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The Cross in Revelation - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

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The cross of Christ seen in the book of Revelation. What does the epistle of John’s Revelation teach us about the cross of Jesus Christ? Is it a reoccurring theme in the letter? Is it important to John? Is it something we often miss? “Yes” to all those questions.

What is more glorious than the cross? Surely this is paradoxal speech. Who would ever glory in an electric chair, a gas chamber or an executioner’s axe? However, we do glory in the cross because the imagery of the cross means something to redeemed sinners.

The central redemptive act of God is executed in the obedience of His one and unique Son, Jesus Christ. The oath by which the Son is designated a “priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” is the ratification of the covenant by which He will obtain His “bride.” In the book of Revelation we find the redemptive acts of the Son of God seen in brilliant and fantastic detail. The imagery set forth recounts the victory of Jesus Christ over death and hell, and over the enemies of the sons of righteousness, those bought by the blood of the Lamb.

The purpose of this brief overview of the book of Revelation is to acquaint the reader with a more complete and full understanding of the reason behind the epistle’s exhortations to victory and perseverance. Why should Christians, in the midst of suffering, rejoice? What gives them cause to rejoice? Hopefully, we will find the answer in the pages of the Revelation.

In John’s Revelation there are 52 references to the cross of Christ. They are: 1:2, 5, 7, 9, 18; 2:8, 13, 17; 3:3, 8, 5:6, 8-9, 12-13; 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 16; 7:9, 10, 14, 17; 11:3, 7-8; 12:11, 17; 13:8; 14:1, 3, 4, 6, 10; 15:3, 6; 17:14; 19:7, 9, 10, 13; 20:4; 21:9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3. They utilize a wide range of visual images and circumstances to describe the manner in which sinners have been redeemed and how that redemption surrounds the death of their Surety.

The Scriptures listed above can be designated into three groups or categories: the blood, the One who was slain, and the One who died, or was crucified. The blood passages referred to are as follows: 1:5, “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” 5:9, “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” 7:14, “And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” 11:6, “These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.” 12:11, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” 19:13, “He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.”

The following Scriptures are those referring to Christ as the One being “slain”: 5:6, “And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” 5:9, “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” 5:12 saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” 13:8, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

The passages which refer to Christ as the crucified One or the One who died on the cross are as follows: 11:8, “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” 1:7, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” 1:18, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” 2:8, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘ These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” There are also numerous references to the “Lamb” as well; Rev. 5:6; 5:8; 5:12; 5:13; 6:1; 6:16; 7:9; 7:10; 7:14; 7:17; 12:11; 13:8; 13:11; 14:1; 14:4; 14:10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7; 19:9; 21:14; 21:22; 21:23; 22:1; 22:3. (These passages speak of the “Lamb” doing or acting in some way.)

I have chosen three verses to act as a cross section of the verses of Revelation to describe the cross of Christ in the book of Revelation. The passage selected dealing with “the blood” is Revelation 1:5, “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” The passage dealing the One slain is 5:6, “And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” The final passage on the crucified One is 2:8, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, “these things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” In these various Scriptures we see the risen and crucified Lord, and the cross of Christ.

