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6. The Fourth Pillar of Trinitarianism: Revelation 1

Chapter 6

The Fourth Pillar of Trinitarianism: Revelation 1

Revelation chapter 1 is one of the four pillars of trinitarianism that I, in my trinitarian days, pressed into service for proving that Jesus is God, with the other three pillars being John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1. But a careful study of Revelation 1 will show that this chapter does not teach trinitarianism or the deity of Christ. Our discussion will be brief because we will be discussing related topics in the next chapter on the New Testament doxologies. Here is the entire Revelation 1:

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 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. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 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.

17 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, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (ESV)

 

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him

As trinitarians, we failed to notice or to emphasize sufficiently that the revelation of Jesus Christ did not originate from Jesus himself but in fact came from God, who gave it to Jesus in order that Jesus may show it to his servants (or slaves), notably the apostle John:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John. (Revelation 1:1, ESV)

It is striking that the book of Revelation begins with a clear distinction of persons, differentiating Jesus Christ from God in the statement that God had given the revelation to Jesus Christ. In language that offers no support for trinitarianism, John simply says “God” instead of “God the Father,” making Jesus distinct from God and not simply from God the Father, who in any case is the only true God (John 17:3).

The fact that the Revelation did not originate from Jesus Christ but was something given to him by God the Father, is acknowledged by many trinitarians. For example, H.A.W. Meyer says, “The revelation described in this book, Christ received from the Father,” and J.P. Lange says, “[the revelation] which God gave unto him—God, i.e. the Father”. [1]

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, on Rev.1:1, delineates the chain of authorship that started from God: “there are five links in the chain of authorship: God, Christ, his angel, his servant John, and the servants in the churches.” Similarly, IVP New Testament Commentary, on Rev.1:1, says:

If Jesus is the immediate source of the revelation, God is its ultimate source. God gave the revelation to Jesus Christ to show it in turn to his servants. The point is much the same as in John’s Gospel, where Jesus insists again and again that the words he speaks are not his own words, but the words of “him who sent me” (e.g., Jn 7:16-17,28; 8:28; 12:49-50).

But as trinitarians, we overlooked what was clearly stated in Revelation 1:1, and mistakenly thought that the Revelation originated from Jesus. The fact is that even after his glorification, Jesus is not an independent authority from God, for even now he functions in submission to the Father as he previously did on earth.

Who is and who was and who is to come

John’s salutation to the seven churches of Asia in verses 4 and 5 is remarkable for its use of terms that in the Bible are unique to the book of Revelation:

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth (Rev.1:4-5, ESV)

This greeting may be nothing more than a Johannine expansion of a Pauline greeting that was familiar to the early church: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.[2] But if we take John’s salutation more literally, notably regarding the seven spirits who are before the throne, then it would be a message sent to the seven churches on behalf of three parties: God “who is and who was and who is to come”; the seven spirits [3] who are before God’s throne; and Jesus Christ. John again makes a distinction of persons, this time differentiating Jesus Christ from the One “who is and who was and who is to come,” a divine title that in the Bible is unique to Revelation. The title occurs three times in Revelation, the first time here (1:4) and repeated in 1:8 and 4:8, but also in shorter form in 11:17 and 16:5, for a total five times:

Rev.1:4  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…

Rev.1:8  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Rev.4:8  Day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Rev.11:17  We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.

Rev.16:5  You are just, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments (referring to God, v.1)

In none of these verses does the title “who is and who was and who is to come” (or a shorter form) refer to Jesus Christ. In each case, it refers to God, the Father of Jesus Christ, as acknowledged by many trinitarians.

Some trinitarians say that the three clauses in “who is and who was and who is to come” refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, respectively, but this conclusion is so baseless that it is specifically rejected by many trinitarian references: Pulpit Commentary (Rev.1:4) says that “every clause applies to the Father, not one to each Person”. Alford’s Greek Testament (Rev.1:4) says that the “compound appellation” is “to be applied to the Father”. Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Rev.1:4) says that the title, “who is and who was and who is to come,” refers specifically to “the Father”. It goes on to say that this title expresses Yahweh’s timelessness:

The descriptive name of the Father occurs nowhere else except in Revelation (4:8; cf. 11:17; 16:5). It is generally understood as a paraphrase for the divine name represented throughout the OT by the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH ... The complete combination of these three tenses [present, past, future] occurs in a Palestinian Targum on Dt 32:39 … The tenses indicate that the same God is eternally present with his covenant people.

Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, on Rev.1:4, explains that “who is and who was and who is to come” refers to the YHWH of Ex.3:14, by pointing to John’s unusual use of Greek grammar. Some readers may wish to skip the following quotation because of its slightly technical nature:

The description of God as “the one who is and was and is to come” is an interpretation of the name “YHWH,” based on reflection on Exod.3:14 together with twofold and threefold temporal descriptions of God in Isaiah (cf. Isa.41:4; 43:10; 44:6; 48:12), which themselves likely are reflections on the divine name in Exod.3:14. The name in Exod.3:14 was also expanded in a threefold manner by later Jewish tradition, most notably Tg. Ps.-J. Deut.32:39, “I am he who is and who was, and I am he who will be.” The first element, “the one who is” (ho ōn), derives from Exod.3:14 LXX (egō eimi ho ōn), and although the preposition apo calls for the genitive, John keeps ho ōn in the nominative in order to highlight it as an allusion to Exodus.

All in all, the exalted title, “who is and who was and who is to come,” belongs to Yahweh God, not to Jesus, and expresses God’s eternal timelessness (Ex.3:14, “I am who I am”), which is also brought out in Psalm 90:2: “Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God”. The picture of Yahweh as the One who extends His reach into the infinite past, through the present, and into the future, is elaborated in verse 8:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev.1:8)

Yahweh is the Alpha, the first letter, for all things originate from Him. He is the Omega, the last letter, for all things return to Him in the glorious accomplishment of His purposes.

Jesus the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead

… Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood. (Revelation 1:5)

Here is a beautiful portrait of Jesus Christ, the “faithful witness” to his Father even unto death, just as it is said of him in Phil.2:8 that he was obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Hence, in Revelation, the first thing that is said of Jesus’ earthly life is his absolute faithfulness to Yahweh his Father, both by his life and by his death. Jesus’ perfection lies in his perfect faithfulness to his Father in carrying out the work that had been entrusted to him, to witness to the Father. Perfection is not an abstract ideal but something that is displayed in Jesus’ matchless life quality.

Because of Jesus’ faithfulness unto death, the Father raised him from the dead. Thus he is the firstborn of the dead (v.5) who has the keys of Death and Hades (v.18). As the firstborn, Jesus is the first and the last (v.17), both the beginning and the goal of the new creation which effectively began with his resurrection from the dead.

Although “the first and the last” refers to God in Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12, in the New Testament there are several ways of reflecting on this title as given to Jesus, not least from his own life and teaching: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last and the servant of all” (Mk.9:35). “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Mt.20:16).

Jesus is the first and the last as the Good Shepherd. The shepherd is the first for leading the sheep forward, and the last for looking back to see if any is straggling behind, just as a guide would lead a group of climbers up a mountain, yet look back to see if anyone is left behind.

Finally, Jesus is the first for being “the firstborn of the dead” but also the “firstborn of all creation” (Col.1:15), a reference to the new creation rather than the old (as we saw in chapter 4). In this new creation, Jesus is the author and completer of our faith (Heb.12:2), hence the first and the last.

 

The third element in Revelation 1:5, coming after “faithful witness” and “firstborn of the dead,” is “ruler of kings on earth,” an echo of the exaltation of Jesus in Phil.2:9. This third element has not yet come into full force (“we do not yet see everything in subjection to him,” Heb.2:8) but will be fully realized at his “coming with the clouds,” at which time “every eye will see him” (Rev.1:7).

As ruler of the kings on earth, Jesus has been given the highest position in the human sphere. In an earthly war waged against Jesus who is called the Lamb, he is also called “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev.17:14). Unlike others who are called “king of kings” (Artaxerxes in Ezra 7:12, Nebuchadnezzar in Dan.2:37), Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18), though not over God, for Jesus will live in subjection to God for all eternity (1Cor.15:27-28). Jesus also says, “I myself have received authority from my Father” (Rev.2:27), implying that his supreme authority is not an intrinsic authority but something given to him by the Father.

The saints who are being persecuted (Rev.1:7) will look to Jesus’ coming with eager expectation. They have much to be grateful for amid their sufferings which are a consequence of their following him on earth, and grateful above all for his saving love: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (vv.5-6)

Priests to his God and Father

The verse just quoted says that Jesus has made us “priests to his God and Father” (v.6)—not priests to Jesus himself. He redeemed us by his blood, not so that we may live for ourselves or even ultimately for him, but that we may serve “his God and Father” as priests. Jesus’ selflessness, yet another aspect of his perfection, is seen powerfully in his self-giving love by which “he freed us from our sins by his blood”(v.5).

