From pastoral shepherd caring for his flock to mighty warrior bent on destruction — here are two New Testament views of Christ so opposite that, on first glance, they seem incompatible. The Gospels and the book of Revelation give both. Why?
One of the favorite tourist treasures from a trip to Jerusalem is visiting a shop where wood carvers create all size figurines of Jesus with a lamb over his shoulder. Carved from local cedar, it epitomizes the Jesus we come to know as children first exposed to the Gospel story. Here is the ‘good shepherd’, one of the ‘seven ‘I AM’ statements of powerful self-identification in John’s Gospel. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). And here also is the symbol of Jesus as the Lamb of God, evident throughout the Scriptures.
The good Shepherd portrays the pastoring care-giver that loves little children; heals the leper, the deaf and the blind; patiently nurtures his disciples’ faith and understanding; calmly masters storms; teaches unadorned parables that convey profound lessons; defuses angry crowds by raising their self-awareness, staving off a stoning of an adulterous woman—all through his spiritual equanimity and poise. Each of the four Gospels provide varying stories of these events, reinforcing an image of Christ Jesus that comforts and nurtures our own spiritual growth today.
And then there is Revelation. This last book of the New Testament has confounded readers for centuries, providing the greatest variety of interpretations, frightening some and for others, providing justification for coming Armageddon’s. But what is consistent throughout is a view of Christ as warrior that can provide significant insight.
To get to this view, Revelation first shows it is the critical second part of the Bible’s Alpha and Omega of books. Just as Genesis is the ‘alpha’ and introduces a spiritual view of man in Chapter 1 (“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26), so Revelation is the ‘omega’ story of the need to defend that understanding. What a perfect way to end the New Testament record, based on Christ Jesus’ numerous proofs of man in God’s image.
So where does the warrior image of Christ come in? After the Lamb is initially introduced, in John’s first vision when taken to heaven. Here we learn that this Lamb figure is the crucified and resurrected Christ, alone worthy to open the seven-sealed scroll that will reveal the machinations of evil. “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5).
Here is our first hint of the conquering Christ who prevails throughout the rest of the book, destroying all the ways that evil tries to deceive, terrorize and undermine humanity.
One of the joys of researching and sharing Biblical books like Revelation is seeing the varied styles of art through centuries that capture the ideas Revelation conveys. One example is this depiction from the 10th century Crypt of the Romanesque chapel, Gargilesse, in one of France’s most beautiful villages in the Loire Valley. Christians cared enough about this image of Christ, destroying evil’s obnoxious efforts to undermine, to create this fresco and worship here through the centuries.
(In addition to the crypt, artists depicted other treasures of Revelation, such as Capitals of the twenty-four elders of the Apocalypse—so meaningful was this final Biblical book to their own spiritual journey.)
Christ as warrior with the sword in his mouth is an image throughout Revelation, from the first chapter to almost the last. “In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force (Rev. 1:16).
And “…The rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth…” (Rev. 19:21), with the ‘rider’ again being the Christ figure.
What a lesson to Christians today, to express both the pastoring and warrior qualities of Christ. Here is the demand to both love and patiently nurture ourselves and others, as well as be ever-vigilant to fight and destroy evil’s aggressive efforts to make one forget who he or she really is, as Genesis and Revelation remind us in their Alpha and Omega roles.