The Eternal Cross – How Is the Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the World?

Among the many striking images in the book of Revelation, there is one that stands out in particular. In Chapter 13, vs 8, we read:

All who dwell on the earth will worship him [the beast], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

The passage is not unlike that in 1 Peter:

knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Pet. 1:18-21)

There is a clear understanding here that the “Lamb” (which is a sacrificial image) is applied not just to Jesus as Incarnate God, but to Him as the pre-existent Logos. It is this reality that I want to press into more deeply in this article.

What comes first? The pattern or the image of the pattern? Obviously, the pattern comes first – the image is a copy. This should open our understanding as we read the description in Genesis of the creation of Adam.

In the first chapter of Genesis, we are told that, on the sixth day, God created humanity. He created “them” both male and female, in His image. The second chapter gives a more detailed account of that creation, describing Adam as formed from the dust, with Eve being taken from his side, after God caused a deep sleep to come on him.

The Church has traditionally seen in these accounts an image of Christ’s life-giving death. The sixth day is Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion. God takes Eve from Adam’s side as he slept just as the Church (Christ’s bride) is taken from Christ’s side (the piercing from which blood and water flowed) as He “slept” in death. Thus the creation of Adam is in the image of the Crucified God.

There is, if you will, a “pattern” that already exists, according to which we were created. This sort of thinking is common in the Scriptures. Moses is shown a “pattern” in the heavens according to which designed the Tabernacle and its furnishings. This is reaffirmed in the book of Hebrews where it describes the priests of Israel as serving in a Temple that is a “copy.”

who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Heb. 8:5).

In John 12, Jesus predicts his crucifixion by saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” He returns to this thought in John 17, saying:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, (vs. 1)

However, He says yet more about this “glory.” In verse 5, He says:

And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

The Church clearly understands this glory to be nothing other that His death on the Cross. The traditional plaque portrayed on the icon of Christ Crucified does not read “Jesus Christ King of the Jews.” Instead, it reads, “The King of Glory.” This is done that we might understand the very Scripture texts without a mistake.

The Pattern, of which humanity is an image, is the Crucified Christ, who is the “glory of God.” (Heb. 1:3) St. Paul expounds on this declaring that Christ crucified is the “wisdom and power of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

Nothing in this is meant to distract from the full historical character of what took place in Jerusalem in 33 A.D. But it says that what took place was neither accident, nor was it “plan B.” St. Irenaeus has this very odd statement:

“Since He who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.22.3)

It is Christ Crucified (the Savior) who is the cause of the existence of Adam (the saved). He is the pattern according to which we are created. Of course such a statement simply staggers the mind. However, it is this that insists on proclaiming that the Logos of all things is revealed in Christ Crucified. Creation is cruciform in its very being.

All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.(Col 1:16–18)

When we participate in the events of Holy Week and consider the death and resurrection of Christ, we honor the events in Jerusalem, but we proclaim that here, in this place, is the beginning and ending of all things. It is on the Cross that Christ says, “It is finished,” and then He “rests from all His labors.” In His rest (on Saturday, the Holy Sabbath) He tramples down death by death and reveals the resurrection on the Eighth Day, the new week that is beyond all weeks. It is His Kingdom that is made manifest among us.

Even in His resurrection, Christ’s body bears the wounds of His crucifixion (not scars – but wounds):

Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”(Jn. 20:27)

We speak of the divine energies and tend to abstract them. The word “energeia” can be translated as “doings.” We say of the divine energies that they, too, are God (God in His energies rather than God in His essence) and that God in energies and essence are one. The doings (energeia) of God reveal what can be made known of His essence.

And so, when we consider the “doings” of Jesus Christ, we see God in action. Nothing that He does is a contradiction of Who God Is. All that He does reveals God.

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.(John 1:18)

We can see in Christ that the divine energies are “cruciform”. “God is love,” St. John says, and we see the love of God revealed most fully in His death on the Cross. God is always the God who suffers for us (and with us and in us). Speaking of the Body of Christ (of which Christ is a member, the Head), St. Paul says,

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.(1 Corinthians 12:26)

Thus, he can also say, “Just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22)

Christ’s teaching cannot be reduced to morality (“do this because it’s good”). Rather, His teaching is ontological. If God, in His divine energies, is cruciform, then we (who exist as His image) are to be cruciform if we are to be what we were created to be. We love because He loves. To love, even to the death, is to live in the image of Christ. “Greater love has no one than this – to lay down his life for his friends.”

