Purpose of this Exploration:
The purpose of this exploration is to have you discover how the Book of Revelation describes Jesus Christ. I am substantially indebted to the exegetical work and writings of Richard Bauckham for much of what follows. Specifically, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, By Richard Bauckham, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; and The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation, By Richard Bauckham, London: T & T Clark, 2005.
The First and the Last:
John’s vision begins with the appearance of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. He appears in 1:12-16 and he declares his identity in the following manner (1:17-18):
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
In the Book of Revelation the self declaration, “I am the First and the Last” corresponds to the self declarations of God, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8), Alpha being the first letter in the Greek alphabet and Omega the last. In the book of Revelation there are four self declarations, two by God and two by Jesus, that are in the following pattern:
God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” (1:8)
Jesus: “I am the First and the Last.” (1:17)
God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (21:6)
Jesus: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the end.” (22:13)
If you look carefully at this pattern you can see that Revelation identifies Jesus Christ with God. Notice that Jesus assumes at the end of Revelation the self declarations of God.
Take a minute now to highlight each of these declarations with your pencil. In the margin by each declaration write the following: “Parallel declarations of God and Jesus Christ: 1:8; 1:17; 21:6; and 22:13.”
Let’s now take a closer look at these self declarations and how they relate to the structure of the Book of Revelation. In the structure of the Book of Revelation, John’s vision (1:9-22:9) is framed by a prologue (1:1-8) and an epilogue (22:6-21). Don’t forget that the end of the vision and the epilogue overlap (22:6-9). Note therefore that God’s self declaration at the end of the prologue corresponds to the self declaration of Jesus Christ near the beginning of the epilogue (22:13). These two statements correspond further in that each is preceded by an announcement of the coming of Jesus: “Look, he is coming” (1:7) and “Behold, I am coming…” (22:12). The words “look” and “behold” are the same in the original Greek. If 1:8 and 22:13 correspond in this way, you will also notice that 1:17 and 21:6 placed at the beginning and the end of the vision respectively also correspond. The resulting pattern forms what is known as a chiastic arrangement (A-B-B-A). This Chiastic pattern can be outlined as follows:
|End of Prologue||Beginning of Vision||End of Vision||Beginning of Epilogue|
|Alpha and Omega||Alpha and Omega||Alpha and Omega|
|First and Last||First and Last|
|Beginning and End||Beginning and End|
|Connection with Coming of Jesus (1:7)||Connection with new life (1:18)||Connection with new life (21:5-6)||Connection with Coming of Jesus (22:12)|
Now consider the four passages in light of the chart above. What do these verses reveal about the relationship of God and Jesus?
The phrase “First and Last” probably alludes to Isaiah 44:6, “This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” Given the claim in Isaiah that there is one God, what do you think is the significance of Jesus using this phrase to declare his identity in Revelation 1:17?
The Worship of Jesus
In the Book of Revelation Jesus is worshipped along with God. We will start by noting the Doxology that occurs at the beginning of the Book. A Doxology is a special, usually brief prayer, which ascribes glory to God. Take your pencil and highlight the doxology to Jesus in 1:5b-6.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.
In the margin beside the Doxology write the following: “Doxology to Jesus”. There are only two other Doxologies ascribed to Jesus alone in the New Testament. They are as follows:
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen. –2 Timothy 4:18
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. –2 Peter 3:18
Doxologies confess that glory belongs eternally to the one who is being addressed. They were a Jewish form of praise to God. Thus, from the very beginning the Book of Revelation asserts that Jesus is worthy of the worship due to God only.
A second doxology occurs in Revelation that ascribes glory to both God and Jesus. It is found at 5:13 after all of heaven worships Jesus the lamb. In 5:13 all of creation gives glory:
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
Note that here the worship of the Lamb (5:8-12) leads to the worship of God and the Lamb together. Jesus is not an alternate object of worship alongside God, but one who shares the glory due to God.
In addition there are grammatical methods used in Revelation to connect Jesus and God the Father. At 11:15 mention of Jesus and God together is followed by a singular verb, rather than the plural one would expect:
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
And in a similar vein the singular pronoun is used when one would expect a plural:
22:3-4 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 him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
6:16-17 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us[f] from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of his wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
In the latter case I would argue for the more difficult reading of “his wrath” instead of “their wrath” in accordance with the principles of New Testament textual criticism. It is plausible that scribes would attempt to correct the ‘grammatical error.”
There are also two almost identical brief episodes in the Book of Revelation that point to the worship of God and Jesus. In each, John, falls down before the interpreting angel in the vision. On each occasion the angel tells John to stop. You will find these at 19:10 and 22:8-9.
