Bambi Versus Godzilla
There is a terrible set of movies that have come out over the past three decades. They are the Godzilla movies. Godzilla is an enormous monster of mythic proportions who is invincible and invulnerable. With each new release of a Godzilla movie he ends up destroying substantial parts of the world.
In the one entitled “Godzilla 1985” the film opens up with the beautiful little faun, Bambi, made famous by Walt Disney, grazing on a pleasant hillside. There are flowers scattered throughout the field, and gentle music plays as the backdrop. We have entered into a Disney World paradise. As the little faun nibbles, the credits for this film begin to appear on the scene. We come to the title “Bambi meets Godzilla” when suddenly from the top of the screen an enormous foot plunges down right on top of the beautiful Bambi, and all that can be seen of the little faun are four legs splayed out from beneath the enormous foot. And then the words appear – “The End.”
It catches us by horrid surprise, before the film has even had a chance to start. The whole event took less that 60 seconds. Bambi is annihilated. No competition! And then the second film begins to play as Godzilla moves on to attack his next opponent.
All of which brings me to The Book of the Revelation. It too could almost be entitled “Bambi versus Godzilla.” Though the names of the characters have been changed somewhat.
There are two major characters in the book of the Revelation.
The first of the two major characters is the lamb. The very image of a lamb is one of helplessness and of innocence. A lamb is a small fluffy little creature that calls for us to defend it because it is incapable of self-defence. But in a Jewish world there would be an adjective that would be attached to the word “Lamb” – “Sacrificial Lamb”. A lamb led to the slaughter. The Lamb is introduced to us in Revelation Chapter 5:6-14.
27 times Jesus is named “The Lamb”, and often he is called “the lamb that was slain”. We also hear the complimentary phrase “the blood of the lamb”. (7:14. 12:11) As the book of The Revelation is read it is clear that this lamb that had been killed is Jesus. The slaying and the blood refer us back to the hill of Calvary where he died by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government.
The four gospels give us their portraits of Jesus. He was gentle. A pacifist. He told his followers to turn the other cheek, to do violence to no one, to exact no vengeance, to be angry with no one, to pray for those who despitefully used them. And then when he was captured, he did not retaliate, when he was reviled, he did not revile. He went, says Isaiah, as a lamb to the slaughter, not even opening his mouth, and after a series of rapid trials he was condemned and executed.
Jesus was a lamb that had been slain. It looked like it had suffered a terrible defeat even before the Book of The Revelation begins.
The second major character in this book is the Great Red Dragon. We meet him in chapters 12 and 13 of this book. He is horrible. He is of cosmic proportions. With his tail he can sweep half of the stars from the heavens. He can pour rivers of water from his mouth to drown the lamb and his followers. In fact he is so powerful that the nations worship him as their God.
He is a terrible foe, apparently invincible and invulnerable. Even when the angels of heaven combat him, he survives each of those ordeals and like Godzilla he keeps on coming back to tyrannize the world.
Who is this dragon? In the book of the Revelation it is the devil himself; Satan, that old serpent. But it is evil in a very human form in John’s mind. It is the Roman empire. It is the Roman emperor who is a beast and a monster, who carries out his insidious will with armies of soldiers and laws that spell doom for the church.
This dragon is like the Mafia Crime boss who has his headquarters in Rome the infernal city. And this dragon runs an operation in league with other foul beasts and monsters. This is a formidable foe. And he is the opponent of a Lamb that has been mortally wounded already.
The Historical Occasion
Let me remind us of the great battle front in the year A.D. 95. The Christian Church began its history with Rome being a rather incidental problem. Roman soldiers had killed Jesus but they had simply been swatting an irritating fly. Rome was hardly aware of Jesus and his early followers. Rome in A.D. 30 was somewhat like a great elephant who in rolling over to change positions, had squashed a fly. It was not aware of what it had done. Rome was not openly or willfully hostile to the church.
For thirty years the church was able to cooperate with Roman authority and gain some protection from her other persecutors. Rome was a protector of its citizens for the most part.
But then Nero came along, and he was as insane as were most of the descendants of Julius Caesar. The Church had grown significantly by Nero’s day, and apparently looking for a scapegoat, he persecuted the church. But after Nero’s death the church was ignored by Rome again, for Rome had other issues to face, and so the church continued its expansion throughout the Roman empire.
But 30 years after the death of Nero another mad man came to the throne. It was Domitian the Emperor. He was a carbon copy of Nero. Some even believed that he was Nero risen from the dead. Or a Nero who had not really died, but like Elvis had been hiding out in doughnut shops waiting the strategic moment to return.
And when Domitian came to the throne, the Christian Church appeared to be doomed. Rome declared by official policy that to be a Christian was a capital crime, and death must be the fate of any declared or detected follower of Jesus of Nazareth. There was a blood bath. The imperial soldiers started enacting a form of “ethnic cleansing” to destroy the infant church. What response could the Christian Church make to this terrifying crisis?
John’s Pastoral Counsel
John the writer of this final book of our Bibles is a victim of this pogrom. But instead of being beheaded, he has been exiled to a lump of rock out in the Aegean sea. A pastor without a pulpit and without a congregation, except for the birds wheeling over head.
