9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The current United States president campaigned with the slogan “Drain the swamp!”. This call for reform appeals to the perception that those who influence policy in Washington, D.C. are a part of an elitist bureaucracy out of touch with the American people. As a relative political outsider, the 45th president appeals to an increasing distrust of career politicians in the American public.
In the turn of the century Roman Empire, common citizens harbored a similar distrust for the political elite. Originally built on the concepts of mutual obligation and patronage, by the first century of the Common Era power in the Roman Empire was increasingly tied to wealth and circumstance rather than kinship and law. Power was primarily sold to the highest bidder and the average citizen was left out of the equation—or, more accurately, exploited in order to fund their patron’s next conquest.
The overthrow of this corrupt empire provides the subtext for the Apocalypse penned by John of Patmos, known in most Christian Bibles as the book of Revelation. Where such a culture of power and acquisition expected authority in God’s Kingdom to be bestowed in the same way—the lion that John speaks of (Revelation 5:5)—in its place, God sends a “lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (Revelation 5:6).
A meek, baby creature who has seen better days stands before God’s magnificent throne with the power to open the scroll. Indeed, the heavenly chorus responds to the lamb declaring to this least likely one, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).
These common currencies of power and authority in the world are now conferred to this powerless one. And, more than that, the heavenly chorus continues by celebrating the Lamb’s ransom of saints from all tribes and peoples and languages to stand before the throne of God (Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9). No longer is proximity to power determined by who has more—more money, more connections, more might. Instead, proximity to power—a place before the throne—is conferred by the One who has nothing and gives all.
The idea of obliterating corruption is timeless. The moral weight of one’s proximity to power—to “the throne”—is equally as powerful today as it was 2,000 years ago. Though the representations of that power, and at times the execution, have changed, such power continues to bear both the potential for life and for death. And, indeed, an unexpected “outsider” is needed to bring about a change.
However, in God’s Kingdom, the courtiers change not solely by overthrowing the “political insider” (Roman emperor) but by breaking the cycle of wealth and power entirely through the power of the one who is willing to give everything up. This One—this Lamb—having given his very life, surrounds himself with those for whom he gave his life (not those who gave him anything in return).
The cycle is reversed—power serving people rather than people serving power. And so the saints, the advisors of the throne, become those whose only merit is having been “washed…in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
In our present world where hunger and thirst and tears abound, John’s Revelation envisions a new and different way (Revelation 7:16-17). God’s vision for reform does not simply replace the one at the center—in God’s vision for the reformation and renewal of the world, the One at the center instead gives their very life and self for the sake of the margins.
The Rev. Dr. Amy Lindeman Allen is Co-Lead Pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, NV. She holds her PhD from Vanderbilt University in New Testament and Early Christianity.