All who dwell on earth will worship it [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written in the book of life, of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world…
That Christ is here described as the Lamb is not at all unusual: the Scriptures use that title for Christ from the time of John the Baptist forward. Indeed, though Christ himself is nowhere quoted as describing Himself as the Lamb of God, it is clear that the Church understood this to be true from its very beginning. He is not only the Lamb, but the Lamb slain. The easiest identity is with that of the Passover Lamb, though there are other lambs of sacrifice. St. Paul makes the connection with Passover in his statement:
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast…
These appellations for Christ have become so commonplace within the Christian world (in hymns such as the Agnus Dei), that we frequently fail to stop and listen to what is being said, or to consider how astounding the title itself is. It is clearly a title that has considered and understood the larger meaning of Christ’s death on the Cross. His death is not a martyrdom, but a sacrifice. It is the Passover (Pascha) in a new and more cosmic dimension.
I can recall pondering St. Paul’s statement that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” and marveling at the wealth of content conveyed in that simple statement. It forced me to ask myself, “From where did St. Paul get this?” The obvious answer is that it was already a settled part of the Church’s teaching and Tradition. Paul did not find it necessary to argue or prove the point. It is stated, indeed, in order to make a further point.
Revelations does not repeat the mere assertion that Christ is the “Lamb of God.” It goes further and adds that He is the “Lamb slain from the foundations of the earth.” This lifts the event of Christ’s crucifixion from a point within history with a beginning in time and an end in time to the level of an event which transcends time. The Lamb who was slain on Calvary, is also the Lamb slain from the foundations of the earth.
In truth, He is not only the Lamb slain from the foundations of the earth, but also, in so saying, He is also the Lamb Who is slain beyond all time. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Lamb whose slaying is both historical event and eschatological event. Thus there is no time either before the first century nor since, nor yet to come, in which He is not the Lamb Who was slain.
This is a very unique and powerful proclamation. Those who would reduce the sacrifice of Christ into a momentary “once and for all” (based in a mis-reading of Hebrews 9:12), reduce the suffering of Christ into a mere three hours, His sacrifice into something which seems less than its fullness and its greatness. The witness of Scripture is otherwise. The Lamb who is slain for us, has been slain from before creation, and remains the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. As long as we suffer, He suffers. He is the Lamb always and for all.
This does not diminish the efficacy of His sacrifice: it magnifies the measure of the love of God.
There are many difficulties when Christians begin doing theology and introduce historical time into the mix. The sacrifice of Christ does not follow the sacrifices of the Old Testament (as their mere fulfillment). It precedes them. They are but its type and shadow. The reality both precedes them and comes after them for it was always the greater.
There never was suffering or sin on the earth that Christ has not taken upon Himself, though it was not always known to those who were suffering or sinning. None of those who have been born on earth were ever reduced to a category (“those who have not known Christ”). A human being is not able to be confined to a category. The love of God makes such confinements impossible. Each suffering, each sin, is infinitely borne by the Crucified Lamb, for all time and before all time.
Modern Christianity is afflicted with historical consciousness – it is a by-product of our modern philosophy. All things are simply discreet moments within the timeline of history. It is useful for teaching history to the young – but it is foolishness for adults. We should know better.
Simplistic and literalistic approaches to history simplify things for those who would prefer not to think. For the fundamentalist Christian, things are true because they happened in a literal, historical manner; there is no mystery within his view of history. By the same token, modernists (believers and unbelievers) accept things only according to their supposes historical veracity. Thus their concern is determining what “actually” happened (as though such could ever be determined). For some, historical (archeological, etc.) evidence is convincing and productive of “faith.” For others, history excludes the claims of the gospel. Their lives have risen above the claims of Christ, having relegated Him to the dustbin of history.
The faith of the Church and of the Fathers, transcends history. The modern historical perspective is a diminution of human thought – a shrinking of human understanding to its least possible meaning or significance. Nothing stretches beyond itself – nothing carries the irony or allegory of multiple meaning. The world has become flat and two-dimensional. It is the reduction of secularism to the level of the utterly banal.
The richness of the Scripture sees and understands Christ in terms that explode human understanding. The “Lamb” is slain even before the foundations of the earth. How can we comprehend such a claim? How can we conceive of His suffering on behalf of all and for all?
This explosion is the invitation to the human heart to be “enlarged” in the words of St. Paul. Dare we allow ourselves to be ravished by such a fullness? It will rob us of words and even understanding. It invites us into an understanding that itself belongs not to a specific time, but to the ages.
It is the sacrifice of this Lamb that we approach in the feast of Pascha that draws near. It is both invitation to salvation – but a salvation that invites to step outside of every limitation which we have known.
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.
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