Reading the Bible in Light of the Lamb’s War

Ted Grimsrud
Compassionate Eschatology Conference—September 27, 2008

From start to finish, the Bible concerns itself with issues of violence, conflict, and war.  From Abel and Cain in Genesis down to the battle of Armageddon in Revelation.  These issues are not limited to obviously apocalyptic or eschatological texts.  The basic picture the Bible gives is that the world in its present state is a fighting place.  The big question for people of faith is this: what does the Bible’s preoccupation with wars and rumors of war say to us?

(1) Is it simply a portrayal of world history in its inexorable downward spiral to destruction—and our task is to save as many souls as we can so we can find peace in heaven when it’s all over?  Are we simply to live realistically with a kind of rough justice that keeps things from getting totally out of hand?

(2) Or is it more that the Bible portrays violent reality in a way that seeks to subvert the violence, providing empowerment for a different way, the way of genuine peace?  Does even a seemingly irredeemably violent text such as Revelation actually contain powerful resources for counter-violence?

This second option is what I advocate.  In my first paper, I argued that what is actually being revealed in Revelation is power that ultimately brings healing to the traumas of human history.  This is the power of persevering love, not the power of the sword—even in the face of the seemingly overwhelming sword-power of the Roman empire.

The controlling metaphor in Revelation is the Lamb, the one who indeed does open the scroll of Meaning and ultimately moves history toward a peaceable resolution.  In this resolution, even the kings of the earth find healing.  Revelation five powerfully portrays the Lamb’s power when it evokes messianic hopes for an all-powerful savior and answers those hopes with a slain and now standing Lamb, worthy to be worshiped by all creation.

Revelation portrays the Lamb’s love manifesting God’s power bringing victory and ultimate salvation.  We need to hold on to the first part of Revelation five’s vision, though, as we discern the relevance of its answer to John’s lament about how the scroll will be opened.  It is love, indeed, but it is still powerful.  The Lamb is one with the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.”  The messianic, or kingly, element of his identity remains.

The way the Quaker tradition has emphasized the Lion-ness of the Lamb is through the term, “the Lamb’s War.”  This Lamb is a fighter.  This Lamb does take on the Beast and his minions.  This Lamb does conquer, does win victories, is a royal figure.  Two elements must be held together—suffering love and genuine, conquering power.

In two key places near the end of the book, Revelation holds together the images of the Lamb and of warfare—the Lamb’s War—chapters 17 and 19.

In chapter 17, John sees one of the most striking of his visions of the Beast, here portrayed as a “great whore” who “is drunk with the blood of the saints” (17:6).  The vision goes on to allude to ten kings who “are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast; they will make war on the Lamb.”  But this war will result in their defeat.  “The Lamb will conquer them, for he is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (17:14).

How does the Lamb do his conquering, how does he and “those with him” win this war?  We have already been given the answer back in chapter 12:  “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah [his king], for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before God.  But they have 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” (12:10-11).

We need to keep these words in mind when we look at the second allusion to the war of the Lamb.  In chapter 19, the stage is set for the final battle.  Our images switch and we see here a great rider on a white horse.  But this is clearly the same character as the one symbolized by the Lamb.  He is “called Faithful and True” (19:11).  He “judges and makes war.”  But what kind of war?  He rides forth “clothed in a robe dipped in blood” (the “blood of the Lamb”) and “from his mouth comes a sharp sword” (the “word of testimony”).  This rider “wages war” with no other weapon than his willingness to die and the word of his testimony.  But these weapons are enough.  The forces arrayed against him are simply captured and judged—and in the end, the kings find healing as they are freed from the powers of evil that hold them in bondage.

So, this is the Lamb’s War: the followers of the Lamb banding together, forming communities of resistance, following the Lamb’s way of self-giving love and sharing in the Lamb’s word of testimony—the gospel of God’s healing mercy for all the nations, even for the kings of the earth.

This Lamb’s War constitutes the central revelation of the Christian Bible’s paradigmatic apocalypse.  The book of Revelation shows us and tells us in wild and crazy ways something very simple: trust in Jesus and follow in his ways, do this together in communities of resistance.  In doing so, you work with God in healing creation, in bringing in the eschaton.  Compassionate eschatology indeed.

