Just to be clear, we are working with one big metaphor.
The genre of The Book of Revelation is ancient apocalyptic literature. Which consists of strings and strings of metaphors all tied together to form one large telling of how things actually are.
Suffice to say, dragons don’t exist in the world.
Importantly, today, I think, we misunderstand the meaning of ‘apocalypse’.
Apocalypse doesn’t quite mean a series of divine events that are due to take place to beckon the end of the world. Apocalypse actually means a revealing, or uncovering, of how things really are.
It’s like a rift opens up in front of us, whereby we suddenly see the world around us the way it actually is. Instead of seeing events, and understanding the world, through our invented interpretations, we are granted insight into what is really going on.
Apocalyptic literature makes claim to interpreting the world we dwell in as it is, rather than how we see it.
Such is The Book of Revelation. But what claims is it making?
Who God is actually like:
The start of the very first chapter of Revelation reads: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants… the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelations chapter 1, verse 1-2).
Further along this ancient text, the character of this God, and the way in which this Jesus is going about renewing the world, is revealed:
“Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation chapter 5, verse 5-6).
This ancient piece of apocalyptic literature reveals:
The God of the universe is going about resolving the crises of the world by entering into death in order to restore the world.
In light of the historical time this text was written in (the most accurate way to discern the metaphors), such a scroll represented a ruler’s will. In this instance the ruler is God. Which means, the will of God needs to be opened up and decreed by the reading of the scroll.
But only one person is worthy of such a task.
Seven horns symbolised almighty power, just like a lion. Seven eyes, the spirits of God, symbolised perfect sight, the ability to see everything that takes place, which meant back then supreme royalty.
Yet these lion like attributes describe a slain lamb.
Evidently, see the lion – mighty and powerful – but when you look at the lion closely, you see a slain lamb – weak and vulnerable. The lion is the lamb.
The victory won by the lion is achieved through death.
This is who God is and this is what God is up to in the midst of global catastrophes.
This old piece of writing reveals to readers today that God’s will is still played out in the world. God achieves his victory, not despite death, but by experiencing death, and winning against it.
God’s will was completed even when death directly opposed him! The sovereignty. The folly. The hope.
Death died instead, when the giver of life gave his life over to death.
Sometimes we may be tempted to cry out, ‘God where are you right now?’
Are you even real, God? Why is it that millions of people are dying all around the world from one big pandemic?
The Delta strand is worse. Death is atrocious. The agony of losing a loved one is real. Deep in our gut our core turns, rung out, squeezed. Tears drip out of us.
Yet, Christians, we live as children of irony. God travels into death as the slaughtered lamb, Jesus Christ, and kills death itself, as a lion eats its prey. By the incarnate Son dying, death becomes defeated.
Thus, the agony we face in losing a loved one is not the end of the story.
Life that is lost does not have to be the final chapter anymore. There is a way forward for life to continue. Like Jesus, people are resurrected into a restored Earth where death is no more. See 1 Corinthians chapter 15. We now pass through death, like Christ, rather than meet our end at death.
Like the author of Revelation, we weep, at what looks like hopelessness. We weep at the mass loss of human life that is taking place outside our borders right now. And we feel that loss. But this is not the end of people’s lives now that we can pass through death.
The God who we worship isn’t the Ruler at the top of a palace looking down, who quickly vanishes as soon as there is trouble. The God who we worship is in the dirt, working busy to set things right, bringing about a victory from below us, rather than above us.
Amidst the ruling chaos in the world, just under the radar, God stealthily subverts the turmoil to bring life to people once again. God wins, Covid-19 loses.
All this to say: What is there really to be afraid of?
If even death is defeated, then all anxiety is defeated. All we are left with is joy. May we now mix joy into our anxiety, knowing full well that death itself is used for God’s purposes.
It might appear that the scroll we read about in Revelation chapter 5 is shut. That God’s will is closed and cannot be completed. But that is not the case. Jesus says, “Take heart, I have overcome the world!” (John chapter 16, verse 33).
God’s will is just happening in the most unexpected way – quietly, subtly, and subversively.
Andrew Hill is a true-blue Kiwi, born and reared in Aotearoa New Zealand. He has lived between Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, chasing his passion: Knowing God. Andrew has studied theology through various institutions, served as a Youth Pastor and as an Associated Pastor at a couple of Baptist Churches, and currently spends time with people with disabilities as a Community Support Worker through Spectrum Care. Andrew has just finished writing his first novel which he intends to publish shortly, and for fun, live streams on twitch.tv @theophilus_nz.
Andrew’s previous articles may be viewed at https://www.christiantoday.com.au/by/andrew-hill