Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Lion Becomes A Lamb

Revelation 5:5,6

and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals."

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.

This article, from one of my favorite websites, pointed me to a new direction for study. I have thought for a while that the essential fact of Preterism is that the Old Covenant of the Law of Moses has been replaced by the New Covenant of the grace of Christ Jesus. This article points out that in the book of Revelation the Lion of Judah, (the image of God of the Old Covenant) has been replaced by the Lamb who was slain, (the image of God in the New Covenant). I look forward to reading the book of Revelation with this theme in mind.

Here's the link.

The Wittenburg Door Interview

by Amy C. Thoren
Issue #202, November/December 2005

Not that we flaunt it, but we've got inside information on the wonderful world of Lutheran biblical interpretation (after all, we're pretty sure Martin Luther taught in Wittenberg). Dr. Barbara Rossing teaches New Testament at the esteemed Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago—located in Chicago for those few who may not be familiar with it. An ordained Lutheran minister, Rossing holds a doctorate from Harvard University Divinity School and a Master of Divinity from Yale University Divinity School.
The release of Rossing's book, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Westview Press, 2004), was timely, matched as it was with the release of the 12th book of the thrilling and spooky Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The media picked up on the simultaneous publication of works of such opposite persuasions. Morley Safer called and told us to get our butts out there to interview Dr. Rossing after she was on 60 Minutes. We were embarrassed we didn't get to her sooner, so we tried hard to catch her between teaching Greek, leading tours through the Holy Land, and defending good biblical scholarship. Um, she was doing all of that—not us.

