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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Red Letter Jesus

The Jesus Seminar in the 1980's and 90's claimed to be the search for the "real Jesus". Of course, they failed miserably. But too many today are failing just as miserably. Perhaps you've seen the "laughing Jesus" thing? (I could have included an example picture, but find it all too disturbing.) Sure, Jesus laughed ... no question. But describing Him as "laughing" misses the real Jesus. The more common suggestion of many is this "Jesus Meek and Mild" image. He's sweet and loving, full of grace, never judgmental; a really nice guy. The "turn the other cheek" guy. The "silent lamb" guy. And we ought to be, too. These folks, for instance, typically dismiss the Jesus in the Temple with a whip because that doesn't fit.

There is a sense in which people like to rely on their "Red Letter Jesus". You know, we use Bibles with Jesus's words in red letters so we know what He said as opposed to everyone else. And that, the theory goes, gives a better picture of the truth and of who Jesus is.

Well, I came across this version of Jesus recently. Oh, it isn't recent. It's just that I came across it recently. It isn't recent because it's a biblical picture. You can find it in your Bible, too. It's from John's The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Did you know that's what Revelation is about? Did you realize that the book is specifically a revelation of Christ (Rev 1:1)? And it's right there in the "Red Letter Jesus" stuff. So what did John see of the real Jesus?
I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand he held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." (Rev 1:12-18)
"Now, Stan," I can hear some gearing up to disagree, "you're not actually saying that Jesus had white hair, eyes of fire, and a sword in His mouth, are you?" So, I'll tell you what. Let's grant that this isn't literal. The fact is much of Revelation is not literal. John repeatedly includes "like" in his descriptions. "Hair like white wool, like snow", "eyes like a flame of fire", that sort of thing. I'm okay with that. But what do we know here?

Well, we know that John saw something (most accurately, someone). We know that this person was Jesus. We know that His appearance was dazzling. Maybe John waxed eloquent. Maybe John gave his best description of something he had no real terms to describe. Fine. Maybe the "sharp two-edged sword" here is a reference to the Word of God (cp Heb 4:12). Surely His feet weren't actually bronze. It stands for something. But here's one thing we know for sure. John did not see a laughing, friendly, non-judgmental, "turn the other cheek" kind of Jesus. What John saw, whatever you think that might be, terrified him ... literally nearly to death. "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead."

Now, Jesus was certainly loving and gracious. He was surely the silent Lamb. But to leave the impression that this is the real Jesus is to miss out on many important aspects of the real Jesus. He said, "I have the keys of Death and Hades." That's not a laughing matter. He did chase people out of the Temple. That wasn't a "Jesus Meek and Mild". And the image so many hold of a simple, easy-going, nice fellow who wouldn't judge a fly doesn't fit with the biblical image. Which, in the end, makes it a caricature, not a portrait.


Bob said...

i can't help but tremble for the con artist televangelist of today. i hope that Jesus has mercy on them. i hope they have enjoyed the money and the notoriety, they have a lot of explaining to do.. i am sure they are hoping that Jesus will be as nice as they make him out to be.

Craig said...

Call me crazy, but I'd suggest that every time YHWH speaks in the Old Testament, that those should probably be in red as well.