Lamb or Beast?

An excerpt from the draft of my forthcoming book:

In Revelation, faithfulness is portrayed positively as following the Lamb (14:4) and thus being marked with God’s seal of ownership and protection (7:3). It is also portrayed negatively as not following the beast or receiving the mark of the beast (13:16-17; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 20:4). Together, these two images of faithfulness demonstrate that we cannot have it both ways: beast and Lamb, imperial power with Lamb-power, civil religion mixed with worship of God and the Lamb. Those who follow the Lamb will enter the new Jerusalem; those who follow the beast are doomed. This is an either-or proposition with very serious consequences. There is no synthesis, no syncretism permitted here. The clarion call of Revelation is to forsake the idolatrous worship of secular power and to worship God alone.

But most of us do not like such either-or propositions when it comes to “religion.” We especially do not like having to choose between “God and country.” What makes the “both-and” approach so attractive is that it seems so right, so noble, so pious. Like adultery, it can feel very good (which is why followers of the Lamb are called virgins [14:4]). Why is the both-and option so seductive? Because it is the deliberate, deceitful work of the devil through the propaganda mechanisms of the idolatrous imperial powers (19:20). Nationalistic allegiance or devotion, especially when dressed in religious garb, may not feel like idolatry—but it is (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20). Once deceived, we are hooked, persuaded, and, sadly, doomed. If history is any clue, the unlearning of such deceit—perhaps we should say the liberation from such deceit—is nothing short of miraculous.

7 Responses to “Lamb or Beast?”

  1. Josh Rowley says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this book, Michael. When will it be available?

    You write, “What makes the ‘both-and’ approach so attractive is that it seems so right, so noble, so pious. Like adultery, it can feel very good (which is why followers of the Lamb are called virgins [14:4]).” I would add that another reason the “both-and” approach is attractive is that it is easier.

    The call to reject syncretism would have been especially difficult to make and to hear in a context of persecution.

  2. elias says:

    a miracle and more books and people who hear the message of revelation rather than using it to propagate (secretly) imperial power.
    if the book will be on Amazon will it be available on Kindle (electronic format)?

  3. Mike says:

    Dr. Gorman,

    It sounds like your either/or proposition just dismisses said beast-followers. But as the biblical canon unequivocally states: all knees will bow and tongues confess at Eschaton; that is, every human is going to have their day in court whereby they account for their actions. This is the kind of justice that God promises to us humans; your idea of biblical justice, however, seems quite incongruous, if not contradictory, to this.

    I think things are a bit more complex. Must we unequivocally pick sides between beast and lamb? And if we call ourselves lambs, are we then to dismiss or write off the beast without hesitation? The age old idiom about a wolf in sheep’s clothing didn’t come about for nothing; indeed, we may call ourselves one thing, and act quite another way. And the cloth knows all about this, or should.

    This account sounds very dualistic to me, Dr. Gorman. If you could clarify your position a bit more, then I would be much obliged.

  4. MJG says:

    Josh,

    If all goes well, the book will be available in late fall. And I think you are right both about both-and being easier and about the difficulty about choosing sides in the context of actual or threatened harassment, persecution, etc.

    Elias,

    The book will be on Amazon; not sure about Kindle.

    Michael,

    To be sure, one needs to read Revelation in light of the whole canon, but I don’t find “dualism” per se to be unbiblical or untenable. “You can’t serve God and mammon” sounds “dualistic,” but as complex as it may be to embody, it’s there, right?

    My account of Revelation’s “dualism” is, I think, faithful to the text. The call to discipleship, to choose, in Revelation is clear from beginning to end. The fate of the “unholy trinity” of dragon and beasts is not good, to say the least (20:10). Does this mean that there is no hope for present followers of the beast, or for syncretists? No, it does not rule out all hope because there is always the chance for repentance. Moreover, the picture of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21-22 has a built-in tension between its exclusion of all that is/all who are unclean (21:8, 27) and its surprise inclusion of the kings of the earth (21:24), at least some of whom who may well have been previous clients of the beast (17:2, 18;3, 9) who turned on it, so to speak (19:19).

    Like Philippians 2, Revelation can celebrate the fact that Jesus is universal Lord, even ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5), without sidestepping the (negative) judgment of the disobedient (Phil 1:28; 3:19). It seems to me that there is a dynamic tension, not only in Rev 21-22, but throughout the NT as a whole, between a large set of texts about a final judgment that separates the sheep from the goats and another set of texts, smaller in number but no less significant, that portrays universal confession of God/Jesus. I suspect that in the end these two can be held together, but however we do that, and whatever the ultimate eschatological scenario may look like, two things are consistent in the NT: the call to discipleship now and the promise of judgment later.

    Of course it is always dangerous to assume we are “lambs,” but the solution is not to embrace the beast but always to be in a state of self-examination and ongoing conversion. It seems to me that that is in large measure what the messages in Rev 2-3 say as a whole, even as they call the churches to refrain from compromise with the beast.

  5. Michael says:

    Thanks for the elaboration. Amen, btw, to the last paragraph in whole, and namely where you state: we must always be in a “state of self-examination and ongoing conversion.” I guess, then, the question is, how does one actualize this perpetual transformation? Maybe a dynamic community of active believers, marked by a stalwart and steadfast inclusivity that is prone to keeping doors open, stubbornly so, all the while encouraging and rebuking themselves and others like it is two sides of the same coin, is a good start. The lines between ID’ing who is deemed “in” and “out” must always be blurred, even with choice. After all, even the ships of Tarshish must come into port and give testimony at Eschaton — do we engage them; do we take the initiative and walk over to their table and welcome/encourage/criticize/struggle with them?

    It seems idolatry sneaks in if we are not daring or risking our own identity, if we are not putting ourselves into the confines of what is deemed to be the beast and thus challenging or tempering our faith. Complacency will otherwise set in, and tables will again be demarcated.

    I agree that “dualism” — loosely defined, an “other” outside the earthly realm of being and seeing but still overlapping and functioning within the earthly realm (i.e. heaven or Elohim) — is tenable in Scripture. My critique, however, was that your account seemed a bit too much dualistic, or literally, was “very dualistic,” as I had said. Now, whether or not that is true is up for debate, of course, but my aim was not to say that dualism or the function of transcendence is unbiblical per say. But even the most elemental distinctions of land/water and light/dark have a sliver of overlap; sunset and shorelines are creational testimonies that speak volumes to this sort of synthesis. And the heavenly vaults resound against the groundfloor of earth.

    In the end shouldn’t the ANE (ancient Near East) take precedence over that of Western terms like “dualism” or “monism”? While these templates of thinking are useful, we ought to be aware of their superimposition nonetheless.

  6. K. Rex Butts says:

    What will be the title of your book (if you have a title yet). I am very concerned about the absorbtion of the Christian faith (discipleship/fidelity to Jesus alone) into a nationalistic/civil religion that is called ‘Christianity’ be it American nationalism or whatever. This, in my opinion is the number one issue facing the Christian church in America in the 21st century…as more and more people living in America become post-Christian and even sometimes hostile to Christianity, we want them to claim/reclaim faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. But why would they when those who claim to be disciples of Jesus live as though their is another Lord (cf. politics, ecconomics, nation, etc…)?

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  7. MJG says:

    Rex,

    The title is Reading Revelation Responsibly, from Cascade (Wipf and Stock—see their web site). The working subtitle (not yet final) is Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation.

    I agree about the #1 issue.

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