Christ in the Apocalypse

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first verse, identifying the text as ‘the Revelation (Apokalypsis) of Jesus Christ’.  This is important to understanding the text.  It is not the revelation of ‘end time’ events in the distant future.  It is not the revelation of esoteric spiritual secrets about the cosmos.  It is a revelation of who Jesus Christ truly is.  The Revelation received by St. John is a communication from Christ to seven churches in Asia Minor, who are facing persecution, schism, compromise, and heresy.  In answer to all of these difficulties faced by his people, Revelation proclaims the divine identity of Christ, who he is, what he has done, and what he shortly will do when he returns to judge the living and the dead.  Because Christ is the Lord God, creator and ruler of the heavens and the earth, the Christians of these churches can take heart in times of trial, preserve unity in Christ against dissensions, contend for the truth against false doctrines, and maintain themselves pure from a world that is perishing.  These struggles were faced not only by Christians at the end of the first century, but also by the church throughout all ages even to our present day, and so the answers, and the promises of Christ are as important today as they were to the book’s original recipients.

The Revelation of St. John repeatedly presents the image of the throne of Yahweh, the God of Israel, reigning in heaven in the midst of his divine council.  Revelation 4 describes a scene of heavenly worship before the Lord God of Israel drawing directly and repeatedly on the language of Ezekiel 1.  God the Father is repeatedly described as merely ‘the One’ in Revelation, a reference to the ‘shema’.  At the same time, when Christ first appears to St. John (1:12-16), the description of his appearance is a combination of the description of the Son of Man from Daniel (10), and the figure upon the throne in Ezekiel 1.  Yahweh the God of Israel is One, and yet the prophetic descriptions of him are distributed in St. John’s vision between the person of the Father and the person of Jesus Christ.  Specifically, there is no description of the person of the Father, the One upon the throne, only the throne itself, while the descriptors of the one seated on the throne from the prophetic corpus are used to describe the person of Jesus Christ.  This communicates the same truth expressed in St. John’s Gospel, that God seen and encountered physically in the old covenant was God the Son.  We see the Father enthroned holding a text, which represents authority and lordship over the earth.  The only one who is worthy to take and claim this text is the Lamb, who by being slain has purchased with his blood a people for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:1-9).  The persons of the Father and the Son are continually distinguished, with Jesus being identified as the Son of Man figure of the Old Testament, and yet the throne is later called the throne of God and of the Lamb (22:1).  When St. John falls down worshipfully before the angel who comes to him, he is corrected (22:8-9), when he does the same before Christ, he is not (1:17-18).

The Nicene doctrine of the Holy Trinity states that the three divine persons share in one nature, one will, and one energy.  This is not a theory or a formulation but a description of the Holy Trinity as encountered by the Fathers in the apostolic testimony of scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Revelation of St. John represents a significant part of this apostolic testimony, as titles and actions are ascribed at the same time to both the Father and the Son.  As was already mentioned, the throne of God is both that of the Father and of the Son (22:1), and so the reign and dominion, the kingdom of God, is ruled by Triune God.  The wrath poured out upon the earth at its judgment is the wrath of God (14:10, 19, 15:1, 16:1, 19, 19:15) , the wrath of the One seated upon the throne (15:7), and the wrath of the Lamb (6:16).  In Revelation 1:8, the Lord God speaks.  ‘The Lord God’ as used in Revelation is citing the Greek translation of ‘Yahweh Elohim’, or Yahweh God, in the Hebrew Old Testament.  Here, Yahweh the God of Israel identifies himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  We then see Christ identify himself as “the first and the last” (1:17).  The Father, the One seated upon the throne, is identified as “the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come” (4:8-9).  And finally, Jesus Christ identifies himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13-16).  The worship of the divine council surrounding the throne is directed first to the Father (4:11), then to the Lamb (5:9-12), and then finally to both the Lamb and One seated upon the throne (5:13).  The language is parallel, and sometimes identical, in each case.

As has been seen in the last several weeks, the texts which make up the New Testament uniformly affirm the divinity of Jesus Christ.  This is true of the first written, St. Paul’s epistles, and the last written, the Revelation of St. John, as well as those in between.  Although many scholars have presumed that this must have been a belief which evolved over time, setting out the documents in the order they were written belies that point, with no significant difference between St. Mark’s Gospel and the Pauline epistles on the one hand, and the Johannine literature on the other in content, despite differences in genre and style.  This is true because the understanding of an at least binitarian godhead was present in Second Temple Judaism before the birth of Jesus Christ.  These ideas, gleaned from a close reading of the text of the Old Testament scriptures, allowed the apostles to understand the revelation of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit in Trinitarian terms.  Nicene Trinitarianism and Orthodox Christology as they were later set down by the councils were ways of using the then contemporary Greek language to express the identity of Jesus Christ as it was revealed to the prophets and apostles who bore witness to that revelation, and whose testimony is recorded in the scriptures.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent, Father Stephen! A world of difference in what I was previously taught about the Book of Revelation before entering Orthodoxy. Makes so much sense now when seen through the unity and foundations of the Faith.
    Overall, I’m very grateful for the lessons and history you have introduced in your series of articles. Looking further into them has been, and continues to be, most enriching. Many thanks!

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