God And Jesus In Revelation (Part 2)

Having examined the distinctions made by the author of the Revelation regarding the God and Jesus Christ, we will now proceed to examine every passage in Revelation typically employed in support of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus (as well as passages that militate against these ideas). Because trinitarians are inclined to see proofs of these doctrines in any passage that even remotely implies them, the Revelation, with it’s exalted portrait of  Jesus, is like a playground in which their lively imaginations run wild. I agree that the Revelation contains a high Christology, but to quote Dustin Smith, host of the Biblical Unitarian Podcast, it is a “high human Christology.” The key to understanding the imagery of the book, and in particular, regarding Jesus, is it’s undeniable reliance on OT images and concepts which are deeply rooted in ancient Hebraic thought. To correctly interpret the Revelation one must have a thorough knowledge of OT theology regarding the person of God and the person of Messiah, lest one’s imagination becomes the source of one’s exegesis.

Chapter 1

vv. 4 – 5 –  “. . . Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ . . .”

Here is where the fertile soil of the trinitarian’s imagination commences to produce the  necessary proofs of his presuppositions. The A Popular Commentary On The New Testament unhesitatingly declares:

The Salutation is given in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states this:

The source of the blessing is next indicated, the Triune God, the three Persons of the glorious Trinity, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son.

Needless to say I could go on quoting commentaries which agree with the assessment of these two, but that would be superfluous. What I want to show is how they arrive at this conclusion. First, they arbitrarily assign to “him who is, and who was, and who is to come,” the position of the Father, just as they do with the God in v. 1. As I noted in Part 1, although orthodox Christians regularly speak of the triune God, they will rarely, if ever, assign that meaning to any particular mention of the God in the NT. This is especially true in passages which mention Jesus along with God, as if two distinct entities. In such cases the God has to be the Father alone in order to maintain their theology.

Of course, as to the mention of Jesus Christ in v.5, trinitarians are induced to regard him as God the Son, second Person of the Trinity, descriptions of Jesus which are never found once within the pages of scripture.

So now, to complete the picture of the Triune God the seven spirits before the throne are interpreted to be God the Holy Spirit, third Person of the Trinity. But one has to ask, how do seven spirits before the throne of the God equate to the Holy Spirit? Some commentators simply assert, without any explanation, that the ‘seven spirits’ is in fact a reference to the Holy Spirit, while others attempt to justify the assertion. Barnes comments in favor of this assertion:

That it is most natural to suppose that the Holy Spirit would be invoked on such an occasion, in connection with him “who was, and is, and is to come,” and with “Jesus Christ.” If two of the persons of the Trinity were addressed on such an occasion, it would be properly supposed that the Holy Spirit would not be omitted, as one of the persons from whom the blessing was to descend.

Note how this statement is not drawn exegetically from the text but issues from the presupposition of trinitarianism. The absurdity of the statement can be seen in the fact that every one of the salutations in Paul’s letters to the churches omits the Holy Spirit, invoking “grace and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” only.

Various explanations are offered by different commentators for why ‘the seven spirits’ should be understood to be the Holy Spirit. Benson states that “He is called, the Seven Spirits, not with regard to his essence, which is one, but with regard to his manifold operations.” The Cambridge Bible commentary interprets the ‘seven spirits’ as the Holy Spirit, “who is known to us in his seven-fold operations and gifts, and who perhaps has some seven-fold character in Himself; which we cannot and need not understand …” The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary avers “The Holy Spirit in His sevenfold (that is, perfect, complete, and universal) energy.” These commentators would have done better to say nothing on this matter, for what they have said amounts to nothing. What does “seven-fold operations” or “sevenfold energy” even mean? Some erroneously connect this idea with Is. 11:2, but even trinitarian expositors have noted that this passage speaks of really only six characteristics of the Messiah which are bestowed upon him by the Spirit of YHWH.

Not all trinitarian expositors agree that we have a reference to the Holy Spirit here. The RevelationCommentary.Org website notes that “there is significant debate concerning whether the Holy Spirit or angels is intended by John.” After listing the pros for each view, the authors state:

There is not enough evidence to be dogmatic either way. However, we support angelic beings because there is not one example of the Holy Spirit greeting believers as a part of a salutation in all of the New Testament.

