"Do not weep.
See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah,
the Root of David, has conquered."
When encountering God in the Bible, it is best to expect the unexpected. Time and time again, the creator and sustainer of the universe chose to surprise God's people. In a world where age mattered, the younger brother Jacob received God's promise. God chose Mary, a young girl from a nowhere town, to raise the one who would usher in a new kingdom. He chose Paul, a persecutor of the earliest Christians, to be at the forefront of the early church. The list could go on and on. God does what God wants, and it is often not what we would expect.
During this season, we commemorate and celebrate the sacrifice of Christ, his resurrection, and new life. We celebrate Christ's defeat of death and evil. Everything changed early that Sunday morning. Christians around the globe have gathered to proclaim and live into that reality for over two thousand years. Christ is victorious.
The author of Revelation, John, anticipated that his readers would soon be experiencing harsh persecution at the hands of Rome. He sent a letter to the churches in Asia Minor advocating a simple message: "Christ is victorious." This letter of encouragement was meant to bring hope to the faithful. God had won. But John warns his readers that Christ's victory was not going to be what they expected.
Revelation 5:1–14 envisions that all of human history, God's divine plan, is written on a scroll. However, the scroll is sealed and no one is found worthy to open it. As John weeps, an angel comforts him, saying, "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 seals." Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah . . . that sounds good. It sounds mighty, aggressive, powerful—just the kind of Jesus we want. But the passage continues, "Then I saw . . . a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered," Excuse me? We were promised a lion, not a feeble lamb. But the Lion is the Lamb. The conquering one of Judah is the one that was slaughtered. Better still, Christ became victorious by becoming the slaughtered one.
John wanted to impress upon his readers that Christ's victory was not achieved in mighty acts of valor against the imperial regime. It was just the opposite. Jesus conquered through complete obedience to the will of God, even though that obedience led to his death at the hands of the Romans. Revelation was not written to inform the early church that they could overthrow Rome. John was calling his readers to follow Christ in complete obedience, even if it meant death. John was calling his readers to true victory.
John's message still resonates in this time and place. Just like the church of the first century, we want to win. We want victory over all of our troubles. Revelation cautiously assures us that victory is indeed ours. However, that victory might not be what we expect. The victory that Christ achieved through his death and resurrection gives us hope for our future victory if we remain faithful. The Lion is still the Lamb.
Chad Pierce teaches religion at Central College in Pella, Iowa.