Before we venture out into understanding the Scriptures themselves, we should first be aware of a simple, and most important fact, about the book of Revelation – especially in reference to the passages I intend to use. The type of language used all throughout the 22 chapters of the book is called “Apocalyptic Literature.” This unique style of writing was not foreign to the readers in John’s day, nor to 1st century Christendom. As a matter of fact, it is not foreign to the modern viewer of movies and cartoons of today’s cinema (so to speak.) I will explain what I mean in a moment. Understand, though, that the unique style of writing that the Holy Spirit chose to inspire this book is of the “apocalypse” genre. It is term or style that denotes a literary accommodation that harnesses fantastical imagery in which to explain an event or series of events. In John’s gospel the style fits very well into the supernatural unveiling of those things that were taking place, and will take place. But seeing it as “fantastical” really does not help the modern reader truly understand the term “apocalyptic.” It would be one thing to describe the writing in terms of “end times” ideas. Many of the apocalyptic documents of John’s time were filled with imaginative symbols, ideas and expressions. One way we might be able to understand this more easily is to associate it with the newspaper of today. In the daily newspaper, one might come across what is known as an “editorial cartoon.” You might see a caricature of Sadam Hussein or Osama bin Laden sitting on top of the earth with a pennant flag that says, “Go tyrants!” Although the cartoonist drew Hussein in a very large manner, I am sure none of us would think Sadam Hussein is really that big, or really holds a pennant flag saying, “Go tyrants!” However, the meaning behind the picture is what we should be concentrating on. It is that imagery which gives way for the reality of the truth behind the art. The same is said of Revelation – it is written like an editorial is drawn. No, there are no such things as big red dragons. No, there are so such things as large chains that can wrap around Satan, an immaterial being. No, there is no woman big enough who really sits on seven hills. No, there is no Lamb that is able to open sealed documents. However, in all these “editorial cartoons” so to speak, there are real truths that are conveyed in a fantastical manner, but emit a sacred meaning.

The book of Revelation also unfolds for us the drama of events that have been, events playing out in John’s time, and events to come soon after (“Behold I come quickly.”) These events would otherwise have been kept secret, but the Holy Spirit decided to reveal some of these things to us in this unique manner of writing. Symbolism and metaphorical language dominate the reader’s thinking all through the book. Though other New Testament passages certainly contain sections of symbolic language, no book in the New Testament rivals that of the symbolism of Revelation. This should be kept in mind when dealing with any passage in the book.

A final note on the manner in which we look at the book as a whole is in order as well. Most commentaries are interested in picking apart the book of Revelation, and trying to decipher exactly what John meant by every detail laid out in the letter. Many have written fervently on the subject. But many times the flavor of the letter is lost because we tend to take a microscopic look at the letter instead of a macroscopic view. We look at the details of each verse, instead of focusing in on the book as a whole. What did the first century Jewish Christian think this book meant while Nero was knocking down his door and dragging his family off to jail? Sometimes it is good with any book to take a few important verses and see how the major theme of the letter is exemplified. What major theme is Revelation trying to convey? There is no doubt in my mind that the major theme of the book of Revelation is the conquest of death and sin through the Messiah by his own death for the Redeemed Elect, to the glory of God’s name. In other words, Jesus wins. Not only does this set the theme of the book, but such a theme would relay comfort for the persecuted people of God, and seems to go strikingly well with the purpose behind the epistle.

Washed in the Blood, Revelation 1:5

In attempting to understand the book of Revelation as a whole, one must take into account the idea of persecution and perseverance – the two prominent reasons why the letter was circulated in the first place. John assures his readers time and time again the fact of being washed in the blood of Christ. He alludes to this theme throughout the book in order to give them an assurance in the time of persecution. Persecution has always been the evil providence that cleanses the church of its hypocrites. Persecution is a “good” thing in that it weeds out the false professors and demonstrates who is really a Christian and who is faking it. Yet, how, in the midst of persecution, may we deal faithfully with those saints who are in the midst of persecution and need a word of encouragement? If you were John, what would you have written to them?

Let us turn to the verse at hand. Revelation 1:5 states, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” John demonstrates the important of Christ’s first-born quality directly in the beginning of the letter. He uses this term nowhere else in his writings other than this one place. As Christ has given His life in faithfulness to the covenant He has made with the Father, so the Father has raised Him from the dead pledging Him to be the first of those who shall be raised from the dead in the future. Jesus is then seen as the “firstborn” from the dead. The word itself is prwto,tokoj, prototokos {pro-tot-ok’-os} which refers to Christ as the “first born of all creation.” This does not refer at all to the idea surrounding “Jesus as a first created being.” John is no Arian heretic. No, the term designates the status, or office of Christ. He is the first one who is risen from the dead. This is an idea we should keep in focus when thinking through the book of Revelation as a whole. Jesus’ resurrection is a mark of triumph for those reading the letter.