The fact that Jesus has made us priests to his God and Father offers nothing in support of Jesus’ alleged deity, but instead tells us that God is also “his God and Father”. Later on, in the space of one verse, Rev.3:12, Jesus speaks of God as “my God” four times:

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (ESV)

In retrospect I wonder how as trinitarians we believed that Revelation chapter 1 offers support for trinitarianism and the deity of Christ. On the contrary, it reveals just the opposite: Revelation 1 proclaims Jesus as man, through whose blood—the essential element of human life—sinners are freed from their sins (v.5). Man has sinned and it is by a man that he is redeemed. Redemption is not carried out by means of a God who cannot die but by means of a man who can die. This was what Yahweh in His perfect wisdom had planned before the ages (2Tim.1:9; 1Cor.2:7; Titus 1:2), having in view a perfect man through whom He will save all who call on His name.

That Jesus has made us priests to his God and Father implies that there is a temple in which to serve God, for where do priests serve if not in a temple? And indeed, on the Lord’s day (Rev.1:10), John sees “seven golden lampstands” (v.12) which, in the Bible, always stand in the Holy Place of the temple. In “the midst of the golden lampstands” John sees “one like a son of man” (v.13), a clear reference to Daniel 7:13 (“one like a son of man”). The one standing in the midst of the lampstands is “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest” (Rev.1:13). This is a picture of the high priestly garments (Ex.28:4; 29:5), but the picture alone is not sufficient to tell if Jesus is wearing high priestly garments. That is because the seven angels in Rev.15:6 are similarly clothed: “out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.”

What is more determinative of the priestly nature of the one “like the son of man” is the fact that he stands in the midst of the golden lampstands. Whereas household lamps are found in ordinary homes (Mt.5:15; Lk.8:16), golden lampstands are hardly household items, much less so when seven of them are standing together. The number seven points to the perfect heavenly temple on which the earthly temple was modeled (Num.8:4; Ex.25:9,37,40; Acts 7:44; Heb. 9:2).

Whereas Rev.11:4 depicts, in a different context, two powerful prophets as “two olive trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth,” the seven lampstands in Revelation represent the seven churches of Asia (Rev.1:20). Standing amid the lampstands is “one like a son of man,” the church’s high priest (Heb.2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:10; 8:1-3; 9:11). “It was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Heb.7:26). Note the many adjectives used of Jesus’ perfection: “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (ESV) or “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners” (NIV).

Jesus, the glorious and exalted one

There can be no doubt that this glorious divine-like “son of man” (Rev.1:13) who stands among the lampstands is Jesus himself, for he is the one who also says, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (Rev.1:18); verse 5 speaks of Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead”.

Amazingly, the form and appearance of Daniel’s “son of man” has, in the Revelation, changed to resemble that of the Ancient of Days in Daniel: “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow” (Rev.1:14). This is similar to the picture of God in Daniel: “the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool” (Dan.7:9). Jesus the son of man has—after his death, resurrection, and exaltation—become the image of the Ancient of Days! God the Almighty now manifests Himself in the man Jesus, the one who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth! God’s glory shines in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor.4:6). Jesus perfectly fulfills God’s original purpose in creating man as “the image of God” (Gen.1:27). Because Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God (Col.1:15), to see Jesus is to see God. Even his voice which is “like the roar of many waters” (Rev.1:15) is like God’s voice (Ezek.43:2). The perfect man is a perfect reflection of God.

“In his right hand he held seven stars” (Rev.1:16) which are “the angels of the seven churches” (v.20). And “from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword” (v.16), an allusion to Isaiah 11:4: “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked,” a reference to the Messiah king of the Davidic line. Indeed, the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb.4:12).

The glorious picture of Jesus in Rev.1:16 (“his face was like the sun shining in full strength”) is similar to that of the mighty angel in Rev.10:1, “I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire”.

Jesus’ glorious appearance brings to mind the transfiguration which took place in his earthly life: “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Mt.17:2). Likewise, through redemption in Christ, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt.13:43).

When John saw Jesus in the Revelation, he saw what Paul calls “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6). Then John fell at Jesus’ feet (Rev.1:17) which is similar to what Ezekiel did when he saw Yahweh’s glory: “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh. And when I saw it, I fell on my face” (Ezek.1:28). Similarly, Daniel said, “I saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me … I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground” (Dan.10:8-9; cf. vv.17-19).