I am not going to pretend that I know definitively who or what the seven spirits before the throne of God are, but I will give my reasons why I don’t think it is referring to the Holy Spirit. The first and most obvious reason is that the text says ‘seven spirits‘ not ‘the Holy Spirit.’ That the ‘seven spirits’ should be taken literally and not as a symbolic representation is seen by the fact that their first appearance here in 1:4 is not within the vision proper, but in the introduction, prior to the vision. We also know that the ‘seven spirits’ is not a symbol of something else because in two subsequent mentions the ‘seven spirits’ is the explanation of a symbol. In 4:5 the symbol of seven torches before the throne is elucidated as the ‘seven spirits of God.’ In 5:6 the symbol of seven eyes upon the Lamb is interpreted as the ‘seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.’ So because ‘the seven spirits’ is given as the meaning of symbols it cannot be a symbol of something else, but rather a literal reality. The 5:6 passage seems to coincide with Zech. 4:10b {see also 3:9}: “These seven are the eyes of YHWH, which roam through all the earth.” I don’t see why we shouldn’t understand ‘the seven spirits’ to be just that, seven spirits who act as YHWH’s eyes in the earth. That these would be seven personal beings can be assumed by the fact that they are included with God and Jesus in sending a greeting to the seven assemblies. So then it would seem that they are aware of and concerned about the congregations of Messiah.

Another reason why the ‘seven spirits’ do not aptly represent the Holy Spirit from a trinitarian perspective is that they are positioned “before the throne” of God. This seems like a strange thing to say of one who is supposed to be a hypostasis of the same being as “him who sits on the throne.” Throughout the Revelation there are other beings who are said to be before the throne or before God and in every case they are most certainly created beings {see 4:10; 7:9, 11, 15; 11:4; 14:3, 5; 20:12}. This certainly weakens the trinitarians case, rendering it implausible.

I will also point out that what is said of Jesus in v. 5 also does not help the trinitarians assertion that the Trinity is in view here. That he is called the “faithful witness” {see Is. 55:4} and the “ruler of the kings of the earth” {see Ps. 89:27} mark him out as the promised descendant of David who will sit upon the throne of Israel. That he is called the “firstborn from the dead” marks him out as the first immortal man, the progenitor of a new humanity. These would hardly be the kind of things that one would want to emphasize if they were asserting the co-equal deity of Jesus.

v. 11 – The words found in the KJV, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” are not to be regarded as original and are omitted in most modern versions. See Part 1 of this study for an explanation of what it means for Jesus to be called ‘the first and the last.’

vv. 12-16 –  In this passage we have recorded John’s vision of Jesus. The description of Jesus by John provides much fodder for the trinitarians imagination to run wild. Attempts are made to show that the description of Jesus here is of a divine person, pointing to the similarity of specific elements of this vision with that of visions of Yahweh in the OT. But it must be noted that this is a vision of Jesus, not a description of how he actually looks. John is not literally seeing Jesus but merely a representation of Jesus within the vision. The specific elements of the description of Jesus are symbolic and meant to convey some meaning. The meaning of some of the symbols is given in the text, others are not. For instance, in verse sixteen Jesus is described as holding seven stars in his right hand, and in verse twenty the meaning of this symbol is explained as being the “messengers of the seven churches.” That the different components of the vision are to be understood symbolically rather than literally is seen in the fact that Jesus is described as having a “sharp double-edged sword” coming out of his mouth. Would anyone seriously consider this to be a description of how Jesus actually looks in reality?

Now it is true that some of the descriptive elements of this vision of Jesus do coincide with visions of God in the OT, but then some of the elements coincide with visions of celestial beings also. For example, Jesus is described in v. 14 as having hair as “white as wool.” Now in Dan. 7:9 Daniel sees a vision in which “one ancient of days“, a representation of Yahweh, is depicted as having hair “like pure wool.” Are we to assume then that these two figures are the same being or that they share the same essence? If so, then what about the vision of the man in Dan. 10, which shares a number of the same features found in the vision of Jesus (fiery eyes, bright countenance, bronze-like limbs and a booming voice). This figure in Daniel 10 clearly is not Yahweh but an angelic being. Does this figure’s similar appearance to Jesus in the vision in Revelation 1 mean that they are the same being? No, of course not, though some do assert just that. Many take the man in Daniel 10 to be a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity, and as proof, they point to the similarity in their descriptions. But the figure in Daniel 10 is clearly an angelic being, who could not by himself overcome another spiritual power who resisted him, and required the assistance of Michael, one of the chief princes, in order to be free to bring to Daniel the answer he desired {see vv. 12-14}. Would the second person of the Trinity, eternal deity and co-creator, need the help of Michael to overcome a created being? This figure, later, in 12:7, is said to “swear by him who lives forever.” In the Revelation, the God is identified as “he who lives forever and ever” and is always distinct from Jesus. The identification of the man in Daniel 10 as a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity fails for these reasons.