The importance of the first from the dead does not limit the supremacy of Christ to the raising of His body from the dead. Rather, it signifies not only that he was first to be raised, but also that he was first in importance having complete authority over death. It is in this great burst of excitement that John gives praise to the Savior while simultaneously encouraging the reader to have the same joy. Though death is knocking at their door, they should rejoice, for Jesus is the Master of Death. Through all the immediate distress, persecution, and even banishment that John experienced, he is convinced that his readers are experiencing Christ’s continual care; in this they should rejoice for He holds the power of death and hell in his hand.

Oftentimes, in a royal procession or historically important event, the first minute or so that sets the stage of the ceremony is the introduction. Some master of ceremonies inaugurates the event with listing what is to take place, and the onlookers then know what is coming next. Like in a wedding ceremony, the preacher says, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” In the passage at hand, verse 5 inaugurates the theme of being washed in the blood; a critical topic for the rest of the book, and for the comfort of persecuted Christians. John shows us that the death of Christ upon the cross is the saving activity in which his readers (who are the seven churches in Asia Minor) are saved. The death of Christ is not a typical or usual death. The kind of death Christ “fell victim” to was that His blood was shed. This idea is important in that it is by the violent taking of His life and the shedding of His blood that we are forgiven. It is by his blood that we have a way to the father and fellowship with one another. Here is the culmination of all the “blood” passages, for such a price Christ paid in his love to make us his own. His blood has freed us from all our sin. It is the image of death; a symbolic term of violent death and crucifixion of the sin bearer for the sinner.

Though it is a “bloody beginning” this salutary beginning is a shout of praise for the believer. “He has washed us in His blood!” is the ideas John is trying to convey. Yes, you are persecuted by Roman oppression, but nevertheless, His blood cleanses you, and in His death you shall live. The word “luw”, (luo) to loose, is the root meaning of the word used here by John. It conveys the idea that Christ has loosed the believer from their sins; as if the chains in which they bore were dropped from their wrists. The word “lusanti” “to redeem” is the specific participle used by John, a derivative from “luo.” It may be better to understand this passage as to be loosed from our sins rather than being washed specifically. But “washing” and “cleansing” from defilement is the idea behind the phrase. John would not want to mislead the reader into thinking that sinners who are defiled by the fall and imputation of Adam’s sin have simple “spots” or wrinkles” that need to be washed and dry cleaned. No, we needed to be completely and totally freed, washed thoroughly, from our sins.

The tense of this passage is in the aorist. (For the Greek lovers, lusanti is a verb, a participle, in the aorist active dative masculine singular form – i.e. this is what Jesus has done, and has completed it for us in the past.). In other words, because the tense is aorist, it is something Jesus has totally completed in the past that has lasting affects for the believers who are reading the letter, even though they are being persecuted by Roman oppression after the act of Jesus’ death. The act of Christ’s death cannot be changed, and it cannot stop its effectiveness. The affect of the cross will last until, through, and into, the consummation of the ages. This idea John alludes to later in the book.

If then, we were to theologically ponder the ideas surrounds “being washed” or loosed” by the work of Jesus Christ, we may come to discover that theme of this “washing” is wrapped up all through the New Testament, and the book of Revelation in particular, in the doctrine of justification. This is not an occasional theme in Revelation. It is the very essence of John’s message. John’s letter is to demonstrate what the Lamb has done, and what believers experience as a result of the finished work of Christ, even though they are hard pressed by the wickedness of Satan and the persecution of dictators. Though they are put to death as martyrs, the readers should walk away with the reality that this justification is never failing in Christ. Jesus has washed them in His blood. This may not be as prevalent on first glance, since the book is so taken up with various apocalyptic judgments and all sorts of extraordinary imagery. It is, however, important to see that the fundamental doctrine and basis for the believers standing in and through the judgments, and in and through persecution, is the immutable nature of the affect of “washing” or justification. The blood holds a central theme all through the book. It is the blood that covers and protects the believers from the enemies of God. It is the justification of the believer that gives him the victory over any opposition to his physical well being.