Jesus put his right hand on John and said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (Rev. 1:17-18).

Likewise Yahweh says, “I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god” (Isa.44:6; 48:12; cf. 41:4 and 43:10). Jesus now acts on Yahweh’s behalf as His only begotten Son and regent over all creation, especially the new creation consisting of true believers, and here specifically the believers of the seven churches of Asia.

The monotheism of the Revelation

In this brief survey of Revelation 1, we have found nothing that supports the deity of Christ. The trinitarian title “God the Son” is found nowhere in it. What we see instead is the glory of the Perfect Man, who is the perfect image of God; he is God’s representative who shines forth God’s glory with matchless power and splendor.

From the monotheistic character of Revelation, we should learn to be cautious about hastily assuming, as I have done in the past, that what appears to be Old Testament titles of God can simply be assumed to have the same meaning when used of Christ. For example, “I am the first and the last” in Rev.1:17 is also found in Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12 (cf. 41:4). Are we to assume without further ado that “first and last” means the same in both cases, such that the one who says, “I am the first and the last” in Rev.1:17 is one and the same as Yahweh God?

In saying “I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god” (Isa.44:6), Yahweh reveals Himself as the only God, an identification that cannot be applied to Jesus because that would exclude His Father as God (contra John 17:3, which says that the Father is the only true God).

However, the truly divine title that expresses God’s eternal timelessness, being rooted in God’s self-revelation to Moses at the burning bush, is “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev.1:4,8; 4:8). This divine title is unique to Revelation and is never applied to Jesus, a fact that is consistent with the uncompromising monotheism of the Revelation.

It is more in line with Scriptural teaching to say that God has conferred on Christ some of His divine titles and attributes. Christ acts as the Father’s plenipotentiary such that when he speaks, it is God who speaks through him; when he does something, it is the Almighty who works in him; and when he comes in the name of his Father, the Lord God comes in him (Rev.22:12-13).

The Lamb that was slain

By far the most frequent title of Jesus in Revelation is “the Lamb”. It is used of him 28 times in the book of Revelation (= 4 x 7; the spiritually significant numbers 4 and 7 appear throughout Revelation).

In Rev.13:11 there is another “lamb” who makes his appearance in the world as an imitation of God’s Lamb with the purpose of deceiving the world: “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.” This different lamb, by its appropriation of the title “lamb,” is symbolic of a “different Christ” (cf. 2Cor.11:4).

The atoning death of Jesus the Lamb of God is central to the New Testament from start to end, but is given heightened focus in Revelation which, as the last book of the Bible, can be said to be the climax and conclusion of the New Testament. It is the only book that gives a blessing to its readers (Rev.1:3; 22:7). In Revelation, Jesus stands out as the slain Lamb of God.

One third of each of the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) is focused on Jesus’ final days, that is, on his suffering and death. This theme is even more emphatic in John: almost half of his gospel is focused on Jesus’ final days, his death, and his resurrection.

Already at Jesus’ birth, his death was foreshadowed by the imagery of a sword piercing his mother’s heart (Lk.2:35).

The title Lamb of God that is central to Revelation already appears early in John’s Gospel (Jn.1:29,36). The theme of the Lamb of God permeates the New Testament. It is the hub from which every other teaching radiates, forming the circle that encompasses NT teaching. Conversely, every teaching in the NT is related to this hub, for inasmuch as it radiates from it, it can be traced back to it.

In 1Cor.5:7 Paul invokes the imagery of the Lamb at the Passover, though he would more often write instead of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection by God’s power. Jesus’ suffering is given much prominence in Hebrews but also in the apostolic preaching after Pentecost, in the book of Acts.

Without the Lamb of God, there would be no regeneration, no renewal, and no perfection in the believer’s life. When we see the deep things of the Lamb of God, we will understand the deep things of the New Testament. The Lamb of God is the fountain from which everything flows. It is the center of the New Testament, the remainder of which constitutes its exposition and application.

The sacrificial lamb must be without spot or blemish (1Pet.1:19). That is why only Jesus the perfect man can be “the savior of the world” (Jn.4:42; 1Jn.4:14). “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Jesus is never worshipped in the Revelation

The Greek word for “worship” is proskyneō, which occurs 60 times in the New Testament, with 24 of the occurrences (40%) found in Revelation. That is a high number for one book, yet none of the 24 occurrences of proskyneō in Revelation refers to Jesus with one possible exception! The object of worship in the Revelation is Yahweh alone and not Jesus Christ.

