(This is the third in a 30-day series of reflections on Revelation.)
For us modern readers to get a grasp of what seems like horror-show imagery and symbolism in Revelation, it might help to think about the place of editorial cartoons in our modern newspapers and magazines.
Cartoons lampooning the President and Congress and the Trumps and Clintons all the powerful ruling classes amuse us because they bring down the powerful a peg or two, exposing them to be as human and fallible as the rest of us.
Cartoonists set out with pen and paper every day to remind us that powerful people aren’t really all that special. They remind us that the powers-that-be aren’t gods, much less God Himself/Herself.
An incisive cartoon conveys the truth of a matter in an amusing, immediate, powerful and subliminal way.
In a way, John of Patmos–who wrote Revelation around the year 90 A.D. when apocalyptic language was common and understood by people of faith–was like a modern-day editorial cartoonist. He used vastly exaggerated word pictures loaded with metaphors and symbolism to cut the evil Roman rulers down to size in the minds of his Christian readers.
When John wrote of the seven-headed dragon and the seven-eyed lamb, his readers understood that the dragon (wink wink) was the Roman Emperor and that the Lamb (wink) was the New and Improved Emperor, Jesus Christ the Lord who has triumphed over the cosmic evil powers at work in the Roman Empire (and whatever empires might come).
Mind you, those cosmic evil powers working through the Dynasty of Caesar made life miserable for Christians because those rulers saw themselves as gods. If you were a Roman emperor, you were worthy of worship.
It behooves us in this day and age to remember that people in ancient times (and in fact in times since then as we see in North Korea where the Emperor is deified) did in fact worship their rulers.
And anyway, there wasn’t much choice about who to worship unless you were willing to be killed, tortured or banished to some far-flung Greek island like the author of Revelation.
Christians in the year 90 had far bigger faith matters to worry about than modern-day non-issues about “Happy Holidays” vs. Merry Christmas.
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Revelation has 29 references to the Lamb and most of those are in worship passages. John is reminding weary Christians who might be tempted to give up the Christian life and pitch in with the Roman emperor to make life easier that only Jesus is worthy of our worship. John was reminding readers in somewhat cartoonish language that this meek, bloodied Lamb had already won the battle against evil rulers and empires.
That, in that time and place and situation, was an encouraging message and Revelation is that: an encouraging book. It’s not some pop-up message from a crystal ball telling us when the Earth will be destroyed (and the Earth is not going to be destroyed anyway but that’s a topic for another day in this series).
It was an encouraging message to Christians who were still suffering persecution 60 years after Jesus the Lamb of God ascended to sit at the right hand of the throne of one true God, the only God capable of making Heaven and Earth and putting the breath of life in anyone’s lungs.
And so, our third takeaway from Revelation (see the previous two postings) is this:
3. Revelation is like a biting editorial cartoon that employed exaggerated symbolism to to remind the weary Christians of year 90 that Mary had a Little Lamb who came to rule the world as part of a triumphant Godhead that is in control and will be forever and ever amen.