19:10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”
22:8-9 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”
We have already highlighted these two verses because they are key to understanding the structure of the book. Take your pencil and double underline each verse to indicate they concern the worship of God and Jesus. Then write in the margin: “Worship God”. Notice that in the first occurrence there is reference to the “testimony of Jesus”, and in the second the reference is all who “keep the words of this book.” If you remember how the Book of Revelation begins in 1:1-2 you will recognize that these two things are synonymous:
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
We lose sight of the radical nature of the worship of Jesus. This is a critical place where Christians and Jews depart from one another. In chapter 5 as well as in 1:5b-6 we learn the reason why Christians give glory to Jesus. He is praised for his work of redemption. We owe our salvation to Jesus, that is reason enough to worship him who sits with God on his throne and who alone is worthy to bring about the judgment of the world by the breaking of the seals of the scroll.
The Work of Jesus
The importance of Jesus’ humanity is seen at the very least by the use of his particular name. It occurs fourteen times, seven of them within the phrase, “the testimony of Jesus.” You will find them at: 1:1; 1:2; 1:5; 1:9 (2x); 12:17; 14:12; 17:6; 19:10 (2x); 20:4: 22:16; 22:20; 22:21. Take a minute to use your pencil to circle the name, “Jesus,” each place it occurs.
The word “Christ,” which means Messiah, occurs seven times including times with the name “Jesus.” Jesus as the Messiah promised to the Jewish people is a featured theme in Revelation. Also Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb” twenty-eight times: 5:6 (2x); 5:8; 5:12; 5:13; 6:1; 6:3; 6:5; 6:7; 6:16; 7:9; 7:10; 7:14; 7:17; 12:11; 13:8 (2x); 14:1; 14:4 (2x); 14:10; 15:3; 17:4 (2x); 19:7; 19:9; 21:9 (2x). Take your pencil and circle each of these occurrences as well.
The book of Revelation asserts that Jesus has a particular work to accomplish. His work is summarized in 11:15 by voices in heaven. It is to make the kingdom of the world the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah. It is a work of both salvation and judgment. It begins with Jesus’ earthly life and death and ends with his coming again. His victory is already decisive, but it is completed with his coming again. John’s Revelation utilizes three themes, extended images to speak of Jesus victorious work: The Messianic War, The Eschatological Exodus, and The Faithful and True Witness of Jesus.
The Messianic War:
The Jewish concept of a Messiah involves the following: 1. He is to be a descendant of David fulfilling the promises of 2 Samuel 7. 2. He will be anointed by God as King and military leader of Israel. 3. He will fight a war of liberation against the Gentile who oppress Israel. 4. He will establish the rule of God, the Messiah, and Israel over the nations of the world. 5. The Messiah will not wage the war of liberation alone, but will lead the army of Israel against the enemies of Israel.
Revelation asserts that Jesus is the Messiah, but his victory and reign are not the result of military conquest. His victory is won from his sacrifice and witness and the witness of his followers (cf. Revelation 12:11). In Revelation the victory is real and so is the conflict. John’s vision is permeated with the Messianic Conflict.
Above we encountered two of Jesus’ self-declarations in 1:17-18 and 22:13. There is a third declaration as well. At 22:18 Jesus claims to be the Messiah:
I, Jesus have sent my angel to you this testimony for the Churches. I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
Jesus makes claim to two specific titles, “root and offspring of David” and “bright and morning star.” Both are found in Scripture. The first is a reference to Isaiah 11:1-10, a passage associated with the Davidic Messiah. The background to understanding Isaiah 11 is God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:16:
Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
However, by the time of the New Testament a descendent of David had not ruled over Israel in any capacity for hundreds of years. The Jewish people looked to the prophet Isaiah for the answer to the crisis of no ruling descendant of David. In Isaiah 11 the prophet compared the house of David to an Olive tree. Olive trees are periodically cut down to the stump in order to maintain their long term fruit production. Out of the stump a new shoot will emerge that over time will grow and again produce olives. Isaiah’s prophecy out of the stump of David’s father, Jesse, a new shoot will grow. Based on the prophecy there is hope for a new descendant of David to rule.
The second title is a reference to numbers 24:17-18, a prophecy concerning Israel in the midst of the Balaam story. It reads as follows:
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir his enemy , will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong.
The prophecy was understood to declare the Messiah would arise and defeat the enemies of Israel.
Take a moment now to underline with your pencil Revelation 22:16. In the margin beside it write, “Jesus’ Self-Declaration,’ and “See Isaiah 11:1-10 and Numbers 24:17-18.”
The title “Root of David” is also found in Revelation 5:5 along with another title, “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” It reads:
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
The title “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” evokes the image of the Messiah who defeats his foes (cf. Genesis 49:9; and also Apocryphal, 4 Ezra 12:31-32).
Additional allusions to the Messiah of Isaiah 11 in the book of Revelation is the sword that comes from Christ’s mouth (Isaiah 11:4). References include: Revelation 1;16; 2:12; 2:16; 19:15; 19:21. In the margin beside each of these write, “Alludes to Isaiah 11.”
