Criswell Theological Review 7.1 (1993) 85-97.
Copyright © 1993 by The
IMPERIAL PRETENSIONS AND THE
THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB:
OBSERVATIONS ON THE FUNCTION
OF REVELATION 51
J. DARYL CHARLES
The Wilberforce Forum
"[A] god has made for us this rest
For god to me he [the emperor] shall always be; his altar
Often a tender lamb from our folds shall imbrue."
"No one is so proud of himself that when he hears the name he can keep still; no, he
stands up and chants and worships and joins in a twofold prayer, one for the Emperor
to the gods, one for those who are his own to the Emperor himself."
At the core of the Christians' dilemma in the first century was their
refusal to adore the national gods and affirm Roman Imperial preten-
sions. Christian non-compliance in this regard constituted rebellion
against the established order, at the center of which stood the emperor,
hailed as Kyrios, "Lord," incarnate. Although conditions reflected up to
the time of the writing of the Apocalypse suggest that Christians were
not regularly martyred,2 the writer foresees an ominous development.
At issue is a clash of two irreconcilable worldviews. At its core, the
1 Delivered at the 1993 International Congress of the Society of Biblical Litera-
ture, Westfalische Wilhelms-Universitat Munster, Munster, Germany.
2 Notwithstanding the accounts in Tacitus and Suetonius of Neronian persecution.
A. A. Trites ("Martyrs and Martyrdom in the Apocalypse: A Semantic Study," NovT 15
 77-80) has argued that the notion of "witness," not death, is still the primary sense
of martys in the first century. Nevertheless, as noted by M G. Reddish ("Martyr Christology
in the Apocalypse;" JSNT 33  85-95), "witness" entails death in the Revelation; Christ
is identified in the introduction of the Apocalypse as the "firstborn of the dead" (1:5). More-
over, the Lamb is portrayed four times as slain (5:6,9,12; 13:8) and wears a robe “dipped
in blood” (19:13). This blood is generally thought to be his own, not that of his enemies.
86 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Apocalypse represents a challenge to the Roman principate. The all-
encompassing machinery of the imperium Romanum is utterly be-
witching to the world (Revelation 13 and 17), leaving none unaffected;
it thus calls for a prophetic consciousness.
The NT Apocalypse could well be called a "book of powers."3 "War,"
"thrones," "might," "strength," "horns," "keys; "swords," "crowns; "scrolls"
and "overcoming" permeate the visions of John.4 Few dispute that up to
the time of Christ Roman aristocracy found satisfaction in waging war
as a means of personal enrichment, a fact certainly not lost on Jewish and
Jewish-Christian apocalypticists of the first centuries B.C. and AD. In all
of its wars (dating from the Alexandrian era),
In the struggle to live out the Christian faith in a first-century context
where the role of the Roman imperium is unchallenged, John assures his
audience that "the saints" will partake in the rule of ho pantokratar,
the Almighty: "they shall reign on the earth."6 The exact mode of medi-
ating that rule, however, is quite antithetical to the brute Roman kratos
("might") exerted by the Caesar.7 It is in this mediatory role of divine im-
perium that the key figure of the Apocalypse, the Lamb, emerges.
An enormous amount has been written concerning the "Kaisermys-
tik" in an attempt by moderns to penetrate the ancient assumption that
the divine operated through
the emperors. Was imperial worship a foremost religious phenomenon,
or was it essentially political loyalty clothed in a quasi-religious gar-
ment?9 Given the mix of political realities and the nature of religious
3 T. Osborn, The Lion and the Lamb: A Drama of the
4 Given the importance of conquest/victory as a motif in Roman imperial propa-
ganda, it is only natural that the visions of John incorporate this theme. "Conquering"
and "reigning" appear throughout the Apocalypse but find their meaning particularly in
the throne vision of 5:1-14.
5 Cf. J.
A North, "The Development of Roman Imperialism," JRS 71 (1981) 1-9.
lybius (6.19.4) writes that no
one could hold a political office in
pleted ten military campaigns. First-century sources would seem to confirm the central
importance of war in the Roman mindset. Military
achievement, as conceded by
was the pre-eminent source of glory and fame (De off. 1.74,76-78,121). A helpful analy-
sis of the Roman ideology of war and conquest in its development can be found in W. V.
