Imperial pretensions and the throne-vision of the lamb: observations on the function



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Criswell Theological Review 7.1 (1993) 85-97.

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IMPERIAL PRETENSIONS AND THE

THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB:

OBSERVATIONS ON THE FUNCTION

OF REVELATION 51
J. DARYL CHARLES

The Wilberforce Forum

Washington, DC. 20041
"[A] god has made for us this rest

For god to me he [the emperor] shall always be; his altar

Often a tender lamb from our folds shall imbrue."

--Virgil


"No one is so proud of himself that when he hears the name he can keep still; no, he

stands up and chants and worships and joins in a twofold prayer, one for the Emperor

to the gods, one for those who are his own to the Emperor himself."

--Statius


At the core of the Christians' dilemma in the first century was their

refusal to adore the national gods and affirm Roman Imperial preten-

sions. Christian non-compliance in this regard constituted rebellion

against the established order, at the center of which stood the emperor,

hailed as Kyrios, "Lord," incarnate. Although conditions reflected up to

the time of the writing of the Apocalypse suggest that Christians were

not regularly martyred,2 the writer foresees an ominous development.

At issue is a clash of two irreconcilable worldviews. At its core, the


1 Delivered at the 1993 International Congress of the Society of Biblical Litera-

ture, Westfalische Wilhelms-Universitat Munster, Munster, Germany.



2 Notwithstanding the accounts in Tacitus and Suetonius of Neronian persecution.

A. A. Trites ("Martyrs and Martyrdom in the Apocalypse: A Semantic Study," NovT 15

[1973] 77-80) has argued that the notion of "witness," not death, is still the primary sense

of martys in the first century. Nevertheless, as noted by M G. Reddish ("Martyr Christology

in the Apocalypse;" JSNT 33 [1988] 85-95), "witness" entails death in the Revelation; Christ

is identified in the introduction of the Apocalypse as the "firstborn of the dead" (1:5). More-

over, the Lamb is portrayed four times as slain (5:6,9,12; 13:8) and wears a robe “dipped

in blood” (19:13). This blood is generally thought to be his own, not that of his enemies.


86 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Apocalypse represents a challenge to the Roman principate. The all-

encompassing machinery of the imperium Romanum is utterly be-

witching to the world (Revelation 13 and 17), leaving none unaffected;

it thus calls for a prophetic consciousness.

The NT Apocalypse could well be called a "book of powers."3 "War,"

"thrones," "might," "strength," "horns," "keys; "swords," "crowns; "scrolls"

and "overcoming" permeate the visions of John.4 Few dispute that up to

the time of Christ Roman aristocracy found satisfaction in waging war

as a means of personal enrichment, a fact certainly not lost on Jewish and

Jewish-Christian apocalypticists of the first centuries B.C. and AD. In all

of its wars (dating from the Alexandrian era), Rome was the aggressor.5

In the struggle to live out the Christian faith in a first-century context

where the role of the Roman imperium is unchallenged, John assures his

audience that "the saints" will partake in the rule of ho pantokratar,

the Almighty: "they shall reign on the earth."6 The exact mode of medi-

ating that rule, however, is quite antithetical to the brute Roman kratos

("might") exerted by the Caesar.7 It is in this mediatory role of divine im-

perium that the key figure of the Apocalypse, the Lamb, emerges.

An enormous amount has been written concerning the "Kaisermys-

tik" in an attempt by moderns to penetrate the ancient assumption that

the divine operated through Rome,8 with its concrete manifestation in

the emperors. Was imperial worship a foremost religious phenomenon,

or was it essentially political loyalty clothed in a quasi-religious gar-

ment?9 Given the mix of political realities and the nature of religious


3 T. Osborn, The Lion and the Lamb: A Drama of the Apocalypse (Geneva: WCC,

1988) vii.



4 Given the importance of conquest/victory as a motif in Roman imperial propa-

ganda, it is only natural that the visions of John incorporate this theme. "Conquering"

and "reigning" appear throughout the Apocalypse but find their meaning particularly in

the throne vision of 5:1-14.



5 Cf. J. A North, "The Development of Roman Imperialism," JRS 71 (1981) 1-9. Po-

lybius (6.19.4) writes that no one could hold a political office in Rome before having com-

pleted ten military campaigns. First-century sources would seem to confirm the central

importance of war in the Roman mindset. Military achievement, as conceded by Cicero,

was the pre-eminent source of glory and fame (De off. 1.74,76-78,121). A helpful analy-

sis of the Roman ideology of war and conquest in its development can be found in W. V.

