Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: Is Jesus the shepherd (John) or the lamb (Revelation)?
Context is crucial
The Rev. Perry Sukstorf, pastor, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Olathe, Kan.: When interpreting Scriptures, context is king. As we approach the Book of John and the Good Shepherd passage, we see Jesus asserting his divine nature.
He is proving that he is over all of creation and, therefore, king and judge as well, especially when he speaks to those (Pharisees) who will not trust him with that authority.
But then he sheds light on how he reigns: as a shepherd with a calming voice and protective hand and vigilance. Western sheep herders drive sheep, pushing them forward with dogs or horses. Eastern sheep herders lead sheep by forming a relationship with them.
The Good Shepherd calls, and we follow, heading home to the promised land of a new heaven and a new Earth.
Revelation is written in the apocalyptic style popular of that day, decades after the Ascension of Christ.
For Christians it would be clear that the Lamb of God was Jesus who fulfilled the need for a Savior. The one who was sinless suffered the punishment for those who sinned.
The Passover lamb for eternity had been given over to death so that all who were marked with the blood of the lamb, not on their doorposts as they had done on the eve of the Exodus in Egypt, but in their heart, would be saved from destruction.
The poem in Revelation 7:15-17 says the Lamb that was slain will actually become the Shepherd, leading those who were washed in the blood of the lamb to peaceful pastures void of sadness and sorrow.
In short, there is no contradiction. Christ was both Shepherd and Lamb of God.
A complex spiritual concept
The Rev. Marcia C. Fleischman, senior pastor, Broadway Church: In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd. In the Book of Revelation he is referred to as the Lamb. These terms are not contradictory but they point us to ways that we describe concepts.
An uncomplicated concept takes very few words to express its essence. Mud is something so common to us all that it takes one word to explain it.
Love is a higher concept than mud. For centuries, poets and writers have tried to express its meaning.
Spiritual concepts are the most complex. Jesus as the joining of the Spirit of God with human flesh is one of the most complex ideas of all time.
To illustrate this, we see Jesus presenting different descriptors of himself in the seven “I am” statements in the Book of John: “I am the bread of life, the light of the world, the door, the good shepherd, the Resurrection, the way, and the true vine.” These are not contradictory images. They are metaphors explaining how Jesus sees himself and his mission.
Comparing Jesus as the good shepherd and as the lamb is a way of expressing aspects of his being and function.
On the other hand, the image and metaphor of “the Lamb” in the Book of Revelation is the central figure of Christ in a vision. Visions are like dreams. The imagery is highly symbolic and rarely literal. The Lamb expresses the gentleness and vulnerability of Jesus.
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