THE LION AND LAMB
Revelation 5:1-5; 11-14
See, the Lion has conquered.
Worthy is the Lamb to receive power
In the final verses of the Book of Revelation we are warned that we should not take away or tamper with the words of the book for if we do we will forfeit our share in the tree of life in the holy city, the New Jerusalem! The problem is many people find it difficult if not impossible to understand what Revelation it is all about, it all seems bizarre and grotesque. So we generally disregard it. This was a problem from the beginning, for there was much debate in the early church about whether or not the Revelation should be included in the New Testament. But there it is, bringing the Bible to its conclusion with the resounding, the Advent cry, "Maranatha!" "Come, Lord Jesus!"
The Book of Revelation was not written to be read literally. Like Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis' the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when you read Revelation you enter a world of symbol and metaphor. And necessarily so. It is written in code language precisely because its message is subversive. It was written to provide encouragement to Christians in their struggle to be faithful witnesses to God's kingdom at a time of intense persecution by the Roman Empire. Revelation remains a subversive book in the ongoing struggle between people of faith who witness to God's reign of justice and peace, and those powerful empires and corporations that are corrupt and oppress the weak and the poor. As such the Book of Revelation speaks to Christians in all times and places, for it is a call to remain faithful in bearing witness to the good news of Jesus despite opposition and persecution.
Jesus takes centre stage in the unfolding drama described in Revelation. But his significance is described by the use of two subversive metaphors: the Lamb and the Lion, both of which occur in the passage we read this morning. If you think that Jesus is literally a lamb and a lion, and even more, both at the same time, then you won't get off first base as they say in baseball, let alone understand what is going on. You would certainly miss their subversive significance, indeed, the meaning of the Advent cry "Maranatha!" "Come, Lord Jesus!" Come to reign, to judge corruption and put evil to flight.
Louis de Blois, the abbot of a monastery in France in the sixteenth century, once wrote that Jesus comes to us in three ways. He first comes at Christmas as a Lamb, he then comes at the end of the ages as a Lion, and he comes everyday as a Friend. In his first coming he is the sacrificial Lamb who offers his life for the salvation of the world. In the words of John the Baptist: "Here is the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world." In his second coming Jesus is the King of kings who comes to judge the earth with righteousness and justice. This signals the final victory of good over evil. And between these two advents, Jesus comes everyday as our Friend to stand in solidarity with those who stand for truth and justice or are oppressed.
Each week as we celebrate the Eucharist together we recall the words of John the Baptist in proclaiming the significance of the first Advent: "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us." That is, we acknowledge Jesus as the one who gives his life fully and totally for us in order to redeem and make us whole. Of course, we know that Jesus is also referred to as the Good Shepherd, a wonderful example of a mixed metaphor, for how can one person literally be both shepherd and sheep? But we need to keep in mind that Shepherds in the Old Testament often refer to the rulers of Israel, and not all of them were good shepherds, some were decidedly bad, The Good Shepherd by contrast is the one as gives his life for the sheep. Suddenly the mixed metaphor makes sense. The Good Shepherd identified so fully with his sheep, especially the lost, that he becomes the Lamb "that was slaughtered" on their behalf. Shepherd becomes the sacrificial lamb, the Lord of the manor becomes the servant, God becomes a vulnerable baby, the Messiah dies a terrible death on a cross because he proclaims God's righteousness and justice against the pretensions and corruptions of the Empire. And in doing so he "is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might, and honour and glory and blessing."
So we turn to the metaphor of the Lion, the animal that tops the list of the Big Five and who in all mythology and poetry, as in the Bible, is the King not only of the Beasts in the Jungle, but the King of who comes to judge the earth with righteousness and justice. Lions were common in ancient Israel, and the lion image is often used as the symbol of royalty, the one before whom we fall down in homage. So when the three wise men or kings from the East arrived in Bethlehem to pay homage to the new born King, they first went to the court of king Herod, the representative of the Empire. But they soon realised their mistake. He was a bad, evil shepherd! The Lion of Judah was not in Jerusalem the seat of imperial power, but in Bethlehem. The Lion was, in fact, the Lamb! And so it is at the Second Advent, as the Book of Revelation describes, it is the Lamb who is on the throne, the the Lamb is the Lion King who comes again to reign and judge with righteousness and justice.
This is bad news for those who rule unjustly, those who strut about the forest of the world like lions, and are feared by all. But the good news is that this Lion who comes to judge the earth is at heart a Lamb, the judge who is truly a Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep and restores justice. People fear the Second Coming of Christ who comes to judge the world because they think it means a change in Jesus' character. The Lamb who was once our friend, has become a roaring Lion who is our adversary! But no, the text says that it is the Lamb who sits on the throne who will judge us. Jesus does not change character. The One who comes in humility as the babe in Bethlehem is the One who will come to judge the world. He will certainly judge the evil empire with justice just as he condemned those who oppressed the poor during his life. But his justice is restorative. This is the good news, our judge is on our side, against evil but not against us. The Lion is the Lamb who "takes away the sins of the world," not the judge who eternally condemns the lost sheep. "Maranatha!" "Come, Lord Jesus!"
John de Gruchy
Volmoed Advent II.
13 November 2014.