Harris, War and Imperialism in Republican Rome 327-70 BC. (Oxford: Oxford Univer-

sity Press, 1979).



6 Rev 5:10; 20:6; 22:5.

7 Note the use of kratos or ischys/ischyros in the book: 1:5; 5:2,12,13; 6:15; 7:12;

10:1; 18:2,8,10,21; 19:6.



8 S. R. F. Price, "Between Man and God: Sacrifice in the Roman Imperial Cult," JRS

70 (1980) 28, estimates that ca. 1500 items about the Imperial cult were published be-

tween 1960 and 1980 alone.

9 In the wealth of literature on the Imperial cult, scholars generally have made a

sharp distinction between politics and religion in assessing the nature of ruler-cults in

antiquity.

J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 87


pluralism in the first century, the answer would appear to lodge some-

where in between. Revelation 5, a throne-vision of the “Lamb,” is key in

the interpretation of the apocalyptic visions of John. In 5:1-14 the

reader catches a glimpse of both the political ramifications of Imperial

pretension as well as the religious implications of absolutist Imperial

claims. Both kingly and priestly imagery are employed to reassure John's

audience.

Attention has been drawn earlier in this century10 as well as more

recently11 to the "polemical parallelism" between the Imperial cult and

early Christianity. The language of adoration and worship associated

with the former is transferred by the writer of the Apocalypse from a

deified emperor to Christ. Most conspicuous in Revelation is the em-

phasis on ritual and ceremony.12 Ritual demonstrates precisely where

human loyalties are to be found.13 To affirm the sovereignty of one is in

fact to deny it to another. Worship, hence, is the confession of one's all.

In the Apocalypse, the reader is confronted with an absolute antithesis;

no compromise is possible. Since confession of one is clearly a negation

of another, the Christian community is challenged with a dilemma

stemming from claims of ultimacy by the Imperium.14

From a pragmatic standpoint, the offenses of Christians to the Im-

perial court were political and not religious per se. To the extent that it

refused to confess the sovereignty of the Empire and, by representation,


10 A Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (New York/London: Hodder & Stough-

ton, 1910) 346; also E. Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1952) 174-91.



11 P. Barnett, "Polemical Parallelism: Some Further Reflections on the Apocalypse;

JSNT 35 (1989) 111-20.

12 K.-P Jorns, in Das hymnische Evangelium (Gutersloh: Mohn, 1971), has exam-

ined the liturgical character of the Apocalypse in a thorough manner. Earlier, O. A Piper,

'The Apocalypse of John and the Liturgy of the Early Church," CH 20 (1951) 17-18, had

observed the liturgical links with the Psalms, Isaiah and Daniel. See, also, L. Hurtado,

"Revelation 4-5 in the Light of Jewish Apocalyptic Analogies," JSNT 25 (1985) 105-6.

13 Thus, Barnett, "Parallelism," 113.

14 In koine the terms used to denote imperial sovereignty are basileus/basileia and

occur ten times in the Apocalypse. An interesting hint at the conflicting claims of sover-

eignty surfaces in Acts 17:7, where Christians are depicted as "defying Caesar's decrees,

saying that there is another king (basilea heteron), one called Jesus." The tone here is

one of contempt

The image (eikon) and legend (epigraphe) associated with the coin handed to Jesus

constitute an element of religious symbolism that is best understood in the light of the

Imperial cult. The coin probably read TIBERIUS CAESAR DIYI AUGUSTI FILIUS



AUGUSTUS (thus, E W. Madden, History of Jewish Coinage [London: Methuen, 1964]

247) and would have represented a test of allegiance. Jesus' answer was both a tacit re-

nunciation of emperor worship (" . . . and unto God [render] the things that are God's")

and an acknowledgement of contemporary political realities ("Render unto Caesar. . .").

