About a month back I saw a picture similar to the one above on Facebook. I think the exact words on the picture read, “The first time he came as a lamb but this time he is coming back as a lion.” The meme had almost a thousand likes and just under a hundred comments, every single one of those comments was supportive and affirming of the slogan. The idea of course is taken from Revelation 5:5 which speaks of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who alone is worthy to open the scroll that was “in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne”.
But the popular perception of Jesus in the book of Revelation goes far beyond that of Him being the Lion of Judah. Most people believe that the meek and humble Jesus of the Gospels who turned the other cheek, who loved His enemies and taught His followers to do likewise is now long gone. The Jesus of Revelation has run out of patience, His wrath has boiled over and the One who once told Peter that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” will Himself now be waving one around chopping heads off much like the katana-wielding Michonne on the Walking Dead TV series likes to do. So what gives? Is Jesus Christ in fact the same yesterday, today and forever as Hebrews 13:8 tells us He is or is it possible that we may have missed something in what John was trying to tell us?
Now I am not denying that Christ’s first and second comings will accomplish different things or that it will not be a terrible day for those who have rejected Him when He returns. Likewise, the wrath of God and the destruction of the wicked are both clearly taught in scripture (although I think both are also often misunderstood as well). So how do we reconcile these things with the teachings and example given to us by Jesus Himself? I think the best way to do that is to look beyond the one verse in Revelation and put it in its larger context within the letter.
Firstly, Jesus is indeed the Lion of Judah, all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him; the demons and even the wind and sea obey Him. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords but the question needs to still be asked then, how does this King rule and overcome and what does His power look like? John tells us in the very next verse, of this lion he says:-
Then I saw a lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders.
The chapter carries on and tells us that the elders and four living beings sing a song to the Lamb, the words mention things like, “You were worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered and your blood has ransomed people for God…Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered…Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever”.
Funny enough, Revelation only mentions Jesus as the Lion once, immediately after that and continuing on through the rest of the book, 32 times I counted, He is referred to as the Lamb or the Lamb that was slain. The picture at the top of this article seems to kind of miss that point doesn't it? Picture this for a moment, a lion, a real king of the jungle type lion allowing itself to killed and eaten by a common household kitten. It sounds ridiculous but this is somewhat comparable to what Jesus did when He allowed Himself to be crucified and this is ultimately how He overcame sin, Satan and death, Paul said it this way in his letter to the Corinthians:-
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18
Paul says that the early church understood the power of God was revealed in Jesus laying down His life. This is how He overcame evil, not by doing evil Himself but by doing good. This is the same Jesus in Revelation 19 who rides into battle with a robe dipped not in the blood of His enemies but in His own blood which was given for them. Similarly, the Prince of Peace has a sword not in His hand but rather in His mouth, implying that the weapon He fights with is the truth which He speaks.
It’s important to remember that the people John was writing to were facing severe persecution at the hands of Rome. John was reminding and encouraging them of how Jesus overcame and of the reward that they would have by following Him, “he who loves his life will lose it and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25):-
And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. – Revelation 12:11
Let us not forget that the book of Revelation itself tells us that it is “a Revelation from Jesus Christ which God gave to show His servants the events that must soon take place (1:1)”. The book, much like Hebrews is meant to encourage us to endure suffering and keep faithful unto the end.
2000 years ago when Jesus appeared people were expecting a warrior Messiah who was going to overthrow their enemies and establish Gods kingdom on earth through the same militaristic strategies that the empires of the world use (force and coercion). Of course, He succeeded in His mission but pretty much everyone was completely caught off guard by the manner in which He achieved His purposes. Oftentimes I wonder if the church is falling into the same trap that the Israelites did. Yes, the King is coming, wrath will fall on those who war against Him and evil will be done away with but how this will transpire might just look different than we have imagined it to. These are topics for future posts which I hope to explore.
Thanks for reading.