Conquering Lambs

Conquering Lambs

*The following post, by Preston Sprinkle, is adapted from Preston Sprinkle’s forthcoming book: Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). Preston’s book is due to release on August 1.

In a previous post, I argued that Mark Driscoll’s cage-fighting Jesus has no place in the book of Revelation. Revelation is a violent book, but its violence is absorbed, never dished out, by Christians. The writer of the Apocalypse must have been a pacifist.

Still, the author believed that believers should conquer the world—conquer through nonviolent, cruciform suffering.

Do you think the cross transforms the meaning of “conquer” in Revelation into non-violent conquering or do you think it remains violent?

The term nikao, “conquer,” is used ten times for Jesus’s followers in Revelation. Most often, nikao refers to faithfulness unto death. Christians will overcome, not by fighting, not by killing, not by powerful coercion. Swords and spears and machine guns are insufficient means for ruling the world. This is the way the kings of the earth—those empowered by Satan—conquer. The followers of the Lamb conquer by means of divine power. Christians conquer by being killed (12:11).

In each letter to the seven churches of Revelation, Jesus exhorts believers to “conquer.” That is, worship Jesus and not Caesar; hold fast to the testimony of Christ even if it kills you. Because if you are killed, you win. You conquer. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life,” Jesus tells the believers at Smyrna (2:10). “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (v. 11). To the church at Pergamum, Jesus commends a saint named Antipas, since he was a “faithful witness, who was killed among you” (v. 13). Antipas conquered (v. 17). And to “the one who conquers” in Laodicea, says Jesus, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (v. 21).

The book often thought to overturn the ethic of nonviolence is actually its greatest defender. By suffering unto death, believers participate in the suffering power of Christ. “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come,” writes John. “They have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” How did the saints conquer? Because “they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:10–11). They conquered by being killed.

The kingdom of God is breaking into history and toppling Satan’s rule because believers pick up their crosses and follow the Lamb wherever He goes. With Jesus, they conquered by being conquered (Rev. 5:5-6).

This is such a difficult truth for me to swallow. Don’t think that because I’m writing a book on nonviolence that this stuff comes easy. I live in a culture where all forms of suffering are avoided, or at least medicated. I get a headache, and I pop a pill. I get hungry, and I immediately eat. If I feel cold, I put on one of my many coats. If I get tired, I rest. If I catch a cold, I crawl into bed, call in sick, and pop another pill. And if someone even thinks about oppressing me, watch out! I can bench press 250 pounds, and I own several guns. Step on my private property, and you may end up in the hospital or lying in chalk. My culture gives me no categories to view suffering—especially suffering at the hands of an oppressor—as victory. My culture sees suffering only as defeat, as evil. It never sees suffering as a means of victory. This is why I need to read John’s vision about what’s really going on from God’s perspective to correct my American, self-serving, “I will defend my rights at all costs” mindset. I need to follow the slaughtered Lamb wherever He goes, so that I can reign with Him in victory.

One of the greatest lies lobbed at “nonviolence” is that such posture can’t conquer real evil. On the contrary, God infuses nonviolent suffering with more power against Satan—i.e. real evil—that all the nukes in the world. America could annihilate every single terrorist on earth, and Satan would walk away untouched. Or, the church could follow their slaughtered Lamb and conquer the world.

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  • I’ll be straight up. I have a lot of questions about Revelation. It’s just that kind of book. But the rest of the NT couldn’t be clearer that the author is absolutely right. We win the way Jesus won. We overcome evil with good. The resurrection is designed to power this unbelievable ethic.

  • Kaleb

    I can handle non-violence for myself, but wonder if I could for others especially family? Do we have a right to defend the defenseless that are suffering violence? If so non-violence will not work in that situation.

    I always thought it to be very interesting that Peter carried around a sword that he struck the guard with that came after Jesus. Yes, I know Jesus condemns it, but still he did not care one of his disciples was caring around a sword all that time? I would love to hear how this was not an issue for Jesus.

  • I don’t think that physically restraining an attacker is always wrong; certainly sacrificing or risking oneself to protect others is Christ-like. And so we could get into how much force and/or what kind and/or with what intent. But when it comes to how we parents prepare ourselves and our children for following Christ in this world, I think there are deeper issues.

    One is what is the path we are training them to walk in, practice in, as they are being formed? For my part, I’m telling my girls to grow in their trust of Jesus and the resurrection, knowing that no one can take anything from them that Jesus can’t give back times 100. I’m trying to teach them, even at 8, not to fear those who can kill the body, because Jesus didn’t and doesn’t. And not being afraid allows for lots of options, many of which all parents teach.

    The second (and there are more) is maybe even deeper, and it’s a question of how much we really trust the resurrection ourselves. Can we not only trust ourselves, but others we love, to Jesus’ way, promise and power? The great charge against liberalism is that it does not believe in a ‘literal’ resurrection of the dead. And that is a serious charge to the core of the faith. Is conservatism also open to this charge? How does our faith in the resurrection play out when it comes to this?

