. In traditional apocalyptic literature one would encounter this eschatological woes preceding the end of the world, or coming before the “arrival of a messiah in the last days” (Reddish, 123). Another significance of the vision of the eschatological woes in Revelation 6 is its contact and allusions to the exodus, and biblical language in general. John’s foundational text is the Hebrew Bible, and he reuses imagery and language from the OT to write for his own day and time. In the sense that war, famine, death and pestilence are common to history and repeat themselves in every age, do I believe that John’s writing extends beyond his own day. John is writing about the “end times,” to be sure. But “end times” needs clarification. To detach Revelation from its historical context is to limit or render the work’s effectiveness to speak to John’s first audience. So, “end times,” must refer to the end of the ungodly and demonic control of the Roman Empire over the people of God.

Boring’s reading was extremely helpful in addressing the violence of John’s Revelation by addressing the violent/vindictive language of the text openly and honestly. As ministers, Christians, etc., we will no doubt encounter people who wrestle with feelings of violence and vindictiveness, and well, this section of reading from Boring will help us to help other makes sense of their pain and agony and hopefully renew a sense of trust in the One seated on the throne! Boring addresses this issue by examining four key interpretative guideposts: 1. the givenness of John’s situation, 2. John’s appropriate of tradition, 3. his use of language, and 4. his theology (Boring, 113).

i. The givenness of John’s situation To help make sense of what we’ve read in Revelation 6, and what follows we must remember that John is writing to a persecuted community, and is warning them that things are going to blow up even more. Revelation was written to use during worship, and as such, the cries for revenge, and the violence in the language would draw the worshipper into their own experiences. John gives his readers an avenue to vent and to anticipate God putting the world to rights.

ii. John’s appropriation of tradition Boring points out that John’s violent language is borrowed from his own tradition (114). This tradition included the ancient Near Eastern combat myth, in which the monster of chaos (aka, Leviathian) was defeated at creation, but was still present at the edges of creation as a threatening force in the world. “The evil of the present world is understood as the remnants of uncreation, so that the present world has a built into tension,” that at God’s coming to put the world to rights, the forces of chaos will be ultimately destroyed (Boring, 114). Also coming from John’s tradition was the apocalyptic scheme of the “messianic woes,” in which there was a “standard pattern” that helped the community to interpret their present troubles “as the leading edge of the period of suffering which must come just before the final victory” (Boring, 114). John also borrows his language from the Bible, for example John draws heavily upon the exodus motif to paint a picture of eschatological deliverance from “the contemporary Pharaoh,” also John relies on a deep stream of biblical theology; the language of God’s wrath, which is used extensively in Scripture, as well as reusing the biblical prophets’s woes against Babylon as a picture of woes against Rome (Boring, 115). The King is coming, that seems to be the understatement of all the John is writing and from the language he borrows. Because the King is coming, the creation cannot stand in His presence.

iii. John’s use of language I have mentioned John’s language already, but is worth nothing that this language is highly metaphorical and not meant to be read literally. Boring notes that what one encounters in this reading is “insider language of the confessing community expressing praise and gratitude for salvation” (Boring, 117).

iv. John’s theology and Purpose John routinely acknowledges the sinfulness of humanity, and the violent language is the judgment of God on sin. Even though John exposes a violent and terrible scene, sin, death and persecution aren’t the final world. John gives us the bad news, but finishes with the good news. He says it better than I do, “While the world may reel under the hammer blows of God’s wrath, it is also redeemed and released from the power of Satan (20:1-6)” (Boring, 118).

Works cited:

Eugene Boring, Intrepretation: A Biblical Commentary for Preaching and Teaching

Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation.

About Jason Retherford

The random musings of a youth minister.
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