The point of this meditation is to help us open our eyes to what we are seeing in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the revelation of the God in whose image we are created.

There are those who want to weaken this Biblical and Patristic understanding and promote the historical to the place of pre-eminence. In that scenario, the account of creation (as described in Genesis) only “prefigures” what is to come in Jerusalem at the Cross, in which case “eternity” doesn’t enter into it. I believe this diminishes the testimony of Scripture and fails to see that the Crucified Christ is revelatory of who God is (and always was and is).

________________

I have written on this topic a number of times. I would point readers to Fr. John Behr’s book, The Mystery of Christ, particularly the third chapter, for an even deeper treatment. I also want to express my thanks to Fr. Aidan Kimel for his article, God Creates the World from the Cross, which also has a more thorough discussion. God give us grace to perceive what is made known to us in the days to come.

 

31 comments:

  1. Jordan,
    Yes. It raises in some minds questions about God’s intentions regarding the “fall,” in that we have completely tied the Crucifixion to the idea of a “cure” for the fall. I would suggest (and there are many far deeper treatments of this) that this is a mistake. How the cruciform character of Christ from all eternity would have been revealed without a “fallen” world, is something we simply do not know. But what we see in the Crucified Christ is not some “other” Christ, or form of Christ, than we would have known. Christ crucified is the wisdom, word, and power, and glory of God. We cannot “get behind” the Cross to ponder some other Christ or some other God. There is no other.

  2. Dear Father,
    Your writing gets inside my mind shakes up what’s there and I’m left with a knowledge that things are now corrected. The ‘plan b’ is in our minds because of our misunderstanding. It’s a ‘plan a’ with this unfathomable loving God. May we submit always to His plan A.
    A blessed Pascha to you all.

  3. Father,
    God is beyond our comprehension. It is wise that the Church defers to, “It’s a mystery.” When trying to assign motive to The Creator.

  4. Father, you’ve said in the past that the Incarnation was always the plan–God revealing Himself to us face-to-face in communion. Was this revealing always only possible via crucifixion? Or are you speaking of “the crucified Christ” only in terms of God’s revealing and not necessarily in terms of the act of crucifixion?

  5. Byron,
    The Christ made known to us in His Crucifixion, I think, can be described as the “fullness” being made known to us. I don’t think we can describe how He might have made that known to us in an unfallen world – it’s simply beyond any imagining. But if He is “slain” in some hidden manner (not as a historical moment – but in a manner that “Lamb slain from the foundation” is, in fact, a proper and eternal title for Him – then it would be made known somehow.

    There was a medieval snag of an argument about the “what-if” questions that I think are unknowable.

  6. Father Stephen, how is Christ’s description of His glory on the cross to be understood with his agony in the garden and His petition for the “cup to be taken away from Him.”? Is Christ speaking from His humanity in one sense and His divinity (as the eternal Logos) in another? Thank you. Your insights are always appreciated.

  7. Father Stephen, blessed Holy Week. Bless me.

    I remember Ancient Faith’s Lord of Spirits podcast insisting that the killing of the sacrificial animals had no significance. Their blood (or their whole carcass for a whole burnt offering) was needed, and the killing “was outside the ritual” according to them.

    In light of your post, could you expound and/or clarify if their teaching on the Old Testament sacrifices have any relation to the sacrifice of Christ ? Thank you father.

  8. Peter,
    I have never listened to those podcasts, nor am I familiar with how they are explaining animal sacrifice. It is not consistent with what I’ve read through the years. Someone else might be better suited to answering that question. Given that blood from certain animals is used in the rituals, it would seem that the death of the animal is not outside the matter. But I’m not familiar with their scholarship nor can I judge it’s reliability. There’s a book that Fr Pat Reardon recommends on OT atonement that I’ve got around somewhere in my office. It’s very solid in its scholarship. I’ll see if I can retrieve its name tomorrow.

  9. Dn. Silouan,

    In last night’s service (Matins for Holy Thursday), I read the following intriguing prayer (I’m translating from the Afrikaans, which is, in turn, a translation from the Greek, so it’s a bit second hand, but I am sure the gist is right):

    “You pray – and o how terrible – drops of blood run down your face, o Christ, –
    as if you plead to escape death;
    thereby outwitting the enemy.”

