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John 20.28

Trinitarians constantly point to Thomas worshipping Jesus with the words, “My Lord and my God” (Jo.20.28). Perhaps they suppose that Thomas did not know or did not care what Jesus had said to the devil when he was tempted: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only (monos) shall you serve (or worship, Phil.3.3; Acts 26.7 cf. Heb.9.9; 10.2; latreuō to render religious service or homage, to worship”, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)’”, Mat.4.10; Lk.4.8? Or perhaps Thomas did not know Jesus’ teaching, or his prayer ad­dressed to “the only true God” (Jo.17.3)? Perhaps trinitarians assume that Thomas was not a Jew or a monotheist? Had Jesus forgotten his own teaching and did not, therefore, rebuke Thomas? Such thinking is out of touch with the Biblical facts. A fundamental problem of trinitarian interpretation is that it constantly disregards the context of the verses or passages that it uses or misuses. It is a basic fact in interpretation that “a text taken out of context is a pretext.” Thomas’ words are only correctly under­stood within the whole context of John’s Gospel. Here we can only consider a few directly relevant points:

The memorable conversation which Jesus had with his disci­ples not long before his crucifixion would undoubtedly have im­printed itself on Thomas’ memory; it was about seeing the Father, who is none other than Yahweh:

John 14: 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”

In view of this discourse, when Thomas saw the crucified Christ, now “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Ro.6.4), standing before him, Jesus’ words “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” now quite literally “came to life” before his eyes. He now saw the Father in Christ in a way he had never done before and exclaimed “My Lord and my God”, a phrase which would readily come to the lips of a Jew at seeing such a vision. It echoes Isaiah’s words, “For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD (Yahweh) of hosts!” (Isa.6.5). Undoubtedly, Thomas spoke for all the other apostles in the room.

It should also be noticed that the reason Jesus gives for saying that anyone who has truly seen him has seen the Father is expressed in the words, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” which is stated twice (Jo.14.10,11) thereby emphasizing their importance. This repeated statement is not meant only to affirm the intimacy of his relationship with the Father in metaphorical language but to state an actual spiritual fact, namely, that the Father lives in him and that “the Father who dwells in me does his work” (v.10). In other words the indwelling of the Father in him is the dynamic spiritual reality of Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus, for his part, lives wholly in the Father which, in practical terms means living wholly under His authority: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority” (v.10).

The indwelling of the Father in Jesus was something that Jesus mentioned not only towards the end of his earthly ministry but al­ready at its beginning. Thomas would certainly have remembered that Jesus had spoken of his body as Yahweh’s temple (Jo.2.19), all the more so because what Jesus said was quoted against him at his trial (Mt.26.61; Mk.14.58). And since Jesus’ body was Yahweh’s temple, it is evident that Yahweh dwelt in him bodily (Col.2.9). In regard to the resurrection, it is specifically stated in John 2.22 that “When there­fore he was raised (by Yahweh God) from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” Would not Thomas be one of the disciples who remembered this? And would not this astonishing experience of Christ standing before him because of having been raised by the power of Yahweh, just as Jesus had said would happen, have caused Thomas to burst forth in praise and adoration to Yahweh in the words often addressed to Him by His people, “My Lord and my God”? In view of these facts, what is the more likely: that Thomas worshipped Jesus, or the God who had raised him according to His word?

As a monotheist Thomas could only have properly addressed the words “My Lord and my God” to Yahweh alone. But the significance of this confession lies in the fact that Thomas had now come to realize that Yahweh had indeed come into the world bodily in the man Jesus the Messiah, having “made His dwelling among us” (John 1.14). The phrase “Yahweh (the LORD) my God” occurs no less than 36 times in the OT; it was therefore a frequent form of address to Yahweh and would thus readily come to the lips of a Jew.

Consider, too, the fact that the Jews prayed facing the temple (when it still stood in Jerusalem) and its “holy of holies”. This was in accordance with the Scriptures, as can be seen in Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple as recorded in 2Chronicles 6:

 21 “And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.”

 26 “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, 27 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel.”

 29 “Whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own sorrow and stretching out his hands toward this house, 30 then hear from heaven your dwelling place and forgive and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways, for you, you only, know the hearts of the children of mankind.”

When the Jews uttered their prayers toward the temple, were they praying to the temple or to the One whose Presence was in it (2Chr.6.2)? Thomas had, evidently, finally come to understand the truth Jesus had spoken in John 2.19 about his being God’s temple, and his teaching about the Father as the one who spoke and acted in him. Now seeing with his own eyes the fulfillment of the temple (Jesus) having been raised up by the power of Yahweh God and now standing before him, is it at all strange that he would have cried out “My Lord and my God”? Why, then, must trinitarians assume that the words Thomas spoke were not addressed to Yahweh, who had now through Jesus become his Lord and his God in a profoundly exper­iential way?

Another thing that the indoctrinated trinitarian mind seems incapable of grasping, even though it stands in plain view through­out the OT, is that the title “Lord God” is the standard form of address to Yahweh. Without having to refer to the Hebrew text, anyone can see that “LORD God” or “Lord GOD” (where the cap­italized word repre­sents the Name “Yahweh”) occurs in 383 verses in the ESV (210 times in Ezekiel alone!). But “Lord” and “God” occur with far greater frequency when they are used separately though in close conjunction, which is the case in Thomas’ exclam­ation where “Lord” and “God” are connected by the conjunction “and”. Thus when “Lord” and “God” are not joined together as the one title “Lord God”, but nonetheless occur together in the same verse, the count immediately increases to 2312 occurrences (ESV), 281 times in Deuteronomy alone, and 110 times in the Psalms. (The last two numbers refer to num­ber of verses. In terms of num­ber of hits, it would be 487 in Deutero­nomy and 133 in Psalms.)

