Last month, at the beginning of Advent, I wrote some troubling thoughts I had been having about Jesus’ kingship. I acknowledged the struggle of Jesus setting an example of kingship that blows my (our) entire concept of kingship right out of the water. My thoughts reminded of the writing of Richard Hays, who was the first to show Revelation as something different than the methamphetamine dream it always seemed like to me. He showed how the Jesus of John’s Revelation is revolutionary and consistent with the ministry of Jesus. I can’t think of a better way to honor Christmas than to post an excerpt of Hays’ convicting writing.
As you read, remember
Jesus was born to a teenage mother
was revealed early to lower class shepherds
spent most of his life in relatively lawless, uncouth Nazareth
hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, and the diseased
He taught the powerless they were powerful without using the tools of the powerful
In a pampered society where we are tempted to curry favor from and long to be like the “wealthy” and “powerful,”how does the Incarnation challenge our idea of who we should desire to primarily “be with”?
I leave you with Richard Hays. Read through to the end. It’s totally worth it. Merry Christmas.
“In the book of Revelation, Christ’s lordship stands in flat antithesis to Caesar’s. The fundamental political claim of this resistance document is shown in the hymn sung by loud voices in heaven at the blowing of the seventh trumpet: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.’ (11:15)
God’s kingdom is not some otherworldly realm; rather, Christ has taken control over “the kingdom of the world.” Thus, unlike Luke, who presents the conflict between Rome and the gospel as incidental, Revelation makes it inevitable and necessary, for the lordship of Christ necessarily excludes all other claims. No compromise is possible…No wonder, then, that John has been exiled and his churches are facing persecution; they really do stand against the Roman Empire.
The crucial difference between the Zealots of Israel and that of the church, however, appears clearly when we consider the central Christ-centered metaphor of Revelation: Jesus is ‘the Lamb that was slaughtered.’ This image, used of Jesus twenty-eight times in Revelation, first appears in the heavenly throne-room scene, where someone is being sought to open the scroll with seven seals. John begins to weep because no one is deemed worthy to open the scroll, but he is comforted by one of the ‘elders’ who sits in the presence of God’s throne: ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ (5:5). The description leads us to expect Jesus to appear as a glorious figure…but when the ‘lion of Judah’ appears in the heavenly throneroom to open the scroll, he does not come in conquering kingly form; rather, we see his true aspect: ‘Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered…’ (5:6). The shock of this reversal discloses the central mystery of the Apocalypse: God overcomes the world not through a show of force but through the suffering and death of Jesus, ‘the faithful witness’ (1:5). The comments of David L. Barr accurately assess the effect of this image reversal:
A more complete reversal of value would be hard to imagine…the Lamb IS the Lion. Jesus is the Messiah, but he has performed his messianic office in a most extraordinary way, by his death. Yet his death is not defeat, for it is just this that makes him worthy to open the scroll revealing the will of God. Jesus conquered through suffering and weakness rather than by might. John asks us to see both that Jesus rejects the role of Lion, refuseses to conquer through supernatural power, and that we must now give a radical new valuation to lambs; the sufferer is the conqueror, the victim the victor.
Rome rules by the power of violence, but the one who is the true King of kings and Lord of lords rules by virtue of his submission to death- precisely the opposite of armed violence against the empire. That is why he alone is worthy.
When, in the climactic battle scene in Revelation 19, Jesus appears as the conquering rider on a white horse, he is ‘clothed in a robe dipped in blood.’ Our first inclination is to see this as a mark of the divine warrior splattered with the blood of enemies whom he has killed, as in Isaiah’s symbolic vision of a figure who comes in ‘garments stained crimson’:
I trampled down peoples in my anger,
I crushed them in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth. (Isa 63:6)
In Revelation 19:13, however, the rider’s robe is dipped in blood BEFORE the battle, and he is leading ‘the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure’ (19:14). Thus, once again we are dealing with a dramatic symbolic reversal: the rider is the Lamb, and the blood with which he is stained is his own. He is called ‘the Word of God,’ and the sword with which he strikes down the nations comes from his mouth. We are to understand that the execution of God’s judgment occurs through the proclamation of the Word…those who read the battle imagery of Revelation with a literalist bent fail to grasp the way in which the symbolic logic of the work as a whole dismantles the symbolism of violence. Oliver O’Donovan perceptively describes the literary effect:
There is, of course, as has often been observed, something highly paradoxical about the picture of the Prince of Martyrs constituting himself at the head of an army of conquest. It is an image which negates itself, canceling, rather than confirming, the significance of the political categories on which it draws.
A work that places the Lamb that was slaughtered at the center of its praise and worship can hardly be used to validate violence and coercion. God’s ultimate judgment of the wicked is, to be sure, inexorable. Those who destroy the earth will be destroyed (11:18); those who have shed the blood of the saints and prophets will find their own blood poured out on the earth. But these events are in the hands of God; they do not present a program for human military action.
As a paradigm for the action of the faithful community, Jesus stands as the faithful witness who conquers through suffering. The church follows Jesus by bearing prophetic witness against the violence, immorality, and injustice of an earthly empire that claims the authority that belongs rightly to God.