This fact may be unsettling to Christians, yet it aligns with the fact that the book of Revelation gives far less prominence to Jesus than to God. The name “Jesus” occurs only 14 times in Revelation, a small number given that “Jesus” occurs about 917 times in the NT (even Philippians, a short letter, has 22 occurrences). The word “Christ” occurs over 500 times in the NT, but only 7 times in Revelation (versus 46 times in Ephesians). Does it not indicate that Jesus Christ is not the central figure in Revelation?

In BDAG and Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon, proskyneō fundamentally means “bowing the knee” (see chapter 8 for the full details). It can be used in the weak sense (bowing the knee without worship) or in the strong sense (worship). An instance of the weak sense is found in Rev.3:9: “I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you” (NIV). Here the prostration is not an act of worship but of submission before believers.

It will come as a surprise to trinitarians that the book of Revelation never uses proskyneō of Jesus, neither in the weak sense nor the strong sense, with the sole and limited exception of Rev.5:14. To demonstrate this, we now do a quick overview of proskyneō in Revelation. Along the way we will encounter another word, piptō (to fall).

The word proskyneō is used twice of John’s bowing before the angel who was showing him the heavenly things: “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him” (Rev.19:10); “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me” (22:8). John bowed before the angel, but the angel stopped him and said, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (22:9)

In Rev.1:17, John collapsed at Jesus’ feet out of fear but this time the word used is not proskyneō but piptō (to fall):

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” (Rev.1:17, NIV)

A few chapters later, in Rev.5:8, piptō is used again in relation to Jesus: “the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb”. In all English Bibles, piptō is here rendered “fell down” (or similar) rather than “worshiped”.

There is only one other similar use of piptō in Revelation. In this instance the Lamb is not by himself but is at the right hand of God who is seated on the throne:

13 “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” 14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down (piptō) and worshiped (proskyneō). (Rev.5:13-14, NIV)

The two passages just cited, Rev.5:8 and 5:13-14, are the only ones in Revelation that come close to the worship of Jesus. In 5:8, the heavenly beings fall before Jesus but there is no mention of worship. In 5:14, just quoted, we see the two aforementioned Greek words: piptō (translated “fell down”) and proskyneō (translated “worshiped”). Worship is mentioned this time because it is directed mainly to the one “who sits on the throne”—that is, to God.

Here is a crucial observation: In the book of Revelation apart from 5:14, the word proskyneō always refers to God and never to Jesus, without exception. Hence it is clear that when proskyneō is applied to both God and Jesus in the sole verse Rev.5:14, it is God and not Jesus who is the principal reason for the use of proskyneō. This is consistent with the fact that in the immediate context of Rev.5:14, the central figure is God seated on His throne.

We are reminded of the way the people of Israel bowed before God and before King David (note the highlighted words):

1 Chronicles 29:20 David then addressed the whole assembly: “Now bless Yahweh your God!” And the whole assembly blessed Yahweh, God of their ancestors, bowing down in homage to Yahweh, and to the king. (NJB)

In the Hebrew text, YHWH occurs three times in this verse. In the LXX of this verse, the word translated “bowing down in homage” is proskyneō, the very word used in Rev.5:14. The use of proskyneō in 1Chr.29:20 is crucial because it tells us that the LXX translators did not hesitate to apply proskyneō to David when proskyneō is also applied to Yahweh! The parallel between David in 1Chr.29:20 and Jesus in Rev.5:14 is heightened by the fact that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah from David’s line.

We note that in 1Chr.29:20 the main intended recipient of the worship is not David but Yahweh by the fact that David said, “Now bless Yahweh your God.” Yet that does not rule out David participating with Yahweh as the recipient of the proskyneō.

The combination of piptō and proskyneō appears also in Rev.7:11, but not in reference to Jesus:

… They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Rev.7:11-12, NIV)

There is mention of God who is seated on His throne but there is no mention of the Lamb. The combination of piptō and proskyneō is seen also in the following:

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.” (Rev.11:16-17, NIV)

The 24 elders give thanks to the One “who is and who was,” which, as we have seen, is a title of Yahweh. The elders fall on their faces and worship God, but again there is no mention of the Lamb.

The final verse in Revelation that has both piptō and proskyneō is 19:4 which does not mention the Lamb at all: “And the 24 elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne.”

