One of my favorite places in Chicago is the cat house at the Lincoln Park zoo. Unlike most zoos that keep their big game behind 20 foot tall plexiglass walls, this one only had thick, steel bars. On one particular day Whitney and I were there during the day with every other elementary school in the city. Along with the children we had gathered in front of the lion pen when we saw it stirring from his nap. His thick mane hung like a golden robe as he stood to his full height. I met his eyes and fear crawled up my spine. He was beautiful and terrifying. Only a second after I noticed his chest expanding did I feel the force of his deep-throated roar pressing me back and the heat of his growl causing me to turn my face. All the children promptly ran as the cat house filled with their screams. For some reason, I stepped closer. And so did the lion. He roared again. Pressed back, my ears rang. He would give one more roar, louder than all the others. The echo rang throughout the cat house. All the other cats ran for shelter.
I understood then why he was called the King.
I understand that without those bars I was a dead man because I dared to stare down the King.
I also understood why the Bible used this animal as an image of awe-inspiring power and terrifying beauty.
When I Cried for A Baby I Didn't Know
I can still remember the night I laid my head on my wife’s stomach. It had only been a few weeks since we confirmed our pregnancy. Noah had not yet formed the hands I love to hold. His piercing blue eyes were not open yet. The mouth he uses to yell “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” at the top of his lungs was not yet fully developed. And I loved him.
My heart began to break as I thought of all the young mothers who felt helpless and hopeless believing that abortion was their only answer. I thought of all the blue, green, and browns eyes that would never sparkle, or the little hands that would never hold their mommy’s.
I almost wept.
Zimbabwe Doesn't Weep for Lions
With the fifth undercover video of Planned Parenthood released words continue to fail me. I was heartbroken (though not surprised) when the Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood fell a few short. Around this same time the controversy over Cecil the Lion blew up. The man who hunted the lion has had to hire a security firm. PETA is calling for him to be hanged.
Then I read this article from a Zimbabwe national. He has lived in the United States for the last five years while working on a Ph.D. in bioscience at Wake Forest. For him, the killing of a lion was a source of relief. He grew up in a world that lived in constant fear of a lion attack. His own uncle barely escaped a close encounter with a leg wound. Another young boy he knew was mauled to death in the night. He could not sympathize with a late night talk show host who cried over Cecil. “Maybe he confused him with Simba,” Mr. Nzou asks. Not to be accused of indifference towards animals, Nzou says:
In other words, Nzou has come from a world where animals are valued and treated with an ancient, sacred respect. Yet, they understand that human life is more sacred and valuable than that of any big game. Even Cecil. If we too lived in a world where lions could eat our children, rather than the one in which we currently live - where we excitedly press our young ones faces against the glass of lion’s pens at local zoos - then we too would dance in the street at their death.
Where Nzou wrestles with our cultural gaps, I couldn’t help but notice the gut wrenching irony of it all: we weep over lions and celebrate holocaust.
A Kingdom Toppled by A Baby
In the book of Revelation John tells an ancient tale. An enigmatic woman is introduced in 12:1 as “a great sign in heaven". She is described as “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” John also says “She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth” (12:2). A dragon appears and, likewise, is “a sign…in heaven”. He “stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it” (12:4). This ancient story speaks of a great, evil dragon seeking to destroy God and his people.
John immediately tells this ancient story again. This time the drums of war began to beat in heaven with “Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back” (Rev 12:7). The dragon was defeated and cast out of heaven. Lest there be any confusion, John identifies the dragon as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9). Seeing he had been removed from his position in heaven and condemned to earth, “he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” (12:13).
What is so fascinating about Revelation is that it is overflowing with imagery and allusions. The description of the woman in 12:1 is reminiscent of Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9 describing all Israel. Hosea 11:1 calls the nation of Israel God’s son. Matthew will quote this same chapter in 2:15 in reference to Jesus. This image of the woman also creates connection to particular women through the Bible who have given birth to promised sons: Sarah, Hannah, Mary. Even these women are echoes and allusions to the first women, Eve. In the midst of the curse God speaks of “the seed of the woman”. This seed will be attacked by the serpent. And the serpent will find his head crushed by the seed, destroyed forever. Paul, with all of these connections, themes, allusions, and echoes in mind, says in Galatians 4:4, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman…"
It is no surprise, then, that we see Satan pursuing this woman and attempting to destroy her son. God’s people have seen this story play out many times in history. Already crushed under the weight of slavery, Pharaoh orders “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22). Centuries later another fearful King goes on a murderous rampage killing “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16). The dragon, it seems, has a particular hatred for babies, especially sons. That’s because he knows that all it will take to destroy him forever is the birth of a little boy.
The roaring lion, that murderous serpent, is also called the “god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4). And he has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers”. Those who do not know the one who binds up dragons and declaws lions suffer from the worst sort of Stockholm Syndrome. In protesting the death of lions and celebrating the sale of unborn organs, they believe they are doing the greatest good. But they do no see that they are advancing the kingdom of darkness, ushering in the reign of death. After the events of Revelation 12 we’re told that the serpent calls up two other terrifying beasts. He gives them all kinds of dark power and authority to rage against God and his people. And that is exactly what they do.
Until a lamb conquers lions.
Until a baby tramples kings.
Pulling Back the Veil
So, what do these beasts and dragons have to do with Cecil and Planned Parenthood?
More than a timeline of future events, Revelation describes for us the nature of our current world. From the day of Jesus’ ascension until his second coming, this book paints a picture of the spiritual reality behind human events. When I hear about Planned Parenthood profiting on the sale of body parts from aborted children I picture the ancient dragon standing in front of that woman trying to devour her child. When there is rioting in the streets over a killed lion, while PETA calls for a man’s execution and talk show hosts weep, I picture that first beast called up by the dragon and given authority to call evil good and good evil.
It also tells me that unless the true king comes - that dragon binding, lion-taming king - to deliver our neighbors from the domain of darkness and transfer them to his kingdom (Colossians 1:13), then there is little we can do to open their eyes. I know that Satan holds a particular hatred for infants and the unborn because his kingdom was toppled by a baby in a manger.
It tells me that one day everything sad will become untrue.
Until that day we conquer evil “by the blood of the lamb and the word of his testimony” (Rev 12:11). We see the abortion industry torn down brick by brick as we pray. We will overcome the baby-eating serpent as we love and serve those young mothers in crisis. We conquer the accuser as we open our homes, our checking accounts, our churches, and our lives to those preyed upon by Planned Parenthood.
The day I stared down a lion I knew I was a dead man.
Except the lion was caged.
He was powerful, intimidating, and terrifyingly beautiful. The lion could rage all he liked and he would remain caged.
The serpent can rage all he likes, but his time is still short.