While we may not be able to precisely decipher every symbol seen in John’s description of Jesus, it is clear that similarities in this vision with other visions in scripture, do not necessitate that we equate Jesus with the figures seen in those other visions. The elements which are common between them may simply signify that whatever these symbols are meant to convey is true of both Jesus and the other figures. For example, the white hair of both ‘the ancient of days‘ in Dan. 7 and of Jesus in Rev. 1 may be meant to symbolize the purity of both rather than that they are the same being {see Is. 1:18}. On the other hand, these symbols could be denoting something different in each case. In Dan. 7 it may be meant to denote an aged one, hence ‘the ancient of days,’ while in Rev. 1 it may denote the purity of Jesus. We may also infer, based on the fact that each of these symbolic descriptors of Jesus are repeated in the letters to the seven churches, that these symbols denote aspects of his relationship to the churches. Whatever the precise meaning of the symbols may be, it is certain that they do not warrant that we understand them as signifying deity.

vv. 17-18 – Once again, see Part 1 for an explanation of the title ‘the first and the last‘ as applied to Jesus. Jesus here calls himself  ‘the living one.’ Many also regard this as a statement signifying deity, but the meaning is given immediately in the context, “I was dead and behold I am alive unto the ages of the ages.” This is simply an assertion of immortality, an immortality that was attained only after having been dead. We know that this immortality was given to Jesus when he was raised from the dead by the Father {see Rom. 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 13: 4}.

Chapter 2

v.7 –  Jesus is said to grant to the overcomers to eat from the tree of life. Some assert that only God has the right to grant such a thing and thus see in this statement an attestation to Jesus’ deity. But cannot God give that right or privilege to whomever he desires, and that especially to his anointed one, his beloved son? And this is just what we find in the gospel accounts, where Jesus proleptically speaks of such authority being entrusted into his hands:

All things have been committed to me by my Father.     Matt. 11:27

All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.      Matt. 28:18

The Father loves the son and has placed everything into his hands.    John 3:35

… the Father … has entrusted all judgment to the son.     John 5:22

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the son to have life in himself (i.e immortality). And he has given him authority to judge . . .      John 5:26

There are many statements in the Revelation about what Jesus, as God’s chief agent, has the authority to do or perform on behalf of God’s people {see 2:10, 17, 26-28, 3:5, 8-10, 12, 21}, but this never requires that Jesus himself be divine in his nature.

v. 23 –  “Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”

Jesus is here said to exercise a prerogative that seems to belong to Yahweh alone according to Jer. 17:10. Hence, many apologists are quick to employ this passage as a proof text for the deity of Jesus. But once again, as noted above, Jesus, as God’s supreme agent, is given  the ability to exercise divine functions on behalf of the churches.

But the question must be answered as to how Jesus, if he is merely human, could exercise such a divine prerogative. The answer may lie in the symbolism of his “eyes like blazing fire” from verse 18. What is the meaning of this symbolism?  Perhaps it has to do with the seven spirits which are before the throne of God {1:4}. These seven spirits are also symbolized by seven eyes which are seen on the Lamb, a symbol of Jesus, in 5:6. These same seven spirits are also symbolized as seven blazing torches in 4:5. Could it be that these seven spirits which are “sent out into all the earth” {5:6} are synonymous with the eyes of Yahweh in Zech. 4:10 and 2 Chron. 16:9? And could it be that these seven spirits have been placed at the disposal of the risen and exalted Jesus {3:1}, and that through these agents he is able to search out the minds and hearts of those in the churches? Of course, this is just conjecture on my part, but it seems like a reasonable solution.

Chapter 3

v. 14  –  “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.”

Some commentators, amazingly, try to connect Jesus being called ‘the Amen‘ with Is. 65:16, where God himself is supposedly called by the same title. This is supposed to show a unity of nature between God and Jesus. First of all, even if Jesus did share this appellation with YHWH it would not prove he is deity. We have seen in Part 1 of this study that Jesus (as well as other men) shares other titles that God bears and I have shown how this does not require that Jesus be divine in nature.  Even so, it is not even clear that YHWH is being given the title ‘the Amen‘ in Is. 65:16, for it says literally  “. . .  he shall bless himself by elohim amen.” This is translated in most versions as “by the God of truth” and in some “by the God of faithfulness.” It is also possible to translate it as “. . . he shall bless himself by God, so be it.”

On the phrase “the beginning of God’s creation” here is what some commentators say:

  • JFB –  “. . . the Beginner of all creation, it’s originating instrument.”
  • Ellicott –  ” he was the origination, or the primary source of all creation.”
  • Meyer –  “. . . the Lord is regarded as the active principle of the creation . . .”
  • Gill –  “. . . the first cause of the creation; the first parent, producer, and efficient cause of every creature; the author of the old creation, who made all things out of nothing in the beginning of time; . . .”

I could go on, but this should suffice. It is evident that most trinitarian expositors see this as a clear declaration that Jesus is the Creator. But this is by no means a necessary inference based on the word arche (beginning), as even the noted trinitarian expositor Albert Barnes acknowledged:

The word (arche) is not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that one is the beginning of anything in the sense that he caused it to have an existence.

. . . he is “the beginning of the creation of God” in the sense that he is the head or prince of the creation; that is, he presides over it . . .

