What does the book of Revelation say? (part 6)

Ted Grimsrud

6. An Angry Lamb? (Revelation 6:1-17)

[This is the sixth in a series of posts summarizing the message of the book of Revelation.  I have been writing on Revelation off and on for a long time. My intent with this project is to write a new book applying Revelation’s message to our modern world.]

It is not too difficult to see in Revelation one through five a nice message of peace, the Lamb as the way. But then with chapter six, the plagues begin. For most readers of Revelation, this apparent turn toward judgment seems to come as a relief. But let me suggest something that might seem counter-intuitive—or at least contrary to the most obvious reading of Revelation 6—or at least contrary to Christianity’s teaching about God’s anger. I don’t think we should read these verses as being about God’s punitive judgment.

But most interpreters of Revelation seem automatically to assume that Revelation six is about God’s punishing judgment, directly visited upon the earth. As if the one on the throne who endorses the Lamb’s persevering love as the basis for the opening of the scroll now starts to rip things apart. As if the Lamb himself all of a sudden becomes angry. Think about it though, can you imagine an angry lamb? I believe it is clear that the metaphor in Revelation of the Lamb means to evoke a sense of gentleness, not punishing anger.

Bringing together two truths

So what then might be going on in Revelation six?

John brings together two truths. First, he affirms that the one on the throne made, sustains, and heals creation. The scroll that the Lamb took from the one’s right hand truly does contain the story of the healing of heaven and earth. And this healing will happen through persevering love, expressed most fundamentally in the Lamb’s path of faithful witness. But the second truth cannot be avoided: The world we live in remains powerfully alienated, the home of terrible injustices, violence, and domination. The need for healing remains all too obvious—as does the reign of the powers of greed and inhumanity.

How can we understand and affirm God’s care for creation and all that is in it in face of the brokenness that is so apparent? That is the question Revelation six tries to respond to with these horrific visions of destruction. But does God add to creation’s hurt with punishing judgment? How could this be in light of what we learned from Revelation four and five?  Continue reading “What does the book of Revelation say? (part 6)”