Grace Doak, Bachelor of Applied Theology student, created a piece of artwork for her Revelation assignment, contrasting the two different concepts of victory in Revelation. Her imagery presented a powerful critique of male domination and power in the church space while acknowledging the grief associated with giving up power and advocating for a ‘victory’ for women following the way of the Lamb.
“As John portrays through the book of Revelation, if a person or church is not actively against injustice, they are part of the problem. If churches are stagnant about the injustice of sexism and gender bias in leadership, they are part of the problem, for women will keep being oppressed and men will keep reaping the luxury of power.”
Dr Andrew Picard, lecturer of the Revelation and the Justice of God course offer students the option of creating an artefact as an expression of their exegetical findings for their final assessment. He suggests that this makes room for a student’s creative expression, and allows for engagement with the theme in a deep and significant way, which draws on alternative giftings to complement their academic analysis; “Creative artefacts not only enrich the students’ experience of the course by engaging different way to express their learning, it brings about a more thoughtful integration of the learning with their context.“
The Victory of the Lamb
The book of Revelation critiques the Roman Empire and redefines key values such as power, victory and worship. In my creative artifact, I am focusing on the victory of the lamb in relation to Roman imperial victory and how the theme of lamb victory can be extrapolated from the text and applied to the sexism which exists within church systems and structures in New Zealand. The redefinition of victory in Revelation is informed by the nature of the Lamb which is Jesus. There is scholarly debate as to what the specific nature of the lamb refers to which I will discuss further in light of my painting.
Firstly, what is important to note when approaching any text or theme found in the book of Revelation is that the genre of it is apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature “invites the audience to participate in the visions and auditions of the seer. It utilizes conventional imagery and traditional symbolism as a shared code to allow mutual understanding between seer and reader.” Apocalyptic literature in Revelation reveals the spiritual reality of what is happening in the Roman Imperial Cult using images, symbols and language that would have been appropriate to the churches in Rome at the time it was written and given them a new spiritual understanding of the way of life for the Roman Empire. People often interpret Revelation written as a vision that reveals future events. In this lens, it brings fear of a destructive future. However, much of Revelation was written as a prophetic vision of the past. “John’s visions were directed by a desire, not to mystify either Christians or imperial authorities, but to promote spiritual insight.” Revelation pulls back the curtain and reveals the spiritual reality of the Roman Imperial Cult. In the same way, my piece of artwork aims to reveal the spiritual reality of sexism within churches. It does not speak of future destruction but in fact present oppression. It is often used in reference to leadership. Connected to the image of passing on a baton of leadership, is the passing of the power that comes with that. In transitional periods, metaphorically, baton passing goes best when the person passing it on is willing to let go and the person running or next in line is ready and willing to receive it. The microphone is also a familiar image associated with public speaking and leadership, both areas that are male dominated in church contexts. In the same way that Revelation uses contextual imagery to portray the lamb’s victory in comparison to Roman Imperial victory, I have used imagery of a baton, microphone, a platform and men and women to compare God’s victory to the enemy’s victory in the context of church leadership.
The Roman Empire’s idea of victory benefitted those with pre-existing privilege and came at the cost of those who were already vulnerable in that society. Their trade and way of life seemed attractive and almost seductive in its appearance and yet ugly truth lay behind the means to which this victory was achieved. Its victory was violent by nature. “The Roman peace was not only built upon violence, but also built and maintained upon the backs of slaves, human sufficiently dehumanized to be spoken of as “bodies” or, in Aristotle’s infamous phrase, “living tools.” The Roman Empire appeared beneficial for humanity and trade and yet behind the scenes it was breaking the vulnerable of society.
For the churches who lived under the Roman Imperial cult, lamb victory looked like giving away their power and becoming vulnerable to the Romans. Because the Roman Imperial cult was built upon systems that oppressed the marginalised and vulnerable of society, a person or church that did not actively resist this way of life was essentially an oppressor.
Lamb victory stands in stark contrast to Roman Imperial victory. Michael Kuykendall states that “the Lamb is a title for Christ which stresses his paradoxical victory-he was sacrificially slain yet by his death we attain eternal life.” Revelation reveals a lamb that has been slain. This speaks to the nature of Godly power being “vulnerable…sacrifice of deliverance” and “sacrifice of atonement.” Under the Levitical system, a lamb or unblemished animal was sacrificed so that its blood could be offered to the Lord in the Holy of Holies by the High Priest. Jesus came to earth, offered himself as the lamb who was slain so that he could ascend to the Father and offer the blood shed as a means for forgiveness. Jesus uses his power by giving it away for the sake of mending God’s relationship with humanity. “The vision of the Lamb therefore portrays the manner of Christ’s victory: through death.” Instead of victory coming through unjust suffering, Lamb victory comes through suffering that brings justice. Another point to make is that Lamb victory was not just sacrificial by nature but it also “provides the source for the spiritual defeat of Satan.” The means of victory is through Jesus’ death.
The book of Revelation reveals that God has triumphed and will triumph over the enemy. This is a huge encouragement to the churches under the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire appears to have triumph as it parades its power. The churches that choose to resist the way of life of the Roman Empire will face persecution. It appears as though they have the victory but John calls the churches to have an eschatological view that eventually God will have complete victory. Even in their present suffering they can live in the victory of Christ.
Revelation redefines victory. Winning means losing. Victory means giving away power. Just as Jesus gave away his power and became a sacrifice himself, so the church is called to not hold onto their lives. In an effort to bring justice, we must give away power that those who are vulnerable, powerless and sit on the margins of society may be raised up and heard.
