I have to apologize for being so quiet here of late. I have sort of pushed the blog aside so I could focus on writing my book about the cross. Even that has being hard to get time to do but this morning I managed to write out an introduction to one of the final chapters and I thought that I would share it here as a bit of a sampler for everyone. The chapter will be about the book of Revelation and how it ties in with everything else that I have said about the cross beforehand. This is what I wrote this morning and it's only a first draft but I hope you like it...
My desire for this chapter is twofold; first I would like to take everything that I have said about the cross up to this point and argue that this is the truest picture of what God is like. Then secondly, I would like to take our understanding of the atonement and make it something practical for you and me in the 21st century by pointing to the examples of believers in the first century and to Christ Himself. In achieving this I would like to go to a place which may surprise you which is the book of Revelation.
Revelation was a book that I was fascinated with as a youngster. I ate up anything I could find related to the end times; from the ‘Left Behind’ series to sermons and videos by other dispensationalist theologians. I went from holding to a pre-tribulation rapture viewpoint to a post-tribulation and later on still a pre-wrath escapist belief. I mention this only because normally when we talk about the book of Revelation we have something along those ideas in mind. We like to think of it as a book that reveals hidden information about the last seven years of the earth’s history before God destroys it and starts all over again.
While John’s epistle to the seven churches in Asia Minor does give us some insights into how everything eventually wraps up, I would like to submit the idea here that we have completely missed the point of the book if we read it this way. Allow me to deconstruct a little before proposing something entirely different.
Jesus, the same yesterday, today and until Revelation?
I remember about 9 or 10 years ago sitting in a home cell meeting and someone saying to me that the first time Jesus came as a lamb but the next time he is coming as a lion. I never thought much of it at the time, probably because I was in full agreement with him at that point in my life.
There is no denying that this popular perception we have of Jesus in the book of Revelation looks far different than the Jesus that we read about in the rest of the New Testament. The first Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to bless and pray for those who persecute us. The second Jesus kills his enemies. The first Jesus condemned all forms of violence; He rebuked His disciples when they wanted to call fire down from heaven to consume their enemies. Likewise, He rebuked Peter when He was getting arrested and Peter tried to defend Him and cut off a man’s ear. Christ’s words to His disciple in that moment, right before miraculously healing the man’s wound, was that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. The second Jesus has a sword coming out of his mouth which he kills his enemies with. The first Jesus took the blows of the Roman soldiers and then turned the other cheek and took more. The second Jesus strikes his enemies again and again and again as taught in the eternal conscious torment view of eschatology. The first Jesus bled for His enemies, the second Jesus makes his enemies bleed.
Reading the book of Revelation in the way that all the books, sermons and videos I heard growing up taught me to, I have to conclude that Jesus’ mercy does not endure forever as the Psalmist said. This Jesus is not different than us or the other gods, he is exactly like me and everyone else. He has limited grace and a dangerous fuse and when love, mercy and forgiveness reach a certain line they give way to violence, killing and punishment.
Please don’t misunderstand; I am not saying that the wicked get away with being wicked or that God sit’s by idly as evil spreads and devours. Neither am I saying that Jesus’ first and second comings will be the same, they will be different. All I am saying for now is that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever as is God the Father. With that in mind, let me offer one more reason that we should be cautious of interpreting the book of Revelation with Jesus as a God fashioned in the image of Rambo.
It is no secret that the Jews who lived in Jesus’ day were living under Roman occupation. Everybody was awaiting a messiah that would come to liberate them from this oppression. One who would set the captives free by overthrowing their Roman rulers and liberating the nation. Said another way, the Jewish people wanted their Robin Hood, their William Wallace, a new Judas Maccabeus to come and rescue them.
It is often overlooked that when Pilate offered the crowd the opportunity to release either Jesus or Barabbas during the Passover feast what kind of prisoner Barabbas was. Many scholars believe that Barabbas was a revolutionary of sorts that was involved in instigating a riot. Another thing that often gets overlooked is that Barabbas literally translates into English as ‘son of the father’. Some ancient manuscripts in fact give his full name as Jesus Barabbas! The fact that we have two men named Jesus, one who says He is the Son of the Father and the other whose name literally is ‘son of the father’ is too incredible to be a coincidence. What we have here is a true messiah and a false messiah, the true Christ and a counterfeit Christ. This was the kind of false messiah that Israel had mistakenly being expecting and wrongfully put their hopes in to rescue them from oppression.
I submit that today the church has largely fallen into the same error as Israel had. We are looking for a messiah who is going to come and kill all of the bad guys and free us from oppression. We choose and place our hope in Barabbas. Even though Jesus has already walked the earth once before, we say No! Next time will be different, next time He is coming like Judas Maccabeus or like William Wallace and the only difference is that He will be unstoppable. Could we be as wrong as Israel was? I think so and so I would like to offer an alternative approach to the book of Revelation, one that is not so much ‘future-centered’ as it is ‘Christ-centered’; one that brings us back to the cross.