Now, I want to suggest that the revelation of the last book of the Bible is best understood in full continuity with the rest of the Bible.  We don’t have anything new here, just a new kind of packaging.  But in this new kind of packaging, I think we may be given a special urgency and sense of inspiration that can stimulate us to look back at the rest of the Bible with some new insights.  So, I suggest a reading strategy for the Bible as a whole in light of the Lamb’s war.  Understanding what is revealed in the book of Revelation may help us better understand what is being revealed in the rest of the Bible.

One way to read the Bible in light of the Lamb’s war is to recognize how times of conflict and crisis, even near extinction, are times of revelation.  What is revealed in such times?  In Revelation, we have an almost overwhelming sense of crisis.  As I proposed yesterday, though, we too easily let this sense of crisis obscure the actual content of Revelation’s revelation.  The revelation is not about cataclysms, the chronological end of history, raptures, Armageddon, and unprecedented future trauma.  The ultimate message is simply this: band together, hold fast to the way of Jesus, cultivate communities of faith that will sustain the way of the Lamb over time.  God creates communities of people who will know God’s transforming love and by their testimony to that love transform the world.

So, let’s consider some other times of crisis in the Bible and reflect on what is revealed in those contexts.

The Calling of Abraham and Sarah. At the end of Genesis 11, we are introduced to the genealogy of the descendents of Noah’s son. Shem.  At the end of the list, without fanfare we first see the name Abram, one of the three sons of Terah.  We meet Abram’s wife, Sarai, and we are told, “Sarai is barren, she had no child” (11:30).

This short statement belies a major crisis in the lives of this now elderly couple.  Without children, their footprints will fade away at the time of their deaths.  The fate of Abram and Sarai seem to symbolize the dead end of the human project at the end of the eventful first eleven chapters of Genesis—creation, fall, brotherly murder, the judgment of the Flood, the scattering at the tower of Babel, then Sarai’s barrenness.

Out of this time of crisis, comes a new revelation directly from God.  “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing….In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:1-3).

This foundational revelation makes large claims.  The childless couple will, via God’s gift, bear children and become the parents of “a great nation.” This nation will ultimately bless “all the families of the earth.”  God has not given up on the human project.  Sarai’s barrenness does not symbolize a dead end; rather, it symbolizes the revelation of God’s healing strategy.

God will enter history and bring forth a people who will serve as agents of God’s healing love.  The old strategy of punitive judgment seen in the story of Noah and the flood will be replaced by a new strategy.  This gift of a future to Abram and Sariah stands as the paradigmatic biblical revelation.  This unveiling of God’s transformative work in a broken world governs all the future unveilings revealed in the biblical story.

God will bring about transformation through a new community formed ex nihilo from a family unable to form such a community on their own.  This new community will know God’s shalom directly—shalom that brings life out of barrenness, identity out of wandering, blessing out of a cursed existence.  Knowing God’s shalom first hand, receiving God’s blessing in their own common life, this community then will provide a blessing for others.  The transformation toward shalom that the world full of Cains and Lamechs needs will be effected by the descendents of this gifted couple.

A later vision articulates the dynamics set loose in the calling of Abraham and Sarah and their descendents: “In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains…; all the nations shall stream to it….They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:2,4; cf. also Micah 4:1-4).

I want to suggest that we see a great deal of continuity between this revelation in Genesis 12:1-3 and the revelation I discussed in my first paper yesterday, the “revelation of Jesus Christ” described in the final book of the Christian Bible.  We have God entering human history in a time of crisis and providing a direct word, a word of comfort, of transformation, of hope.  This new revelation results in the formation and empowerment of a community of peace—meant to transform the nations and their kings with their witness.

Might we not see this pattern as the paradigm for reading the biblical story as a whole?  “Biblical apocalyptic” does not have to do with catastrophic interventions of drastic change and judgment and an end of history nearly so much as God’s creation of communities of faith that will know shalom, witness to this knowledge, and help transform the world.  Let’s look at several other key biblical moments.

Exodus. As with other contexts that brought forth divine revelations, in the time of exodus the community of faith found itself in crisis.  The story tells of God’s direct intervention—to sustain a faith community.

