The Lion and/or the Lamb

On Sunday evening at church, we sang the Bethel song ‘He’s coming on the clouds’ (by Brenton Brown,Brian Johnson and Leeland Mooring). Actually, everyone else sang it - I can’t. Sometimes, something about a song leaves me feeling uneasy. This song, in particular, ‘sticks in my craw’. Why? Well, let’s see shall we? We’ll start by reading some of the lyrics.

"He's coming on the clouds
Kings and kingdoms will bow down
Every chain will break
As broken hearts declare His praise
For who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah
He's roaring with power and fighting our battles
And every knee will bow before Him…"

Some of it is very good, but I have a problem with the first lines of the chorus:

"Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah
He's roaring with power and fighting our battles"

The Jewish nation, in the first century AD, was oppressed by the Romans, and groaning for ‘rescue’ - they longed for a messiah who would come in and, with fire and sword, liberate them from Rome’s grip: they wanted a lion - they wanted ‘right-handed power’. Instead, they got Jesus. Almost universally, they failed to recognise Jesus for what He was - even His disciples didn’t really ‘get’ him.

The reason His disciples were hiding in the upper room after the crucifixion was because they truly believed they’d got it (and Him) dead wrong - He hadn’t liberated them, as they’d expected, in fact, from their perspective, He hadn’t really turned out to be much of a messiah at all. Messiahs, in the way the popular imagination thought of them, weren't meant to end up dead at the hands of the oppressors.

Actually, it wasn’t until they met Him again, risen from the dead, that they began to realise that He really was the messiah, and that His ‘victory’ was, like everything else He was, said, and did, a subversion of the world order… Jesus won by (apparently) being ‘defeated’. He won by being a lamb, not a lion. This was ‘left-handed power’ at work - He didn’t defeat the world’s power by ‘fighting back’ with more of the same power, but by subversion and subtlety.

A very old song, by Graham Kendrick, illustrates Jesus’ nature perfectly.

"Led like a lamb to the slaughter

In silence and shame,

There on Your back You carried a world

Of violence and pain.

Bleeding, dying, bleeding, dying.

You're alive, You're alive,

You have risen, Alleluia!

The words I find difficult in the chorus of the Bethel song owe their origin to the words of Revelation 5:

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 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.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre 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. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 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. 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…”
Revelation 5:2-9

Notice that John (whose vision this is) is expecting, as the elder tells him, to see a lion (the Lion of Judah), but when he looks, the Lion of Judah turns out to be a lamb! And not just any lamb, but a newborn lamb which has been killed - about the most pathetic, vulnerable, thing imaginable.

The words of the Bethel song confuse. They teach us to expect Jesus to ‘fight power with power’ - but this, we should jolly-well know by now, is not ‘the Jesus way’. He fights our battles, not by ‘roaring with power’, but by being ‘led like a lamb to the slaughter’.

For us to expect Him to ‘come again’ and fight our enemies with sword and vengeance is to misread scripture, and to expect God to change his nature.

We, in our weak human way, have an enormous desire for vengeance - for those who have wronged us to ‘get their just desserts’; for them to ‘get what’s coming to them’.

But God doesn’t work that way. God desires the good of all. He loves ‘them’ as much as he loves ‘us’. In fact, He doesn’t see ‘us’ and ‘them’ - He just sees humanity, and wills everyone to be saved. And He achieves that by being ‘led like a lamb to the slaughter’. If we think otherwise, we are creating God in our image - we are projecting our desire for bloody vengeance onto God - and nothing could be further from the truth, or further from His nature.

God is love.

God bless you.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022