What all this means is that Thomas’ exclamation is something that comes straight out of the Hebrew Bible, and would have come out spontaneously from the lips of anyone steeped in the OT. What is also absolutely clear is that “Lord” and “God” are titles applied to Yahweh, especially when used in combination. Therefore, applying this combination to Jesus does not prove that Jesus is God (as many trinitarians vainly and ignorantly suppose) but it could only prove that Jesus is Yahweh, yet this is not a “proof” that trinitarians would want to arrive at because it would confuse their “God the Father” with “God the Son”.

In short, John 20.28 is of no value whatever to trinitarianism. But what it does proclaim is that Thomas had come to see the reality of Yahweh in and through Christ. He saw “the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God” (Isa.35.2). The words that Thomas uttered remind us of words in the Psalms such as, “Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord! Vindicate me, O LORD, my God, according to your righteous­ness” (Ps.35.23,24).

In view of the Biblical evidence, will we insist that these words in John 20.28 referred to Jesus? Or were they addressed to God in res­ponse to Jesus’ appearance to Thomas, which was so overwhelming an experience? It is not unusual even today in the secular world for people to exclaim in astonishment “My God”. We feel repulsed by this exclamation when it comes from the mouth of an unbeliever; but are there no circumstances in which a believer might make such an ex­clamation to God, especially when, in the words of C.S. Lewis, they are “surprised by joy”?

John 21.17, “Lord, you know everything”

‘He (Jesus) said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”’

The words “Lord, you know everything” have been used by some trinitarians to argue for Jesus’ omniscience. This could be consi­dered an instance of trinitarianism trying to make “a mountain out of a molehill” (here turning relative into absolute), because in this context it need not mean more than “Lord, you know me through and through; you know that I love you”. To turn a statement relative to Peter into a statement of absolute knowledge is typical of trinitarian argumentation. It is also to go against Jesus’ own declaration that there was indeed something important that he did not know, namely, the time of the end of the age and the coming of the Son of man; this is known only to the Father, He alone has absolute knowledge of everything:

Matthew 24.36-37 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man [i.e. his coming will be unexpected, v.38].” (NIV)

Elisha was credited with knowing everything the Syrian king spoke about in regard to his plans against Israel. As a result, Israel was con­stantly forewarned by the prophet and was prepared for Syria’s attacks whenever these occurred. Bewildered by the fact that he could never catch Israel off-guard, the king tried to find out whether someone in his inner circle was betraying his plans to Israel. He was then told the true source of his problem, “Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” (2Kings 6.12)

What God can do through a man who is wholly yielded to Him is truly wonderful, and the Bible furnishes us with many examples of what God has accomplished through faithful men. Jesus was un­doubtedly granted to know all that was necessary for him to complete his mission for the reconciliation of mankind with God; so there is no doubt that far more was revealed to him than was revealed to Elisha. Jesus as the only perfect man is certainly unique among men, and through him God was able to accomplish the matchless work of “reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5.19), “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col.1.20).

The Importance of the Teaching about Christ in Acts

The messages in Acts immediately followed the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and therefore were spoken as a direct result of the filling of the Holy Spirit—so these must be deter­minative for the understanding of the person of Christ. Yet it is hard to find so much as a hint of the deity of Christ in Acts, while his humanity stands out clearly. Since the alleged deity of Christ is not a factor in the earliest Spirit-filled apostolic preaching in Acts nor, indeed, anywhere else in Acts, there is nothing in particular to discuss in this important book relevant to trinitarian­ism.

But there is an important related observation that should be carefully considered: The church was equipped with power from above at Pentecost, and in that power went forth to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. That power is no longer evident in the churches today, and this must clearly be related to the fact that the church is today proclaiming a message which is based on a different theology and Christology than that proclaimed in Acts.

Romans 9.5

Because there are no punctuations in the Greek text, the mean­ing derived from the text depends on the way the translator chooses to punctuate it. The possible ways of translating Romans 9.5 are made very clear in NIV:

“Theirs (i.e. of the Jews) are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! {Or Christ, who is over all. God be forever praised! Or Christ. God who is over all be forever praised!} Amen.”

The two main alternative translations, which are not substantially different because both attribute the praise to God not Christ, are given in the brackets for Romans 9.5. NIV, being a trinitarian trans­lation, places their preferred translation in the main text. The other trinitarian Bible versions obviously follow this same prefer­ence, but the RSV is a notable exception: “to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen.”

The RSV translation (and those in the NIV brackets) is defin­itely the correct translation for three very strong reasons:

(1) Paul has clearly declared his monotheism in several places, and in 1Cor.8.6 he stated plainly that “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist”. For this reason Paul would never describe Jesus as “God”. Jesus is always consistently “Lord” in the Pauline writings. The following are other examples of Paul’s monotheism:

1Timothy 1.17, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only (monos) God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

1Timothy 6: “15 which (i.e. Christ’s coming again, v.14) God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only (monos) Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone (monos) is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” (NIV)

(2) Exactly the same words of praise as in Ro.9.5, “he who is blessed forever”, refer to Yahweh God in the Greek text of 2 Corinthians 11.31, “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever”. It is, therefore, not directed to Jesus in Ro.9.5; Jesus is the cause of the praise not its object. For ease of comparison, the two texts are placed side by side:

Ro.9.5: ho ōn (epi pantōn theos) eulogētos eis tous aiōnas

2Cor.11.31: ho ōn eulogētos eis tous aiōnas

Apart from the words placed in parentheses to facilitate comparison, the phrase “he who is blessed forever” is precisely the same in both verses. In 2Cor.11.31 the reference to God as “the God and Father of the Lord Jesus” is made before this phrase, while in Ro.9.5 the refer­ence to God is placed within the phrase as the One who is “over all God” (epi tantōn theos). Since the Apostle used this phrase specifically of “the God and Father of the Lord Jesus” in 2Cor.11.31, there is no reason to suppose that in Ro.9.5 he would refer to Jesus as “God over all”, a phrase which we can be certain that no Jew, including Paul, would apply to anyone except to Yahweh.

