The use of the lexeme σφάζω in the context of suffering in Revelation
Kayumba, Paul Lumbu
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The main subject this thesis investigates is the use of σφάζω in the context of suffering in Revelation. After several individual texts have been studied, Revelation’s response to suffering evident in its use of the lexeme σφάζω is summarised in terms of its Christological, ecclesiological and therionological uses. For, in Revelation σφάζω functions as an identity marker for both the Lamb and its intended readers (even for the beast) within the context of suffering. In the New Testament, the lexeme σφάζω is exclusively Johannine as he applies it twice (2x) in 1 John (3:12) and eight times (8x) in Revelation. For John, the victim of slaughter as it is portrayed in using the lexeme σφάζω are righteous ones, i.e., the Lamb and his followers. Though it is both a biblical and historical fact that Jesus was killed by the hands of wicked men, in Revelation the lexeme σφάζω is however applied to the Lamb in a theological passive depicting God the Father as sovereignly the ultimate agent of the slaughter of His own Son (5:6, 9). It is, perhaps, for this reason, that the blood of the Lamb, which was shed as the result of the Son being slaughtered by the Father, is not avenged for in Revelation. This researcher is aware that, theologically, the latter may seem to be a contentious statement. We are, also, aware of the fact that since the Lamb is on the throne, it proves indeed that he was vindicated. However, in Revelation, God’s judgment falls on ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ not to avenge the blood of the Lamb, but the blood of the saints. The slaughterers of the community of faith are explicitly mentioned and are known as “the inhabitants of the earth”; hence, the blood of the saints will be avenged (18:24). Their retribution will fully take place at the end of the age (18:24). Judgment against these perpetrators of the slaughter of God’s people is, therefore, delayed in this interim period but not denied (6:10 cf. 18:24). The suffering and slaughter of the followers of Jesus are not foreign and should never be perceived in that way during this interim period (6:10, 11). The community of faith in its character as a holy, apostolic and prophetic movement on earth should rather accept their traumatisation as part of who they are and as a meaningful part of their missionary work. For John, the slaughter of the Lamb is at the heart of his worthiness, ability, competence and qualification to disclose the meaning of the scroll and to carry out its content (Rev. 5). The Lamb is worthy and qualified to unveil God’s eternal plans for his people and the entire world and to execute them because he was slain, and he is the Slain Lamb. Revelation transforms the negative connotations naturally embedded in the lexeme σφάζω into excellent meanings which the community of believers should embrace. The titles given to Jesus in Revelation demonstrate that he is the central figure (cf. Hand, 2012:102). The vast majority of those titles present Christ as the King and the Messiah of God’s people. His claims are pregnant with Messianic expectations. But the Lamb symbolism is the fundamental and central piece in Revelation Christology, for it shows how best, as the King, Jesus has fulfilled the Messianic expectations. Hence, talking of Jesus using all the other titles given to him in Revelation and leaving out the Slain Lamb imagery, is like enjoying a flight for a long time in the sky and failing to land. Only when the central piece, i.e., the Slain Lamb imagery is added to the many titles of the Messiah in Revelation, the reader would now feel like they have landed. The King performs his roles as the Lamb, who was slain. Without the imagery of Lamb as though slain, all the high expectations found in royal titles of the messiah are empty and mere talk. The slaughter of the Lamb is the only foundational reason for the creation and existence of the Church, and for this one to turn into a kingdom and priests to serve God. All Messianic expectations embodied in the Lion imagery are consequently best met and realized in the symbolism of the slaughtered Lamb (Rev. 5). The slaughter of the Lamb, therefore, informs and is paradigmatic to the sacrifice of the Church in Revelation. When the community of faith functions and plays her role correctly and faithfully as a kingdom and priesthood, her slaughter becomes inevitable. The suffering and the slaughter of God’s people is, therefore, neither alien nor a menace to their identity, but it is instead an integral part of who they are and of who they have become because of following the Slain Lamb. Whenever a traumatic event is perceived as a threat to one’s identity, which shatters one’s life down, the automatic response is either a non-violent or a fierce opposition. However, Revelation in its theology of the lexeme σφάζω presents traumatisation as an identity marker rather than a menace to one’s identity. The traumatic experiences as connoted in the lexeme σφάζω define the status of both the Lamb and his followers. The meanings which are strongly tied up with the use of the lexeme σφάζω are rather beneficial to the community of faith. For this very reason, the community of believers is to accept and embrace their traumatisation and that of the Lamb because they cannot perceive themselves in any way better than who they have become because of being a slaughtered Lamb and a slaughtered community. ‘Being slaughtered’ for the followers of Christ has value as an identity marker because it results from their holding to the testimony of Jesus. They ‘accept’ it as the consequence of a positive and worthwhile commitment. At the same time, they ‘resist’ the seductions, threats and violence of Babylon and hold on to that testimony, unlike the many (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη) who have been led astray (ἐπλανήθησαν) (see 18:23). Besides, the researcher examines the contribution of Revelation’s use of σφάζω regarding the pastoral care of African Christian believers who also experience suffering. John’s use of the lexeme σφάζω provides a different but powerful structure through which God’s people should react to their trauma.
- Theology