War and Imperialism in Republican
sity Press, 1979).
6 Rev 5:10; 20:6; 22:5.
7 Note the use of kratos or ischys/ischyros in the book: 1:5; 5:2,12,13; 6:15; 7:12;
10:1; 18:2,8,10,21; 19:6.
8 S. R. F. Price, "Between Man and God: Sacrifice in the Roman Imperial Cult," JRS
70 (1980) 28, estimates that ca. 1500 items about the Imperial cult were published be-
tween 1960 and 1980 alone.
9 In the wealth of literature on the Imperial cult, scholars generally have made a
sharp distinction between politics and religion in assessing the nature of ruler-cults in
J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 87
pluralism in the first century, the answer would appear to lodge some-
where in between. Revelation 5, a throne-vision of the “Lamb,” is key in
the interpretation of the apocalyptic visions of John. In 5:1-14 the
reader catches a glimpse of both the political ramifications of Imperial
pretension as well as the religious implications of absolutist Imperial
claims. Both kingly and priestly imagery are employed to reassure John's
Attention has been drawn earlier in this century10 as well as more
recently11 to the "polemical parallelism" between the Imperial cult and
early Christianity. The language of adoration and worship associated
with the former is transferred by the writer of the Apocalypse from a
deified emperor to Christ. Most conspicuous in Revelation is the em-
phasis on ritual and ceremony.12 Ritual demonstrates precisely where
human loyalties are to be found.13 To affirm the sovereignty of one is in
fact to deny it to another. Worship, hence, is the confession of one's all.
In the Apocalypse, the reader is confronted with an absolute antithesis;
no compromise is possible. Since confession of one is clearly a negation
of another, the Christian community is challenged with a dilemma
stemming from claims of ultimacy by the Imperium.14
From a pragmatic standpoint, the offenses of Christians to the Im-
perial court were political and not religious per se. To the extent that it
refused to confess the sovereignty of the Empire and, by representation,
10 A Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (New York/London: Hodder & Stough-
ton, 1910) 346; also E. Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1952) 174-91.
11 P. Barnett, "Polemical Parallelism: Some Further Reflections on the Apocalypse;
JSNT 35 (1989) 111-20.
12 K.-P Jorns, in Das hymnische Evangelium (Gutersloh: Mohn, 1971), has exam-
ined the liturgical character of the Apocalypse in a thorough manner. Earlier, O. A Piper,
Apocalypse of John and the Liturgy of the
observed the liturgical links with the Psalms, Isaiah and Daniel. See, also, L. Hurtado,
"Revelation 4-5 in the Light of Jewish Apocalyptic Analogies," JSNT 25 (1985) 105-6.
13 Thus, Barnett, "Parallelism," 113.
14 In koine the terms used to denote imperial sovereignty are basileus/basileia and
occur ten times in the Apocalypse. An interesting hint at the conflicting claims of sover-
eignty surfaces in Acts 17:7, where Christians are depicted as "defying Caesar's decrees,
saying that there is another king (basilea heteron), one called Jesus." The tone here is
one of contempt
The image (eikon) and legend (epigraphe) associated with the coin handed to Jesus
constitute an element of religious symbolism that is best understood in the light of the
Imperial cult. The coin probably read TIBERIUS CAESAR DIYI AUGUSTI FILIUS
AUGUSTUS (thus, E W. Madden, History of Jewish Coinage [
247) and would have represented a test of allegiance. Jesus' answer was both a tacit re-
nunciation of emperor worship (" . . . and unto God [render] the things that are God's")
and an acknowledgement of contemporary political realities ("Render unto Caesar. . .").
The function of the image is simultaneously economic and religious. At root, the coin
represented the intolerance of any rival images to power (see A. Wallace-Hadrill, "Image
and Authority in the Coinage of Augustus; JRS 76  85-87).
