Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
To receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
And honor and glory and blessing!
-The Revelation to John, 5.12
Iran & Apocalypse
This Easter, my mind’s been on apocalypse. Not just that our time feels apocalyptic — wars and rumors of wars, endemic gun violence, polluted drinking water, crippling poverty, and so on. More to the point, I’ve been ruminating on “The apocalypse of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1.1) — the “unveiling,” or “breaking-through,” as that term precisely intends- of the visions of the risen and reigning Jesus which comprise the last word of Holy Scripture.
I listened to Rev. Dr. Sasan Tavassoli proclaim the Easter vision of Jesus which constitutes Revelation 5 a few months ago, and it’s captured my imagination ever since. Dr. Tavassoli grew up a Shi’ite Muslim in Iran, but converted to faith in Christ after extensive study and seeking as a young adult. Today, he’s a global Christian leader who serves the Iranian Church by training underground church leaders, creating broadcast and internet resources, getting Iranians access to the Scriptures in their native Farsi, and more.
Iran has been wracked in violent protests and unrest for months over issues related to women’s rights and economic and educational opportunity for young people; human rights advocates estimate that more than 500 people have been killed, and tens of thousands arrested, as part of the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters. Through all this, the Church in Iran is experiencing explosive growth — more Iranian Muslims have turned to Christ in the last two decades than through most of the two millennia prior.
The church I serve partners with Dr. Tavassoli and his organization, and we had the opportunity to host him for a few days this past winter. As he joined us for worship, he shared John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 5, as they employ that text in shaping and training leaders for the Church. The Eastertide vision he proclaimed in that text has much, I believe, to offer those of us in the global West, and I’ve been ruminating on it as we’ve commenced worship and celebrations to mark the Resurrection.
Revelation 5 pictures St. John’s vision of the “Lamb standing as if it had been slain” (5.6), the symbolic imagery by which he pictures the crucified and risen Jesus, now reigning at the very center of reality. Drawing on Darrell Johnson’s bracing text on Revelation, Discipleship on the Edge, Tavassoli drew out several implications of this strange, glorious vision for how the Church is called to practice an Easter-shaped life amid a world in ruins.
First, the vision of the Lamb unveils to us that at the center of all reality is One who suffers. The One who rules the universe has undergone the worst of human suffering — indeed, Easter is the vindication of a crucified man as King of kings and Lord of lords. God knows the hell of our suffering, and shares in it with us. And, the closer we get to the true God, the closer we will come to the suffering of the world.
Second, the Lamb shows us that at the center of all reality is costly grace. God is ultimately victorious, not through violence or domination, but through suffering love.
Additionally, the vision of Revelation 5 shows us that the way to fullness of life is the way of the Lamb. As Johnson puts it, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus unveil the paradox that “the greatest power in the universe is in reality the ‘weakness’ of sacrificial love. The greatest wisdom in the universe is the ‘foolishness’ of sacrificial love.”
Last, Revelation 5 shows us where history is headed. No matter what the news depicts, no matter how inevitable and invincible violence and degradation, darkness and death may seem, followers of Jesus know the end of the story. History is headed, at the last, to the nail-scarred embrace of the Lamb. Easter is the promise of God that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” (John 1.5) In a time where it seems like the world is unraveling, those of us who have been claimed by the Easter Gospel persist in clearing our throats to sing:
To the One seated on the throne
And to the Lamb
Be blessing and honor and glory and might
Forever and ever!