    So maybe it’s not just His humanity speaking…

    I often realise – as with reading this blog – that we just don’t have a clue of the mysteries we encounter in thinking Christ.

  10. Dear Father Stephen
    Many thanks for this reflection, as always it appears as one thread amongst many all directing my contemplation towards God in Christ

    Just today I’ve been listening to Jonathan Pageau’s conversation with Tammy Peterson which resonates with so much of what you’ve written

    As to Jesus teachings being ontological my parish has just concluded a study on Christ in the Wilderness and His Sermon on the Mount during which we returned over and over to this point.

    Moral teachings do not lead us to Knowing God, and in secular societies are readily disconnected from or better, abstracted from their ontological roots. Doing the right things in Modernity’s terms has no ontological telos, nor is it a participation in Christ

    Thank you once more and my prayers from ‘the West’ for your Holy Week

  11. Francios Smuts are you from (in) South Africa?

    Thank you Fr Stephen, these things really do stagger the mind! Yet I feel satisfied with such glorious Mystery.

    Christ is Risen! Pray for me.

  12. Byron

    St Athanasius discusses this question in On the Incarnation, especially from Chapter 21 onwards. That might help.

    Fr Stephen

    I’m glad you mentioned Fr John Behr’s book. It was a major eye-opener when I first read it several years ago at the beginning of my long and not unhindered journey towards Orthodoxy.

  13. Fr. Freeman,

    Your last paragraph, I feel the concern. How to avoid the inherent predestination motif, I’m not sure, maybe there’s nothing much we can say? If the Lamb/Cross/cruciform nature of existence is not “plan B” and it is “plan A”, then we have to have a way of saying that it being “plan A” does not necessitate that God foreordained the fall, sins, and later redemption. Now, I don’t believe it is a “plan B” but I don’t know how it’s “plan A” either. It seems a partial consideration that “Lamb slain” speaks of the sacrificial nature of love while not being specific about how that sacrifice will be worked out, yet there’s that Lamb language sort of in the way of that – perhaps. There is the reality that the Cross was transformed into healing instead of torture and death. A tree is supposed to be a tree I would think. Taking a tree and making it a torture device is not the intention/telos of a tree it seems. But, if that tree participates in the undoing of what was unnatural/evil, the tree is now a tree again. But we’re talking about a Lamb and not a tree right now. Philippians 2:8 comes to mind, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This with Rev. 12:11, And they have conquered him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” If love and faith and repentance and hope and loyalty are all basically the same thing, then love requires (or our first love requires) when necessary, death, or the preference of the loss of the body in the interest of the other, whether God or brother, sister, etc. – this faith conquers the world and the devil. And this reminds me again, that a view of Adam where he had conditional immortality based on access to the Tree of Life, is crucial here, because the question arises, well, if man was immortal how could he give his life, how could his life have been cruciform in nature? There are only two options, one, immortal man gives up immortality (this Christ did not do though he died, he takes on mortality and makes it immortal while being immortal in his Divinity) – or – man was never immortal (and he wasn’t, otherwise the Resurrection is redundant in ensuring the immortality of all – and this really has no bearing on Christ’s immortality since the focus on Christ’s becoming is the perfection of humanity) which means, he had the possibility of proving love (loyalty, faith, obedience, etc.) to the point of death. Adam with conditional immortality again, could have been expected to have a sacrificial love to become the prototypical man (gods by grace) where already perfected Adam who is immortal, cannot logically or Biblically, since he is the type, not the prototype, do what Christ does in the exact same way. And this is part of the argument of Romans 5.

    Adam is a type of Christ; Christ is not a type of Adam in the same way as Adam is a type of Christ. Romans 5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the (Christ) one who was to come.