What does it mean that Jesus, the Lamb, shed his blood? The shedding of blood demonstrates that the bearer of life (the sacrifice) is destroyed, and therefore life itself destroyed. If Christ had bled to death, and then remained dead, the power of life would have been extinguished. Here, the word aimati (haimati) (a noun, dative neuter singular from the root aima, (haima) meaning “blood”), signifies “outpoured blood” that has been taken, violently destroyed, or murdered. It shows that the blood was not only poured out (as an offering or oblation) but that it was taken from him, as decreed in the overall plan of God. Does Jesus lay down His life? Absolutely. He lays it down so that wicked persecutors can take his life in a violent manner for those for whom He died. Like the cross, this is another medium, even more graphic, dealing specifically with “blood”, which depicts the soteriological significance of the death of Christ. The idea of Christ’s death is the guarantee of remission for sin and the justification of believers, and underlies the thoughts of the entire letter.

The force of the epistle and the term “blood” and “washed” are exceedingly striking. They demonstrate that John is unreservedly persuaded that the Messiah has truly appeared and was officially killed by the Roman government. This death by Gentile hands was and is His Messianic conquest. It was, and still is, his marturia, the testimony sealed with his life as to the nature of God’s unbreakable rule affected in the messianic conquest. He is the unique Son of God who spilled his blood willingly, by the hand of tyrants, in order to redeem his bride.

As believers stand washed in the blood of the atonement, they see themselves refreshed and renewed; John sees them justified in the sight of God. This is the expression of jubilee in which John rejoices in; this is their comfort. Revelation 7:13-14 alludes to the same theme. The elders asks John about those who have on white robes (a covering). John does not know who these people are, so the elder explains it to him. They are the ones who have washed their robes in the blood and have made them clean. This “absurdity,” washing a robe in blood and making it white, is the reason the persecuted saints should rejoice. The picture of atonement and justification is the key. Those who have trusted in the Gospel, the Messiah, are justified by faith and made white. John is restored and comforted with the message that this vision is none other than the dying and rising Savior. John knows he has been justified, and he writes to show the seven churches that they too may boast in this.

The work of Christ is prevalent in Rev. 1:5. He has justified the Christian by His blood. It is fair to say that the concept presented here by John is that of the Gospel, it is the center of his attention. It demonstrates to the churches that they have an assurance, one which is primarily to understand the relevance of what they are reading. Later John will show his readers that those who are not “washed in the blood” shall undergo persecution far greater than that which the churches were going through then – the striking judgment of God.

The Slain Lamb; Revelation 5:6

Revelation 5:6 states, “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.” What does it mean to slay a lamb? This passage, in a very unique manner, explains how Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain. The word esphragmenon from sphragidzo “to slay an animal or to slaughter with a reference to men,” is the understood meaning of what had happened to the lamb; it is a grizzly expression for murder. John, amazed by the awesome sight of the glorified Lord in chapters 1 and 3, looks to see the glorified Lord once again and sees something which startles him; the Lamb. In a figurative paradox (something Revelation seems to entertain frequently in figurative speech), the Lamb denotes the extreme character of the offering of Christ and the lasting effect it has on the community of believers. The Lamb is not slain, but alive looking as if it had been slain. The Greek perfect passive tense here signifies that the Lamb was not only slain at a point of time in the past, but that the efficiency of his death is still present in all its power.

Seen in Ezekiel 1:26-28 is the same throne depiction in which John uses here in Revelation. If you recall, Ezekiel saw the chariot throne of God moving along the river Chebar. God demonstrated to Ezekiel that He is not restricted to a geographical area – thus the need for a chariot throne in a figurative sense. Unlike Ezekiel, though, the epistle of Revelation is very restrained in describing the One who sits upon the throne; its depiction is left rather scarce until 5:6 where it appears that the Lamb is the One who sits there. This does not mean that two persons, both God and the Lamb, occupy the throne of God. Not in a spatial sense. Rather, God, the Ruler of the universe, has functionally defined His rule with the act of Jesus as the slain Lamb. God works through the atonement of Jesus Christ to save people and rule over people. The Lamb now takes control, judgment and vengeance on the earth, as well as saving the bride.