(3) Examining the matter within Romans itself, what puts the matter beyond any dispute is (a) that the same phrase translated here as “blessed forever” (eulogētos eis tous aiōnas) is also ap­plied to Yahweh God as the Creator “who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom.1.25). And (b) the concluding “Amen” is a special feature of praise to Yahweh God in Romans where it occurs five times. Apart from Romans 1.25 and 9.5, there are the following:

Romans 11.36, “For from him (Yahweh God, cf. v.33ff) and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Romans 15.33, “May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Here God is praised as the Giver of peace to all with whom He resides (meta, “gen. with, in company with, among; by, in; on the side of”, UBS Dictionary)

Romans 16.27, “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

In all these verses in Romans, Yahweh God is the object of praise, and there is no reason whatever to suppose that Ro.9.5 is an exception.

Hebrews

The Israelites were also known as “the Hebrews” or “the Jews”, so the Letter to Hebrews was written to the Jews; it was written by Jews for Jews. What trinitarians seem to be almost incapable of grasping is that Jews, especially in the 1st century, were monotheists through and through, so neither the writers nor the readers would have had anything to do with trinitarianism, which cannot be reconciled with Biblical monotheism. It is, therefore, futile to attempt to extract trinitarian proof texts from Hebrews; this was something I also attempted in former days, and thus have firsthand knowledge of it. It can be accomplished only by ignorant misinter­pretation or else by eisegesis, which is the usual trinitarian practice of reading one’s own dogma into the text.

The first chapter of Hebrews, which is where trinitarian attempts at gathering proof texts are made, is primarily a collection of Messianic passages from the OT which was used by Jewish believers to convince fellow Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. These OT pass­ages were, of course, generally familiar to the Jews and were therefore useful as a means of discussing the Messiahship of Jesus. So the letter to the Hebrews clearly shared the same goal as John’s Gospel, namely to convince the Jews (and others) that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Jo.20.31). The “Son” occurs already at the beginning of Hebrews (1.2); but this letter shares other important themes with John, specially that of Christ as “the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” (Jo.1.29,36). Christ as the one eter­nally effective sacrifice for sin is a central theme of Hebrews; the other central theme, inseparably joined to the previous one, is the unique fact that Christ is both sacrifice and high priest! John 17 is frequently described as “Jesus’ high priestly prayer.”

Another strong point of contact between Hebrews and John is the emphasis on believing or faith. “Believe” is a key word in John’s Gospel (pisteuō, 98 times, far more frequent than any other NT book), while “faith” is a key word in Hebrews (pistis, 32 times), mainly concentrated in chapter 11, where every instance is about faith in Yahweh. There can be no doubt that Hebrews and John not only have these major themes in common, but are also united in their unquest­ionable commitment to monotheism.

The term “the Son” in Hebrews refers to the Messiah but, need­less to say, trinitarians want to make it mean “God the Son”, which is something unthinkable to the Jews, and which is certainly not the meaning in Hebrews or anywhere else in the Bible. Yet as trinitarians we supposed that Hebrews 1.8 provided an excellent proof text of Jesus’ deity. We did not concern ourselves with the fact that it is a quotation from Psalm 45.6, nor did we really care what those words mean in the context of that psalm:

 8 “But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; there­fore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’” (Heb.1.8,9; Ps.45.6,7)

If we pay attention to Heb.1.9 we see that, also concerning the Son, it says, “God, your God, has anointed you”; the word “anointed” is what the word “Messiah” means in Hebrew, and what the word “Christ” means in Greek; so the Messianic character of this passage (and of Psalm 45, from which it is quoted) is stated explicitly. Psalm 45 is a song about the enthronement of the king of Israel, who having been anointed by Yahweh, acts as Yahweh’s servant and regent. So if the words in Heb.1.8, “Your throne, O God”, are applied to the Messianic king, then the word “God” should properly be spelt as “god” and understood in the sense in which Jesus used it in John 10.34,35 (quoting Ps.82.1,6,7) where it refers to servants and representatives of God. OT scholars are well aware of the fact that “O God” in Psalm 45.6 can only be applied in this sense in the light of OT monotheism; this is reflected in some of the translations:

Your divine throne endures for ever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity” (RSV)

Your throne is from God, for ever and ever, the sceptre of your kingship a sceptre of justice” (NJB)

Robert Alter (Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley) translates the first line as “Your throne of God is forevermore” and comments, “Some construe the Hebrew here to mean “Your throne, O God,” but it would be anomalous to have an address to God in the middle of the poem because the entire Psalm is directed to the king or to his bride” (The Book of Psalms, A Translation with Commentary, Norton, 2007, on Ps.45.7).

Hebrews 1.10-12 quotes Psalm 102.25-27 from the Septua­gint. Psalm 102.1: “Hear my prayer, O LORD (Yahweh); let my cry come to you!” The whole Psalm is a prayer of faith to Yahweh, who is men­tioned many times through this prayer. This means that “Lord” in Ps.102.25 and Hebrews 1.10 can only refer to Yahweh. Why is this passage inserted into this collection of OT Messianic passages in Hebrews 1? Is it in order to substantiate the certainty of the promise in Hebrews 1.8 that “Your throne is for ever and ever”? Or is there, too, a recognition of the unique relationship between Yahweh and Jesus in the Johannine sense that the Word/Memra of Yahweh was embodied in Jesus?