The seven churches, to which he has been pastor, are flailing around trying to find meaning in these horrid events, while trying to survive these cataclysmic moments.
They feel like Bambi, squelched by the trampling feet of a Godzilla. Some of them are saying, “I guess we lost. Game over. Wonderful idea while it lasted. A kingdom of peace and purity! A life of love and light! It was a dream, that has now become a nightmare. Jesus and His church have lost. Caesar and Rome have won. We are vanquished. We might just as well surrender and come to terms with the victor.”
The church in Asia Minor is collapsing under the pressure, and are convinced that the infernal Godzilla has done it to Bambi again!
John, the pastor without pulpit, is, however, not a man without a pen. The pen is mightier than the sword, even a Roman sword. He cannot speak words in face to face interchange with his struggling congregations, but he can send a message back by the next supply boat that keeps him in food. He writes a letter to the seven churches on his pastoral circuit.
The message is clear in this 22 chapter book. In the conflict between Bambi and Godzilla, between the Lamb and the Dragon, between the followers of the lamb and the forces of Rome, there really is no contest. His message in capsule form is found in chapter 12, verse 11, “The saints conquered the Dragon by the blood of the lamb and by the word of the testimony of those who did not cling to life even in the face of death.”
They know that the death of Jesus Christ was not the end of his story. On Easter there was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He rose in power and authority. He shared that power with His fledgling church and in sixty years they had become one of the great moral forces in the Roman empire. They had drawn the fire of Rome because the death of Christ and the death of the saints had not stopped the movement, but had only served to scatter the burning embers in ever widening circles.
John writes to the battered community in South Western Turkey saying, “In the conflict between Caesar and Christ, in the contest between Rome and the Church, in the struggle between evil that has its roots in Satan, and goodness that has its origin in God, it only looks like evil has won the war. It is not true! We have only come through one of the early chapters in this long conflict. The book of history has not been finished yet.
Oh evil will win its share of battles. Evil is not an innocuous foe that calls for no real challenge. Evil is powerful and dominating. But God is not asleep at the wheel. Evil will wins its battles. Caesar will have his way for a while. But God will win the day. Jesus and His Church will be more than overcomers, even when Godzilla marches the earth with seeming impunity. For Jesus is Lord, not Caesar! Jesus will be enthroned at the conclusion of the story with every knee bending and every tongue confessing His Lordship. And the Roman Empire and its monarchs will be no more.
Where is history going?
But a question remains. Does the book of revelation tell us where history is going? There are voices that tell us that the Book of Revelation is about the future yet to come. They use this book as a crystal ball to describe the events that are about to happen any day now. I think they are mistaken. There are, however, three things this book is very clear about when it considers the future.
History is not going to the dogs
History is not going to the dogs, or to the dragon or to the beast. It looks like that at times. It looks like chaos is reigning. But that is all illusion. The world is under no necessity to get worse and worse until God has to concede that the church lost the struggle and has to be taken home with its tail between its legs to whimper and whine and lick its wounds. This book tells us that if you were to bring together all the enemies of God to war against Christ and his people, these amassed foes could not prevail. The book of the revelation tells us that pessimism is false thinking. The theology that says the world must get worse and worse until he comes has a rather flimsy foundation. This book asserts the defeatability of all evils. That is true in our own age as well as that of the early church.
History is going to the saints
Very clearly this book tells us that the Satan is overcome by the blood of the lamb and the words of testimony of the people of God. (12:11)
Listen to John as he comes towards the close of his book, 20:4-5. “Then I saw thrones (plural) and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast…. they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years,” The victory is given to the saints. But not only in eternity, but also in time. For the power of the end times is available in the mean time for the restraint and reversal of evil. For this reason the N.T. tells us to “resist the devil and he will flee from us.”
History is going to the Christ
History will not only end up with the doom of evil and the triumph of the people of God, but history will end up with the vindication of Jesus Christ. Hear the words of John in 19:11-16. Then I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war…On his head are many diadems… He is clad in a robe dipped in blood and the name by which he is called is The Word of God… On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
What is the destination towards which history moves? It is the complete victory over evil and the absolute vindication of goodness. It will be brought to fulfillment when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Those Christians in the first century expected the coming in their day. John did. Jesus himself did. Jesus concedes, however, that neither he, nor the angels of heaven, know when, only the Father in heaven knows. These words should be read as a declaration of hope rather than a statement of chronology.
Hear the litany of hope in this book’s beginning:
l:3. The time is near.
l:7 Look he is coming…
3:11. I am coming soon
That litany of hope also recurs at the end of the book:
22:7. Behold I am coming soon.
22:l0. For the time is near.
22:12. Behold I am coming soon
22:20 Surely I am coming soon.
And the church responds, “even so, come Lord Jesus!”
No one knows why He delays His coming, but Peter gives his response to those who are turning cynical about the return of Jesus. “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”( II Peter 3:8-13)
Peter’s advice is the best possible. Live the kind of life that is marked by holiness and godliness, so that if the end comes in our day, we shall have no cause to wish that we had lived differently.