In Revelation 4:10 the deity of the risen Lord is seen in full array – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. But here John looks to see the mighty Lion and instead sees the Lamb who looks as if it had been slaughtered. This shows the sacrificial death of the Messiah, and links the Messiah to the Old Testament Passover lamb. John joins the imagery of the Davidic Messiah and the suffering servant of Isaiah into one complete, full, and risen Savior, but with a prophetic twist.

Though alive, John makes it a point to demonstrate to his readers that the Lamb is esphagmenon, standing with it’s throat cut. It looks as if it had been marked for death. Christ seen as the Lamb is displayed as the crucified but risen Lamb; His royalty is seen not in his glorified body and in his sightly power, but in his suffering for men. He is the Lamb that looks as though it had been slain – the One appearing before God’s face with the nail scars still visible in his glorified state. This Risen Savior is the imagery John desires us to see, but he wants us to link it to the death Christ suffered.

The term Lamb, avrni,or, arain, occurs in Revelation 29 times and is used to refer to Jesus Christ as the little lamb. Some scholars suggest the meaning to be a ram, as a sacrificial ram (using the seven horns as an argument) but this is not logical either to intent, Old Testament imagery, or the Greek word itself. The references of the New Testament to Jesus as the Lamb are unavoidable. The Lamb bears the mark upon his neck, the marks of slaughter. Though these marks signify the death that he went through, the omnipotence, omniscience and the Lamb’s authority are not stripped from Him. He is seen in the center of the throne. He is seen as having complete power in his seven horns, another Old Testament image of power and authority. He is seen as having this power emerging directly from God as God, as the seven Spirits signify. John portrays the power of the Lamb in its weakness. However, the reader should be aware that this “weak” “slaughtered” “little Lamb” is the image and power of God; the One holding all authority.

Here we see the great paradox; the little Lamb bears the sacrificial wounds upon it, but at the same time it is clothed with the very might of God which now can shatter its enemies. The Lamb has seven horns, standing for perfection. The power of the Lamb is perfect – beyond understanding. Few passages in Scripture show, at the same time, the power of Christ and the weakness of Christ, but this picture is exceedingly clear: the humiliation of Christ’s death and the glory of His risen life demonstrate the nature of His power over death and hell. Christ’s victory through death radically alters, reinterprets, and modifies all messianic hopes of the Old Testament and of Judaism concerning a nationalistic, conquering Messiah – at least up until the consummation of the ages.

As the Lamb is seen in weakness and slaughter demonstrating its power in weakness, simultaneously the slain Lamb fulfills all hope. The Lamb represents in His person the solution of two fundamental problems of human existence – the problem of sin in the form of idolatry and the problem of power. By his sacrificial death he brought about a solution to both. God looks upon Christ’s death as a proper sacrifice that removes sin. His death not only redeems as a sacrifice but it conquers. It is His true victory. The slain lamb is the Lion of Judah, and God has granted to Him the execution of judgment over all who misuse power and revel in sin, idolatry, and other vices. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb saved Israel from death at the Exodus in 12:13, so Jesus’ death accomplished redemption for God’s people – hence, He is the Lamb.

John the Revelator saw the Lamb as a powerful Conqueror, which suggests that the Lamb’s symbolism has swallowed up the Lion’s symbolism. The slain Lamb stands over the whole book in this manner. The Lion-Lamb “contradiction” is thus overtaken by Christ’s true nature, His power in weakness. Since the main theme of the book is the victory that Christ has obtained over the forces of darkness by the power of His blood and has saved His people and justified them, we might have thought that the lion figure would have been more appropriate. But the Lion title occurs nowhere else in the book. Its appearance in 5:5 is a fleeting one. The idea of ferocity is quickly replaced by the gentleness associated with the Lamb and the power of His death in silent agony rather than a roaring Lion. The Lamb imagery is filled with the actions of power, though the Lamb is somewhat silent; i.e. he is not a roaring Lion.