The function of the image is simultaneously economic and religious. At root, the coin

represented the intolerance of any rival images to power (see A. Wallace-Hadrill, "Image

and Authority in the Coinage of Augustus; JRS 76 [1986] 85-87).
88 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the emperor, the Christian Church was perceived as a menace to im-

perial unity and supremacy. Inasmuch as the Christians called Jesus



Kyrios/Dominus,15 the same title could not legitimately be ascribed to

the emperor--a dilemma interpreted plainly enough by Pliny.16 Ulti-

mately, for the first-century Christian the matter comes down to a fun-

damental antithesis: Divus Imperator ("Emperor Divine") or Christus



Dominus ("Christ the Lord"). Christians refused to acknowledge Caesar

as god-man, while at the same time proclaiming Christ to be the God-

Man who ruled even Caesar. Such de-sanctifying of the state was cer-

tainly not lost on the emperor himself. The Christian disciple is thus at

root an imperial antagonist; one's devotion cannot be split.
The Function of Revelation 5

Chapters 4 and 5 of this apocalyptic drama mark the introduction

of the Lamb. The audience is transferred in John's vision from the

seven churches to the courts of the heavenly throne room to observe, in

a liturgical context,17 the pivotal event of history along with its

ramifications. Here one notes two settings pervading John's vision: the

throne and the altar. Everything occurring in chaps. 4-5 transpires be-

tween these two axes, suggesting that the vision contains both political

and religious implications.

Initially, John sees a throne and "one sitting upon it" (4:2). It is

significant that the action of God in chaps. 4-5 is foremost one of sit-

ting--that is, of reigning and judging. Of the sixty-two occurrences of

throngs in the NT, forty-six are found in the Apocalypse, with nineteen

in these two chapters alone. The central fact that pervades heaven is

the absolute authority of God,18 and this authority flows ek tes dexias

tau kathemenou epi tau thronou, "from the right hand of the one sit-
15 Caesar was hailed as Dominus only from the time of Domitian on (a generation

after Paul), although Kyrios was used of the Caesar in the East almost from the beginning.



16 Ep., 90.

17 R. Deichgraber, Gotteshymnus und Christushymnus in der fruhen Christenheit

(Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967) 46, 58, assumes that the picture of heavenly

worship in chaps. 4-5 is reflecting to a certain degree early Christian worship, a notion

advanced earlier this century by w: Bousset, Kyrios Christos (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &

Ruprecht, 1921) 235. More importantly, the hymns of 4-5 function as counterparts to

imperial court ceremony, an interpretive key briefly noted in n E. Aune, The New Testa-



ment in Its Literary Environment (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987) 243. Given the

allusions to Imperial liturgy from the early Christian era--e.g., in Dio Cassius (59.24.5) and

Tacitus (Ann. 14.15)-this scheme needs to be explored further.

18 One need only observe the various designations for God in these two chapters to

see this forcefully illustrated: ho kathemenos epi ton thronon (4:2,3,9,10; 5:1,7;13); ho



pantokrator (4:8); Kyrios ho theos (4:8); ho en kai ho on kai ho erchomenos (4:8); ho

kyrios (4:11). Ho theos, kyrios and ho pantokrator embrace what YHWH, ‘Adonay and

El ‘Elyon did in the OT.


J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 89
ting on the throne" (5:1,7).19 The supreme authority of God over the

universe having been established, judgments thus proceed as an out-

working in history (6:1-19:10).

Containing a view of history from the divine standpoint, the

scroll20 of Revelation 5 in essence represents the book of destiny.

According to Roman stipulations, the sealing of a will was done in the

presence of seven witnesses.21 Viewed as such, history, which conceals

the divine purpose, is irrevocable in accordance with the will of the

Sovereign Lord. For this reason John weeps, since no one is able to

loosen the seals to the scroll (5:3). The opening of these seals, which

commences the judgments of 6:1ff, is achieved only through God's

chosen agent, the Lamb of Revelation 5.

Traditional commentary has observed the progression of the Johan-

nine visions in the Revelation--Jesus seen as both priest and king pos-

sessing sovereign authority, Jesus addressing the seven churches, then

the throne-vision revealing Jesus' intercessory work as the "Lamb."

Chapter 5, viewed in the contextual flow, is a crucial introduction to the

vision of 6:1ff, in which the audience witnesses judgments poured out

upon the earth. What has generally been absent from commentary on

Revelation 5 is the literary-rhetorical-visionary strategy behind much of

the imagery. The vision, as it turns out, is heavily imbued with "im-

perial" overtones. The "Lamb"--ie., the "Lion-Lamb" who is simulta-

neously "savior" and "conqueror"--is revealed in terms that are uniquely

and painfully familiar to a first-century audience living in Asia Minor.

Borrowing images and epithets suggesting conscious “polemical paral-

lels,” John portrays Jesus in a manner that causes even the glories of the

Imperial throne to pale by contrast.