The word arche can denote first in time or first in rank. In the LXX and in Jewish intertestamental literature one meaning it carries is ‘ruler’ or ‘authority.’ This meaning is also found in the NT at Lk. 12:1, Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:15; Titus 3:1. The NIV 1985 edition actually translates this passage as “the ruler of God’s creation,”  and the NET Bible’s commentary on this passages acknowledges this translation as being viable, though it opted for “originator of God’s creation” in it’s text based on a somewhat tenuous connection to the prologue of John’s gospel. The verse is probably saying no more than that Jesus is the appointed ruler over God’s creation, much like Adam was originally. Based on this evidence there is no reason, beyond a theological one, to think that the passage is denoting Jesus as the creator.

Another alternative would be to understand Jesus as being the beginning of the new creation {see Col. 1:18}. As the firstborn from the dead {1:5} he is the first immortal man, the pattern to which all who come after him will be conformed {see Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:21-23, 47-49}.

Chapter 5

In this chapter we see the Lamb, who is Jesus the Messiah, receive praise and honor from first, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders {vv. 8-10}; then from many angels {vv.11-12}; and finally, along with “him who sits on the throne,” he receives praise and honor from “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea,” {vv. 13-14}.This is taken as strong, if not incontrovertible, evidence of Jesus’ deity by orthodox apologists and interpreters. Ostensibly it does appear to be formidable confirmation of orthodox Christology. How could Jesus receive such approbation from every created being, along with the God, if he were a mere created being himself?

My first answer to this question is to say that the question itself reveals one of the major hang-ups of modern-day Protestant Evangelicalism (MPE). The idea that a human being could legitimately be given such high honor and praise is an unthinkable taboo within MPE. But the question has more to do with MPE’s sensibilities than it does with whether Scripture itself prohibits such a thing. The cry of MPE is that only God is worthy of worship and praise and so only God can legitimately be given worship. To give such worship or praise to anyone other than God is to treat that one as if he were God and so break the first commandment of the Decalogue:

“You shall have no other gods besides me.”      Ex. 20:3

Therefore, if Scripture portrays Jesus as legitimately receiving such worship then we can only conclude that he is God, right? The whole problem with this line of reasoning though, is that it simply is not scriptural. There is nothing in Scripture that would prohibit a human being from being given great honor and laudation from every other created being if God so desired it. What would be illegitimate would be to give to such a one the honor and worship that belongs to God alone, i.e because he is God, the Creator. At first glance it may look like Jesus is receiving the same worship as the one “who sits on the throne,” but this is only superficial. When we take into account the wider context of the passage we get a better grasp of the matter. If we go back to 4:9-11 we read this:

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory, honor and power, because you created all things, and by your will they were created and exist.

We see that “him who sits on the throne” i.e. the God, is regarded as worthy to receive worship precisely because he created all things. But this is markedly different from why Jesus is regarded as worthy of worship:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”      4:12

The phrase “the Lamb who was slain” harkens back to vv. 9-10:

Worthy are you [the Lamb] to take the scroll and to open it’s seals, because you were slain and by your blood you purchased men for God . . . “

So we see that the Lamb, who is Jesus, is regarded as worthy of worship for an entirely different reason than is “he who sits on the throne.”  Jesus’ worthiness is found in the fact that he was slain in order that men might be redeemed to the God. The relationship of Jesus’ exalted position to his death is noted elsewhere in the NT – Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:8-11; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 3:21 (compare with 5:5 and 5:9 where his overcoming seems to be in relation to his having been slain). This is a significant distinction between the Lamb and ‘him who sits on the throne.’  It should also be pointed out that these two important figures of the Revelation are never confused with each other; a clear distinction is maintained throughout the book. Even within this passage and the context which we have noted, a clear distinction is made. The one on the throne is explicitly called “our Lord and God” {v. 11}, something that is never said of the Lamb. If the Revelation was given to reveal that Jesus is God in some sense, as some commentators suppose, then why the ambiguity? Why does the author not come right out and explicitly declare the Lamb to be our God? Instead, someone other than the Lamb is explicitly designated as the God and creator. In v. 9 the Lamb is extolled because he “purchased men for the God” , again establishing a clear distinction between the two. So then when we come v. 13, since we know that “him who sits on the throne” is synonymous with the God, we could legitimately read it as:

“To the God and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

So, while both God and the Lamb receive veneration, they do so for entirely different reasons. Yes there is a close association between these two figures but it is not necessary to postulate a shared identity or nature. This close association is in fact that which we see in the Hebrew Scriptures between Yahweh and his anointed one, the king i.e David and his descendants. The language used to relate this association is expressive of a unique relationship, a relationship which no other human being could claim to have with God.