John’s use of the slain Lamb, hence the cross, is carefully interwoven with the powerful message of the reigning victory and the soon return of the Crucified One. The readers, seeing this power in weakness, would therefore have more to be rejoicing in since their own time was under intense persecution from Roman opposition. So we see the imagery of the Lamb as beneficial in its assurance to the believer as an example of weakness and power, but underneath the slaughter, we see God’s true intention and the power that is truly possessed.

The Crucified One; Revelation 2:8

Lastly, Revelation 2:8 says, “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.” This passage clearly points to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was dead and now is alive again. This is a strange saying since He is the One who is the first and the last and has also died and raised as well. He is the One that was at the beginning and the end already. The immutable and eternal character of the Crucified One is very clear. Yet, it is also states that he is One who died and rose, even though he possesses “the power of the beginning and end of all things.” This title is addressed to Smyrna, which is also interesting, and stresses this death and resurrection motif.

The significance of the statement which Christ makes here is one of parallelism to the city of Smyrna. Smyrna had died and came back to life again, so to speak. In 600 BC the Lyddians had come and conquered the city; it had died. In 300 BC the city was again revived. It is interesting to note that Jesus Christ uses this same language to the church to that city. Here Christ comments that He is also the One who had died and had come back to life. He even takes this thought further previously stating that He is the first and the last (which has connotations of holding all of life together). He has mastery over life and death in this manner. This name may remind those suffering persecution and rejection from their countrymen, that the one they belong to is the Lord of history and the Creator. He is in control regardless of what the circumstances may be or how evil their intention.

Jesus is literally “the One who became a corpse.” The Greek text reads hoi evgeneto nekro ‘kai ezhsen “rising again he has come to life.” This meaning, to a congregation where imprisonment and death were prevalent, the Prisoner of death for a time who died and came back to life again can offer the crown of life to the other executed prisoners. He is able to protect them from the second death; the horrifying eternal torment of hell that John will later mention at the culmination of his letter. The reader can have hope that the Lamb, the One who holds all of life, who was dead and now is alive, who holds the mastery of life and death in his hands, will one day vanquish all the enemies of the cross. They will suffer eternal torment, in juxtaposition to physical persecution that the church was suffering, for all eternity with the devil and his angels.

Being the Crucified One, He who was dead and came alive again, Christ shows Smyrna that they have a hope waiting for them, even if they die – because Jesus is the Master of life and death. He controls the time of their death and gives them Hope. Because of the redemptive act of the cross, Christ has secured victory. He is their Hope. It is an eschatological hope – the future awaits them in victory. Heaven awaits them whether they die now by the hands of persecution, or later by natural causes – which are both by God’s appointment. Whenever God requires their life as the Master of their lives, they will still have a hope in Him. They are able to see the stamp of approval, the resurrection, upon what may seem like a grim reality to them; the cross. Death, however, gives way to victory in the resurrection and the hope of the First-born. Hope is the theme of this verse; the hope which is received from the death of the Lamb. Here the Christian can face any trial or persecution and still receive the crown of life by the hands of the Master of life.

Thoughts from the Text

The American church, its very name, is exactly what the church is today – Americanized. The revelation of John has little, if no impact, on what its message means to the church today. The idea of the Lamb that had been slain from the foundation of the world is a concept far from the minds of most 21st century Christians. They are worried about their new car, their new pool, or their sun porch. They have no concept of persecution as such in the days of the early church. We have accelerated everything in our society; fast food, fast cars, fast lives, and a fast Gospel. If we have Americanized the church then the Gospel of that church is going to be changed and redefined. Today’s church seems to be pumping out new schemes to make the Gospel attractive. But if the Gospel changes then it is only a deranged version of what is really true. The Gospel then becomes as fast as burgers and fries. You see, there is nothing attractive about a Crucified, bloodied, slaughtered Lamb.