    Interesting how close we are here to 5:12 and the OS debacle. Is not the reason that Adam is a type and not the fulfillment or end/telos of the type, because he never reached becoming the prototype (gods by grace)? Adam is type meant to become prototype. Becoming truly human means taking on the qualities and characteristics of the prototype, and if God is love, then Adam stays an analog but not the prototype unless he can love to the death, “no greater love…” Western theology has reversed the order again here. Adam was not the prototype; Christ was and is. Therefore, when Christ becomes, the New Adam, he fulfills the prototype; he does not fail where Adam did, where Israel as Adam did, where we as Adam did, etc. He does not fail to love or to remain faithful under the worst forms of temptation, even death on the cross. But more, he does not just remain perfect as in the Western view of Adam, he perfects Adam/human existence. It is their theology that makes “Lamb slain from the foundation…” into either “Plan A”: everything’s predestined, or “Plan B”; everything’s an afterthought. Let the debates begin for them, with pre and post lapsarian this and that. I think we avoid both by the simple assertion, “Adam was not perfect or immortal and there is no OS.” This puts love back into the telos of man, love to the death. I don’t know there is a difference between saying, “Lamb slain” and “Love to the death.” So, whether we start with Adam correctly or with Christ, we should end up at the same place. But the fact is, if either one of them are wrong, both will be wrong. If we start with “Lamb slain” outside of temporal history, with the wrong Adam, “Lamb slain” will mean PSA from the foundation… If we start with perfect Adam, and read “Lamb slain”, same thing. If we start with theosis for Adam, “Lamb slain” will mean love to the death as inherent to what it means to be human. If we start with Christ as the Lamb slain, same thing. Western theology to blame again, I hate that it’s true, and I don’t say this stuff to be polemical, it’s just a fact. If man must have the heart that believes God counts his hairs, and he can trust, he’ll never truly lose one hair – then he will be willing to lose his life to regain it in the Age to Come. If Adam had no potentiality until after the fall to prove love to the death, then Christ as the New Adam is back in the PSA, predestination scheme.

    Thanks Fr. Freeman,
    Matthew Lyon

  14. Matthew
    Thank you for that
    Might I ask ‘OS’?
    PSA I figured out 🙂
    Blessings of Holy Week to you!
    Eric

  15. Matthew, I think the problem lies in our limited ability to comprehend grace and mercy. It is easier to think in terms of our own limited logic which is totally inadequate and not uncommonly a source of doubt and even heresy in the quest for the false comfort of certainty.

    That is where actual faith and working to achieve humility helps. At least it does for me. In the process I sometimes find my more perplexing questions do not seem to bother me quite as much.

  16. Matthew,
    Dear me! It seems that you’ve gone quite far in pondering a conumdrum. Again, as I suggested, it’s pretty much impossible and fruitless to ponder what “might have been” had there been no fall. What the “Lamb slain” would have meant remains something we cannot know. The the Logos is also the “Savior,” St. Irenaeus takes to be a given. But I suspect that “Savior” does have to mean “saving us from a fall.” It can simply mean “saving us unto deification.” It is quite clear we were not created “perfect” in the sense of complete. St. Irenaeus describes us as “adolescents.” It is best, I think, to leave unspoken what cannot be spoken (though we can speak of Him as “Savior” and “Lamb who was slain” without therefore creating some sort of predestined necessity nonsense). Even the word “slain” can be allowed the license to have an meaning not confined to being killed in the manner we see on the Cross. But the love that is the Crucified is what we should speak of – and see as eternal. The nature and characteristic of that cruciform love is evident in everything Jesus did, but is clarified by the Crucifixion.

    As for the rest, I would let it rest (as did St. Irenaeus). The logic of the PSA, frankly, requires some other God.

  17. Fr. Freeman,

    I again come from the Reformed background. I think it is inevitable to read “Lamb slain before…” without reading it as “Plan A”, as in, everything that happens is “Plan A” in that system – but first and foremost would be the demonstration of the love of God toward the Elect ensuring their salvation due to monergism. And I can’t help but see the same logic in Catholicism as the Reformed didn’t modify soteriology as much as is often assumed, they just wanted all the Glory to go to God. Ironic. I still have Soli Deo Gloria in my kitchen. But for you and me, it means something entirely different. What I try to do is understand, what keeps people from similar backgrounds, from reading an article like yours and understanding and absorbing it. And where I’m not so much trying to give a definite answer, I’m more so trying to figure out what makes it difficult. I get your last sentence, but the logic of PSA is necessary with the wrong Adam as well. It’s just what becomes the need for salvation if Adam was perfect then fell. Falling from “adolescence” unto full maturity is not the same as falling from perfection (a little lower than the angels to – a little better or worse than the demons). For myself, I’m content with man, pre-fall man, had some ability to love with sacrifice. But that view is impossible in many other systems. So, again I’m arguing, without that view of man towards potentiality in love, you wind up back into PSA and predestination when you read “before the foundation”. And this, I guess, for people who may not know why they find it difficult to think the way you’re trying to direct us, rightly, I think I just want to remove a hurdle if it exists, definitely not introduce new ones.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Matthew Lyon