WITTENBURG DOOR: We know what all these technical terms mean of course, but for the sake of our simpleminded readers, could you briefly explain some of the following: dispensationalism, rapture, and exposure?
BARBARA ROSSING: The first sentence of my book is, "The rapture is a racket," and I think it's important for your readers to know that the whole rapture is a fiction. It was invented by British preacher John Nelson Darby in the 1830s as part of his system of biblical interpretation called dispensationalism. The system of dispensationalism divides world history into periods of time, the second to the last of which will be, according to Darby, the so-called "seven-year period of tribulation," followed by the return of Christ and then the 1,000-year millennium. This is the basic system of premillenialism, but what proponents can't agree on is when the so-called rapture will happen, sucking naked born-again Christians out of their beds, cars, airplanes...
DOOR: Um, did you say naked??
ROSSING: The main way you'll know the rapture has happened, according to Left Behind, is that people's clothes, glasses, false teeth, replacement knees, will all be left behind on their chairs and in their beds. One day, my students left all their clothes carefully arranged on their chairs to make me think they'd been raptured, but lo and behold, I found the students down in the cafeteria!
DOOR: Those rascally scamps! But aren't there indeed passages in the Bible about people getting sucked up into the air and stuff?
ROSSING: That's I Thessalonians 4:13-18, but the word rapture does not occur here or anywhere in the Bible. This is a passage about Jesus descending to earth from heaven and how Christians go out to meet him as part of that descent. The dispensationalists have to piece together numerous Bible verses, in what I call a "pick-and-choose" method of interpretation, in order to fabricate their notion of the rapture.
DOOR: On 60 Minutes in April 2004, LaHaye and Jenkins claim to be totally biblical. Jenkins says, "I didn't make this stuff up. This comes straight out of the prophecy."
ROSSING: Anyone who wants to take a Bible verse here and a Bible verse there and string them together can make the Bible say anything they want. Tim LaHaye uses the image of a prophetic clothesline, and he hangs Bible verses on it.
DOOR: Martin Luther said Scripture has a wax nose. You can twist it any way you want.
ROSSING: As we see in the story of Jesus' temptation, even the devil can quote Bible verses.
DOOR: What precisely are you trying to expose about the Book of Revelation?
ROSSING: The word revelation is the word apocalypse, which means unveiling or exposing. The Book of Revelation exposes the oppression and domination of the Roman Empire for first century Christians. The question for today is, "What needs exposing in our culture?" In my view, it is the violent and dangerous "gospel" of books like Left Behind that leads to war and an eagerness for Armageddon.
DOOR: In your book, you speak of Left Behind proponents who support Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. Do they want the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to get worse?
ROSSING: It's a peculiar kind of support for Israel. They want Israel to take over all the land but in the end only Jews who convert to Christianity will be saved. Two prominent Israeli rabbis recently warned against accepting financial support from Christian fundamentalists. I read that one American fundamentalist Christian group raised $100 million for settlements in the occupied West Bank, so I'm delighted that finally some rabbis are speaking out against this.
Peace is bad, according to these Christians, because only the Antichrist signs peace treaties in the Middle East. They want the Jewish temple to be rebuilt and animal sacrifice to resume on the Temple Mount—only so that the Antichrist can desecrate it three and one-half years into their seven-year period of tribulation. Of course, to rebuild the temple would mean destroying the Dome of the Rock, Islam's third holiest site, which would undoubtedly precipitate a war. Christian Zionism is a theology that could be characterized the way Israeli peace activist Yehezkel Landau ironically says: "God so loved the world that He sent World War III."
DOOR: We always found that camp song peculiar, "They'll know we are Christians by our love."
DOOR: When we interviewed Jerry Jenkins hisownself (March/April 2005), he claimed that you haven't read his books, that there's nothing in the books that's political.
ROSSING: I'm thrilled that he addressed my book! I have definitely read all 13 Left Behind novels. Whether the books themselves are political, readers are certainly influenced by LaHaye's right-wing political messages regarding the Middle East and the United Nations.
DOOR: OK, enough of the easy stuff. Explain this whole Antichrist thing for us, please.
ROSSING: The Antichrist has been extracted not only from the bar-codes of foods at the grocery store but also from the radio inventory, so Wal-mart could now be a candidate for the Antichrist. As for the identification of Antichrist with the United Nations, it's just further evidence that efforts toward peace in the Middle East are thwarted by rapture theology's unfaithful biblical interpretation.
DOOR: Martin Luther didn't even think the Book of Revelation should have made the final canon cut.
ROSSING: That was the first time Luther read the book of Revelation, but by the second, only some five years later, he figured out that it's a great book for trashing your opponents. And that's what many people do today. They "figure out" that Revelation's beasts, locusts and mutant animals are their opponents, whether it's the Catholic Church as it was for Luther, or Saddam Hussein or Ronald Reagan, or whomever you love to hate. Revelation almost didn't make it into the canon in the 4th century, but I believe it's a very important message of hope, especially for marginalized people. I use the work of Chilean Pablo Richard and his liberation perspective...
DOOR: ...again for our not-so savvy readers...
ROSSING: Well, it may shock some of your readers, but Pablo Richard draws an analogy between the Roman empire and American empire. Just as Revelation proclaimed that Rome's empire would soon end, so today, some people look to Revelation for encouragement to hope that the oppression they experience from globalization and the American empire will soon end. So the message of Revelation is like the book of Exodus. God hears our cries; Jesus, the Lamb, is a new Moses, and He leads God's people out of oppression into freedom—which is the new Jerusalem vision of chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation.
DOOR: Shocking!
ROSSING: Twenty-seven times in Revelation Jesus is called a lamb, and when artists literally try to depict the Lamb marrying a bride, the scene looks like a wedding that would not be legal, not even in Massachusetts...
DOOR: Hey, we're supposed to be the funny guys here ...
ROSSING: The Lamb is a wonderful image for Jesus that resonates for most Christians, but it's not an image you can take literally. It echoes the Passover Lamb, the idea of vulnerability and sacrifice. This is the central image for Jesus in Revelation. It's why I call Revelation's theology "lamb power."
DOOR: Is this the "loving, wimpy Jesus" LaHaye says liberals have constructed?
ROSSING: It's a loving Jesus, but by no means a wimpy Jesus. Jesus the Lamb is introduced in the central scene of the throne room vision in Revelation 5 in a completely unexpected way as a replacement for the lion, and that reversal is key for the theology of Revelation. We are to conquer, but not with violence—just as Jesus conquers by being slain, not by killing anyone. At the very heart of God is a slain Lamb, and lamb power is the wonder-working power of God's vulnerable nonviolent love to change the world. It's exactly this power that rapture theology finds insufficient. Dispensationalists preach the saving power of the blood of the Lamb in Jesus' crucifixion, but it's not enough power. They need Christ to come back with some real power, not as a lamb but as a roaring lion, to finish the job of conquering.
DOOR: Who reads the Left Behind books?
ROSSING: Many millions of people are reading them. They're fun, they're thrilling, they're violent. It's fine to read them as long as you know that it's all fiction, not only the plot and the characters but also the theology. People read the novels because they're hungry to connect the dots and see how the Bible is coming to life in our world today.
DOOR: Have mainline churches failed to understand Scripture as living and relevant?
ROSSING: Yes. We need to do a much better job at helping people see how the Bible comes to life, not in a pre-scripted series of worldwide disasters but in a story of God's healing love for the world. It's not that we have to apply every little thing in Scripture to life. We need to apply every big thing in Scripture to life, big things like God so loved the world, loved it enough to send Jesus who comes to dwell with us in the events of our lives and who will never leave the world behind.
DOOR: You also suggest that rapture theology leaves ecology far behind.
ROSSING: It presents an escapist rapture off planet earth as God's plan for Christians. It's no coincidence that Christians in Left Behind first drive Range Rovers and then Hummers, the most gas-guzzling vehicles on earth. Gas mileage doesn't matter if you think the world has only seven more years. It's a use it or lose it theology—the very opposite of early Christian ethics, which taught that the urgency of Jesus' return means caring for the world as good stewards until He comes again. It's surprising to people, but I find the Book of Revelation one of the most down to earth books of Scripture. If anything, it's about a "rapture in reverse," because God and the Lamb come down from heaven to earth in the final vision, to which the whole book leads.
DOOR: Who reads your book?
ROSSING: One segment of readers is people like Linda who grew up fundamentalist: "Even though I don't believe this theology anymore, a little part of me always worries that it's true. Your explanation of the Bible verses is a real blessing to me." Another audience would be Christians I meet in congregations who just want to believe what the Bible says but are confused because so much Christian radio and TV claim that it's all about the rapture. As I write in my introduction, the book is for young and old who are puzzled about the book of Revelation and its consequences for us today.


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