That the author of Hebrews understood Jesus in terms of both the Memra and the Shekinah is extremely likely, indeed one could say quite certainly, in view of Hebrews 1.2,3. Verse 3 speaks of Jesus as “the radiance of the glory of God” which could properly be understood by the Jews, to whom the letter was written, as a reference to the Shekinah of God. The next phrase speaks of Jesus as the image of God, which is “the exact representation of his being” (NIV); Christ as God’s image was considered earlier in this study. It then goes on to say, “sustaining all things by His (God’s) powerful word” (NIV). What is particularly interesting here is that “word” here is not logos but rhēma. It would be hard to explain the reason for this use of a different word from John except for the quite striking fact that rhēma is the word used in the Greek OT for God’s “word” in Isaiah 55.11. This important passage (Isa.55.10, 11) is discussed in detail in chapter 7 (“The OT roots of ‘the Word’”). The Greek OT was the Bible that the readers of Hebrews (and other Greek speaking believers) would have been using at that time, as is widely known; so this use of the word rhēma could have served to indicate to them that Hebrews 1.3 points to Isaiah 55.11.

On the other hand, the humanity of Christ is emphasized more strongly in Hebrews than anywhere else in the NT letters. Hebrews 1.3 speaks also of Jesus “making purification of sins”. There is strong emphasis on the sacrificial blood in Hebrews: “blood” in this sense is a key word in this letter, and is far more frequent than in any other book in the NT: it occurs 21 times. (“Blood” occurs 19 times in Revel­ation, but a large proportion of these refer to blood as a consequence of divine judgment on the world.) “Flesh and blood” is a common way by which Scripture refers to a human being (Heb.2.14; Mat.16.17; 1Cor.15.50; Eph.6.12). From this it becomes perfectly clear that the humanity of Christ is absolutely essential to his “making purification of sins” for mankind’s salva­tion. In contrast to this, nowhere in Hebrews, or anywhere else in the NT, is it ever said that Jesus had to be God in order to make purification of sins or to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mat.20.28; Mk.10.45).

The Monotheism of the Book of Revelation

The Johannine book of Revelation is regarded as having a “high Christology”, mainly because of what appear to be divine titles ascribed to Christ in it. As the latest of the NT writings, it is thought to have the most developed NT Christology. We shall take a careful look at its key features. The first thing that strikes the reader of the Revelation is the fact that the title given to Jesus above all other titles is the “Lamb” (arnion); this word occurs 29 times in the Revelation, but one reference (Rev.13.11) refers to the antichrist who also appears as a lamb, or we might say “anti-lamb”. This means that there are 28 (= 4x7) references to the Lamb, and this number fits in precisely with the inbuilt pattern of the number 7 in Revelation. Thus the Lamb is central to the description of Jesus in the book. The explanation is also given explicitly in the book, for the Lamb is des­cribed as one that “was slain” and, by its blood, has redeemed the saints (Rev.1.5).

What every Jewish believer knew was that the sacrificial lamb had to be “without spot or blemish” of any kind if it was to be offered up in the temple, that is, it had to be perfect to qualify as a sacrifice. What all this means should be perfectly clear: Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for mankind. In other words, the Revelation was concerned above all else with Christ as the perfect man. The Lamb is the perfect symbol of the perfect man!

The deity of Christ is, accordingly, not something that emerges in the Revelation. This becomes strikingly clear from the fact that “the Lamb” is never the sole object of veneration or praise; he is adored always and only together with God, and even then this only occurs on 2 or 3 occasions. On one occasion it seems as though the Lamb is the sole object of veneration even though the word “worship” is not used (5.8ff) but in v.13 God is adored together with the Lamb, and at the end of the section the word “worship” is used very probably in relat­ion to God together with the Lamb (v.14, but cf. next paragraph).

It is significant that the word “worship” (proskuneō) is used 8 times in Revelation with reference to God alone, and never of the Lamb alone. In only one instance it could, and perhaps does, refer to both God and the Lamb together (5.14). The uncertainty ex­pressed by the word “could” in the previous sentence is based on the way “worship” is used in Revelation as a whole: Consider, for example, the scene of worship in Rev.7.9-12 in which countless multitudes offer veneration and praise “to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v.10). Then in the very next verse (v.11), to my great surprise, all the exalted spiritual beings of the highest order in heaven “fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God” (without reference to the Lamb just men­tioned in the previous verse), and offered to Him alone (“our God for ever and ever”, v.12) a seven-fold doxology.

Remarkably, even though the Lamb is said to have some kind of central position in regard to God’s throne (7.17), this is most likely to be understood as exercising God’s reign and authority over all things as His fully empowered agent or representative, as mentioned also elsewhere in the NT (Mt.28.18; 1Cor.15.25-28); he is even so never the sole object of worship. Even in the very passage where this verse (Rev.7.17) appears, we read (v.15), “they (the saints) are before the throne of God and serve (latreuō) Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them”. There is mention of the Lamb in the first part of v.17, but the section closes with the reference going back to God alone.

