Revolutionary Victory

“They sing a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation…Worthy is the Lamb.’” - Revelation 5:9-12

The cross is such a familiarized symbol. We see it on the top of church steeples and on chains around people’s necks. We ink it into our bodies and engrave it on tombstones. I wear a small golden cross with six pearls around my neck every day – I never take it off. That tiny cross is often the first thing I see when I look at myself in the mirror each morning. It’s something I choose to adorn myself with, and everyone I come across sees that symbol, too. The image of the cross is difficult to avoid in our culture, and even if you are not Christian, it causes you to be reminded of the Christian faith.  

The cross is the Christian symbol. It’s our image to represent our faith, our religion. We use it to symbolize the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and His resurrection, how He conquered death and paid for the sins of the world. It’s the backbone belief of Christianity: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever beliefs in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). It’s familiar and routine, seen and discussed so incredibly often. But do we ever really think of what the cross can fully represent or what it can entirely mean?

In the fall of 2021, I took a religion course on Apocalyptic Literature, and yes, it was just as daunting as it sounds. We explored texts from Daniel to the Book of Jubilee, ultimately ending with an extensive focus on Revelation. The big, scary Revelation, end times and all. The things I learned from that class were remarkable and faith-shattering. I could write an entire essay just on how the book of Revelation broke apart the image I had of God and how it rebuilt it into something more wonderful, more mysterious than I could ever imagine. (Maybe another time!)
 
Revelation is a form of the apocalyptic genre of literature, academically described as texts that deconstruct an era of oppression and suffering and offer up resistance as hope that a divine being will overcome (big concept, I know). Many apocalyptic authors will take things about their oppressors (gods, emperors, etc.) and turn them on their heads in a firm statement of: “you are nothing compared to our God.” John does this a lot in Revelation, twisting a symbol that previously meant Jerusalem’s destruction and depicting it as God’s victory. There’s so much more to Revelation than I could possibly study in a semester. Still, our class was focused on seeing those symbols of domination and watching them shift into images of empowerment.

I had just submitted my final paper for that course, and I was walking across North Campus towards Starbucks. I was planning on getting a massive, super sweet latte to celebrate. I passed by a man wearing a huge cross around his neck on my walk. Not an uncommon sight, but God chose that moment to speak to me. My brain was still wired on the apocalyptic genre, and God used that to shoot something so quickly into my mind that it stopped me in my tracks.

The cross is the ultimate symbol of resistance. 

Crucifixion was a horrendous method of execution. The Romans used it as a sign of terror and defeat. It was public torture: nails were driven into the hands and feet and hung against a wooden cross until bleeding to death or suffocating. The Roman officials would leave crucified bodies hanging for several days after death, where the public would constantly be reminded to submit out of fear. The cross was a horrible symbol of death, fear, and torture. Jesus underwent the terrible suffering of crucifixion as atonement for the evil of the world. He was humiliated, whipped, and left to die in agonizing pain. But Jesus resurrected, overthrowing death and solidifying His defeat over evil. He brought life and salvation, serving as the ultimate sacrifice to ransom us from sin. It’s the truest story of victory.

Christianity took the symbol of the cross – a historically horrifying image of death – and turned it into a reminder of that truth. A symbol filled with so much pain, depicting the domination of Rome, of evil, and of defeat, has become our symbol of God’s victory. Jesus, just like the apocalyptic writers, took a vile image and flipped it completely upside down. Instead of loss and suffering, the cross now reminds us of Jesus’s love and the defeat of evil. The cross is our freedom. How remarkable is that?

Author | Anna Goellner

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