One of the ways I know I am experiencing stress and anxiety is through my dreams. I dream almost every night, and in my dreams, all the realities of the day collide. People from different circles show up in the same place. The day's events are repeated with bizarre twists and turns.
When I am stressed about something I have this one recurring dream. In it, I am about to travel to someplace and I reach the airport and realise that I don't have my passport with me. There is no time to go back home and get it. I am running around everywhere, begging people for help, trying to get on the plane, but it doesn’t happen.
In the last dream I had of this kind, I can’t find the boarding gate. I am rushing around the place looking for the boarding gate and no one knows where it is. I end up crying knowing I’ve missed the flight. Then suddenly, I wake up. The feeling of relief that settles in, knowing that it’s just a dream, is an amazing feeling! Knowing it was just a dream and it wasn’t reality is liberating.
In the last couple of months of living with the pandemic, these stressful dreams have been quite common for me. The initial high of working from home and trying out new things now also comes with underlying anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, and a sense of loss. It's exhausting when routines are disrupted with responsibilities at home. The world’s brokenness is even more visible than before. Unjust structures are being exposed by the pandemic.
In the midst of all this, my heart was hungering for a fresh perspective on God’s character. I longed for a hope that would sustain me through the myriad of emotions.
Ironically, it was someone else’s dream that brought me this new perspective - John's vision in the book of Revelation.
As part of a Bible reading plan, I read through the whole book of Revelation in a couple of sittings a few weeks back. There has been a great interest in the book of Revelation since the start of the pandemic. Not only because of the pandemic but also because in Delhi we’ve seen frequent earthquakes in the last couple of months and even a locust swarm. All these things have brought questions like “Is it the end of the world?” “What clues can we get from Revelation about it?” and along with these a series of WhatsApp forwards with a whole host of connections between current events and images from Revelation.
More than answering all these questions, at its heart Revelation is an uncovering, it’s like opening the curtains on earth to see the divine perspective. And this perspective is through symbolic dreams and visions in a literary style filled with Old Testament imagery familiar to the audience that first receives this letter. These symbolic dreams and visions reveal a heavenly perspective on history, so that the present can be viewed in the light of history’s final outcome – God’s redeemed new creation.
It’s a message of comfort and hope to its first audience, the suffering and persecuted church. It’s also a message of comfort and hope to every generation of believers weighed down by the brokenness of the world, because it points to God’s conquering victory over all through Jesus.
In Chapter 4, John who writes this Revelation sees a vision of God’s heavenly throne room. God is seated on the throne, He is the creator, He is the sovereign ruler, He is holy and He is worthy of worship. In Chapter 5, John sees a scroll at the right hand of God with writing inside and outside and sealed with seven seals. The number seven is constantly repeated in the book and it symbolises completion and perfection. The scroll is like the plan that an architect would have for his building. It is God’s plan for history and an unveiling of His justice and His redemption plan for creation.
And there’s a call sent out – who is worthy to open the scroll? Is there anyone, anyone who has not had a hand in the brokenness of creation, anyone whose hands are clean, anyone who deserves to open the scroll? And no one is found who is worthy, no one in heaven, no one on the earth, no one under the earth, no one in all creation. There is incredible tension!
John begins to weep loudly, and I feel the tension here as I would feel it in my dream, running to and fro trying to find anyone who would help me out of the situation. We are meant to feel the tension, meant to feel the angst of the hopelessness we feel in situations sometimes. Especially as we go through an uncertain and overwhelming season with no end in sight.
John hears these words of comfort from one of the elders, “Don’t weep.” There is someone who can open the scroll. See, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, He has conquered He can open the scroll. The Lion of Judah and the Root of David are both terms that refers to the Messiah from the Old Testament. The prophesied Messianic King from the tribe of Judah and the one who will come from David’s line, the King who will rule forever. The Messiah has conquered, He has won the victory and He can open the scroll. And John looks to see this conquering King and what does he see?
John hears announced the Lion of Judah has conquered but what he sees is the Lamb who looks like it has been slain. The imagery is astounding, this is Jesus – He is the Messianic King – the Lion of Judah, the promised King from David’s line – the powerful ruler and the one who conquers. But He is also the Lamb, the one who gave Himself as a sacrifice, who conquered through His death on the cross, who has defeated sin and death, not by military power but by His own sacrifice and who rose again in victory. This is who Jesus is, He is all-powerful and He is all-knowing, and yet, He is the gentle Lamb who gave himself up, who sacrificed himself for the sake of His enemies. He has redeemed creation, He has won the victory – over sin, over death, over corruption, over injustice - through His work on the cross.
Our hope is built on who Jesus is and what He has accomplished. He is the conquering King but He is also the man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, pierced for us and for our transgressions. He is the one who is with us in our suffering and He is the one who conquers over everything that holds us down. Throughout the book of Revelation, Jesus is called the Lamb. We are meant to keep both images in mind – as we gaze on the Lamb, we remember He is the Lion, He is the one who rules. As we gaze on the Lion, we remember He is the Lamb, who gave Himself as a sacrifice. When we feel the weight of our burdens, we remember He has conquered, we are conquerors through Him and not in our own strength. When we are tempted to operate out of selfishness and self-service, we remember the self-sacrificial service of the Lamb.
Our hope is built on the One who is worthy – on Jesus – the Lion and the Lamb. My prayer is for my gaze to be fixed on Jesus, the Lion and the Lamb, and to let this perspective bring hope into my heart as I live through this present reality. To live with hope today in the light of the future, with a renewed vision of the calling to be God's image-bearers ushering in His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, reflecting His truth, beauty, and justice.
Here is a song based on this passage that has been a constant on my playlist. I hope this ministers to you as well – Is He Worthy?