What were some of the political realities associated with Roman im-

perium that would have tested the mettle of Christians in Asia Minor?

What were the consequences of Imperial claims to sovereignty? The

task of interpretation, one discovers, is aided by attending to the social

realities of life in the Eastern provinces.


The Nature and Permanence of Imperium
The cult of an emperor, a "savior,” is to be found in the seed of Rome

early on. With city-states dying, pax Romana abroad and no significant

nationalism to oppose it, Caesarism was but a logical political-religious
19 On power, might and the “right hand,” see Exod 15:6 and Ps 44:3; cf. also Ps

17:7; 48:10 and 138:7.



20 There are three scrolls in the Apocalypse: one for the churches (2:1), the sealed

scroll of heaven (5:1-5, 7; 8), and the little scroll to be eaten by John (10:9-11).



21 W. Sattler, "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln. II,” ZNW 21 (1922) 51. This could well

be the justification for Jesus' title ho martys ho pistos (1:5).


90 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
development. The Empire had brought about the "solution"--"salvation"

for the human race--and was thus worthy of popular adoration. Empire-

adoration necessitated a personal symbol which the ancient city-state

could not generate. In the Imperial cult resided the token of Imperial

unity. The Empire was in effect a politico-ecclesiastical institution, a

"church" as well as a state, not unlike its Eastern antecedents.22 To be

sure, Christianity was per se not opposed to the state; the Apostle Paul

viewed it as divinely appointed with a civil function in the temporal

order. Rather, it was Rome's pretense of absolute authority and ultimate

allegiance that for the Christian disciple was intolerable; hence, the

dilemma for the Christian community.

G. Hirschfeld,23 W S. Ferguson,24 E. Barber25 and H. Wagenvoort26

have sufficiently demonstrated that the notions of imperium (the right

of authority), potestas (efficacy, public authority) and majestas (sover-

eign authority) germinated not in the West but in the Orient. Though

imperium is a Latin term, the underlying concept is universal: the state

as a single, universal society with a god-son on the throne. While a mili-

tary commander, according to Roman custom, would assume the title of

imperator27 following a victory in battle only after returning to the city,

there is no genuine consensus among historians as to how this tradition

developed; it remains somewhat obscure. Moreover, in the literature

there is some disagreement as to whether the title was hereditary or

not. Nevertheless, though Oriental in conception, imperium achieved

deep roots in its Roman manifestation.28

T. Mommsen29 has traced the etymology of imperium through the

verbs impero, “to command,” and imperaro, “to fertilize,” based on usage

by Cicero. Central to the notion of imperium is the idea of triumph, and

by extension, increase/dominion. With universal achievement and con-

solidated power, Rome was the natural conclusion of imperialism.30
22 See E. Barber, "The Conception of Empire," The Legacy of Rome (ed. C. Bailey;

Oxford: Clarendon, 1923) 58-65.



23 Zur Geschichte des riimishen Kaiserkultus (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1888).

24 Greek Imperialism (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1913).

25 "The Conception of Empire," in The Legacy of Rome (ed. C. Bailey; Oxford:

Clarendon, 1923) 45-65.



26 Roman Dynamism: Studies in Ancient Roman Thought, Language and Custom

(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1947).



27 See H. Rosenberg, “Imperator,” Paulys Real-Encyclopaedie der classischen

Altertumswissenschaft (eds. G. Wissowa and W. Kroll; Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1914)

9.1139-54.



28 For contrasting views on the nuances of Eastern-Western adaptation, see Hirsch-

feld (n. 23), pp. 832-35, and L M. Sweet, Roman Emperor Worship (Boston: Badger,

1919) 41-44.

29 Romisches Staatsrecht (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1887) 3.310.2.

30 The meaning of the word imperium appears to have undergone a shift by the

first century--from governance by magistrates and pro-magistrates (a ruling gift granted

