Most imagery in Revelation has a range of possible connotations. We should not insist on wringing a meaning from every detail in John's vision; sometimes he seems to intend for us to get an overall effect rather than a very specific breakdown of meaning. With that in mind, here is a thumbnail sketch of some possible meanings for the most prominent symbols:

LAMB. The early church understood the phrase "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (Isa. 53:7) as a reference to Jesus (Acts 8:32). The death of Jesus on the cross was the definitive Passover offering that made temple sacrifices no longer necessary (Heb. 9). Lamb imagery in Revelation should not be interpreted as passive or wimpy: other apocalyptic writings sometimes depicted a Warrior-Lamb who would conquer and destroy wild beasts that attacked the flock of God's people (see Testament of Joseph 19:8). The Lamb in Revelation has seven horns (symbols of power) along with the vulnerability of having been wounded.

HORN. The Lamb in Revelation has seven horns and the Beast has ten. In apocalyptic writings, a horn typically represents either political power in general or a specific ruler. Judas Maccabeus, leader of the 167 B.C. revolt against foreign Greek oppressors, was referred to as "one great horn" among six others on the head of a lamb (1 Enoch 90:9). Daniel 7:8–11 uses the image of an arrogant "horn" to describe the blasphemous Greek ruler (Antiochus IV) against whom Judas Maccabeus rebelled.

BEAST. Daniel 7:1–8 describes four beasts: a lion (Babylon?), a bear (Me dia?), a leopard (Persia?), and a ten-headed creature (Alexander the Great?). Daniel (7:23) is clear that the four beasts are kingdoms. John of Patmos (Rev. 13:1–10) combines characteristics of the four beasts ...

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October 25, 1999

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