Something very similar to the previous examples is found in Revelation 22:3, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve (latreuō) him.” This is the only other place in Revelation where the word latreuō (to serve in a religious sense and can therefore mean ‘worship’, e.g. Ro.12.1) appears; the other is in 7.15 quoted in the previous paragraph. In both verses we read the words “serve him (sing.)” There is no problem with regard to 7.15 since only God is mentioned there; but notice that in 22.3 there is reference to both God and the Lamb, then notice the double singular: “his (sing.) servants will serve him (sing.)” Since this is very evidently an echo of 7.15, there can be no doubt that the reference is to God. So even though the Lamb is granted a place on God’s throne (Rev.3.21), God still remains the One who alone is worshipped. This pattern in Revelation shows how remarkably God-centered it is.

Throughout the whole of Revelation 4, the Lord God Almighty (v.8) is the sole object of worship. Chapter 5 is a continuation or extension of the heavenly scene in chapter 4. This means that the adoration of the Lamb takes place within the context of the worship of the One who sits on the throne mentioned in 4.2 and 5.13, and is not a separate event.

If all this strong evidence of theocentricity in Revelation was not sufficiently surprising to me, because of my strong trinitarian background and emphasis on Christocentricity, there were more surprises to come in the course of my investigation. For example, looking at the scene of worship in Rev.15.1ff, the “Lord God Almighty… King of the ages” is once again the sole object of worship, but what struck me is that this song of worship is “the song of the Lamb”, which in the same verse (v.3) is compared to “the song of Moses”—the song Moses taught the Israelites to sing in praise and worship to Yahweh (Ex.15.1-18). In other words, it is the Lamb him­self who teaches the saints to worship (proskuneō appears in v.4) “the Lord God Almighty”!

Nor is this the only instance. At the end of the Revelation, we find that John is so overwhelmed by all that has been revealed to him through that special angel (who had been commissioned to serve as his heavenly guide) that he “fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it!....Worship God!’” (22.8,9). There would be nothing particularly remarkable about these words of the angel until we read that “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches” (22.16). What does this mean? It means that this angel is not just one of the many angels in heaven but Jesus’ angel, one sent specially by him. Significantly, it is this angel of Jesus who instructs John to worship God alone. This instruction is consistent with the use of “worship” (proskuneō) in Revelation as a whole, where the Lord God Almighty is always the central object of worship (4.10; 7.11; 11.16; 14.7; 15.4; 19.4,10; 22.9). The consistent monotheism of Revelation should now be very clear to us; and we should not be surprised when we find that the same is true of all the Johannine writings.[27]

Revelation 1

Revelation 1 is another passage used for arguing for Jesus’ preexistence and deity. But the portrayal of Jesus as the high priest in heaven in this chapter does not provide any basis for arguing for his preexistence because the vision is seen long after Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation. In fact the picture is strikingly akin to the portrayal of “one like a son of man” (the same words in Rev.1.13; also 14.14) in Dan.7.13. There is also the same reference to his “coming in the clouds of heaven” (Rev.1.7).

James Dunn suggests that some of the language in Rev.1. is reminiscent of the descriptions of visions of angels in ancient liter­ature. Daniel, for example, describes a vision in these words, 10.5,6:

5 I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of light­ning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude” (Dan.10.5,6)

The Expositor’s Commentary remarks, “Verses 5-6 are probably the most-detailed description in Scripture of the appearance of an angel”. Noting the description, “his eyes like flaming torches”, the comment­ator says that ‘Revelation 1.14 states that Christ ap­peared to John with “eyes ... like blazing fire”’.

But there are other important similarities which this comment­ary does not mention; for example:

  • Dan.10.5, “a belt of the finest gold around his waist” (NIV), cf. Rev.1.13, “a golden sash around his chest” (NIV) cp. “a long robe tied at the waist with a belt of gold” (NJB).
  • Daniel 10.6: “legs like the gleam of burnished bronze” cf. Revel­ation 1.15: “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace” (NIV) cp. “his feet like burnished bronze when it has been refined in a furnace” (NJB).
  • Dan.10.6, “his voice like the sound of a multitude” (NIV) cf. “the sound of his voice was like the roar of a multitude” (NJB), cp. Rev.1.15 “his voice was like the sound of rushing waters”. The words translated as the “sound of a multitude” can refer to the sound of crowds of people, of water (e.g. rain), or even the rushing of chariot wheels, as The Expositor’s Commentary also mentions.

Thus Revelation 1 certainly describes the risen Christ in terms of the grandeur and glory of a heavenly being but does not provide the basis for arguing for his deity. Indeed, another angelic being is portrayed in similarly splendid terms in Revelation 10. Again I quote The Expositor’s Commentary on Daniel 10.4ff: “Note Rev 10:1, where the angel is depicted as robed in a cloud, with a rain­bow above his head, his face shining like the sun, and his legs like fiery pillars—a description with striking similarities to this one in Daniel.”

Since The Expositor’s Commentary has mentioned Revelation 10.1, notice, too, that the description of this “mighty angel coming down from heaven” says that “his face was like the sun” which is exactly how the face of Christ, as the resurrected one, is described in Rev.1.16.

But the similarities between the vision in Daniel 10 and Revel­ation 1 extend still further. There is also the similarity of the effect on Daniel and on John respectively: “I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale…I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground” Dan.10.8,9, which is not essentially different from “I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev.1.17). Again, in both instances, a hand is placed upon them as the person they have seen speaks to them.

In view of all this, there can be no doubt that Christ is portrayed in angelic terms in Rev.1. But the inclusion of the title “I am the first and the last” (Rev.1.17), which may be a divine title, could suggest that a reference to the OT “angel of the Lord” is intended. However, “The first and the last” is a title used of Christ on three occasions (1.17; 2.8; 22.13), though never of God in the Revelation.

