Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: A Christological Lacuna

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

God, Sistine ChapelWhile early Christological studies have rightly moved toward an “Early High” standard, the edges of this model remain underdeveloped, especially the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.[1] This tendency begins with Bousset’s effectively neglect of Revelation, an influence which has trickled down into contemporary examinations of early Christology. For example, Robert M. Grant’s classic treatment, The Early Christian Doctrine of God, only references Revelation three times in its entirety, each time in a footnote.[2] Gregory K. Beale’s voluminous tome, The Book of Revelation, also neglects a summary of Christology, despite the fact that numerous christological insights are noted in the commentary section.[3] Likewise, I. Howard Marshall relegates Revelation’s input to marginalia and footnotes.[4]

Oscar Cullmann also effectively neglects Revelation in his study of “Jesus the Lord” in New Testament literature, drawing upon non–canonical writings with far more regularity than he does the Apocalypse of John.[5] Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E.S. North’s Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism further relegates Revelation’s contributions to the sidelines.[6] Even in Larry Hurtado’s massive Lord Jesus Christ Revelation plays only a tertiary role, finding brief mention on only a few pages. Although Hurtado makes more use of Revelation in his God in New Testament Theology and One God, One Lord, these works focus more explicitly on Pauline evidence and the development of Jewish monotheism, respectively, than on the Christological character of other New Testament sources.[7] The closest thing to an adequate existing study on this subject is Richard Bauckham’s masterful Theology of the Book of Revelation, which offers a thoroughly analysis of Revelation and dwells explicitly on its Christology.[8] Yet even Bauckham’s work stands in need to updating and expansion.[9] In sum, the Apocalypse of John has only rarely been cited in studies of “Early High Christology,” let alone evangelically oriented studies, and possesses little to no significance when it has been utilized.[10]

Byzantine JesusAt this juncture such systematic neglect of Revelation’s Christology no longer remains tenable. The time has come for an exegetically focused, historically attuned, and theologically informed study of how the Apocalypse of John portrays Jesus and the implications of that Christology.[11] Accordingly, this study investigates Jesus devotion in the book of Revelation, finding that the Apocalypse portrays “Jesus as Lord,” thereby identifying him as Yahweh come to earth and coordinating Revelation’s theology with other early high christological insights. Primary arguments for the Apocalypse’s Christology include the names, images, and actions of Jesus in Revelation, which indicate functional binitarian devotion to Jesus along with God (Yahweh). After examining these features and their implications, this project outlines the ramifications of Revelation’s Christology, both for the early Church and for contemporary theological perspectives. In the end, Revelation casts Jesus as Apocalyptic Lord of the Church and calls Christians to participate in his victory through the affirmation of his Lordship.

[1] For an outline of the relative neglect of God in New Testament studies prior to 1975, see Larry Hurtado, God in New Testament Theology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 1–5, 9–26.

[2] Robert M. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1966).

[3] Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). See also Craig Keener’s Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).

[4] I. Howard Marshall, “A Survey of New Testament Christology for Theologians,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 45, 1 (2010): 7–41.

[5] Cullmann, 195–237. See the brief mention of Revelation as building on the Pauline theme of Maranatha on 211–2, the notation of Revelation 17.14’s designation of Jesus as “king of kings and Lord of Lords” on 220, and the connection of eschatological imagery with Lordship on 225–7.

[6] Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E.S. North, eds. Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism (London: T&T Clark, 2004).

[7] Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, Third Edition (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

[8] Richard J. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: CUP, 1993). See also Richard J. Bauckham, “God in the Book of Revelation,” Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 18 (1995): 40–53.

[9] A fact alluded to, though not explicitly referenced in Neyrey’s study. Jerome H. Neyrey, Render to God: New Testament Understandings of the Divine (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 247.

[10] As the bibliography of this study demonstrates, there have been considerations of particular themes and passages in Revelation, although none of these offers a comprehensive survey of the Christology of Revelation.

[11] Discussions of the authorship, provenance, and dating of the Apocalypse, while fascinating topics, remain outside the scope of this paper. For a stellar introduction to the parameters of scholarly approaches to the historical and literary context of Revelation, see David E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, WBC (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997).


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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