88 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the emperor, the Christian Church was perceived as a menace to im-
perial unity and supremacy. Inasmuch as the Christians called Jesus
Kyrios/Dominus,15 the same title could not legitimately be ascribed to
the emperor--a dilemma interpreted plainly enough by Pliny.16 Ulti-
mately, for the first-century Christian the matter comes down to a fun-
damental antithesis: Divus Imperator ("Emperor Divine") or Christus
Dominus ("Christ the Lord"). Christians refused to acknowledge Caesar
as god-man, while at the same time proclaiming Christ to be the God-
Man who ruled even Caesar. Such de-sanctifying of the state was cer-
tainly not lost on the emperor himself. The Christian disciple is thus at
root an imperial antagonist; one's devotion cannot be split.
The Function of Revelation 5
Chapters 4 and 5 of this apocalyptic drama mark the introduction
of the Lamb. The audience is transferred in John's vision from the
seven churches to the courts of the heavenly throne room to observe, in
a liturgical context,17 the pivotal event of history along with its
ramifications. Here one notes two settings pervading John's vision: the
throne and the altar. Everything occurring in chaps. 4-5 transpires be-
tween these two axes, suggesting that the vision contains both political
and religious implications.
Initially, John sees a throne and "one sitting upon it" (4:2). It is
significant that the action of God in chaps. 4-5 is foremost one of sit-
ting--that is, of reigning and judging. Of the sixty-two occurrences of
throngs in the NT, forty-six are found in the Apocalypse, with nineteen
in these two chapters alone. The central fact that pervades heaven is
the absolute authority of God,18 and this authority flows ek tes dexias
tau kathemenou epi tau thronou, "from the right hand of the one sit-
15 Caesar was hailed as Dominus only from the time of Domitian on (a generation
after Paul), although Kyrios was used of the Caesar in the East almost from the beginning.
16 Ep., 90.
17 R. Deichgraber, Gotteshymnus und Christushymnus in der fruhen Christenheit
(Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967) 46, 58, assumes that the picture of heavenly
worship in chaps. 4-5 is reflecting to a certain degree early Christian worship, a notion
advanced earlier this century by w: Bousset, Kyrios Christos (
Ruprecht, 1921) 235. More importantly, the hymns of 4-5 function as counterparts to
imperial court ceremony, an interpretive key briefly noted in n E. Aune, The New Testa-
ment in Its Literary Environment (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987) 243. Given the
allusions to Imperial liturgy from the early Christian era--e.g., in Dio Cassius (59.24.5) and
Tacitus (Ann. 14.15)-this scheme needs to be explored further.
18 One need only observe the various designations for God in these two chapters to
see this forcefully illustrated: ho kathemenos epi ton thronon (4:2,3,9,10; 5:1,7;13); ho
pantokrator (4:8); Kyrios ho theos (4:8); ho en kai ho on kai ho erchomenos (4:8); ho
kyrios (4:11). Ho theos, kyrios and ho pantokrator embrace what YHWH, ‘Adonay and
‘El ‘Elyon did in the OT.
J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 89
ting on the throne" (5:1,7).19 The supreme authority of God over the
universe having been established, judgments thus proceed as an out-
working in history (6:1-19:10).
Containing a view of history from the divine standpoint, the
scroll20 of Revelation 5 in essence represents the book of destiny.
According to Roman stipulations, the sealing of a will was done in the
presence of seven witnesses.21 Viewed as such, history, which conceals
the divine purpose, is irrevocable in accordance with the will of the
Sovereign Lord. For this reason John weeps, since no one is able to
loosen the seals to the scroll (5:3). The opening of these seals, which
commences the judgments of 6:1ff, is achieved only through God's
chosen agent, the Lamb of Revelation 5.
Traditional commentary has observed the progression of the Johan-
nine visions in the Revelation--Jesus seen as both priest and king pos-
sessing sovereign authority, Jesus addressing the seven churches, then
the throne-vision revealing Jesus' intercessory work as the "Lamb."