The weakness of the Lamb is seen as nonsense to the Modern church. Its weakness is not appealing and therefore is discarded as unnecessary. We want “The Hour of Power!” This seems ironic to me since the Messiah-warrior of Revelation 19 is regarded as the King to most churches. They have taken the power of the Messiah out of its true context – the Lamb. John was trying to show the historical churches of Asia Minor that the power of the cross is seen through the weakness of the Lamb. The churches today see the power in the risen Lord and not in the crucified God or the sacrificial Lamb. Warped Triumphalism is the standard that Christians measure each other today. The amount of faith one has or the number of gifts one possesses is a prerequisite for the “in” Christian. Is it enough that Christians reflect the death of the Lamb? Are we not to be conformed into his image now? There is nothing inherently wrong with seeing the Triumph of the church. But John’s message is that the church should find comfort in the triumph of a bloodied Lamb, not a roaring Lion. Misguided focus will cause the church to trust in something other than that which can give true hope. Is justification something people trust in? Do they really desire to understand hat Jesus did for them in justifying them through the righteousness of His life and the power of his death before God?

The modern Christian seems to miss the presence of God in the context of the Lamb. It is here that God chose to be seen where none could find Him; in the shame, folly, powerlessness, humility and death of the sacrificial Lamb. The Christian is commissioned to follow the steps of Christ, even to death; death to the self. If the imagery of the Lamb is not one’s view of the power of God then the question must be asked, “Is the Christ you serve the true God, or is it some fake parlor magician which gives Goosebumps on request?” Is the Lamb the One you turn to or is the cross something that is left out of your daily walk? Do you want to be conformed to that image?

What is persecution for the average Christian? Is it that his coffee maker has died? Is it that his pool pump is broke? Is it that his car needs new tires? How can those who do not identify with suffering and tribulation really grasp the message of Revelation and the Lamb? They must retrain their thinking and their theology, for all Christians who are Christians suffer for the sake of the Gospel in one way or another. That is why John labors to teach the church that the bloody Lamb is our model and our power. John shapes the cross of Christ into the imagery of the Lamb. It is here that the cross is the ultimate objective of God’s plan to save men in order that those who follow through paths of suffering end up at the goal of eternal life. They follow the Lamb into death, death of the self. Shall we also be living sacrifices for God? Do we not take up the “lamb” imagery in some respects with a life humbled before Him? Do we remember His scars and His sacrifice in vivid detail, or is that something we quickly gloss over because we do not like to think about death? John pushes us to think about death all through his letter. It is not a letter that should cause the Christian to spin into “eschatological mania.” If you were the Lord, and you wanted to tell the church something special as a last letter to them, what would you concentrate on? Jesus discloses himself as the Lamb. He concentrates on the cross. He tells of blood and slaughter in power and victory.

The Christian church is suppose to be a community which gathers in the shadow of the cross to wonder and worship the God who is hidden and revealed in its shame and suffering. The true knowledge of God is here, and is wounding to those who reject the message of the Lamb. The Lamb exposes men for who they really are; naked, weak, impotent, sinful and foolish. It is important to see that Jesus not only represents the definitive act of God, but the acting Jesus is extended into the lives of Christian in the church – He is there with His people. Especially important is the term “nikao,” which means to conquer or overdone. This term is used repeatedly to sum up both Jesus’ Christological mission and the essence of the Christian life. In both cases it means to “suffer and die.” The history of Jesus, i.e. his death and resurrection, interprets the Christian’s present state of mind and of life. Present tribulation, then, should push us to think of His bloody Kingship, and cause us hope. This hope gives way to steadfast endurance and those who trust in this manner may be characterized as essentially “in Jesus.”

The readers of John’s apocalypse/pastoral letter made theological sense of the terrible events they experienced. They understood that Jesus Christ was their only hope –a bloody little Lamb crucified, dead and buried, and risen again with power. Those events can be placed in continuity with the saving acts of God in history which were manifest in Israel and ultimately still are defined in Jesus. In this way the present church should mimic John’s church of old; they are called not to live in a life glorifying to themselves, but they are called according to God’s purposes-to offer their lives not as meaningless victimizations in the hands of persecution, but as marturia, to the reality of God’s rule, to its nature, and as God’s instruments.

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Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind