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Apocalypse Now: Reading Revelation Sermon Two

Sermon Two

Last week we began a mini-series on the book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation, as a prophetic letter and apocalypse, encourages the church to hold faithful allegiance to Jesus in a world dominated by both Empire and Beastly Forces.

We discovered that it is not written to us, but is written for us.

These early Christians in Asia Minor were Jesus shaped communities which were called to be outposts of God's Kingdom in a world dominated by counterclaims.

They lived in the Roman Empire.

The Empire claimed to bring Peace and Stability (Pax Romana), but the Empire was known for its violence and brutality. The Romans literally crucified hundreds of thousands of prisoners (6,000 were crucified on a single day in 71 BCE), and their armies and legions used violence to maintain and sustain the rich ruling class in a lifestyle of luxury through wars of conquest and exploitation.

Rome wasn't built in a day, but it was built on brutality and bloodshed,

with countless being victims of sustained and systemic violence.

And this violence at times was used in the amphitheatres of the Empire as entertainment for the masses.

This is the way of Empire, this is the way of the Eagle.

Thankfully, in many ways, the times have changed, Yet, in other ways, we still live in a world which is sustained by violence and threats of violence.

Within the last 100 years, we have seen two world wars. 40 million deaths in World War One, And 80 million deaths in World War Two. Since then, many more have died in regional conflicts.

In the last few years alone, billions of pounds worth of UK arms have been sold to dictatorships and repressive regimes, with a clear majority of all UK arms sales going to governments and regimes with poor human rights records.

Just this week an independent report was published which gave sustained and convincing evidence that China is involved in large scale execution of political and religious prisoners so that their organs can be harvested for transplant. This adds a billion dollars a year to the Chinese economy. Although the evidence for 'organ harvesting by execution' is overwhelming, many governments in the world (including our own) fail to condemn it or weigh up the evidence as it is an inconvenient truth which may have economic consequences if it was identified or challenged.

The heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart, and the human heart is capable of glorifying violence,

being entertained by violence,

and using and allowing violence and weaponry for

economic or political advantage.

Heading back to the first century let me mention two paths represented by two animals which may have shaped the worldviews of the first century Christians.

The first is what we have called the way of the Eagle. An animal known in the ancient world for its power, violence, speed and ability to prey on the weak. The way of the Eagle is the way which accepts and colludes with the way of Rome.

This is the view that accepts that this is the way the world is, that this is the way the world will be.

For the Christian, this would mean accepting the status quo, retreating to religious quietism, in which my heart belongs to Jesus and I have an assurance of the age to come, but concerning politics, power, violence and economic activity I accept the status quo. The way of the Eagle is evident when the church becomes a cheerleaders of the state, when nationalism and empire building become an orthodoxy to be placed alongside that of Jesus and the apostles.

The other response the first Christians may have had is what we may call the way of the Lion. An animal is known for its strength, violence, honour and kingship.

To go the way of the Lion is to look for a King who would pounce upon Rome,

wage bloody war with the Eagle

and through revolutionary and violent action

would become the worlds true Warrior King.

This would be a king who establishes justice by way of the sword and the eradication of enemies.

Early Christian Communities, along with their Jewish counterparts, would have been aware of an ancient prophecy found in Gen 49 which speaks of a Lion of the Tribe of Judah who will one day come to overthrow their enemies,

Gen 49:8-10

8 "Judah, your brothers will praise you;

your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;

your father's sons will bow down to you.

9You are a lion's cub, Judah;

you return from the prey, my son.

Like a lion he crouches and lies down,

like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?

10The scepter will not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,

until he to whom it belongs shall come

and the obedience of the nations be his.

Some Jews were looking for a Lion messiah, the Lion of the TRibe of Judah, who would defeat their enemies, and perhaps some early Christians wondered whether Jesus was this Lion who, with his followers, would one day crush, smash and violently oppose the Empire.

The way of the Eagle- Collude with Empire...

The way of the Lion- Follow him who uses power, strength and if need be violence to bring about a new world order.

OK, that's a fairly long intro, but I want us now to a central part of the Book of Revelation. In Rev 4-5 we see that the The curtains have been pulled back and the activity of heaven is revealed.

We are going to read it together in dramatic fashion with the band providing some background music. But I will need your help. (8 Mins)

v8 4 living creatures...... they represent the whole of humanity

v11 24 elder- representing all those in God's fmaily. 12 tribes of Judah plus 12 apostles

2:9 living creatures and elders:

2:12, 13 Everyone

Revelation 4–5 (NIV)

The Throne in Heaven

4 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

"'Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,'

who was, and is, and is to come."

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they were created

and have their being."

5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.

5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."

6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:

"You are worthy to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

and with your blood you purchased for God

persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength

and honor and glory and praise!"

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be praise and honor and glory and power,

for ever and ever!"

14 The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.


What a stunning and remarkable scene this is, as John looks into heaven

Using powerful metaphors and word-pictures, like special effects would be added to a modern day movie, Revelation 4&5 paints a dramatic and visual masterpiece which was meant to stir the imaginations and hearts of its first hearers.

It calls them into the realm of the Kingdom,

into a world as it should be and a world as it will be.

Chapter 4 reminds those living in the shadow of the Empire, the shadow of the Eagle, that the true centre of the cosmos and the true object of all affection and worship is God Almighty.

He is the Holy One who created all things, and before him, all of God's people and all of the creation should pay due homage.

This alternative reality puts into the perspective the arrogant claims of the Empire, it relativising their truth claims.

Notice verse Revelation 4:9–11 (The Message)

9–11 Every time the Animals gave glory and honor and thanks to the One Seated on the Throne—the age-after-age Living One—the Twenty-four Elders would fall prostrate before the One Seated on the Throne. They worshiped the age-after-age Living One. They threw their crowns at the foot of the Throne, chanting,

Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God!

Take the glory! the honor! the power!

You created it all;

It was created because you wanted it.

In the Roman World, Roman soldiers would take an oath of allegiance to the Emporer. This verbalised ritual and covenant was called the sacramentum and obligated the solider to full obedience and loyalty. They were being initiated into the way of the Eagle, the way of violence, the way of the Empire.

"Step forward, recruit ["Lucius Junius Brutus"], and swear by the gods of Rome, the manes of your ancestors, and your own honour an unbreakable oath that you will follow your commander wherever he may lead you. You will obey orders enthusiastically and without question.

Into this world, the early church communities also had their own sacraments (that of baptism and Eucharist) which functions as oaths of loyalty and commitment.

Baptism functions as the oath of allegiance to the Triune God.

I Baptise you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It includes the words 'Christ claims you as his own receive the sign of the cross.'

The cross is not the sign of Eagle, but the sign of self-giving sacrificial love which invites the participant to a life of obedience and covenant fidelity.

Back to Revelation. In Chapter 5 as the vision unfolds, we see something astonishing.

There is a scroll with seven seals. Scrolls were often used by Kings as authoritative edicts announcing what will take place. And the Person who opens the scroll has the authority to speak on behalf of the King.

The problem which is that there is no one who is able to open the scroll. No-one who can speak authoritatively for God Almighty and bring his will to bear.

And John Weeps:

But then an Angel Speaks and Says 'Behold the Lion of Judah'..... And perhaps those who first heard this read to them said 'Yes, a lion, we need a lion. Good choice, a lion has the authority to speak on behalf of the king and to enact his will. Yes, thats what we need, a Lion, he can rip our enemies apart. The Eagle stands no chance,'

And then in ironic, and even comedic fashion John looks and instead of seeing a lion he sees a lamb as though it had been slain. He expects to see a lion but instead he sees a butchered lamb.

There is isn't a lion and a lamb.

Rather, the Lion (the symbol of authority, kingship, justice and victory) is the Lamb.

Lets notice a few things about this Lamb.

(1) Worthy to open the scroll. He has authority to speak on behalf of God Almighty and bring about his will for the world.

(2) He, like God Almighty, is worthy of all worship

Revelation 5:11–14 (The Message)

11–14 I looked again. I heard a company of Angels around the Throne, the Animals, and the Elders—ten thousand times ten thousand their number, thousand after thousand after thousand in full song:

The slain Lamb is worthy!

Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength!

Take the honor, the glory, the blessing!

Then I heard every creature in Heaven and earth, in underworld and sea, join in, all voices in all places, singing:

To the One on the Throne! To the Lamb!

The blessing, the honor, the glory, the strength,

For age after age after age.

The Four Animals called out, "Oh, Yes!" The Elders fell to their knees and worshipped.

3. The Lamb on the throne points to the way in which he reigns and rules. He rules and reigns not by violence or coercion but by self-giving sacrificial love.

This is not the way of the Eagle

Or the Way of the Lion as typically understood

No! It is the way of the cross,

the way of Jesus,

the way of peace.

It is Jesus who said 'Blessed are the Peacemakers'.

It is Jesus who says in Matthew 5:44 ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’

In Luke 7:27 it is Jesus who says ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also.

And Jesus, the Lamb, practises what he preaches.

He embodies what he proclaims.

IN Jesus we see a God who is full of crucified love who would rather die for his enemies than kill them.

IN Jesus we see a God who is full of self-giving love who would rather bless his enemies than curse them.

IN Jesus we see a God one who would rather bear the sin of his people, than punish them.

In Jesus we find a sacrificial lamb who absorbs and transforms the sins, chaos and brokenness of the world.

God overcomes the world, the forces of death and darkness not through a show of force but through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Lamb.

This is the way he rules and reigns, the way of the Lamb.

4. The Lamb on the Throne is also a model for how the church, both ancient and modern should live. We should live as patient faithfull witnesses to the lamb, as those who love our enemies and embrace the way of forgiveness.

We should be those who speak truth to both power and the power structures which collude with violence, the industries which profit from violence and the politicians who refuse to speak out against violence.

We are called to be those who embody individually and corporately, in lives of mission and discipleship, the way of self-sacrificial radical love.

For those of us who been baptised, we have already made our sacramentum. We have pledged our allegiance, not to the Eagle, nor to the Lion, but rather to Lamb of God.

Revelation 5:12 (TNIV)

In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”



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