Chapter 5, viewed in the contextual flow, is a crucial introduction to the
vision of 6:1ff, in which the audience witnesses judgments poured out
upon the earth. What has generally been absent from commentary on
Revelation 5 is the literary-rhetorical-visionary strategy behind much of
the imagery. The vision, as it turns out, is heavily imbued with "im-
perial" overtones. The "Lamb"--ie., the "Lion-Lamb" who is simulta-
neously "savior" and "conqueror"--is revealed in terms that are uniquely
and painfully familiar to a first-century audience
Borrowing images and epithets suggesting conscious “polemical paral-
lels,” John portrays Jesus in a manner that causes even the glories of the
Imperial throne to pale by contrast.
What were some of the political realities associated with Roman im-
perium that would have tested
the mettle of Christians in
What were the consequences of Imperial claims to sovereignty? The
task of interpretation, one discovers, is aided by attending to the social
realities of life in the Eastern provinces.
The Nature and Permanence of Imperium
The cult of an emperor, a
"savior,” is to be found in the seed of
early on. With city-states dying, pax Romana abroad and no significant
nationalism to oppose it, Caesarism was but a logical political-religious
19 On power, might and the “right hand,” see Exod 15:6 and Ps 44:3; cf. also Ps
17:7; 48:10 and 138:7.
20 There are three scrolls in the Apocalypse: one for the churches (2:1), the sealed
scroll of heaven (5:1-5, 7; 8), and the little scroll to be eaten by John (10:9-11).
21 W. Sattler, "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln. II,” ZNW 21 (1922) 51. This could well
be the justification for Jesus' title ho martys ho pistos (1:5).
90 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
development. The Empire had brought about the "solution"--"salvation"
for the human race--and was thus worthy of popular adoration. Empire-
adoration necessitated a personal symbol which the ancient city-state
could not generate. In the Imperial cult resided the token of Imperial
unity. The Empire was in effect a politico-ecclesiastical institution, a
"church" as well as a state, not unlike its Eastern antecedents.22 To be
sure, Christianity was per se not opposed to the state; the Apostle Paul
viewed it as divinely appointed with a civil function in the temporal
order. Rather, it was
allegiance that for the Christian disciple was intolerable; hence, the
dilemma for the Christian community.
have sufficiently demonstrated that the notions of imperium (the right
of authority), potestas (efficacy, public authority) and majestas (sover-
eign authority) germinated not in the West but in the Orient. Though
imperium is a Latin term, the underlying concept is universal: the state
as a single, universal society with a god-son on the throne. While a mili-
tary commander, according to Roman custom, would assume the title of
imperator27 following a victory in battle only after returning to the city,
there is no genuine consensus among historians as to how this tradition
developed; it remains somewhat obscure. Moreover, in the literature
there is some disagreement as to whether the title was hereditary or
not. Nevertheless, though Oriental in conception, imperium achieved
deep roots in its Roman manifestation.28
T. Mommsen29 has traced the etymology of imperium through the
verbs impero, “to command,” and imperaro, “to fertilize,” based on usage
by extension, increase/dominion. With universal achievement and con-
22 See E. Barber,
"The Conception of Empire," The
23 Zur Geschichte des riimishen Kaiserkultus (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1888).
24 Greek Imperialism (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1913).
25 "The Conception
of Empire," in The Legacy of
Clarendon, 1923) 45-65.
26 Roman Dynamism: Studies in Ancient Roman Thought, Language and Custom
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1947).
27 See H.
Altertumswissenschaft (eds. G. Wissowa and W. Kroll;
28 For contrasting views on the nuances of Eastern-Western adaptation, see Hirsch-
feld (n. 23), pp. 832-35,
and L M. Sweet, Roman Emperor Worship
29 Romisches Staatsrecht (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1887) 3.310.2.
30 The meaning of the word imperium appears to have undergone a shift by the
first century--from governance by magistrates and pro-magistrates (a ruling gift granted
J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 91
The reason for the primacy of Julius Caesar in the establishment
of the order of imperatores can be seen in the events of his career as
well as the divine honors ascribed him subsequent to his death, chron-
icled by Suetonius and Dio Cassius. From 3 B.C., at the formation of the
Octavian-Antony-Lepidus triumvirate, until the time of Diocletian,
eighty-three places of consecration/deification
were erected in
indicating the relative influence of the Imperial cult. Augustus, as
the inscriptions show, was being worshipped in the East as "a Savior
. . . through whom have come glad tidings." While it is true that Augus-
tus never allowed himself to be openly designated a god and worship
of Augustus in
his age--Proportius, Virgil, Horace and Ovid--were lavish in their
praise of him as Deus.31
The pretensions of Caligula and Nero toward divinity are well
known. Comparisons of Nero with Mithra and Tyche as described by
Dio, with their ascription of supernatural qualities, are useful in illus-
trating how a Nero redivivus legend could flourish on a popular level.32
The Flavian emperors, successors to the Julian dynasty, generally sought
legitimacy by assuming divine status.33 Tacitus34 is convinced of divine
manifestations in Vespasian and his offspring, while Josephus35 refers to
signs (semeia) of his imperial call and Dio Cassius36 writes that portents
and dreams (semeia kai oneiroi) long beforehand pointed to his sover-
Domitian, third of the Flavian rulers, became more the divine
monarch. Acknowledged by the Senate as the son of a god and brother
of divus (deity), he became the object of widespread worship, marking
a departure from the moderacy of earlier Julio-Claudian emperors. In
many respects his reign constituted a return to the excesses of Caligula
and Nero. Coinage shows Domitian to have been designated theos.
Pliny the Younger37 notes that flocks of victims were sacrificed to Domi-
tian, comparing the amount of human blood spilled to that of animal
by Jupiter), to Roman control of the world (imperium Romanum), that is, the power by
31 The name "Augustus," from augere ("to supply with increase"/"to augment"), im-
plies personification towards deity.
32 Growing interest in a return of Nero, attested to by Suetonius and Dio Cassius,
would fairly accurately reflect the strength of the Imperial cult.
33 See K. Scott, The Imperial Cult under the Flavians (Stuttgart/Berlin: Kohlham-
34 Ann. 1.10.
35 J.W. 1.23.
36 64.9.1; 65.1.2.
37 Paneg 52.
92 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
According to Aurelius Victor,38 Domitian's early years were rela-
tively mild. Eusebius39 places the assumption of the title Dominus in
Domitian's sixth year of rule. A number of inscriptions have Domitian
being referred to as Dominus and Kyrios. Dio Chrysostom40 writes that
Greeks and barbarians call Domitian "Lord and God," despotes kai
theos, "though he in truth is a demon."41 The poet Martial makes fre-
quent use of Dominus et Deus in his writings.42 In fact, the poets--
notably Martial, Statius and Juvenal--did not hesitate to ascribe to
Domitian the attributes of deity.
Sufficient evidence exists to show that Domitian did not hesitate to
punish offenses against his person--ie., offenses against the state rep-
resented by him. A frequent test of loyalty required that sacrifices be
made to the emperor. Understandably, this test was one in which
Christians failed to revere the divus and genius of the emperor. In the
Apocalypse, refusing to worship is an important sub-theme. Corre-
spondingly, the conception of the Roman emperor as a beast in Reve-
lation is not unique; in Panegyricus Pliny refers to the Caesar as
immanissima belua ("a savage beast"),43 saevissimus dominus ("a cruel
lord")44 and incestus princeps ("a defiled ruler").45
for the emperor-honors equivalent to those given to the gods.
Sacrifices as a rule were made to the gods and on behalf of the emper-
ors, though some exceptions emerged in time. Dio informs us that
Tiberius and Claudius prohibited sacrifices to themselves; Gaius began
similarly, then reversed this policy with regard to himself.
Generally speaking, Jews found no great problem sacrificing on be-
half of the emperor until the revolt of A.D. 66.46 For Christians, however,
it was a delicate matter. Given their understanding of the once-for-all
nature of Christ's sacrifice, commemorated regularly through the Eu-
charist, pagan sacrifice presented a dilemma for the Christian commu-
nity. Thus, the refusal of contemporary sacrifice would be a major factor
in the persecution of Christians.47
38 De Caes. 2.2-3.
39 Chr. can. 6.23.
40 Or. 45.1.
41 See K. Scott, "Dio Chrysostom and Juventius Celsus," CP 29 (1934) 66.
42 E.g., Epig 7: 5.5; 7.2; 8.82; 9.28, etc.
46 E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People (rev./ed. G. Vennes et al.; Edin-
burgh: T & T Clark, 1978) 2.360-62.
