It was granted to him [the beast] to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If anyone has an ear, let him hear.
These are strange verses from the Revelation of St. John (chapter 13), but like many things in Scripture they reveal an understanding that we do not immediately consider. When discussing questions such as the Atonement, everything focuses on Good Friday (at least) and theories of sacrifice abound. At their worst the theories become quite literal and fixed and nearly mechanical in their forensic certainty.
But here we have just the sort of verse that throws everything into a new light. Here, the Lamb is slain “from the foundation of the world.” The death of Christ is placed in a cosmic (literally the word used here is “kosmos”) context. History has not yet begun, and yet the Lamb is already slain. So much for literalism.
But, for me, the greater meditation is that Pascha is itself not simply an event of 2,000 years ago, but is and always was at the very center of things. Pascha is not only God’s rescue of His people, it is also revelatory of Who God Is. Before ever the world was, there is Pascha.
Of course, it is possible to minimize this and say it is merely God’s Providence, His provision for what He knew would be required by the foreknown fall of man. But I think this is just that – a minimalization. The God Who has Made Himself Known to Us is not known by us as anyone other than the God Who Is Known in Pascha. We do not know Him apart from Pascha. And if the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world, we never could have known Him otherwise.
For myself, I believe it is another way of saying, “God is Love.” For the love we know of God is never love that is not laying down its life. There is no other love.
I recognize that the Book of Revelation does not play a large role in Orthodox liturgical usage (we never read from it) – but it is itself an Orthodox liturgy, envisioned in its most cosmic setting. We read of Pascha and the Lamb as seen from heaven. And are we not in heaven? Is not this the Pascha that we keep? Is this not the Lamb who was slain? At Pascha we stand both before the world began and at the end of all things.
Behold, the Bridegroom comes.