Just as with the calling of Abraham and Sarah, so too in the exodus story we begin with a sense of approaching extinction.  Here, Abraham’s descendents find themselves enslaved in Egypt, with little sense of identity and certainly little sense of shalom.  The Pharaoh seeks to eliminate the Israelites by murdering every newborn boy.  Then comes the crucial moment.

“The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out.  Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God.  God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God looked down upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them” (Exodus 2:23-25).

We go on to read of the consequences of God taking notice of the Israelites’ plight—an extended dance with Pharaoh that ultimately results in the liberation of the Israelites, their escape through the Red Sea to new possibilities of life together as the newly invigorated community of God’s chosen people.

Certainly, the exodus story is a catastrophe story, God’s direct intervention and judging deeds.  There is indeed plenty of violence.  However, we need to note the central consequence of God’s actions in this story.  Out of God’s revelatory work here emerges a community that engages human life in history.  This community knows God’s transforming love for them that brings into being something that did not exist before—a peoplehood then sent to live in light of God’s love and mediate that love to the world (Exodus 19:6).

The exodus events do not tell of human beings on God’s side using violence.  The basic responsibility of the Hebrews was to be still and see the victory of God.  The exodus story directly repudiates the imperial coercive power of Egypt.  The Hebrew community does not include militarism in any sense.  The effect of the liberating work of God was to establish a counter-cultural community that witnesses against the ways of empire.

If we extend the exodus story to include the gift of Torah (beginning with the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20), we see even more clearly the counter-cultural nature of the new community intended by God to resist.  God intervenes in order to provide for the long-term sustenance of the community.  Torah, as presented in Exodus through Deuteronomy, self-consciously counters Egypt’s politics.  Torah places priority on care for the vulnerable members of the community and places God’s justice as mediated through the weaponless prophet at the center, not the human emperor or general.

God’s intervention in the exodus purposes to establish and sustenain a counter-cultural witness.  The politics of apocalyptic power is a politics of witness against the brute force and human self-aggrandizement of the Pharaohs and Caesars.  It is a politics centered on the prophetic word, not the might and coercive power of the emperor and his generals.  It is a politics that seeks the healing of creation, not the exploitation of people and things.

Second Isaiah. The central catastrophe of the Old Testament story for the children of Israel came when the Babylonian empire conquered the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah, destroying the Temple, exiling the ruling class, and bringing an end to Judah as a nation-state.  In the rubble of the destruction a new vision found expression in the prophecies of Isaiah 40–55 (“Second Isaiah”).  In the message of Second Isaiah, we also find a sharp contrast drawn between power politics and the politics of God.  The bearer of salvific power here is the “suffering servant.”  Many commentators identify the servant as Israel itself, though perhaps Israel as understood as a remnant, as a purified community of faith.

This community, regardless of its precise identity historically, brings light to the world through the vocation of power as persevering love, not power as domination.  As such, it points to an entirely different kind of politics from imperial Babylon.

Second Isaiah speaks of God’s intervention in the catastrophic events of the Babylonian conquest.  Certainly the prophets understood Babylon’s actions to be linked with judgment upon unfaithful Israel.  However, more importantly, we must recognize that Israel was judged for being too Babylon-like and its fate was not due to God valuing Babylon’s imperial practices.  Babylon also perishes by the sword it had lived by.

The fruit of God’s intervention that Second Isaiah emphasizes is the emergence and sustenance of the servant community.  And this community will carry on the saving work of God in the world.  The saving work of the servant community does not share in Babylon’s conquering coercive tactics but conquers through suffering love and God’s vindication of that love.  The vision of the suffering servant definitively delinks the revelatory community from the nation-state—a delinking crucially essential for the on-going revelation of God’s shalom community, especially as seen in Jesus.

Yet we must also recognize that this servant community, which emerges as history ends for the Israelite nation-state, finds itself placed squarely in the world.  That is, the “end” for the nation-state constitutes the beginning of a community of the promise that self-consciously understands its roll to conquer through compassion rather than violence.

With the fall of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians, the temple, kingship, and the possession of the land all end—three pillars of the community’s identity.  But a fourth pillar remains—Torah.  The reforms of King Josiah famously had come to naught.  It was too late to save Judah.  The one “good king” could not overturn the momentum of generations of corruption.  However, the story of Josiah tells of the one key accomplishment.  And it was enough.  Torah was rediscovered.  The resources to sustain the community without the nation-state or the temple manage to survive.