47 This assessment agrees with Tertullian, (Ad nat. 1.7.8-9; Apol. 10.1), who writes
that the Christians did not honor the gods or sacrifice to the emperor. For an appraisal of
the Christian dilemma vis-a-vis Imperial sacrifice, see Price, esp. pp. 36-37.
J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 93
As a rule, Imperial worship in
the rank of divus would be ascribed. In the provinces, however, it began
with accession to the throne. In the Apocalypse, the scene is the Eastern
provinces with widespread persecution implied.49 Worship of the "Beast"
forms a critical test; confession and witness (martys) are essential.50
Chapter 5 offers the reader glimpses into the clash between two power
structures--that of the Roman imperium and that of the "Lion-Lamb."
The Lamb and the Imperium: "Polemical Parallels"
In accordance with the Roman custom of preparing and sealing a tes-
tament in the presence of seven witnesses, John sees a "scroll" (biblion),
"having been sealed with seven seals." The precise nature of the scroll of
5:1ff, "written on the inside and outside; has engendered no little spec-
ulation. Explanations are varied: (1) an inner (invisible) and outer (visi-
ble) side of salvation history,51 (2) a "double-document" common to
antiquity, which allowed the use of the outer copy as a summary of the
contents52 and/or means to prevent falsification,53 (3) a testament,54 (4) a
copy of the Torah,55 and (5) a document serving simultaneously as a bill
of divorce for
48 Ruler-worship had its roots in gratitude and loyalty. An intensification followed, due
to the mystique surrounding the Imperial throne. This process is examined in A D. Nock,
"Deification and Julian; JRS 47 (1957) 115-23.
49 2:18-10,13; 6:9-11; 7:14; 12:11; 13:15; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 20:4.
build an Imperial temple, the cult is widely known to have thrived in the first century.
the second century, it was succeeded by
lypse. II. Le culte imperial an ler siecle en Asie Mineure," RHPR 55/2  216) has
noted that the character of the cult in
assemblies were held, over which a provincial "high priest" presided. On inscriptions the
priest is frequently mentioned--e.g., "the High Priest of the temple of
ernment in the provinces. Under
Tiberius' rule, the provincial assembly of
a resolution to build a temple dedicated to the emperor, though Tiberius balked at the
other cities (including
51 E. Riesner,
Das Buch mil den sieben Siegeln (
precht, 1949) 55.
52 K. Staritz, “Zu Offenbarung Johannis 5.1,” ZNW 30 (1931) 157-70; also C. Roller,
"Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln,” ZNW 36 (1937) 98-113.
53 E. Lohse,
Die Offenbarung des Johannes (NTD 11;
Ruprecht, 1966) 40.
54 W. Sattler "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln. II,” ZNW 21 (1922) 51.
55 L. Mowry, "Revelation 4-5 and Early Christian Liturgical Usage,” JBL 71 (1952)
56 J. M. Ford, 'The Divorce Bill of the Lamb and the Scroll of the Suspected Adul-
teress: A Note on Apoc. 5,1 and 10,8-11,” JSJ 2(1971) 136-43.
94 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
More important than form,57 however, is content. From the divine
standpoint, history has already been "recorded" by the Sovereign One,
before whom all principates--past, present or future-must bow. The
burning issue for John in 5:1-5 is who can mediate history. John's in-
tense "wailing" (eklaion poly, v 4) reflects the critical impasse: human
inaccessibility to an understanding of the divine purpose in history.
It was commonplace for the poets to wish the emperor a long life,
often using excessively flattering language. At issue was the emperor's
worthship, his "worthiness" as the absolute sovereign who sat on the
Chapters 4-5 reflect an eastern notion that had penetrated the
Empire, and 5:7 with its focus on the activity around the throne is
highly illustrative. Nero had built for himself a rotunda that repre-
sented the cosmos. This structure rotated day and night.59 The middle
region of the rotunda was the region of the sun.60 Roman poets
appealed for Nero to take his seat exactly in the middle of the universe,
otherwise the cosmos would lose its equilibrium.61 From this position
the emperor judged, determining the fate of humans. He thus fulfilled
the role of fatorum arbiter, ho pantokrator, ie., the cosmic god of fate.