  • The Davidic king is in a Father/son relationship with God – 1 Chron. 17:11-14; 28:6; Ps. 2:6-7: 89:26
  • The Davidic king is considered the firstborn son of God and thus heir of His kingdom –  2 Chron. 13:8; Ps. 2:8; 89:26-27
  • The Davidic king sits on Yahweh’s throne and rules on His behalf –  1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; Ps. 80:17; 110:1; Zech. 13:7
  • The Davidic king represents God’s rule over his people – Ps. 45:6-7; Zech. 12:8

All of these statements were made in reference to human beings, specifically of the Davidic king. When we get to the end of the book of Revelation Jesus makes a self-declaration: “I, Jesus . . . I am the root and the offspring of David . . .” {22:16}. If the whole book of Revelation is supposed to be revealing Jesus as deity, then this statement at the end should be quite a let down. If all of the ambiguous titles and high praise given to  Jesus throughout the book were leading up to his final climactic self- declaration, the orthodox trinitarian might have expected Jesus to say something more along the lines of, “ I, Jesus . . . I am your Lord and your God, the Creator.” But instead he declares himself to be the “offspring of David” (we will come back to this verse later to see why he calls himself the ‘root‘ of David and the ‘bright morning star‘).

So why am I focusing on Jesus being the promised ‘son of David‘ in exegeting a passage which pictures Jesus receiving worship in conjunction with the God? Because to my mind, Rev. 5:13 is a clear allusion to 1 Chron. 29:20:

Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise Yahweh your God.” So they all praised Yahweh, the God of their fathers; they bowed down and paid homage to Yahweh and the king.

While this adoration of the Lord’s anointed along with God was of a limited nature, the adoration of the Lamb along with the God is extended to all created beings because he was slain on behalf of all and purchased men for God by his blood {1:5; 5:9} and because he is the firstborn from the dead {1:5}, giving him the preeminence over all {see Col. 1:18; Phil 2:8-11}.

Chapter 6

vv.15-16 –  Because the kings of the earth and the princes and generals etc. hide themselves from the face of “him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb,” many commentators see in this another illustration of a shared identity and nature between these two figures. But again, I will note the clear distinction that the text makes between the two. We already know, that in the Revelation, the one who ‘sits on the throne‘ is specifically called the God and that the Lamb is never so designated. Again, we see a close association between the two which fits the relationship between Yahweh and his anointed one in the Hebrew Bible. That both God and his chosen king would be portrayed as unified in expressing wrath against the enemies of God and his people, would not be a novel idea to the early Jewish believers. Such portraits were already known from their Scriptures:

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned you rulers of the earth. Serve Yahweh with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss (i.e. pay proper homage to) the son (the newly installed Davidic king) lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who seek refuge in him.  Ps. 2:10-12

Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet.           Ps. 45:3-5

The lord (i.e. Yahweh’s anointed king) is at your right hand. He will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook beside the road, therefore he will lift up his head.     Ps. 110:5-7

These ideal depictions of the Davidic king show that Jesus, as the final and ideal Davidic king, need not be deity in order to fulfill the image of him, in the Revelation, as the executor of God’s wrath upon the nations {see 19:15}.

Chapter 7

v.10 –  And they (the great multitude) cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, the one sitting on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Does the fact that this multitude of redeemed people ascribe their salvation to both “the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb” necessitate that we understand the Lamb to be ontologically the same as the one sitting on the throne? Not at all! Our salvation is ultimately from God, who planned it, foretold it, raised up one from David’s line {see Acts 13:23}, and then effected it through this one. Our salvation is also attributed to the Lamb because, as we saw in the last chapter, he was slain and by his blood (i.e. his sacrificial death) he redeemed us to God. This theme shows up again in 7:14, where the great multitude is described as having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

What most trinitarian enthusiasts miss in this verse is precisely who the great multitude declares to be their God – the one sitting on the throne. This one, in the Revelation, refers to the Creator {4:9-11} and is always distinct from the Lamb. Now trinitarians will simply say that this refers to God the Father, in distinction to God the Son. If so, then this multitude of redeemed people are naming the Father specifically as their God. This does coincide with the rest of the NT, which clearly identifies the God of believers to be the Father {see John 20:17; 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6; the salutation of all of Paul’s letters, where he identifies God as the Father}. Yet this does not square with the fact that ever since the 4th century Christians have been in the habit of saying that their God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or with the fact that many Christians today simply speak of Jesus as their God. In the Revelation, “our God” always refers to the “one who sits on the throne” i.e. the God {4:11; 5:10; 7:3,10,12; 12:10; 19:5,6} and never to the Lamb.

v.17 –  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will shepherd  them . . .

