So, in my last blog I admired how Luther critiqued the Christology (doctrine of Christ) represented in the book of Revelation by the Christology found in the gospels. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Luther's approach here, because this is probably the place where I disagree most with how Left Behind Theology tends to read the Scriptures.
Take, for example, a comment that was made to me by a fellow Presbyterian pastor (which I have mentioned here before). He said "When Jesus came the first time, it was as a lamb; but when he comes again, it will be like a lion." (The quotations here are more literary than literal. I'm trying to remember exactly how he said it, but I know it was according to the lamb/lion contrast.)
I think this first coming/second coming, lamb/lion, Jesus1/Jesus2 dichotomy is very strong in Left Behind Theology. It breaks down something like this:
First Jesus = lamb, meek and mild, born in the stable, killed on the cross, never said a mumbahlin' word, submissive, uberhumble, 'take up your cross and follow me', 'turn the other cheek,' 'do good to those who mistreat you,' 'the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach the gospel to the poor,' Alan Alda-esque, etc. This is the wonderful Jesus who really gave love and forgiveness the best try possible- and we killed him and God had to raise him.
Second Jesus = really, really mad. That's the simple, short version. The longer version: lion (red in tooth and claw), flaming rider on the white horse (what Gandalf wanted to be), judgment over grace, punishment over forgiveness, no longer turning the other cheek, buckets of blood running through the streets, plague/famine/starvation/, torture, Ahnold-esque, etc. This Jesus executes all kinds of righteous vengeance over the wicked, just like an action hero should.
Now, it seems to me that Jesus is either seriously bi-polar or that the second Jesus in this picture is the first Jesus' evil twin.
Luther's biblical reason for rejecting Revelation is that the Christology of Revelation is not the same Christology of the gospels. That's the reason he said, "There is one sufficient reason for me not to think highly of it- Christ is not taught or known in it."
Here is my take: I think Luther's critique is correct if it is directed toward Left Behind Theology- whether in the Tim LaHaye variety that tries to capitalize on fear (and succeeds) or in a milder version like my friend's comment about the lamby and liony Jesuses.
But, I disagree that Luther is correct about the book of Revelation's depiction of Jesus. I sort of disagree. I think Luther is throwing babies out with the bathwater and that John is much more nuanced than either the Left Behind Theology's caricature or Luther's critique allows. And my favorite moment when this is most evident is in Revelation 5. The scene is like this: One seated the throne has a scroll with writing on the front and back. It is sealed with 7 seals. A loud angels asks, "Who is worthy to open the scroll?" And nobody is. So John begins to cry, but an elder tells him to take heart because the LION of the tribe of Judah will open the scroll. And John looks to see the LION and, what do you think he saw? Ahnold? Mufasa? Aslan? That cross-eyed lion from some dumb show when I was a kid? Here is what he saw when he turned to see the LION of the tribe of Judah:
"Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a LAMB standing as if it had been slaughtered"
The LION of expectation turns out to be a LAMB. And not just any old lamb- a slaughtered lamb, which sound hideous, but all of the heavenly court in this story begin to sing praises to this slaughtered LAMB who- alone in all the earth- is worthy to open the scroll.
In Left Behind Theology, we exchange the lamby, meek, wimpy Jesus of the gospels for a liony, action-figure doll called "Second-coming Jesus." In the book of Revelation, all of our hopes for an action figure are amazingly fulfilled in the slaughtered lamb. Power is fulfilled in sacrifce; Vengeance is fulfilled in forgiveness; Payback is fulfilled in salvation.
A philosopher would call what happens to Jesus in Left Behind Theology a "transvaluation of values." I call it just plain bad theology. It is the paradox, the surprising shift in our expectation of a lion fulfilled in a slaughtered lamb that turns the whole violence motif in Revelation on its head. This paradox is the lens through which I will be reading Revelation in blogs to come.