In contrast to the lifegiving bull imagery typical of pagan my-
thology and distinctive of the Imperial sacrificial cult, John sees a lamb.
In keeping with the Jewish notion of redemption by means of blood,
sacrifice in the Apocalypse is viewed as the curious mode of conquest.
Further, the Lamb has died a violent death (sphazo, 5:6, 9, 12; 13:8),
thereby establishing total identification with all the saints who are
suffering. The impact of the Lamb both intensifies the contrast to the
pagan sacrificial system as well as the persecution motif so character-
istic of the Jewish apocalyptic genre.
Revelation 5, however, is not foremost a description of the Lamb's
nature; rather, it defines his role. He in fact conquers in line with the
lion's character, a point that is not lost on John's audience, which is en-
during the trials of living under Imperial dominion. The homed Lamb62
57 On the very Jewish notion of “heavenly books,” see the section “Divine Fore-
knowledge and Keeping,” in J. D. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Lon-
don/Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1993) 99-101.
58 On the emperor's “worthiness,” see the discussion of 5:8-10 and 11-14.
59 Note the ministry of the living creatures (4:8) and of those coming out of the
tribulation (7:15)-continuing “day and night”--and, in contrast, the torment of those
worshipping the beast (14:11) as well as the devil himself (20:10)--"day and night."
60 Cf. 21:23 and 22:5.
61 H. P. L 'Orange, “Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient World,” The Sacral Kingship
(Leiden: Brill, 1959) 487.
62 The Lamb's wrath, contra R H. Charles (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary
on the Revelation of
J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 95
seen by John possesses lion-like power--indeed, perfected power (5:6,
"having seven horns"') with which to wage war, which is essential to the
establishing of his kingdom.63 The dragon and the beast (12:3 and 13:1)
are no match for the Lion-Lamb, who exercises might in all the earth
and subdues nations with an iron scepter (19:15). Written on the robe
of this Conqueror is the title BASILEUS BASILEON KAI KYRIOS
KYRION, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords.'" Notably, it is because of
sacrifice, in stark contrast to the military conquests hailed by the Caesar,
that the Lamb is clothed with authority and mediates history.
Verse 8 is reminiscent of an ancient
cultic scene in the
temple, with the choir of Levites in psalmic praise and the priest
offering incense at the altar.64 It also has a notable parallel in the Im-
perial cult, particularly in key cities of the Eastern provinces. Cultic
practice normally consisted of a "high priest'" presiding over the burn-
ing of incense and the killing of a bull.65 Libations and ritual cakes
were used on occasion. Hymns of praise were sung by a choir standing
beside the altar during the sacrificial ritual.66
Liturgical dramatists (hierophantes and sebastophantes) performed
an imperial drama, spoke of imperial mysteries and displayed sacred
objects,67 while theologoi, “speakers of divine things,” offered short ser-
mons in praise of the emperor. These often coincided with the lavish
praise of the poets. Statius registers standard Imperial acclamations:
You are worthy to surpass the Trojan centuries and years of Euboean
dust. . . 68
O glory added to Latin fame, you
ever. ..Hail, great parent 0 the world. . .
In spite of
boundaries, Christ even more than Caesar transcends racial, cultural,
and ethnic barriers-and this by means of sacrifice, not subjugation. In
of keeping with his character but concurrent with the homed lamb of Jewish apoca-
63 1:9; 11:15; 12:10.
64 Hurtado, "Analogies," 105-6.
65 Price, "Sacrifice," 29-30.
66 Especially helpful
here is coinage from
Perhaps the best description of a local Imperial festival from antiquity is provided by an
RHR 163  Iff).
67 See H. W. Pleket, “An Aspect of the Emperor Cult: Imperial Mysteries,” HTR 58
68 Statius, Silv. 1.4.123.
69 Statius, Theb. 1.22.
96 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the mind of John, the significance of this transcendent reality is that
his audience will one day "reign on the earth"--in a day, that is, when
the tables of power will be turned.