Lamb victory is not violent and is based on the idea of giving power away or not using it to one’s advantage in order to bring justice. The scholarly debate on the topic of Revelation’s critique of victory mainly lies in the perspective of whether the lamb was violent or not. This is based on the interchanging image of the lion and the lamb in Revelation. In my painting, I am expressing the perspective that lamb victory is non-violent. This is portrayed through the woman who is holding a baton. Instead of a violent power struggle, God is calling men to pass on their power and leadership roles to woman. It is a peaceful sacrifice for the purpose of bringing equality. Women have been oppressed by the patriarchal system churches were once built on and still carry to a certain extent. This is shown through the man with microphone (representing leadership and speaking). And yet his privilege to be in that space (platform) comes by way of the oppression of women (shown through his platform hiding and weighing down the woman who is struggling in the painting). Her pain is his gain.
C.H.Dodd concludes that the way to interpret the changing imagery between the lion and lamb is that lamb is actually a lion. Because of this his conclusion of the nature of the lamb is one of violence like a lion. On the other hand, Michael Kuykendall argues against this point of view, believing that although the lamb is powerful, it is not violent like a lion. Kuykendall rightfully states that “the seven horns of the Lamb symbolize the completeness and fullness of his power. Although the Lamb was slain, he retains the image of a conqueror.” This is a perspective of victory which is vulnerable and yet powerful by nature. I am in agreeance with Kuykendall. Especially when the interpretation of the lamb is examined within the context that John is critiquing the Roman Empire’s concept of victory. He uses imagery to change the perspective of victory being beneficial for the likes of the privileged on the backs of the marginalised (like in picture), to one that gives away power to uplift the oppressed and marginalised of society.
The whole point of John using imagery to portray the theme of victory is to critique the Roman Empire’s idea of it being violent and being attained through injustice. John’s critique of this is to show a kind of sacrificial victory that brings justice to the oppressed which is evident through the image of the Lamb. The Lamb is vulnerable and yet powerful. It is slain and yet brings completeness. It dies and yet brings life.
Largely, the injustice between genders has come as a result of the patriarchal system that society and churches once stood on. Particularly in churches in New Zealand, much of this system is still evident. Patriarchy can be defined as “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.”
Often churches talk about the presence of evil in the world, and yet we need to address the injustice that exists in our very churches. In “the Feminization of the Episcopal Priesthood: Changing Models of Church Leadership,” Sylvia Sweeney describes the gradual changing of the patriarchal system in the Anglican church. Speaking of a time of transition in the 1970’s, she states that, “If there was no room for women in the patriarchal leadership of the church, then the time had come when it was the patriarchy that would have to go, not women.” Lamb victory would critique the patriarchal system and call for a new system altogether. Women are ready to take the baton but men are not yet willing to let it go. The bias for men to be in leadership, whether on the basis of a certain theology or tradition is widespread to many areas of leadership in many areas of the New Zealand church.
The problem is that it is not only a woman’s fight to become a leader, there has to be a group of people who empower her, create space and provide opportunity and training to do this. Inevitably, this means that men have to step down from leadership roles and intentionally hand them to women for any real change to be created. Adding women to leadership won’t change anything unless there is subtraction of men to level out the power and ratio of men to women.
The Roman Imperial Cult would grasp the patriarchy and use it to benefit those with privilege (namely white men). The Lamb however, would critique the patriarchy, and even the hierarchical systems of churches that lift up voices of a certain demographic and exclude those on the margins. It would challenge men to give away their power in order for justice to occur. For men, this is a sacrifice. There is grief in the giving away of power. It changes the dynamic that churches have been familiar with for so long. There is also discomfort in allowing a woman to lead, because again, it feels unfamiliar. It is a loss of control and the discomfort of change. However, it is necessary. As John portrays through the book of Revelation, if a person or church is not actively against injustice, they are part of the problem. If churches are stagnant about the injustice of sexism and gender bias in leadership, they are part of the problem, for women will keep being oppressed and men will keep reaping the luxury of power. The intentional passing on of power and leadership is a lived act of repentance. It is both the acknowledgement of doing things wrong, but also the pivoting to a more equal way of practising leadership in New Zealand churches.
In conclusion, Revelation pulls back the curtain on the Roman Empire’s definition and means for victory. John exposes the injustice, oppression and utter disobedience to God through the victory that is sought through the Roman Empire. As well as critiquing Roman Imperial victory, John offers another kind of victory that is based on the way of God’s kingdom. This victory is shown through the image of the Lamb. It describes a victory that is non-violent, sacrificial, giving away of power kind that primarily brings justice instead of causing injustice.
 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World, Proclamation Commentaries (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 25.
 Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy Studies on the Book of Revelation (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 176.
 David Arthur DeSilva, Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation, 1st ed. (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 44.
 Kuykendall, Lions, Locusts, and the Lamb.
 Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2001), 376.
 Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, 376.
 Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy Studies on the Book of Revelation, 184.
 Leland Ryken et al., eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 369.
 Kuykendall, Lions, Locusts, and the Lamb, 184.
 Kuykendall, Lions, Locusts, and the Lamb, 184.
 Michael Kuykendall, Lions, Locusts, and the Lamb: Interpreting Key Images in the Book of Revelation (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2019).
 The Feminization of the Episcopal Priesthood: Changing Models of Church Leadership Sweeney, Sylvia Anglican and Episcopal History; Jun 2014; 83, 2; Religion Database, 131.