  • Kandace

    I get this and I have done the same with our kids. All three of them grew up with an understanding of the resurrection and to “not fear those who kill the body but rather fear Him who has the power to destroy both body and soul.” We subscribed to VOM magazine and when they were older (10ish) we read the stories together. Not to create a fear mentality but to expose them to the testimonies of those who triumphed in life and death b/c of their faith in God. We now have two granddaughters. (2yrs and 1 yr old) Thinking of the Holocaust and someone trying to take one of them from us, I have to say, I would fight it until I could fight it no longer. If I had a waepon I would use it. Older kids who can understand what is happening brings more peace BUT my impulse to protect if that was an option would be the same as a baby/toddler. Ultimately, I am more hopeful in the grace that will be available should this ever become a reality. It can become a distraction to try and figure it all out to the exact detail. However, knowing Jesus-His heart, His ways, His faithfulness, His ability to be an ever-present help in our time of need is what I contemplate.

  • Thanks. I have to admit, as a parent of younger girls (8 and 5), I can’t say that if I had to choose b/n injuring a kidnapper (which would likely risk their death and mine) and allowing a kidnapping, I would risk injuring the kidnapper. I think there’s a difference in avenging myself or someone else and holding someone back, even physically, from great evil, mainly because the latter can be done out of love even for the would-be wrong-doer.

    I think of this example. Many times the parents of murderers are interviewed after the fact. I believe that if those parents could have physically stopped their child from murdering, they would have, out of love for their child as much as anything. Even if they had to break their leg or something similar, I think such could be done out of love. I know that I would rather someone break my leg than let me murder someone or the like. I believe all I said in the initial comment, but I also see some room for the use of physical restraint, even one that risks the death of a wrong-doer, out of application of the Golden Rule. I am beginning to believe that stopping someone from committing great harm, even reluctantly using some physical force to do it, would be more loving to them than allowing them to go through with it. These are still thoughts in process for me. But I still think we are way, way, too quick to jump to violence, and we reveal our lack of deep trust in the resurrection (our unwillingness to follow and trust Christ or love as he does) in these issues. Thanks again.

  • Dan

    RevelatIon 20 includes: “I saw …a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. …The armies of heaven were following him…Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations… He will rule them with an iron scepter… He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty… And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.”

    Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”

    Now even if one believes this is all just imagery and is not to be read as foretelling of actual future events, I wonder how we get pacifism out of repeated references to war, killing with the sword, judgment and the like. Yes, the sword is the “word of his mouth”, but cannot His word bring judgment? The second death?

    I do understand that Christians should not routinely strike back against oppressors, and often have found martyrdom to be a necessary willing choice. But I do not think we can take the whole of the biblical witness and find pacifism. Too many references to both war and defense of the innocent have to be explained away.

  • Bev Murrill

    I’ve known for a couple of decades now that to be martyred is a good death. It’s hard to swallow, but the idea of dying for something instead of nothing is a powerful thought – the blood of the martyrs/the seed of the Church. So many others in nations across the world do not struggle with the idea of death as we do in the West. Somehow we feel as though we are entitled to a peaceful life and a perfectly peaceful death… and yet where’s the guarantee of that. Yes, ‘precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints’, but that doesn’t say anything about lying down in a bed somewhere and exhaling for the last time. Death comes with glory as lives are laid down – I’m sure it sounds better to say than it would be to live out… and yet so many great saints shrunk not back from death.

    I don’t know why we have so much trouble with it; life on earth is just the prequel to real life, and to love not one’s life unto death is a great and purposeful future.

  • Susan_G1

    Anyone who lived through the civil rights movement, or is familiar with Mohandas Gandhi knows the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance. “Non-violent cruciform suffering” needs to be further defined.

    Jesus chose nonviolence and died for a cause: to save the world. Non-violence for it’s own sake is senseless. Not defending oneself against a violent intruder – that is just a waste of talents. Jesus didn’t praise squandering. The prodigal son’s squandering was not celebrated. The old woman didn’t throw her penny away. The rich man was not told to sell all he had and throw it into the sea. Shall I keep my doors unlocked, and preach this to my neighbors? This is passive and naive non-violence. But should I hide Jews (non-violent resistance) during the Holocaust? Absolutely. Chain myself to an abortion clinic door? Makes sense to me. Throw myself over someone else in a shooting? Yes. Allow an armed man to hijack my Navigator for parts while my children are in the back seat? No way.

    Let’s gather in large numbers and block the doors of Guantanamo prison. Lets gather and block entrances to prisons that have a high abuse rate of prisoners. Let’s shield gays from Westboro Baptist Church with a message of love and against hate. But let’s not be as side-tracked as Job’s comforters.