Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part III)

Part I: The Lion that is a Lamb (continued)

Before I continue with the Lamb-Lion juxtaposition, I should point out that the most credible source for the Lamb Christology of Revelation is the Passover lamb.[1] This should come as no surprise considering that Christ was often identified with the Passover lamb in early Christian tradition (John 19:33, 36; 1 Pet. 1:18–19), with an explicit connection made between the the Lamb and exodus traditions in Rev. 15:3. For an in-depth examination of the Lamb motif in Revelation, see Loren Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003). This study explores the religio-historical background of the image of the Lamb, the shape of its rhetorical force in Revelation, and emphasizes the stance of nonviolent resistance that this image conveys.

The introduction to the Lamb in Revelation 5 highlights the importance of understanding John’s strategy in the book’s composition. The Lamb’s entrance is prefaced by the declaration that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5). The leonine and Davidic references are symbols taken from the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 49:9; Isa. 11:1, 10), signifying the traditional messianic expectations for a powerful political leader who would liberate Israel from oppression.

Yet this is where the key reversal in John’s thought occurs: “Then I saw … a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (Rev. 5:6). The appearance of being “slaughtered” no doubt refers to his crucifixion, with the “standing” of the Lamb being attributable to the belief that he was resurrected by God. In the switch from the Lion to the Lamb, the traditional understanding of power and victory have been overturned and redefined to faithful witness to God, even if it leads to death. Loren Johns says that the author of Revelation “sees in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ both the decisive victory over evil in history and the pattern for Christians’ nonviolent resistance to evil.”[2] Patricia McDonald likewise says that Christ’s victory “resulted not from an act of physical prowess (leonine or conventionally messianic) but from his crucifixion.”[3]

This peaceful Lamb Christology seemingly runs into a stumbling block in Rev. 19:11–21. This pericope contains what is possibly the book’s most comprehensive Christological announcement for it contains all the main ideas and images developed throughout Revelation. One of these themes is that of Christ as the Divine Warrior, a concept which is perhaps “the basic principle of composition in the Apocalypse.”[4] The concept of the Divine Warrior can be traced back to ancient Near Eastern motifs, being adopted in early Judaic thought and employing it in descriptions of Yahweh’s involvement in historical events as found in the Hebrew Bible, with the paradigmatic example being that of the exodus event (see Exo. 14:13–14).[5]

The Divine Warrior theme is also disclosed in Yahweh’s portrayal as one who liberates his people, punishes evil, and in his name Yahweh Sabaoth, “Lord of Hosts”, which suggests the persona of a warring deity. Another motif of the Divine Warrior in the Hebrew Bible is the slaying of the sea monster (see Job 41; Ps. 74:13–14; Isa. 27:1), and while this is not found in the passage under examination, it is found earlier in Revelation 12–13.

As I will attempt to show, the Divine Warrior motif in Rev. 19:11–21 carries on these themes, transforming them in such a way as to convey a distinctly Christian message. Tremper Longman helpfully explains this transformation by noting that a key difference between the warfare of the Hebrew Bible and that of Revelation is in how the triumph of Jesus is not achieved by killing in battle, but by himself being killed on the cross.[6] John reworks the Divine Warrior motif “so as to convey that in view of the historic mission of Jesus Messiah, God’s victory over antagonistic forces was no longer effected by inflicting violence but by suffering it.”[7]

Notes

[1] See Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 184; G.R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (The New Century Bible; Greenwood, SC: The Attic Press, 1974), 124–26; Loren L. Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 130–33.

[2] Johns, Lamb Christology, 20.

[3] Patricia M. McDonald, “Lion as Slain Lamb: On Reading Revelation Recursively,” Horizons 23 (1996): 29–47 (37).

[4] Adela Yarbro Collins, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of Apocalypse (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1984), 130.

[5] For an in-depth study of the Divine Warrior motif in the Hebrew Bible, see P. D. Miller Jr., The Divine Warrior in Early Israel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973).

[6] Tremper Longman, “The Divine Warrior: The New Testament Use of an Old Testament Motif”, Westminster Theological Journal 44 (1981): 290–307.

[7] Neville, A Peaceable Hope, ch. 7 (Kindle location 4994).

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