J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 91
The reason for the primacy of Julius Caesar in the establishment

of the order of imperatores can be seen in the events of his career as

well as the divine honors ascribed him subsequent to his death, chron-

icled by Suetonius and Dio Cassius. From 3 B.C., at the formation of the

Octavian-Antony-Lepidus triumvirate, until the time of Diocletian,

eighty-three places of consecration/deification were erected in Rome,

indicating the relative influence of the Imperial cult. Augustus, as

the inscriptions show, was being worshipped in the East as "a Savior

. . . through whom have come glad tidings." While it is true that Augus-

tus never allowed himself to be openly designated a god and worship

of Augustus in Rome and Italy was nominally forbidden, the poets of

his age--Proportius, Virgil, Horace and Ovid--were lavish in their

praise of him as Deus.31

The pretensions of Caligula and Nero toward divinity are well

known. Comparisons of Nero with Mithra and Tyche as described by

Dio, with their ascription of supernatural qualities, are useful in illus-

trating how a Nero redivivus legend could flourish on a popular level.32

The Flavian emperors, successors to the Julian dynasty, generally sought

legitimacy by assuming divine status.33 Tacitus34 is convinced of divine

manifestations in Vespasian and his offspring, while Josephus35 refers to

signs (semeia) of his imperial call and Dio Cassius36 writes that portents

and dreams (semeia kai oneiroi) long beforehand pointed to his sover-

eignty.

Domitian, third of the Flavian rulers, became more the divine



monarch. Acknowledged by the Senate as the son of a god and brother

of divus (deity), he became the object of widespread worship, marking

a departure from the moderacy of earlier Julio-Claudian emperors. In

many respects his reign constituted a return to the excesses of Caligula

and Nero. Coinage shows Domitian to have been designated theos.

Pliny the Younger37 notes that flocks of victims were sacrificed to Domi-

tian, comparing the amount of human blood spilled to that of animal

sacrifices.


by Jupiter), to Roman control of the world (imperium Romanum), that is, the power by

which Rome waged war and suhjugated its enemies as an empire.



31 The name "Augustus," from augere ("to supply with increase"/"to augment"), im-

plies personification towards deity.



32 Growing interest in a return of Nero, attested to by Suetonius and Dio Cassius,

would fairly accurately reflect the strength of the Imperial cult.



33 See K. Scott, The Imperial Cult under the Flavians (Stuttgart/Berlin: Kohlham-

mer, 1936).



34 Ann. 1.10.

35 J.W. 1.23.

36 64.9.1; 65.1.2.

37 Paneg 52.
92 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
According to Aurelius Victor,38 Domitian's early years were rela-

tively mild. Eusebius39 places the assumption of the title Dominus in

Domitian's sixth year of rule. A number of inscriptions have Domitian

being referred to as Dominus and Kyrios. Dio Chrysostom40 writes that

Greeks and barbarians call Domitian "Lord and God," despotes kai

theos, "though he in truth is a demon."41 The poet Martial makes fre-

quent use of Dominus et Deus in his writings.42 In fact, the poets--

notably Martial, Statius and Juvenal--did not hesitate to ascribe to

Domitian the attributes of deity.

Sufficient evidence exists to show that Domitian did not hesitate to

punish offenses against his person--ie., offenses against the state rep-

resented by him. A frequent test of loyalty required that sacrifices be

made to the emperor. Understandably, this test was one in which

Christians failed to revere the divus and genius of the emperor. In the

Apocalypse, refusing to worship is an important sub-theme. Corre-

spondingly, the conception of the Roman emperor as a beast in Reve-

lation is not unique; in Panegyricus Pliny refers to the Caesar as



immanissima belua ("a savage beast"),43 saevissimus dominus ("a cruel

lord")44 and incestus princeps ("a defiled ruler").45

Temples and sacrifices constituted part of a nexus of cultic honors

for the emperor-honors equivalent to those given to the gods.

Sacrifices as a rule were made to the gods and on behalf of the emper-

ors, though some exceptions emerged in time. Dio informs us that

Tiberius and Claudius prohibited sacrifices to themselves; Gaius began

similarly, then reversed this policy with regard to himself.

Generally speaking, Jews found no great problem sacrificing on be-

half of the emperor until the revolt of A.D. 66.46 For Christians, however,

it was a delicate matter. Given their understanding of the once-for-all

nature of Christ's sacrifice, commemorated regularly through the Eu-

charist, pagan sacrifice presented a dilemma for the Christian commu-

nity. Thus, the refusal of contemporary sacrifice would be a major factor

in the persecution of Christians.47
38 De Caes. 2.2-3.

39 Chr. can. 6.23.

40 Or. 45.1.

41 See K. Scott, "Dio Chrysostom and Juventius Celsus," CP 29 (1934) 66.

42 E.g., Epig 7: 5.5; 7.2; 8.82; 9.28, etc.

43 48.3.

44 52.7.

45 52.3.

46 E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People (rev./ed. G. Vennes et al.; Edin-

burgh: T & T Clark, 1978) 2.360-62.