Then, stemming from Torah, Jeremiah calls to the scattered communities separated from Zion: seek the peace of your new homes—while also sustaining your sense of peoplehood.  Torah was just the ticket.  And, as we see in Second Isaiah, Torah consciousness provides the amazing insight that this peoplehood may still fulfill the promise to Abraham of descendants who will bless all the families of the earth.  The catastrophe leads to the intervention of God with a new revelation.  This new revelation sustains this community of the promise in history.

Without the security of an autonomous nation-state, the people of the promise continued to struggle with sustaining their identity.  Their peoplehood remained a tenuous proposition.  We have one more important revelatory account in the Old Testament to mention—the message contained in the book of Daniel.

Daniel. The book of Daniel emerged out of trauma and ferment faced by second-century BCE Israel.  The community struggled to sustain its identity in face of the battle for the domination of Palestine among the Egyptian empire, the remnants of Alexander the Great’s Hellenistic empire, and the emerging Roman empire.  In this battle, all interests converged in seeking to eliminate the Jewish nation as a distinct faith-based community.

Revolutionary Jews took up arms to resist the empires, with significant short-term success.  They saw the chaos as an opportunity to gain political autonomy.  The book of Daniel articulates a different option for the sustenance of the faith community: not absorption into the Hellenistic culture—nor into the Roman nor Egyptian ones; and not violent revolution.  Either absorption or violent revolution inevitably would lead to the loss of the core of Torah.  Such a loss would negate the reason for Israel’s existence as elected by God to be a light to the nations.

In their earlier history under the kings, Israel had already passed the way of basing their security on the sword—and the Babylonian trauma had resulted.  The visions of Second Isaiah and Jeremiah had affirmed that the promise continues, Israel’s peoplehood has been sustained even through great trauma.  But this sustenance will not be based on violence—it is based on God’s persevering love, and the embodiment of that love in Torah-centered faith communities.

To fight the empires with violence, even if successful, would transform the Hebrew community into something just like the empires.  It is impossible to fight monsters with monstrous means and not become monsters oneself.

The book of Daniel challenges the either/or of absorption versus violent revolution by drawing on folk tales (such as Daniel in the lion’s den) in the first part of the book and describing dramatic and highly symbolic visions in the second part of the book.  The book of Daniel as a whole is united on the theme of portraying God’s court in conflict with human courts.  “God as sovereign is an idea intended to challenge the idea of the emperor as sovereign.  Daniel the visionary in chapters 7–12 is also a courtier of the true king; the tales in chapters 1–6 serve to highlight the difference in loyalties between one who lives in one court, serving one king, while actually being obedient to the other king, his God.”

The book of Daniel as a whole advocates cultivation of knowledge of the truth as its central strategy of resistance and sustenance.  “The most revolutionary act under Antiochus IV, according to Daniel, was for one to be Jews and to teach others to be Jews.”  Seeking truth must be done nonviolently.  “The revolution of truth must arise from education and conviction by the truth, and never by coercion.  Coercion always demands empty exercises in false discipleship and obedience to idols, because both are necessary to the rule of the armed few.”

The ultimate weapon for followers of God (called the “wise”) according to Daniel is their knowledge of the truth.  The wise indeed are “warriors,” not warriors using the sword to kill but warriors wielding the sword of the truth of God.  They trust in God, counting on God’s vindication of their faithfulness.  The wise sustain their faith and peoplehood by resting in this trust.  They turn from both the assimilation that giving loyalty to one of the empires would involve and from the assimilation that making violence central to their identity would involve.

Daniel shows that indeed the people do live in times of profound crisis and trauma.  The revelation here sustains resistance in the here and now, trusting in God’s truth in communities of resistance and in this way keeping the promise alive.  The world will change, God will vindicate the wise, and healing will come.  So remain strong, remain loyal to Torah.

Jesus. Ever since Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus a century ago, Jesus as apocalyptic messenger has become a truism in New Testament scholarship.  Indeed, Jesus did minister in a time of crises—only one generation prior to Rome’s obliteration of Jerusalem and the second temple.  He did proclaim an epoch-changing, revelatory message.  But how do we understand this message in relation to biblical apocalyptic as I am defining it?