But there may be a relationship in substance with Isaiah 41.4, “I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He” (NASB), but some uncertainty of meaning is underlined by the variety of translations, such as: “I, the LORD—with the first of them and with the last—I am he” (NIV) and “I, Yahweh, who am the first and till the last I shall still be there” (NJB). Even so, the parallels with Isa.44.6 and 48.12 are very close in their wording.

But it is always necessary to exercise caution when trying to prove a theological point by the use of similar titles. For example, all true disciples are called “the light of the world” by Jesus (Mt.5.14), and he also speaks of himself by exactly the same title, “the light of the world” (Jo.8.12; 9.5). Can we argue from this that if Jesus is God, so are we? If not, then why is it constantly assumed that when a divine title is applied to Christ it must mean that he is God? If, in the case of “the light of the world”, it can only be properly understood to mean that we are “the light of the world” because the Spirit of Christ who indwells us shines through us with the light of Christ, then does it not mean the same thing in regard to Christ? Christ is “the first and the last” by virtue of the fact that the Father who indwells him is “the first and the last”. This fundamentally important point is simply disregarded by trinitarians. Moreover, as usual, trinitarians either intentionally or carelessly overlook the fact that all three references in Isaiah (mentioned in the previous paragraph) refer to Yahweh by “first” and “last”, so to argue for the identity of the references in Revelation with those in Isaiah only results in identifying Jesus with Yahweh and, as we have seen before, this is not the result that trinitarians wish to achieve because it results in reducing the First and Second Persons of the Trinity to one and the same person, thereby eliminating the Trinity.

Moreover, “first” and “last” in Isaiah has a meaning which could not possibly apply to Christ in the use of these terms in Revelation, thus Isaiah 43.10b,11: “Before me no god was formed [therefore Yahweh is “the first”], nor shall there be any after me [therefore Yahweh is “the last”]. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.” The meaning here is evident: Since He is both first and last, He is the only God and Savior. In other words, “the first” and “the last” is another way in which the absolutely resolute monotheism of Isaiah’s message is proclaimed.

We can conclude from the discussion in the preceding para­graphs that it is indeed possible that Christ is portrayed in Rev.1 as “the angel of the Lord”, an epiphany of Yahweh. If the preceding exegesis is on the right track, then it shows a link be­tween Christ in the NT and the angel of the Lord in the OT, even though Revelation 1 may provide the only such link with the angel of the Lord.

God and the Lamb in the Book of Revelation

We can see in the book of Revelation how the phrase “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2.11) is revealed with won­derful clarity.

Many references to the book of Revelation have been made because, as we have seen, trinitarian Christology has considered it fertile ground from which to dig up proof-texts without any regard for the context in which they are found, that is, the main themes of Revelation are simply disregarded, and texts are torn out of their context. For example, it should have been observed that Yahweh God alone is spoken of as “the One who sits on the throne” no less than 12 times in the Revelation. “Throne” is a key word in Rev., occurring 47 times in 37 verses; it is the symbol of power, authority, and sove­reignty. Most of these references to “throne” refer to God’s throne, that is, to His kingship and sovereignty; but a few refer to the delegated (by God) authority of other beings. In 2.13 there is even a reference to “Satan’s throne”; he always seeks to usurp God’s kingship.

Jesus, in direct contrast to this, always sought to live in total obedience to his Father (cf. Rev.1.6, “his God and Father”), for he was “obedient unto death” (Phil.2.8), a truth captured in the striking picture of “the Lamb that was slain” in Revelation. It is clearly be­cause of this (cf. Phil.2.9-11) that the truly beautiful pic­ture emerges at the conclusion and finale of the Revelation in which God is seen to share His throne with the Lamb: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev.22.1, cf.3). This sharing of God’s throne fulfills what Jesus mentioned in Rev.3.21, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” This is also to say that the throne he is granted to sit on is essentially the Father’s throne. The phrase “the throne of God and of the Lamb” appears only in these two verses in the Revelation.

As we noted earlier, the “Lamb” as applied to Jesus appears 28 (4x7) times in Revelation and is, therefore, a key word. The slain Lamb portrays Christ as the sacrifice for sin through his death and resurrection. Having faithfully and victoriously completed the miss­ion which God our Father entrusted to him, he was granted to sit upon God’s throne (cf. again Phil.2.9-11), just as all those who con­quer will be granted a place on Christ’s throne (Rev.3.21). Peter in Acts 2:36 proclaimed that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”, which is also why Paul speaks of him as “the Lord Jesus Christ”. Notice again that it is God who has made him Lord. Lordship is conferred on him by God, and the same is true of his messiahship (Christ). This is something that we who were brought up as trinitarians must not lose sight of if we are not again to stray from the truth of God’s word.

The fact is that in Revelation the central object of worship is God, our Father. This is specifically stated, indeed commanded, in Rev.22.9, “Worship God”. This is all the more significant when we realize that here it is Christ who is speaking through his angel (Rev.22.16).

The many references to God’s “throne” in Revelation speak of His universal reign; we are thereby reminded of the “kingdom of God” so central to Jesus’ teaching. “The kingdom of God” is a term which occurs 31 times in Jesus’ teaching in Luke; its equivalent “the king­dom of heaven” also occurs 31 times in Matthew, where “heaven” is a metonym for “God”. What this means is that God’s kingship is a central and vital element in Jesus’ teaching. From this it should also be evident that Yahweh God is Himself central to Jesus’ teaching. Has it ever crossed our minds that to try to exalt Jesus to innate equality with Yahweh God is contrary to his teaching? And if by so doing we are disobedient to him, what will happen to us on that Day?