Here, because the Lamb is portrayed as being “at the center of the throne,” the trinitarian imagines that the Lamb is being identified as God. But we have already seen that the Lamb is never depicted as ‘sitting‘ on the throne, that place is reserved solely for the God. The language may be describing John’s own perspective within the vision. John is most likely standing in a position that when he looks at the throne the image of the one sitting on the throne is obscured by the Lamb’s position i.e. standing at the center of the throne. This would be denoting the fact that the Davidic king ruled for God {see 1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; Micah 5:2}. The Davidic king was, in a sense, the visible representative of God’s invisible rule over his people. That the Lamb is being portrayed here as the Davidic king is seen in the fact that his task is to ‘shepherd‘ the people of God, a common motif used of the king in the Hebrew scriptures {see 2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7; 24:17; Ps. 78:71-72; Ezek. 34:23; Micah 5:2-4; Zech. 13:7}.

Chapter 11

v. 15 –  . . . and there were loud voices in heaven, which said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (i.e Messiah), and he will reign for ever and ever.”

Here we have mention of  two distinct figures: one whom the loud voices in heaven, presumably the twenty-four elders, call “our Lord” and the other who is called the “Christ” of that one. The “our Lord” can only be a reference to ‘him who sits on the throne,’ as the twenty-four elders refer to him as such in 4:11. This is the God throughout the Revelation, and as we saw in Part 1, in keeping with the use of OT titles of YHWH, he is called “our Lord” (Heb. adownenu). The one who is called “his Christ” is Jesus. This, again, is in keeping with the portrayal of Jesus, in the Revelation, as the descendant of David chosen by God to rule over his kingdom. That he is called “his Christ” harkens back to the common OT designation for the king of Israel, Yahweh’s anointed one (Heb. mashiach i.e messiah) {see 1 Sam. 24:6; 26:9; 2 Sam. 1:14; 19:21; 22:51; Ps. 2:2; Lam. 4:20}. The title ‘Christ’ in the NT is not and never was a title of deity, but simply a designation of the human king who reigned over God’s people. This is how Jesus is being portrayed in the Revelation.

When it says “he will reign for ever and ever,” it is most likely referring to “our Lord” i.e. the God, who shall reign through his anointed one, the man he has appointed {Acts 17:31 – ‘judge’ should be understood Hebraically as ‘rule’}.

Chapter 12

v. 10 –  Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ . . .

All that was said on the previous verse can be said here also. I will only add that, once again, the one who is identified as “our God” is distinct from Jesus, who is clearly  referenced here as the anointed one of “our God.” Hence Jesus is not “our God.”

Chapter 17

v. 14 –  Jesus is here called “Lord of lords and King of kings,” which denotes to the trinitarian that Jesus is deity. For my explanation of this passage see Part 1 of this study.

Chapter 19

v. 10At this I (John) fell at his (the angel’s) feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! . . .”

I am including this verse because it is sometimes appealed to by trinitarian apologists in the following way. In the gospels men sometimes bow down to Jesus and worship him. Yet Jesus does not prohibit them from doing so like the angel prohibits John. This is supposed to be proof that the gospels are portraying Jesus as deity and not just a mere man. But as we have already seen, there is no biblical prohibition against showing a  human superior the proper honor and homage that is his due, and in fact there are many examples of this very thing in scripture. This is a legitimate form of ‘worship’ which, in the OT, was given especially to kings. In the gospels, people who recognized Jesus as either a great rabbi or a prophet or even as the Messiah, would legitimately give to him the proper homage accordingly. Do we really want to say that these people bowed down before Jesus because they actually thought he was God? Of course, that would be absurd. They knew they were bowing down before a human being and had no qualms about it; and neither did Jesus have qualms about receiving such honor. Are we to suppose that John was attempting to worship the angel as if he were God? Such an interpretation makes John out to be either a lawbreaker or an idiot.

But why does the angel object, especially since angels are of a more superior nature than men. The answer may lie in the fact that the angel knew the exalted status to which believers in Messiah are destined. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 6:3 that believers will judge angels and that they are seated with Messiah who is seated “far above all rule and authority . . .” {see Eph. 1:20-21 and 2:6}. It may be that since Messiah has been exalted above all angels {see Hebrews 1}, they may no longer see us who are in Messiah as inferiors, but as at least on equal footing. The reason the angel gives for not welcoming John’s gesture of honor is that he is a fellow servant of God with John and the other believers.