47 This assessment agrees with Tertullian, (Ad nat. 1.7.8-9; Apol. 10.1), who writes

that the Christians did not honor the gods or sacrifice to the emperor. For an appraisal of

the Christian dilemma vis-a-vis Imperial sacrifice, see Price, esp. pp. 36-37.
J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 93
As a rule, Imperial worship in Rome began at death,48 at which point

the rank of divus would be ascribed. In the provinces, however, it began

with accession to the throne. In the Apocalypse, the scene is the Eastern

provinces with widespread persecution implied.49 Worship of the "Beast"

forms a critical test; confession and witness (martys) are essential.50

Chapter 5 offers the reader glimpses into the clash between two power

structures--that of the Roman imperium and that of the "Lion-Lamb."
The Lamb and the Imperium: "Polemical Parallels"
5:1-5

In accordance with the Roman custom of preparing and sealing a tes-

tament in the presence of seven witnesses, John sees a "scroll" (biblion),

"having been sealed with seven seals." The precise nature of the scroll of

5:1ff, "written on the inside and outside; has engendered no little spec-

ulation. Explanations are varied: (1) an inner (invisible) and outer (visi-

ble) side of salvation history,51 (2) a "double-document" common to

antiquity, which allowed the use of the outer copy as a summary of the

contents52 and/or means to prevent falsification,53 (3) a testament,54 (4) a

copy of the Torah,55 and (5) a document serving simultaneously as a bill

of divorce for Jerusalem and nuptial contract for the New Jerusalem.56
48 Ruler-worship had its roots in gratitude and loyalty. An intensification followed, due

to the mystique surrounding the Imperial throne. This process is examined in A D. Nock,

"Deification and Julian; JRS 47 (1957) 115-23.

49 2:18-10,13; 6:9-11; 7:14; 12:11; 13:15; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 20:4.

50 In Pergamum (cf. Rev 2:12-17), with the authorization by Augustus in A.D. 29 to

build an Imperial temple, the cult is widely known to have thrived in the first century.

In the second century, it was succeeded by Ephesus. P. Prigent ("Au temps de l'Apoca-

lypse. II. Le culte imperial an ler siecle en Asie Mineure," RHPR 55/2 [1975] 216) has

noted that the character of the cult in Asia Minor was provincial, not merely local. Annual

assemblies were held, over which a provincial "high priest" presided. On inscriptions the

high priest is frequently mentioned--e.g., "the High Priest of the temple of Asia which

is at Pergamum." These regular ceremonies were an effective means of maintaining gov-

ernment in the provinces. Under Tiberius' rule, the provincial assembly of Asia adopted

a resolution to build a temple dedicated to the emperor, though Tiberius balked at the

proposal. Tacitus reports that Smyrna (cf. Rev 2:8-11) was chosen as the site, with four

other cities (including Laodicea) excluded by the Roman senate.



51 E. Riesner, Das Buch mil den sieben Siegeln (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ru-

precht, 1949) 55.



52 K. Staritz, “Zu Offenbarung Johannis 5.1,” ZNW 30 (1931) 157-70; also C. Roller,

"Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln,” ZNW 36 (1937) 98-113.



53 E. Lohse, Die Offenbarung des Johannes (NTD 11; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &

Ruprecht, 1966) 40.



54 W. Sattler "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln. II,” ZNW 21 (1922) 51.

55 L. Mowry, "Revelation 4-5 and Early Christian Liturgical Usage,” JBL 71 (1952)

75-84.


56 J. M. Ford, 'The Divorce Bill of the Lamb and the Scroll of the Suspected Adul-

teress: A Note on Apoc. 5,1 and 10,8-11,” JSJ 2(1971) 136-43.


94 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
More important than form,57 however, is content. From the divine

standpoint, history has already been "recorded" by the Sovereign One,

before whom all principates--past, present or future-must bow. The

burning issue for John in 5:1-5 is who can mediate history. John's in-

tense "wailing" (eklaion poly, v 4) reflects the critical impasse: human

inaccessibility to an understanding of the divine purpose in history.