The poets and theologoi did not hesitate to ascribe to the emperor
attributes of the godhead--numen (divine power), aeternitas (immor-
tality), radios (divine rays), iubar (effulgence), invictus (invincibility),
genius and magnus.70 According to Martial,71 Domitian's numen ex-
erted itself not only over man, but over inanimate objects as well as ani-
mals and beasts (cf. the tripartite division of the universe in v 3 and
similar description of universal praise to the Lamb in v 13). Vere dignus,
"Worthy art thou," was the common tribute paid to the emperor in cel-
ebration of his arrival.
Given the highly visible nature of military triumph that was so es-
sential in achieving Roman fame, it was not uncommon for the Caesars
to take on bynames. The titles most commonly found on inscriptions--for
example, GERMANIGUS, PANNONIGUS, INVICTUS, BRITANNICUS
among the Julian emperors and IUDAIGUS, GERMANIGUS, SARMAT-
ICUS and PARTHICUS among the Flavians72--reinforce how deeply in-
grained gloria was to Roman political consciousness. To the ancient mind,
gloria is a virtus, a strength. It is unique to the character of humans and
distinguishes us from beasts, while at the same time securing the favor
of the gods (Tacitus).73 Along with fortune (tyche), it constituted in the
Roman mindset one of two great principles of governing, demanding
both honor and praise.74 Thus, achieving gloria is in the supreme service
of the state.75
Justification for the second axios-hymn in 5:12 thus finds its paral-
lel in the Imperial cult. And while the actions of the Lamb and the Cae-
sar are diametrically opposite, the heavenly audience/choir ascribes to
the Lamb perfect honor-qualities that cause the gloria of the Caesar to
pale by comparison: dynamis ("power"), the inherent capability or au-
thority that can be exerted; ploutos ("wealth"/"riches"), the effect of his
might; sophia ("wisdom"), the depth of resource whereby the universe
70 See E. J. Dolger, "Die Kaiservergoetterung bei Martial und 'die heiligen Fische'
Domitians," Antike und Christentum 1 (1929) 167-68.
71 Epigr 9.61.
72 See P; Kneissl, Die Siegestitulatur der romishen Kaiser (
& Ruprecht, 1969) 27-57.
73 Hist. 4.17.
74 Hist. 2.82 and Ann. 16.6. Tacitus notes that to reject honor shows a lack of
confidence; thus, one must strive for the highest in reputation (Ann. 4.38).
75 Augustine is well known to have opposed the Roman notion of gloria because it
put the love of men over the love for God (Civ. Dei 5.14).
J. Daryl Charles: THE THRONE-VISION OF THE LAMB 97
is governed;76 ischys ("strength"), wielded force; time ("honor"), a worth
far exceeding that of the Roman emperor; and doxa ("glory"), the robe
of kingly/imperial majesty.77 In the Apocalypse, these attributes qualify
the Lamb and reconcile his portrait in the minds of the Christian com-
munity with that of the Lion in 5:5. In truth, he is perfect deity.
Rev 5: 1-14 constitutes a decisive moment in the apocalyptic visions
of the seer. This scene, framed in a liturgical context, marks the intro-
duction of the “Lamb,” a paradoxical figure in the Apocalyptic drama
who embodies the notions of regal splendor and, curiously, sacrifice and
atonement. Sundry "polemical parallels" are employed by the writer
with a view of underscoring the transcendent nature of the Lamb. The
glories of the Caesar pale in the light of the Lamb's resplendence. Inas-
much as the Lamb is acclaimed as "worthy" of all majesty and honor,
based on his opening of the scroll's seals, the stage is thus set for the out-
working of the Lamb's imperial might: judgments upon the earth. Hav-
ing been reassured by claims of sovereignty that rightfully belong to the
Lamb, the reader is hence given the proper perspective with which to
interpret the ensuing visions of judgment.
76 Cf. Prov 8:14-16.
77 An almost identical list of attributes, with the exception of charistia for ploutos,
occurs in 1:12 in the context of Lamb-worship.
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