Another key text in the Old Testament that is referred to throughout Revelation to reinforce the Messianic War metaphor is Psalm 2. The first two verses of Psalm 2 describe the nations of the earth conspiring against God and the Messiah. In verse seven the Messiah is called God’s Son who defeat and subdues rebellious nations:
You will rule them with an iron scepter, you will dash them to pieces like pottery (2:9)
Allusions to Psalm 2 abound in Revelation: 2:6b-8; 2:18; 11:15; 11:18; 12:5; 12:10; 14:1 16:14; 16:16; and 19:15. Take time now to mark the margins beside each of these with the following, “Alludes to Psalm 2.” It is also possible the phrase “the Kings of the earth” – a term for the political powers opposed to God – is a reference to Psalm 2:2. You find the use of this term at the following places in Revelation: 1:5; 6:15; 17:2; 17:18; 18:3; 18:9; 19:19; and 21:24. You should mark the margins at these places as well.
Support for the Messianic War metaphor in Revelation is also found in the language of conquering applied to both Jesus and his followers who share in his victory. See the following passages in Revelation: 2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:28; 3:5; 3:12; 3:21; 12:11; 15:2; and 21:7. Add to this the language of battle in 11:7; 12:7-8; 12:17; 13:7; 16:14; 17:14; 19:11; and 19:19. The work of Christ is specifically associated with the language of conquering:
- Jesus conquered in his death and resurrection (3:21; 5:5).
- Jesus’ followers conquer in the interim before his return (12;11; 15:2).
- Jesus will conquer when he returns (17:14).
The Messianic War metaphor infuses the book of Revelation. A second metaphor describing Christ’s work in Revelation is the Eschatological Exodus.
The Eschatological Exodus
A dominant salvation event in the history of the nation of Israel was the exodus from Egypt. God liberated the Hebrew people from slavery and oppression, led them through the wilderness, and gave them their own land. Jewish apocalyptic literature often draws on this theme to describe a new exodus when God will once again liberate his people.
Revelation too draws on this same metaphor to describe the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lamb, the Passover lamb. At Revelation 5:9-10 the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures sing a new song in which they proclaim the blood of the lamb has ransomed / redeemed a people and made them a kingdom and priests serving God. The idea of the exodus as a redemption is found in Deuteronomy 7:8 and 13:5. The reference to becoming a kingdom and priests echoes the covenant God made at Sinai:
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6a)
However, when Revelation treats the blood of the lamb as the price of redemption it goes beyond the role the blood of the Passover lamb played in the exodus. Nor did the Passover lamb figure in Jewish Apocalyptic expectations of a new exodus. Instead, the redemptive nature of the sacrifice of the lamb is an allusion to the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 who is portrayed as a sacrificial lamb.
A second reference to a new exodus in Revelation is found in 15:2-4 where the martyrs for Jesus are gathered in heaven and sing a new version of the song of Moses sung in Exodus 15 after the people of Israel had crossed the Reed Sea. There is also an echo of the plagues God struck Egypt with and the plagues of Revelation 15-16. Other allusions to the exodus are at Revelation 11:6 where the activity of the two witness is reminiscent in part on the ministry of Moses and the plagues in Egypt and at 11:8 where the one of the names of the city where the witnesses are martyred is Egypt.
The Faithful and True Witness of Jesus
The third metaphor for the work of Jesus in the book of Revelation is that of witness. Jesus is the faithful and true witness:
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, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (1:4-5)
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14)
The title “faithful and true witness” most likely refers to the witness Jesus bore to God the Father during his public ministry and to his faithfulness in maintaining his witness even at the cost of his life. There is also an association of Jesus witness to God’s Word: 1:2; 1:9; 6:9; 12:11; and 20:4.
Jesus’ witness is continued by his followers who are not just his witnesses (17:6), but who are also said to hold the witness of Jesus:
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus(Literally; hold the testimony of Jesus). (12:17)
At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus (Literally: hold the testimony of Jesus). Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.” (19:10)
The witness of Jesus is not the witness to Jesus. It is the witness Jesus bore himself, and which his followers continue to bear. This witness exposes the falsehood of idolatry and the evil of those who worship the beast.
The witness of Jesus and his followers is also reminiscent of the prophecies of Isaiah which portray a judicial contest. Yahweh claims to be the only true God and the creator and is vindicated against the gods of the nations. In that context the people of Israel are God’s witnesses (cf. Isaiah 43:10; 43:12; 44:8). We will revisit the issue of witness in Revelation at a later date.
Finally, Revelation 5 makes clear that the central and decisive way in which Christ establishes the Kingdom of God on earth is through his death and resurrection. By his death and resurrection Jesus has already defeated the forces of evil. The key to John’s vision of the Lamb is found in Revelation 5:5-6 by what he hears and what he sees. In 5:5 he hears that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David have conquered. In 5:6 he sees the Lamb whose sacrificial death has redeemed people from all nations. What hears is explained by what he sees.