It was commonplace for the poets to wish the emperor a long life,

often using excessively flattering language. At issue was the emperor's

worthship, his "worthiness" as the absolute sovereign who sat on the

Imperial throne.58


5:6-7

Chapters 4-5 reflect an eastern notion that had penetrated the

Empire, and 5:7 with its focus on the activity around the throne is

highly illustrative. Nero had built for himself a rotunda that repre-

sented the cosmos. This structure rotated day and night.59 The middle

region of the rotunda was the region of the sun.60 Roman poets

appealed for Nero to take his seat exactly in the middle of the universe,

otherwise the cosmos would lose its equilibrium.61 From this position

the emperor judged, determining the fate of humans. He thus fulfilled

the role of fatorum arbiter, ho pantokrator, ie., the cosmic god of fate.

In contrast to the lifegiving bull imagery typical of pagan my-

thology and distinctive of the Imperial sacrificial cult, John sees a lamb.

In keeping with the Jewish notion of redemption by means of blood,

sacrifice in the Apocalypse is viewed as the curious mode of conquest.

Further, the Lamb has died a violent death (sphazo, 5:6, 9, 12; 13:8),

thereby establishing total identification with all the saints who are

suffering. The impact of the Lamb both intensifies the contrast to the

pagan sacrificial system as well as the persecution motif so character-

istic of the Jewish apocalyptic genre.

Revelation 5, however, is not foremost a description of the Lamb's

nature; rather, it defines his role. He in fact conquers in line with the

lion's character, a point that is not lost on John's audience, which is en-

during the trials of living under Imperial dominion. The homed Lamb62
57 On the very Jewish notion of “heavenly books,” see the section “Divine Fore-

knowledge and Keeping,” in J. D. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Lon-

don/Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1993) 99-101.

58 On the emperor's “worthiness,” see the discussion of 5:8-10 and 11-14.

59 Note the ministry of the living creatures (4:8) and of those coming out of the

tribulation (7:15)-continuing “day and night”--and, in contrast, the torment of those

worshipping the beast (14:11) as well as the devil himself (20:10)--"day and night."

60 Cf. 21:23 and 22:5.

61 H. P. L 'Orange, “Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient World,” The Sacral Kingship

(Leiden: Brill, 1959) 487.



62 The Lamb's wrath, contra R H. Charles (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary

on the Revelation of St. John [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1926] 1.142-43), is not out
J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 95
seen by John possesses lion-like power--indeed, perfected power (5:6,

"having seven horns"') with which to wage war, which is essential to the

establishing of his kingdom.63 The dragon and the beast (12:3 and 13:1)

are no match for the Lion-Lamb, who exercises might in all the earth

and subdues nations with an iron scepter (19:15). Written on the robe

of this Conqueror is the title BASILEUS BASILEON KAI KYRIOS



KYRION, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords.'" Notably, it is because of

sacrifice, in stark contrast to the military conquests hailed by the Caesar,

that the Lamb is clothed with authority and mediates history.
5:8-10

Verse 8 is reminiscent of an ancient cultic scene in the Jerusalem

temple, with the choir of Levites in psalmic praise and the priest

offering incense at the altar.64 It also has a notable parallel in the Im-

perial cult, particularly in key cities of the Eastern provinces. Cultic

practice normally consisted of a "high priest'" presiding over the burn-

ing of incense and the killing of a bull.65 Libations and ritual cakes

were used on occasion. Hymns of praise were sung by a choir standing

beside the altar during the sacrificial ritual.66

Liturgical dramatists (hierophantes and sebastophantes) performed

an imperial drama, spoke of imperial mysteries and displayed sacred

objects,67 while theologoi, “speakers of divine things,” offered short ser-

mons in praise of the emperor. These often coincided with the lavish

praise of the poets. Statius registers standard Imperial acclamations:


You are worthy to surpass the Trojan centuries and years of Euboean

dust. . . 68

O glory added to Latin fame, you whom. ..Rome desires to be hers for-

ever. ..Hail, great parent 0 the world. . .


In spite of Rome's claim to supersede all national and cultural

boundaries, Christ even more than Caesar transcends racial, cultural,

and ethnic barriers-and this by means of sacrifice, not subjugation. In
of keeping with his character but concurrent with the homed lamb of Jewish apoca-

lyptic expectation.



63 1:9; 11:15; 12:10.

64 Hurtado, "Analogies," 105-6.

65 Price, "Sacrifice," 29-30.

66 Especially helpful here is coinage from Pergamum dating to the late first century.

Perhaps the best description of a local Imperial festival from antiquity is provided by an

inscription from Sparta (see M. I. Rostovtzeff, "L 'Empereur Tibere et Ie culte imperial,"

RHR 163 [1930] Iff).

