UNEXPECTED MEASURE OF GREATNESS
On what basis do we evaluate the greatness of a king? I googled “greatest kings” and came upon a list of the “Top Ten Greatest Monarchs.” Here is the list, and part of the rationale for their inclusion:
10: Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire for 69 years, from 1494-1566. “During his rule, the Ottoman Empire encompassed most of the Middle East, Southeastern Europe and Rhodes.”
9: James I of England. “Under his rule, the two kingdoms [England & Scotland] were united.”
8: John III of Poland-Lithuania, also known as the Lion of Lehistan. He “was a military and political genius…. John became known as the Lion of Lehistan after his victory against the Turks in the Battle of Vienna.”
7: Meiji of Japan: “When Meiji became Emperor of Japan [in 1881] at the age of 14, Japan was a primitive and isolated country. By the end of his reign, Japan was an industrial powerhouse. Meiji was a key player in making Japan a major world superpower.”
6: Gustav II Adolf of Sweden: “During his reign, Sweden became a major European power. Gustav II Adolf led his Protestant army against the Catholic armies of France and Spain. After his death in battle, Sweden became known as a military powerhouse.”
5: Augustus of Rome: “Augustus Caesar ruled as the Emperor of Rome for 41 years. During this time, Augustus improved the infrastructure and military of Rome.”
4: Cyrus II of Persia: He “ruled Persia for 30 years. During his reign, the Persian Empire encompassed much of the Middle East, including Iran, Israel and Mesopotamia.”
3: Frederick II of Prussia, Frederick the Great: He “ruled Prussia for 46 years. During his reign, the borders of Prussia expanded to encompass West Prussia and Silesia. Under his reign, the infrastructure, military and bureaucratic process of Prussia was greatly improved.”
2: Queen Victoria, ruler of the United Kingdom for 67 years: “During her reign, the British Empire expanded to encompass one quarter of the land on the Earth, making it the largest empire ever.”
1: Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King”: “Under his reign, France became the most powerful country in Europe. Louis ended feudalism in France and modernized the country…. Louis believed strongly in the divine right of kings, saying that he was the sun and that his courtiers and France should revolve around him like planets.”
Another list began with Adolph Hitler and ended with Genghis Khan, “the most brutal emperor in the history of world.”
According to popular readings of history, what is it that makes a ruler great?
Most of these rulers are considered to have been great because of how they accumulated power and/or wielded authority. They were considered great because of how they conquered other people.
In Revelation 5, John sees a scroll that is sealed with seven seals. No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth is able to open the book, so John begins to weep. One of the elders tells John to stop weeping for the Lion has overcome and will open the book.
At this point it is easy for us to picture other lion-like rulers who have overcome. It is easy for us to have in mind a conquering king like Suleiman the Magnificent or the Lion of Lehistan or Genghis Khan. But as John looks around for this great, conquering Lion, He sees “a Lamb standing as if slain.”
We tend to put our hope in kings whose strength and power are proved by the way in which they conquer others. But the picture we are given in Revelation is of the Lion who is the Lamb who was slain.
What we discover about Jesus in this verse and in many other verses is that His greatness comes not by stepping on others but by laying down His life for us. He is the Lion, the powerful King, and He is the Lamb, the sacrifice for our sins. The elders and angels fall before Him in worship, singing out His praise because He “was slain.”
The greatness of Christ is not just His power (His Lion-like qualities), but also His self-sacrificing love for us (that He is the Lamb who was slain)!