“God” in the Book of Revelation is Yahweh

This is made clear at the very beginning of Revelation: “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev.1.4) and again in verse 8, “the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This is easily recog­nized, as Bible commentators have observed, as the equivalent of Exodus 3.14, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. {Or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE} This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (NIV). It also reminds us of such descriptions of God as “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps.90.2); “they (the heavens) will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Ps.102.26,27); and “I, Yahweh, do not change” (Mal.3.6).

The same divine description as in Revelation 1.4,8 occurs also in 4.8 in the following magnificent way, “day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’”. The thrice holy recalls the vision in Isaiah 6. “The Lord God” is the familiar title of Yahweh in the OT.

In the NT, “The Almighty” (pantokratōr) as a title of Yahweh is unique to the Revelation, where it occurs 9 times (1.8; 4.8; 11.17; 15.3; 16.7; 16.14; 19.6; 19.15; 21.22; it appears in a quotation from the OT in 2Cor.6.18). Pantokratōr (“the Almighty, All-Power­ful, Omnipotent (One) only of God”, Greek-English Lexicon, BDAG) is frequent in the Greek OT (including Apocrypha), where it occurs 181 times, and is used to translate two titles of Yahweh: “The Lord of Hosts” and El-Shaddai. It occurs an astonishing 55 times in the relatively short book of Zechariah, where it usually translates “Yahweh Sabaoth” (NJB, or “the LORD of hosts” in most other versions, but “the Almighty” in NIV). “Therefore say to them, Thus declares the LORD of hosts: Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts” (Zech.1.3).

“Shaddai” appears 48 times in the Hebrew Bible, of which 31 times are in Job: “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. {Hebrew Shaddai; here and throughout Job}” (Job 5.17, NIV). Its first occurrences in the Bible are in Genesis 17.1, “the LORD (Yahweh) appeared to him (Abraham) and said, ‘I am God Almighty (Heb: El-Shaddai); walk before me and be blameless’”, and Genesis 28.3, “May God Almighty {El-Shaddai} bless you and make you fruitful” (NIV). When we look at these examples, we cannot help being struck by how closely “the Almighty” relates to man in spite of His unimagin­able exaltedness and power. This is a striking characteristic about Yahweh; it is evident throughout the Bible. In Revelation we see that the Almighty is closely involved in what goes on in the world, and that He is using such means as are necessary to accomplish His purposes for mankind.

We have already noted that “throne” is a key word in the Revelation. The concept of God seated upon His throne and reign­ing over the world and the universe occurs frequently in the OT, parti­cularly in the Psalms: “Yahweh has fixed his throne in heaven, his sovereign power rules over all” (Ps.103.19, NJB); “You, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations” (Lam.5.19). In Matthew 5.34 Jesus speaks of heaven as “God’s throne” and the earth as “His footstool” (Mt.5.34,35).

Especially relevant for the Revelation is Isaiah’s vision of God seated upon His throne, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isa.6.1); and all the more so because of verse 3, “And one called to another (i.e. the seraphim,v.2) and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD (Yahweh) of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’”; this thrice repeated “holy” is echoed in Revelation 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!’”. The throne (Ezek.1.26), in what is often called Ezekiel’s heavenly “chariot vision”, is also a vision of Yahweh’s throne: “The radiance of the encircling light was like the radiance of the bow in the clouds on rainy days. The sight was like the glory of Yahweh” (Ezek.1.28, NJB).

“I have made you like God” (Ex.7.1)—a man appointed to function as God’s representative to carry out His purposes

In the heavenly atmosphere of the Book of Revelation there seems, almost inevitably, something God-like about Jesus the Lamb. This is perhaps what gave us the impression that we could easily find material in it to demonstrate the trinitarian doc­trine of his deity. We simply assumed that the titles used of him were divine titles, such as “I am the first and the last” (Rev.1.17, which we discuss elsewhere in this study), and are surprised when upon analysis it turns out that these are not necessarily divine titles. This raises the question: “Does God’s granting of divine titles, such as ‘the Lord’, to Jesus mean that he should be worshipped on the same level with Yahweh God?” We thought that the answer should be in the affirmative, but we discover to our surprise the answer which Revelation gives does not corres­pond to our ideas.

Evidently, there is something concerning the divine revelation about Jesus we had failed to perceive, and therefore understood the matter wrongly. In this matter of God-likeness, there is striking simil­arity with the case of Moses where God said, “I have made you like God to Pharaoh” (Ex.7.1, NIV) or, “I make you as God to Pharaoh” (NASB). God’s own divine status and authority are con­ferred upon Moses, so that interaction between Moses and Pharaoh now becomes the interaction between God and Pharaoh, who is the king of the world as far as the Israelites who lived in Egypt were concerned. Moses now comes to Pharaoh not just as a servant of God or a prophet of God (as one having power and authority to act in God’s Name), he is God as far as Pharaoh is concerned. But the same was true already in regard to Moses’ relationship to Aaron (and therefore to the priesthood) Ex.4.16, “He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.” Thus the conferring of a divine status on a person is not a totally new idea in Scripture. Jesus, in fact, confirmed this fact in Jo.10.34,35 quoting Ps.82.6.

We have already considered Psalm 45 (NIV: “A wedding song” for the king of Israel) where the king (v.1) is spoken of as “God” in verse 6. But the very next verse makes it clear that this “God” or “god” is not the supreme God, because “the Most High God” (Ps.78.35,56; etc) is “your God” who has conferred upon this “god” a place “above your companions” (Ps.45.7). The description or title “Most High” (Elyôn, עֶלְיוֹן) is applied to Yahweh 53 times in the OT, of which 22 are in the Psalms. There was never any question of worshipping the earthly king of Israel, not even the greatest of the Israelites, Moses. This is because ultimately only Yahweh is the true King of Israel and, as the Most High, He alone is the object of worship. See, for example, the majestic declaration: “Thus says the LORD (Yahweh), the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD (Yahweh) of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’” (Isa.44.6); and again: “The LORD (Yahweh) has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD (Yahweh), is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” (Zep.3.15) Perhaps all this will help us to understand a little better the fact that in Biblical monotheism no one, no matter how highly exalted by God he may be—and Jesus is certainly more highly exalted than any other—can ever be the object of worship instead of Yahweh.