67 See H. W. Pleket, “An Aspect of the Emperor Cult: Imperial Mysteries,” HTR 58

(1965) 331-47.



68 Statius, Silv. 1.4.123.

69 Statius, Theb. 1.22.

96 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW


the mind of John, the significance of this transcendent reality is that

his audience will one day "reign on the earth"--in a day, that is, when

the tables of power will be turned.
5:11-14

The poets and theologoi did not hesitate to ascribe to the emperor

attributes of the godhead--numen (divine power), aeternitas (immor-

tality), radios (divine rays), iubar (effulgence), invictus (invincibility),

genius and magnus.70 According to Martial,71 Domitian's numen ex-

erted itself not only over man, but over inanimate objects as well as ani-

mals and beasts (cf. the tripartite division of the universe in v 3 and

similar description of universal praise to the Lamb in v 13). Vere dignus,

"Worthy art thou," was the common tribute paid to the emperor in cel-

ebration of his arrival.

Given the highly visible nature of military triumph that was so es-

sential in achieving Roman fame, it was not uncommon for the Caesars

to take on bynames. The titles most commonly found on inscriptions--for

example, GERMANIGUS, PANNONIGUS, INVICTUS, BRITANNICUS

among the Julian emperors and IUDAIGUS, GERMANIGUS, SARMAT-

ICUS and PARTHICUS among the Flavians72--reinforce how deeply in-

grained gloria was to Roman political consciousness. To the ancient mind,



gloria is a virtus, a strength. It is unique to the character of humans and

distinguishes us from beasts, while at the same time securing the favor

of the gods (Tacitus).73 Along with fortune (tyche), it constituted in the

Roman mindset one of two great principles of governing, demanding

both honor and praise.74 Thus, achieving gloria is in the supreme service

of the state.75

Justification for the second axios-hymn in 5:12 thus finds its paral-

lel in the Imperial cult. And while the actions of the Lamb and the Cae-

sar are diametrically opposite, the heavenly audience/choir ascribes to

the Lamb perfect honor-qualities that cause the gloria of the Caesar to

pale by comparison: dynamis ("power"), the inherent capability or au-

thority that can be exerted; ploutos ("wealth"/"riches"), the effect of his

might; sophia ("wisdom"), the depth of resource whereby the universe
70 See E. J. Dolger, "Die Kaiservergoetterung bei Martial und 'die heiligen Fische'

Domitians," Antike und Christentum 1 (1929) 167-68.



71 Epigr 9.61.

72 See P; Kneissl, Die Siegestitulatur der romishen Kaiser (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck

& Ruprecht, 1969) 27-57.



73 Hist. 4.17.

74 Hist. 2.82 and Ann. 16.6. Tacitus notes that to reject honor shows a lack of

confidence; thus, one must strive for the highest in reputation (Ann. 4.38).



75 Augustine is well known to have opposed the Roman notion of gloria because it

put the love of men over the love for God (Civ. Dei 5.14).

J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 97
is governed;76 ischys ("strength"), wielded force; time ("honor"), a worth

far exceeding that of the Roman emperor; and doxa ("glory"), the robe

of kingly/imperial majesty.77 In the Apocalypse, these attributes qualify

the Lamb and reconcile his portrait in the minds of the Christian com-

munity with that of the Lion in 5:5. In truth, he is perfect deity.
Conclusion
Rev 5: 1-14 constitutes a decisive moment in the apocalyptic visions

of the seer. This scene, framed in a liturgical context, marks the intro-

duction of the “Lamb,” a paradoxical figure in the Apocalyptic drama

who embodies the notions of regal splendor and, curiously, sacrifice and

atonement. Sundry "polemical parallels" are employed by the writer

with a view of underscoring the transcendent nature of the Lamb. The

glories of the Caesar pale in the light of the Lamb's resplendence. Inas-

much as the Lamb is acclaimed as "worthy" of all majesty and honor,

based on his opening of the scroll's seals, the stage is thus set for the out-

working of the Lamb's imperial might: judgments upon the earth. Hav-

ing been reassured by claims of sovereignty that rightfully belong to the

Lamb, the reader is hence given the proper perspective with which to

interpret the ensuing visions of judgment.

76 Cf. Prov 8:14-16.

77 An almost identical list of attributes, with the exception of charistia for ploutos,

occurs in 1:12 in the context of Lamb-worship.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

The Criswell College

4010 Gaston Ave.

Dallas, TX 75246

www.criswell.edu



Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu


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