In my trinitarian days, I saw Jesus as the central object of worship in Revelation. Yet only one verse (Rev.5:14) has any possible support for that, but it is weakened by the fact that the Lamb appears not alone but alongside God who is seated on His throne. The sole instance of the adoration of Jesus alone is in Rev.5:8, but it is expressed not by proskyneō but by piptō, a word that is not translated “worshiped” in English Bibles. In fact, Rev.5:8 is sandwiched in between Revelation chapters 4 and 6, both of which are centered on the worship of Yahweh.

In Revelation, the central object of worship is not the Lamb but the One who is seated on His throne. The Lamb is not the main occupant of that throne for it belongs to God who is mentioned about a dozen times as being seated on it. Jesus has his own throne but it is distinct from God’s (Rev. 3:21); we are granted to sit with Jesus on his throne just as Jesus is granted to sit with his Father on his Father’s throne.

Monotheism is powerfully entrenched in Revelation. In John’s heavenly visions, no one but God is worshipped above all else, and He is the One who sits on the central throne.

Appended Note: The coming again of Yahweh

Revelation 22:12-13 12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

In this passage, we cannot assume that just because v.12 has the words “I am coming soon” that this passage refers to Jesus. Owing to the trinitarian marginalization of Yahweh in the church, it is not generally known that Yahweh’s glory will be revealed at Jesus’ return. This is not to deny that Revelation speaks of the return of Jesus (Rev.1:7; 22:20). Yet it is equally important to note that many Bible verses outside Revelation speak of Yahweh’s coming in various scenarios: “Yahweh came from Sinai and dawned from Seir” (Dt.33:2); “Our God comes” (Ps.50:3); “Yahweh my God will come” (Zech.14:5); “Yahweh is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt” (Isa.19:1); “the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa.40:5); “the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones” (Jude 1:14). We see this also in Revelation:

Revelation 6:15-17 [the people of the world, great and lowly] hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (ESV)

Here the plural “their” (“their wrath”) refers to two persons: Yahweh God seated on His throne and Jesus Christ the Lamb. If Yahweh is not manifested in some visible way (note the word “face”), why would the people of the world try to hide from Him? Yahweh, who is seated on His throne, is mentioned before the Lamb, for the coming involves Yahweh and then also the Lamb.

In Rev.22:7 is the declaration, “Behold, I am coming soon”. Against our expectations, the two verses preceding this verse speak of God: “the Lord God” (v.5) and “the God of the spirits of the prophets” (v.6). Verse 3 speaks of “the throne of God and of the Lamb,” differentiating God from the Lamb. There is no doubt that Yahweh is the one who is speaking in verse 7 (“Behold, I am coming soon”), and that He will return with the Lamb.



[1] These two statements are quoted from H.A.W. Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Revelation of John (p.95), and Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Rev.1:1).

[2] Rom.1:7; 1Cor.1:3; 2Cor.1:2; Gal.1:3; Eph.1:2; Phil.1:2; 2Thess. 1:2; Phlm.1:3.

[3] If the seven spirits who are before God’s throne (Rev.1:4) are understood literally as actual spirits, they may be “the seven angels who stand before God” (8:2), with angels being “ministering spirits” (Heb.1:14). In addition, Rev.3:1 speaks of “the seven spirits of God and the seven stars,” where the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (Rev.1:20), suggesting that “the seven spirits of God” may also be angelic. If this is so, there may be a parallel between the following three sets of seven: the seven spirits before God’s throne (Rev.1:4), the seven spirits of God (3:1), and the seven angels who stand before God (8:2), with angels as ministering spirits (Heb. 1:14). Two more verses may be relevant. Rev.4:5 equates “the seven spirits of God” with the seven torches of fire before God’s throne, bringing to mind that angels are “a flame of fire” (Heb.1:7). Rev.5:6 speaks of “the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth,” reminding us that angels (messengers) are “sent” (Rev.22:6,16).

Most Bibles have “seven spirits” in Rev.1:4. One or two Bibles have “sevenfold Spirit,” but this is interpretative. The Greek is tōn hepta pneumatōn, literally “the seven spirits” (plural). In the same chapter, in Rev.1:20, John speaks of the seven stars (tōn hepta asterōn), not the sevenfold star; he also speaks of the seven churches (tōn hepta ekklēsiōn), not the sevenfold church. BDAG takes hepta as numeral seven, never sevenfold.

 

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