Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part II)

Part I: The Lion that is a Lamb

Scholars have become increasingly aware of the careful compositional nature of Revelation, with an increasing amount of studies demonstrating the meticulous nature of John’s work, highlighting various features of the book such as his use of chiasmus and inclusio. Richard Bauckham says that Revelation “is a literary work composed with astonishing care and skill”, and that John took his revelatory experiences and “transmuted them through what must have been a lengthy process of reflection and writing into a thoroughly literary creation” in order to “communicate the meaning of the revelation that had been given him.”[1]

One perspective on Revelation gaining ground is the idea that John wrote it with the purpose of providing an alternative symbolic universe for the readers. David Barr, to cite one example, describes Revelation as containing “radical symbolic inversion”, a term which describes how Revelation offers up a symbolic transformation of the world, with an overarching example that Barr provides being how “symbols of power are replaced by images of suffering.”[2]

An example of this inversion is in how Rev 12:7–9 paints the picture of a climactic battle in heaven with the holy angels fighting against the dragon and his angels. Despite couching this in traditional language of the combat myth,[3] John’s understanding of this battle upturns such traditional language, for those who defeated the dragon “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death” (Rev 12:11).

What is perhaps the key inversion in Revelation is the Lion–Lamb juxtaposition (Rev 5:5–6). While most commentators and exegetes see the importance of the Lion–Lamb imagery for understanding the Christological content of Revelation, the exact relationship between the two figures is a matter of debate. An interpretation popular in evangelical and fundamentalist denominations—especially in North America—is to divide the images of Lion and Lamb dispensationally, that is, to apply the image of the Lamb to Christ’s first appearance which ended in his crucifixion and the Lion to his second appearance in the future where he shall smite the wicked.

The view that I take to, however, is that the image of Christ as the Lamb reinterprets and transforms other themes displayed in Revelation, including the image of Lion.[4] The image of the Lamb is not one that coexists with the Lion in some perpetual amiable juxtaposition; rather, the Lion is supplanted by the Lamb as depicting the true symbol of Christ’s victory. This point deserves to be underscored: Christ is not described by John as a Lion in the disguise of a Lamb, rather, he is a Lamb.[5]


[1] Richard J. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New Testament Theology; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 3–4.

[2] David L. Barr, “Doing Violence: Moral Issues in Reading John’s Apocalypse”, in David L. Barr (ed), Reading the Book of Revelation: A Resource for Students (Resources for Biblical Study, 44; ed. David L. Barr; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 97–108 (101). For more on Barr’s idea of radical symbolic inversion, see David L. Barr, “The Apocalypse as a Symbolic Transformation of the World: A Literary Study”, Interpretation 38.1 (1984): 39–50; David L. Barr, Tales of the End: A Narrative Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 1998).

[3] See Adela Yarbro Collins, The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1976).

[4] Cf. Eugene M. Boring, Revelation (Interpretation; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1989), 110–11.

[5] Cf. Mark Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace: A Nonviolent Christology in the Book of Revelation (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2003), 30; David J. Neville. A Peaceable Hope: Contesting Violent Eschatology in New Testament Narratives (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), ch. 7 (Kindle location 4827) says that he “consider[s] the Lamb-image to be John’s central, controlling christological motif.”

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