Was Jesus’ apocalyptic message, as Schweitzer understood it, primarily that the world will end any day—meaning that his messianic ethic is primarily an ethic for the interim until the soon end arrives?  Or was his apocalyptic message actually a different kind of revelation?

The accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching in the gospels support the account of apocalyptic power we have found in the rest of the Bible.  Jesus, like the others, saw himself living in a time of crisis, days that were “trying people’s souls.”  However, his response to the time of crisis was not to seek to escape history but to change it—over the long haul.

Jesus proclaimed, and then embodied, a message that the kingdom of God is entering history, effecting the transformation of the here and now. “The Kingdom of God is a social order and not a hidden one.  It is not a universal catastrophe independent of the will of human beings; it is that concrete jubilary obedience, in pardon and repentance, the possibility of which is proclaimed beginning right now, opening up the real accessibility of a new order in which grace and justice are linked, which people have only to accept.  It does not assume that time will end tomorrow; it reveals why it is meaningful that history should go on at all.”

The community Jesus established reflected an intent to work for change in the world, over time—not an expectation that the world will end.  This community included: “a visible structured fellowship, a sober decision guaranteeing that the costs of commitment to the fellowship have been consciously accepted, and a clearly defined life-style distinct from that of the crowd.”  Jesus’ community sought to exist as a counter-cultural alternative within history to the politics of empire.

Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom would not have been understood “as pointing ‘off the map’ of human experience, off the scale of time” in announcing “an end to history.”  Jesus would have been understood in continuity with past deliverances of Israel that happened in history and centered on sustaining the faith community.

Understood in this way, Jesus apocalyptic message makes all the points we have seen elsewhere in the Bible.  God’s “empire” stands in stark contrast with domination-based empires such as Rome.  Followers of Jesus must choose one or the other to give their loyalty to.  God’s “empire” has revealed in new ways the nature of God’s own rule—and established communities meant to live according to that rule.  These communities live as “lights on a hill” witnessing to God’s rule for all with eyes to see.  For members of these communities, life lived in coherence with the rule of God takes the shape of suffering love, nonviolence, and restorative justice.

Such an interpretation of Jesus’ overall apocalyptic message coheres with the passage in Matthew’s gospel that is usually seen as being overtly apocalyptic, the so-called “Olivet Discourse” in chapters 24 and 25.

Jesus’ message here is not a predictive blueprint of future events.  To the contrary, Jesus seeks to exhort his hearers toward ethically faithful living in the present.  “The vivid parables Jesus tells to underscore this discourse…illustrate the importance of readiness and staying awake, of faithfully stewarding what is entrusted to us until Jesus comes again.  We do not know when Jesus is returning again.  That is why we must live our lives at every moment as Jesus taught us.

The nature of the faithfulness toward which Jesus exhorts his hearers is made clear in one of these parables, the story of the judgment of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  “This parable calls all of us to give account to God on the basis of how we treat our neighbors.  The ‘goats’ are people who fail to welcome the stranger, who fail to give food to the hungry or clothe the naked or visit the prisoners.  Jesus says that if we fail to do such deeds for our neighbor in need—then we have failed to do these things for Jesus himself.

Matthew’s Gospel concludes with a clear statement of Jesus’ purposes with his apocalyptic message.  He meets with his disciples, the core of the new community he has formed to embody his vision for humanity.  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus reveals not that history will soon end.  No, Jesus reveals why history continues and why history is meaningful.  The end of history is the fulfillment of the task given to Abraham’s descendents—bless all the families of the earth, make disciples of all nations, know God’s shalom and witness to that shalom to all the ends of the earth.

Finally, let’s look at Paul’s apocalyptic message in the book of Romans.

Romans. Paul also writes in a time of crisis—addressing Christians living in the belly of the Beast.  At two key points in Paul’s portrayal of the gospel in Romans, he writes of saving work of God being revealed (“apokalypsed”) or “disclosed” to human beings.

In introducing the message of his book, he writes: “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the justice of God is revealed through faith for faith” (1:16-17).  Then as the culmination of the argument he develops in chapters one through three, Paul writes, “Now, apart from law, the justice of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the justice of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe” (3:21-22).