  18. Michael and Fr. Freeman,

    Sometimes what looks like my own internal struggle is actually, one, my former imagination playing out my former theology, and two, since others (most Americans) come from or were shaped by the influence of Calvin, how it might play out. I’ve logged thousands of hours of Protestant preaching over the years. I’m not speaking totally speculatively on how they work these things out. And my concern is to find, where the error is, so that, others can identify it if need be, and then think of Christ as the “Lamb slain” or the, maybe, “Dying Love”, from the foundation without adding on a whole imaginative package foreign to Orthodox theology. There is a logic to our theology, a mind, the mind of Christ, and once you introduce bogus concepts, you start damaging the picture.

    Thanks,
    Matthew

  19. Thanks again. I’m trying to read the Bible all the way through for the first time haha. (8% progress according to my e-reader). I am not specifically trying to interpret it right now: just allowing myself to have an encounter with something (in many ways) new. I expected it to be be a strange and confusing encounter and so far it has been, most like being stranded in a very different culture.

    Reading your articles does however give me a glimmer of understanding how it might come together at some point, so thanks!

  20. Matthew, forgive me brother I can only empathize so far with where you came from. I have never been a “jot and tittle” kind of guy. Calvin has always been a total enigma to me. My father taught and lived by the process of thinking from the general to the specific. My mother was a dancer who worked from her heart first. Details were important to each of them however they both taught the interconnectedness of all things: seen and unseen, “past”, “present”, “future”. I put the words in quotations because those ideas and even time itself were somewhat mutable for them.

    Both of them were deeply influence by the wide open prairie of eastern New Mexico. My father by struggling to live there as a pioneer, my mother by the Native American (Taos Tribe) perspective as communicated to her over a summer by a Taos man named, no lie, Adam.

    Mystery was a great part of both perspectives that was passed on to my brother and me. Mystery was much closer to the way they lived and worked than it is with most people. Theirs was a poetic way of existence even though my father was an MD with a Masters in Public Health from Harvard.

    Even so, it is difficult for me to trust the Grace and Mercy of God as revealed in the Cross, the Grave and the glorious Third Day Ressurection. Yet somehow, what they traditioned to my brother and me leaves us rather more comfortable with our ignorance than many I have known.

    I thank God for them now more than I used to.

  21. Thank you for this most insightful and edifying post. To understand that God is as he is revealed in Jesus changes everything.

  22. Father Stephen:

    One of the philosophical glories of God in Christ is His impassability. It makes no sense. How can one go through life and death (and Resurrection) and not be changed? But we do not worship Kronos, nor is Our Lord subject to time.

    A true Time Lord. Who’d a thunk it?

    Just as Creation longs to see the revelation of the sons of God, so all reality warps, or bows, or perhaps straightens out, in the presence of the One. We sit in the Divine Liturgy at table beyond the end of time with the One Who preexisted time itself. His few followers turned the world “upside down.” He does make “all things new” by commanding them to be themselves, which is a revelation of the sons of God.

    Glory be to God!

  23. Charles,
    Strictly speaking, Divine “impassibility” does make sense – inasmuch as Scripture says that “I change not,” and that Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” What I would suggest (and it is part of my point in these writings) is that what we see in the suffering of Christ on the Cross is a revelation of who God is eternally, not an example of Him being changed.

    Having said that, it is certainly the case that Christ’s human body undergoes “change” as every human body would. The doctrine of the Church regarding the relationship between Christ’s humanity and His divinity is well summed up in the teaching called “perichoresis,” that there is a mutual sharing in His natures in the one Person of Christ.

    Of course, all of this pushes us to a place of contemplation in which it can feel that we’ve launched into esoterica. I only respond to this lest someone misunderstand what I’ve written as denying the notion of Divine Impassibility, which is not the case. Certainly it is a correct doctrine when understood in the manner the Fathers mean it – which does not intend to remove God’s participation in human suffering (He has made it His own).

  24. So Father if the Cross is “a revelation if who God is eternally” that means He has known my suffering before I did. I can never be truly alone and there is always hope. Brings tears to my eyes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.