vv. 11-16  –  I am of the opinion that this section is about the glorious return of Messiah Jesus at the end of this present age, though I am aware that there are those, among both the trinitarians and unitarians, who may interpret it differently. For those trinitarians who do regard this as Messiah’s glorious appearing, this depiction of Jesus adds support, in their mind, to the belief in Jesus’ deity. But there really seems to be no reason to interpret these visionary images as confirmatory of that belief, except the very presupposition that Jesus is God. In other words, it is the trinitarians presupposition itself which leads to his interpretation, rather than the interpretation being derived from the text. Without that presupposition this portrait of Jesus is easily interpreted in terms of Yahweh’s anointed one riding out to execute God’s wrath upon the nations who have despised him and persecuted his people, and to establish his rule over them. The specific elements of this vision of Messiah are simply made to fit the trinitarian’s Christological assumptions, without warrant from the text itself. For example, that Messiah here is called ‘the word of God‘ is understood by trinitarians to be a confirmation that he is the eternal Logos of the orthodox creeds, an idea that is not explicit in the text. But if one does not hold the presupposition that Jesus is deity then this can easily be understood in a different sense, e.g. that Jesus is the one who ultimately fulfills what the prophetic word had declared would happen. For an explanation of v. 16, where Jesus is called “King of kings and Lord of lords” see Part 1.

Chapter 20

v. 6  –  Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of the God and of the Messiah and will reign with him for a thousand years.

The Cambridge Bible comment on this verse states:

The strongest proof, perhaps, in the book of the doctrine of Christ’s coequal Deity. If we read theses words in light of St. John’s gospel, or of the Nicene Creed, they suggest no difficulty, but without the doctrine there taught, they make salvation to consist in the deadly sin which the Moslems call “association” – the worshipping the creature by the side of the Creator. Notice, however, that the word “God” in this book always means the Father; and so throughout the N. T., with few exceptions.

So does the fact that resurrected believers are here designated as priests of both ‘the God’ and the Messiah, necessitate that they share the same nature? Once again, as stated on the previous passage, it is the presupposition of Christ’s coequal Deity that drives the above interpretation. For the authors of the above comment that presupposition is derived from the gospel of John and the Nicene creed and is then used to interpret this passage. Once again, without those presuppositions, the passage can be interpreted in another sense. First, I would note the commentator’s admission that the word “God” or rather as in the Greek “the God” is always a reference to the Father in the Revelation. But why should the “the God” (a way of distinguishing the true God from all others who might be called god) only refer to the Father for someone who thinks that the true God consists of three equal persons? The answer is that there is such a clear distinction between ‘the God’ and Jesus in this book, making them two completely different persons, that the trinitarian is forced by his presupposition to understand ‘the God’ as referring to the Father alone, rather than to the triune being itself.

So in what sense can believers be priests of both the God and the Messiah without inferring that Messiah is deity? The solution is to take the first genitive phrase, “priests of the God,” as a possessive genitive, meaning that they are priests for God, as is stated in 1:6 and 5:10. The second genitive phrase “of the Messiah” could be taken as a genitive of association, meaning they are priests in association with Messiah, i.e. because they are in a union with him, which coincides with the stated fact that they are priests because Jesus makes them so – 1:6 and 5:10.

Now someone will complain that this is a simple case of special pleading. Why should two genitive phrases in the same verse, referring to the same noun, have two different meanings? Are there any other examples of this in the NT? Yes there are. One such passage is Rom. 8:17:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ

Here I  have kept the usual flavor of the genitive in the phrase “of Christ” just as in the genitive phrase “of God.” But if you will check you will find that almost every English version translates the second genitive as “with Christ.” The implication is, that we are heirs in relation to both God and Christ and that the relationship to each one is of a different sort. In the same way, we can understand our present passage as stating that the resurrected believers are priests in relation to both ‘the God’ and the Messiah, and that that relationship differs in each case. In relation to the God they are priests in that it is the God whom the serve; and in relation to Messiah they are priests because he has made them so.

Chapter 21

vv. 22-23  –  I did not see a temple in the city, for YHWH God Almighty is the temple of it, likewise the Lamb. The city has no need of the sun or the moon, that they should shine in it, for the glory of God illumines it and the Lamb is the lamp of it.

It is asserted by trinitarian apologists that because both the God and the Lamb are said to be the temple of the city, and both are said to be a light source for the city, that this supports the concept that they both share the same essence or nature, and thus that Jesus is God. The first problem with this line of reasoning is that it assumes that a same function between two persons or beings entails an ontological sameness. But this is evidently false. Consider that in the OT narrative both YHWH and David (and Solomon, and Hezekiah, et.al.) were declared to be the King of Israel, yet no one postulates that these men were of the same ontological essence as YHWH. It is clear that though they carried out the same function as YHWH, they were nonetheless inferior to YHWH and were in fact His servants, carrying out that function on His behalf. Similarly, when God sent Moses to Pharaoh he told him, “See I have made you God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” Does the fact that Moses somehow functioned as God lead to the conclusion that he shares the same essence as God? Not at all! And so neither does the fact that Jesus is depicted as carrying out the same functions as the God in the Revelation necessarily lead us to conclude he shares the same nature as the God.