Paul says that the work of God to bring salvation to the world has been disclosed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God’s apocalyptic power is the power to bring salvation—through the “revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The nature of the world-defining character of the gospel as revealed in Jesus requires that those who trust in him reject trusting in idols (Romans one); that is, reject the call to loyalty to Caesar instead of Jesus.  At the heart of Paul’s gospel, he reiterates the Bible’s call to trust in God and God’s mercy in contrast to trusting empires, coercive power, and human constructs that vie with the true God for our loyalty.

For Paul, a central fruit of the revelation of the justice of God is the formation of a new kind of community bringing together Jew with Gentile.  God’s “apocalyptic” action brings forth not an end of history but the establishment of a community of faith charged with embodying a transformed way of life, a “kingdom of priests” (or, an alternative “empire”) that serves to counter the way of life characteristic of the mighty human-centered empires such as Rome.

Paul’s letter to the Romans throughout reflects this centrality of the formation of the faith community.  He emphasizes in 1:16-17 the inclusiveness of the message of the gospel, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Idolizing the Roman empire leads to the alienating injustices Paul describes in the last part of chapter one.  Idolizing the Law as a boundary marker that bestows special status on the circumcised and underwrites judgmentalism toward the uncircumcised leads to its own kind of injustice and violence (as Paul knows from his own life as a murderous zealot).

The exposure of both of these types of idolatry—Empire and Law—reveals the universal bondage to the alienating power of sin.  Even more, though, what has been revealed is God’s resolution to this problem.  The justice of God that brings former enemies together in fellowship has been disclosed in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  The bondage may be broken.  And the embodiment of the new freedom that Christ provides is to be seen in the fellowship where the dividing walls of injustice have been torn down.

So Paul develops a theology for social transformation where people who trust in Jesus genuinely know shalom here and now and manifest it in their common life as a communal alternative to empire.  This transformation is powered by God’s Spirit, leads to transformed minds, finds expression in the complementary expression in the assembly of spiritual gifts, and results in an authentically Torah-observant community that understands the heart of the Law to be love of neighbors, not exclusion and self-righteousness.

The final chapters of the book, where Paul turns explicitly to exhortation concerning the communal life of the Roman Christians is not an add-on to an essentially theological letter.  The assembly in Rome must show that it is indeed a counterculture by its members’ mutual respect and care.  Chapters 14 through 16 drive home Paul’s point with concrete directness that the purpose of God’s apocalyptic intervention has been to create this new faith community as the channel of the justice of God to the entire world.

Conclusion. Let’s conclude by turning back to Revelation.  The “war of the Lamb” in that book has to do with people of faith striving against Rome’s hegemony as communities of resistance, who understand their identity as God’s people, who know God’s transforming mercy themselves, and who witness to that mercy even in the face of hostility and rejection.  This “war” is not limited to the book of Revelation.  We have seen it throughout the Bible.  In fact, the war of the Lamb is a useful rubric for characterizing the entire plot from Genesis through Revelation.

Revelation uses the language of warfare, conflict, victory, and conquering to characterize consistent, persevering love—even for enemies.  Conquering happens as a consequence of a quality of life that follows the same pattern that Jesus’ life followed: visible and concrete acts of mercy and rejection of power politics, leading to conflict with the powers that be, leading to suffering (even in Jesus’ case death), leading to vindication through God’s on-going commitment, resurrection and transformation in history.

When we understand biblical apocalyptic as the revelation of this pattern of communal life, symbolized in Revelation as celebration and worship amidst the slings and arrows of historical living, then we may see that biblical apocalyptic and compassionate eschatology refer to the same kinds of things.  Apocalyptic and eschatology both have most centrally to do with clarity of purpose, perceptive vision about what matters to God and in life, and trust in God’s ongoing intervention through the social healing effected within faith communities (the dividing wall of hostility broken down) and the social healing the flows out to the nations as a consequence of the witness of the faithful.

So, wherein lies our hope?  According to biblical apocalyptic (and compassionate eschatology), it lies in the inherent meaningfulness of life lived in the Lamb’s way (not in blueprints about the future).  The Lamb shows us the way into God’s heart—to life that truly rests in God’s hands.

One thought on “Reading the Bible in Light of the Lamb’s War

  1. Michelle

    Thank you so much. All my life people have tried to scare me about the book of Revelation I will be reading some more of your writings. May the peace and love and joy of Jesus Christ be with you

    Reply

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