What these examples show is that the transcendent God carries out His saving work immanently through holy vessels that He has chosen. Jesus is His chosen one (“My Chosen One”, Lk.9.35; cf. Lk.23.35, Gk.) above all others. In the NT we see that God does every­thing in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, hence the familiar terms “in Christ” and “through Christ” so frequent in Paul’s letters. However, what we tend to forget is that Christ is God’s chosen vessel to carry out God’s (not Christ’s own) eternal purposes.

Another instance, which was the subject of much discussion in Jewish literature, was the remarkable angel who was appointed by God to lead the Israelites through the wilderness and guard them along the way. What is remarkable about this angel is that he is the bearer of God’s Name, “My Name is in him” (Ex.23.21). From v.22 it is clear that to obey him is to obey God, for it is God who speaks and acts in and through him. This angel is, as far as Israel is concerned, God Himself by virtue of being the bearer of God’s Name. Even so, there was never any question of worshipping this angel, for they were only to “Worship the Lord your God” (v.25).

The problem for us is that we have been so deeply indoc­trinated by trinitarianism that we find it easier to accept ditheism or tritheism, in regard to Christ, than monotheism. Our minds have been so shackled by the trinitarian form of polytheism that, when unshackled, we don’t even know what to think. It is rather like those prisoners who have spent most of their lives in prison with the result that, when released, they have no idea where to go and, consequently, choose to return to prison as the only home they have known. To avoid return­ing to error will, evidently, only be possible through an abundant supply of God’s grace and strength to love His truth no matter what the cost, for it is the narrow and difficult road that leads to life.

What can we do in the present situation of the church?

Is there anything that we, on our part, can do in the current situation of the Christian church to prevent ourselves from sliding back into error? By the grace of God, there is. We can learn, as Jesus’ disciple, to be like him in his single-minded devot­ion to his Father. The whole NT testifies unequivocally to the fact that he loved his Father with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mat.22.37; Mk.12.30; Lk.10.27). What he taught us to do, he first did himself. When we love God our Father in this way we will find our hearts wholly united with Christ, because it was he who taught and practiced it. Moreover, loving the Father should not be difficult when we realize that it was He who first loved us (1Jo.4.19) and loved us to the extent that “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Ro.8.32; cf. Jo.3.16). “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1John 3:1, NIV)—“And we have known and believed the love that God has for us” (1Jo.4.16, NKJV).

As for prayer, we can learn to call upon God our Father as “Abba, Father” just as Jesus himself prayed (Mk.14.36), and as the Spirit of God, “the Spirit of adoption”, enables us to pray (Ro.8.14,15). Galatians 4.6 reads, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying (krazō is a strong word, expressing intensity), ‘Abba! Father!’” These words make it very clear that if the Spirit of Christ is in us, we will call or cry out from our hearts, “Abba, Father”. It may also be of signifi­cance that this verse states that it is not the Son who sends His Spirit into our hearts, but it is God our Father Himself who does this.

Further, we can learn to meditate on heavenly things by meditat­ing, for example, on the heavenly scene described in Rev­elation 4 and 5, noticing how the heavenly multitudes worship “the One seated upon the throne” (Yahweh God, the Father, is des­cribed in this way, or its equivalent, 12 times in Revelation). “Throne” is a key word in Revelation occurring 47 times (of these, 14 times in Rev.4, and 5 times in Rev.5). As mentioned above, the Lamb was granted to sit with God our Father on His throne, just as the overcomers will be granted to share Christ’s throne with him (Rev.3.21). After the open­ing of the seal in Rev.5, the Lamb is praised and adored together with God. By visualizing these wonderful scenes of worship, and learning the meaning of the doxologies in them, we could learn to worship in that heavenly manner, for are not these things written for our instruction? Paul exhorted us to set our minds on the things above (Col.3.2). Rev.4 and 5 can certainly help us do this in a deeper way.

Perhaps it was some such heavenly vision of worship which inspired Paul to burst forth in the intensity of his beautiful doxology, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1Ti.1.17, NASB). We may wonder what had caused him to suddenly pour forth this doxology in the midst of writing his letter. Was it perhaps the reference to eternal life in the previous verse? Would our hearts similarly rise in praise to God our Father at the thought of eternal life? Let us also not overlook his strong monotheistic affirmation of “the only (monos) God (theos)” in the center of that doxology.



[27] Note on Rev.22.8: We have seen that in Revelation the word “worship” is never used except in relation to God alone, yet strangely enough John says: “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel” (Rev.22.8). This seems almost incomprehensible especially in view of the fact that the worship of angels is among the things condemned in Colossians 2.18,19; but it is also utterly incompatible with the monotheism of Revelation itself. It seems that the only way it can be understood in this context is in light of what was said shortly before this, “the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place” (Rev.22.6). It seems that John may have thought that what these words indicated is that the angel standing before him was none other than “the angel of Yahweh”, frequently mentioned in the OT, who was a manifestation of Yahweh Himself. It is only revealed to John some 8 verses later that this angel is in fact an angel sent by Jesus (Rev.22.16); so this angel was certainly one of God’s angels but not that “angel of Yahweh” well known in the OT.

 

 

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