Besides this, the word order of the sentence in the Greek seems to suggest that the God is the primary figure, in regard to these functions, while the Lamb is secondary. The translation I give above reflects that word order. As for the idea that the God, and in a secondary sense the Lamb, is the temple of the city, I do not really have an explanation of what precisely this is meant to denote. We know the temple was the earthly dwelling place of God among his people Israel, so in what sense he himself can be the temple of the city I do not know. The only OT parallel I could find is Is. 8:14 where it is stated that YHWH Almighty “shall be for a sanctuary . . . for the two houses of Israel . . .” The word sanctuary here is a word used of both the tabernacle and the Temple throughout the OT. At this point I have no insight as to the meaning of God, and likewise the Lamb, being the temple of the New Jerusalem. I only know that the fact that they share this function, YHWH, probably in an invisible sense, and the Lamb, in a visible sense, does not require them to be of the same nature.

The same goes for the fact that both are said to be a source of light to the city. Once again, it seems that the God is the primary figure in this regard and the Lamb only in a secondary sense. Other references to the light source of the city mention only the God {see 21:11 and 22:5}; this seems to give the God the primary role.

That the Lamb is referenced as the lamp of the city seems to harken back, once again, to a royal, Davidic theme found in the Hebrew bible. David himself was referred to as the lamp of Israel:

But Abishai . . . came to David’s rescue; he struck down the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him and said, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.”    2 Sam. 21:17

After David, YHWH continued to place one of his descendants upon the throne of Judah in Jerusalem, in order to fulfill his promise to David. The descendant of David  was depicted as a lamp burning before YHWH in Jerusalem, as the following verses show – 1 Kings 11:36; 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19; 2 Chron. 21:7; Ps. 132:13-18. Once again, we see that the portrait of Jesus in the Revelation is that of the final and ideal Davidic descendant who will rule over God’s kingdom for ever {se also Lk. 1:32-33}.

Chapter 22

Verses one and three speak of “the throne of the God and of the Lamb.” Of course, the trinitarian apologists makes much of this as a supposed confirmation of the orthodox doctrine that Christ shares a divine nature with the God. But I think you have seen by now that this conclusion is not a direct inference from the text itself , but rather a presupposition imposed upon the text. I have already noted how same function does not necessitate same nature. I have even used the example of YHWH and David both carrying out the function of Israel’s king; YHWh in the ultimate sense and David in a secondary sense, as YHWH’s servant. I have also pointed out somewhere in this article that the Davidic descendant was regarded as sitting on YHWH’s throne {1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8}. With this in mind, it is easy to see in our passages in Revelation a clear allusion to this well established motif in the Hebrew scriptures.

vv. 12-13  – Please refer to Part 1 for the explanation of this passage.

v. 16  – “I Jesus . . . I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright morning star.”

Trinitarian apologists point to the fact that Jesus is described as not only the offspring i.e. the descendant of David, but also the root of David. It is asserted that if Jesus is the root then David must have come from Jesus, placing Jesus before David in time. This they assert is a reference to the fact that Jesus is David’s creator. That is indeed an awful lot of presupposition to read into a text. There are two possible solutions that do not involve the nonsense offered by the apologists.

First, most scholars see in this an allusion to Is. 11:1:

A shoot will come up from the stem of Jesse; from his roots a branch will sprout.

The Hebrew word for ‘roots’ in this verse is represented in the LXX by the same word in our Revelation text. Many scholars see the Revelation passage as referring not to the root but to a root shoot, i.e. a new shoot which grows from the still vibrant root system of a felled tree. Indeed, the Davidic dynasty was in a sense felled, but God promised that from it’s roots a shoot would come up to be a righteous king in the land {Is. 11:3-10}.

An alternative interpretation would be to understand the concept and the promise of the coming ideal Messiah as the root from which David and his dynasty grew. In other words, God’s intention and prophetic promise concerning Messiah preceded David’s appointment and the covenant which God made with him. The final, ideal ruler of God’s kingdom had to come from some human family, and so David was raised up to provide that lineage from which Messiah would come. Therefore, the Messianic idea can be considered the root out of which David and his dynasty grew.

As for Jesus being called the “bright morning star“, the only OT referents that I can see would be Num. 24:17-18 and 2 Sam. 23:3-4, both of which refer to the king over God’s people Israel. Most scholars see the ‘star’ of the Numbers passage as referring, at least in an initial sense, to David. That ‘star’ in that passage signifies a great king is confirmed by the use of synonymous parallelism:

A star shall come out of Jacob; A scepter shall rise out of Israel.

Is. 14:12 provides another example of a king being signified under the metaphor of the morning star. The metaphor appeared earlier in the Revelation, at 2:28, in connection with ruling over the nations. Whatever is the intended significance of this metaphor, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that it signifies deity.

This concludes our study; please let me know if it has been of benefit to you or feel free to push back on anything I said.

Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

One thought on “God And Jesus In Revelation (Part 2)”

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