Inspired by Revelation 5
It sounds like you got off to a great start with Amanda last week. (Click here for her sermon.) Thank you for providing such a safe and inviting place for her and all the seminarians that preach and lead worship here. That is a ministry in and of itself to them and I just wanted you to know how appreciated it is. As a seminarian not that long ago, I can tell you just how much of a blessing it is to have a place to spread one’s wings without fear of judgment. That is certainly not the case everywhere a seminarian goes. So, thank you again! I spoke with her and it sounds like she covered a lot of the introductory stuff that I would have. The one thing that didn’t come up in our conversation was genre. And if she already covered this with you, I apologize. Feel free to check your email or send that text you put off.
The genre of the book of Revelation is threefold. Some of it is epistolary, meaning that it reads like a letter, particularly to the seven churches that it is addressed to at the beginning. Some of it is prophetic, meaning that the author claims that the message of the letter came from God through the author. Prophetic does not mean that it tells the future, as many would have you believe about Revelation. And the third and most important genre that Revelation falls into is apocalyptic. In fact, the name of the book in Greek is “apokalypsis iēsous christos” or “The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.” So, what is apocalyptic literature?
When we think of the word apocalypse, especially when we think of modern movies and TV shows, we often think of death and destruction. Just think of The Walking Dead, The Terminator, or The Matrix. Or books like The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, or The Last Man by Mary Shelley. The apocalyptic genre has been around for a long time in various media. But unfortunately, it’s taken on a new meaning since Biblical times. Because death and destruction was not the main purpose for the author of Revelation. To be fair, as you will see next week, there is a healthy dose of death and destruction in this book. But as I also hope you will see, it is not the focus or the point of this book.
The word apocalypse actually means “to uncover” or “to reveal.” Hence the name, Revelation, The Revealing of Jesus Christ, or more accurately, The Revealing by Jesus Christ. Now, what is uncovered or revealed by Jesus, we will see in the coming weeks, but it is not a revealing of death and destruction, nor the end of the world. Spoiler alert, what is revealed is hope. And that hope will be revealed in a variety of ways over the course of this book. Again, if Amanda went over that already, I apologize. But you can put your phones down now as we jump into chapter five because a major plot point gets revealed in this chapter. Something that will be at the core of this author’s entire message.
So, last week you entered into the throne room. This is one of the most visually stunning scenes in the entire book. It’s also quite creepy, with some imagery that you’d expect from a horror film, not a Bible book that is supposed to bring hope. Aside from that though, one thing that I think gets overlooked in this scene is its political nature. This is a throne room we are now in. What are thrones used for? They are a show of political power. There’s no way to sidestep that fact.
I know there are a lot of people that don’t like politics and religion to mix but here is yet another example of that happening yet again in scripture. The author isn’t putting God on a throne here because that’s what God somehow deserves. The author knows better than that, and so do we. This was a political statement, a political statement to fly in the face of current political powers, then and now, who have a tendency to believe they are the ultimate power in the universe. Revelation has some news for them, then and now, as we will see.
Next, we have the appearance of a scroll, a scroll sealed with seven seals. Most scholars believe that the scroll here represents all of God’s hopes and dreams and plans for creation. But no one can open it. Meaning, no one can fulfill God’s will, God’s intentions. And so the author weeps in utter hopelessness. But, all hope is not lost because lo and behold, another enters the scene who can open this scroll! One of the elders said, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious, and can open the scroll and its seven seals!” Now, picture this like a scene in a movie.
There is John of Patmos, in the throne room, eyes bloodshot, tears still streaming down the hopeless expression on his face. He’s told not to weep, the victorious lion is here to save the day! He turns to greet this mighty lion, to welcome this mighty lion, to pledge allegiance to this mighty lion, and with a sigh of relief, he looks behind him, sees nothing, looks down, and there he is. However, in a mighty twist, a biblical twist, it is not a mighty lion he sees, but a wee little lamb. And not just a wee little lamb, a wounded wee little lamb, one that looks like he’d just been slaughtered. And not just any wee little wounded lamb, but one with seven horns and seven eyes. Meaning, this little guy comes with ultimate power and strength, this little guy comes with God’s very own power and strength, the ultimate power in the universe.
The wee little wounded lamb takes the scroll and the whole place erupts in praise and adoration, with music and incense and prayers, and everyone in the room, numbering in the millions, breaks out in song, in new songs, as if it’s the universes biggest flash mob! And all this fuss is for this wee little wounded lamb, who looks like he just came unsuccessfully from the slaughterhouse, and yet they claim he comes victoriously. Now, imagine your John of Patmos standing there with all that going on around you. What would you be thinking? They said a mighty lion was going to show up to save the day but all you got was a wee little wounded lamb who probably looked like he could barely stand on his own four hooves. This is one of the greatest literary twists in all of scripture, and that’s saying something because there’s a lot of them, and it just doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. So, what do we do with all this?
This surprising image of the great victorious wee little wounded lamb completely turns this scene on its head. It is a reimagining of what victory looks like, of what power looks like, of what strength looks like, of what rescue looks like, of what love looks like. It’s a technique that biblical authors had been using for centuries, since those first stories of creation were first uttered around a campfire. An author taking a truth that you think you know, and flipping it on its head to reveal an even deeper truth that you didn’t even know you needed, but we do. You see, God isn’t about the kind of power and strength that we humans are enamored with. But it is things like love, self-sacrifice, vulnerability, the wounded healing the wounded, these are the things that God deems as power and strength. So, let’s take this technique and apply it to where this all started, the throne room.
People think of God and think things like judgment, condemnation, fire, hell, torture, jealousy, power, taking our loved ones from us, including pain and death in his plans. They don’t get the warm fuzzy feelings when God is mentioned that many of us do. However, I can guarantee you that not all of us do either. They hear God’s throne and picture something more like the one on the right than on the left. And if that sounds surprising to you, that’s because you know that guy on the left! So many don’t! And it’s not their fault. Not only has God been misrepresented for centuries, but the voices of truth in the world are often not as loud, not as bold. They are voices of a wee little lamb, not thee wee little wounded lamb who just came victorious from the slaughterhouse with seven horns and seven eyes!
So what do we do? What does this throne room scene call us to do? Well, how about we follow the author’s lead, and turn this on its head, flip this truth into something that reveals an even deeper truth. What if we give up on both of these images. Because honestly, neither of these images is very inviting, especially for those who don’t know the guy on the left! And just so we’re clear, that’s who our focus should be on, right? On those who don’t know Jesus like we know him, not on ourselves, right? If our faith is ever gonna travel outside these four walls we have got to end our infatuation with ourselves, right? Can I get an amen to that?
So, let’s reimagine this throne room scene into something that might speak better to those who don’t know that guy on the left, and if we're honest, that might speak better to ourselves as well. What if God’s throne room looks something altogether different. Remember, this author was speaking of the here and now. He knew his readers needed help in the here and now, not in some far-off fantastical future. So, what might God’s throne room look like now, for us and those God is trying to reach through us?
These and more, are the places that the ultimate power in the universe shows up. What scenes would you add to these examples? Where do you experience God’s throne room, God’s power and strength, God’s kind of power and strength? And you can’t say worship! You can’t say this room! That’s cheating. And remember, it’s not about us anyway.