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The Lamb Shall Overcome

By T. Canby Jones

Excerpted from an article for Quaker Life, January/February 2005 for participants in the

T. Canby Jones will deliver the keynote at the FUM Triennial.

The Lamb Shall OvercomeThe theme scripture for FUM’s Triennial gathering at Des Moines, Iowa, in July 2005 is from Revelation 17:12-14: "And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which … have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” (KJ)

I've been struggling to remember when I first became enamored with this Quaker way of de­scribing the eternal struggle against evil into which Christians are called. Since I gave the com­mencement address at George Fox College, Newberg, Oregon, in June 1960 on “The Lamb's War” it must have been before that. Hugh Barbour and Arthur Roberts must have introduced me to the idea in their volume, Early Quaker Writings, which contains James Nayler's 1657 essay, “The Lamb's War and the Man of Sin.” Without their efforts and my concern, I wonder if we would be reviving the concept of enlisting in and fighting a nonviolent Lamb's War today?

We might question: “How could a lamb, that most pacific of farm animals, take the lead in the struggle of good overcoming evil?”

Christians see the sacrifice of Jesus, his death on the Cross and the blood flowing from his pierced side as fulfilling John the Baptist's affirmation in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (RSV)

Unfortunately, many Christians today seek to justify their use of violence in extreme circum­stances and excuse their participation in war and military conflict. They believe Jesus shed his blood only for their personal sins; they are not responsible to engage in the Lamb's War, which eschews violence and rejects military conflict as the work of Satan.

The Lamb's War teaches us otherwise! Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-45) lays this command on all of us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (NRSV)

If we are committed to the Lamb's War and engaged in nonviolent force, Jesus’ command to love enemies is an inescapable demand on us. However difficult, this command is a must! If we can­not practice reconciling love toward enemies, we not only are not fit to engage in the Lamb's War, but we are also not worthy of experiencing his transforming presence and power in our lives.

I must bear personal witness to the fact that just as the act of forgiveness is a gift of sheer grace so is the act of loving our enemies. I find it extremely hard to practice such love. I am tender toward those who try but fail at it. By the same token, I am jubilant and my faith in the Lamb's War is confirmed when I observe someone actually loving an enemy or an oppressor.

It is well to remember in such difficult circumstances that Jesus has promised he will not lay on us such heavy burdens or tasks without giving us the grace and strength to carry them out.

Two scriptures from the Old Testament set conditions for fighting the Lamb's War. In Exodus 14:13-14, Pharaoh's army is depicted as bearing down on the panicked children of Israel staring at the impassible Red Sea in front of them.

God's words through Moses on that occasion are a real challenge to faith: “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm…for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’” (NRSV) With that, Moses raised his staff over the sea, the waters parted and the people safely crossed!

Moses' faith at that point is amazing! The willingness of the people to believe and act on those words is also amazing! To be faithful to the Lamb and his challenges requires similar faith.

In Micah 6:8, the prophet asks: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV)

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul instructs us about the power of our spiritual weapons and their efficacy in destroying strongholds. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 he insists that “we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (NRSV) Do we share with Paul his faith in the overcoming power of God?

In Ephesians 6, Paul calls us, as the Lamb's warriors, to be strong in the Lord in the strength of his power and put on the divine armor of God, including the belt of truth, the breastplate of right­eousness, shoes that proclaim the power of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and, above all, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

So equipped we can take on enemies of truth and faith, confident the Lamb shall have the victory. More important than all the defensive equipment recommended by Paul is the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. The Word of God is the Lord Christ himself! The Sword of the Spirit is his tongue and the words uttered by it that slay wickedness and establish the rule of righteousness in the earth.

It is well to remember the warning of George Fox about using material weapons versus those of the Spirit. He says: “Those who take up carnal weapons throw away the spiritual weapons!”

The power of the sword of the Spirit is made more explicit in Revelation 19:11-16. In that pas­sage we read: “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war… From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron… On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” (NRSV)

Whew! What happened to the Lamb of God who conquers by suffering love and nonviolence? Can we understand that this "Ride on King Jesus" figure is the same as God's suffering servant who gave his life as a ransom for many? The suffering servant is powerfully described in Hebrews 5:8: “Son though he was, he learned obedience in the school of suffering, and once perfected, became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (NEB)

We honor Jesus as king solely because he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…and being found in human form…he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11, RSV)

This is a moving description of the true nature of Jesus as King and as the Lamb of God who leads us in the struggle to win the world by emptying ourselves and demonstrating the love that wins through suffering.

With this background of scripture, we see why and how our key scripture calls us in such an inspiring way to engage in the Lamb's War. I have no clue who the ten kings are who are allied with the beast. But we are told they “shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall over­come them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14, KJ)

Are we among those with him? Are we enlisted and engaged in this eternal conflict of good with evil, which relies solely on nonviolence and overcoming love?

This irrepressible conflict on every level of human community will continue until God in his judgment brings an end to history through our victory with the conquering Lamb as our leader. The earth will then be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea!

Copyright © 2004 by Friends United Meeting. [email protected]

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