Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Names

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

Greek New Testament PageNew Testament Studies has long been concerned with understanding the theological implications of early Christian titles for Jesus.[1] Before examining the names applied to Jesus in the Apocalypse, a word of caution should be offered about these titles, for they are often “more strange and complicated than we assume they are.”[2] Yet the names given in Revelation are not so complicated that they are beyond providing insight into who early Christians perceived Jesus to be.[3] While much has been made about the names which are not applied to Jesus in Revelation—most notably his human titles, “Wisdom”, and “God”[4]—the concern here is with names John felt comfortable ascribing to Jesus and what those names indicate. Further, although there are a wide variety of titles utilized in Revelation—including “Son of God” (2:18), “beginning of God’s creation” (3:14), “the Amen” (3:14), “lion from the tribe of Judah, root of David” (5:5), and “Word [λόγος] of God” (19:13)[5]—this section examines four of Revelation’s most prominent designations: Son of Man, the Name, Alpha and Omega, and Lord (κύριος).

“Son of man” is applied to Jesus in Revelation 1:13 and 14:14. Discussions surrounding the interpretation of this title often take place in the context of Daniel 7:13 and Jesus’ self–designation as “son of man” in the Gospels.[6] Rather than focusing on exegesis of Daniel, however, Thomas Slater argues that an examination of a wide variety of Second Temple Jewish literature may better inform our understanding of how first century readers would have interpreted John’s use of this term. “Son of man” (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) was alternatively applied to heavenly beings, human beings, and the Messiah in writings such as 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Testament of Abraham, Philo’s On Abraham, and the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah.[7] Building on the common features of messianic expectation in this literature,[8] Jesus’ presentation in Revelation 1 has direct parallels to the messianic figures of the Similitudes of Enoch and 4 Ezra. Here, Jesus is spoken of in terms of comparison (1:13), judges the acts of humans (1:16), gathers the elect to himself (1:13, 20), makes war against the enemies of righteousness (1:7, 16b), and possess a mystery only he can reveal (1:13, 16, 20). Thus, Revelation’s designation of Jesus as ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου builds upon the Second Temple Jewish understanding of that figure as messiah and judge, who pastorally rules the cosmos.[9]


[1] Hurtado, “Early Devotion to Jesus”, 167.

[2] Grant, 38.

[3] This is contra Grant—who writes that, “The titles ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Christ’ conveyed little meaning to Christians in the Graeco–Roman world.” (See Grant, 40n1)—and somewhat at odds with Yarbo Collins—who argued that Messianic beliefs, not titular designations, should be the starting point for understanding early Christian beliefs and devotion to Jesus (See Yarbro Collins, “How On Earth Did Jesus Become God”, 66).

[4] Bauckham, Theology, 66–67. Ben Witherington III, Revelation, NCBC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,, 2003), 28–30. On Revelation’s lack of titular identification with God, in “God in the Book of Revelation”, 50, Bauckham writes, “Revelation never calls Jesus ‘God.’ But then very often when John is making his most carefully considered statements about God he does not call God ‘God.’” On Jesus’ human titles, Witherington, 28, writes, “In this work none of the human titles of Jesus, such as teacher, rabbi, servant, prophet, or man, are used. It is equally interesting that some of the most Hellenistic titles, such as Savior or God, are also notably absent.”

[5] On these names, see Dan Lioy, The Book of Revelation in Christological Focus (New York: Peter Lang, 2001), 114–20 and Maurice Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 141–2. On the “Son of God” motif, Lioy suggests John avoided this designation in order to eschew the pagan idea of the literal physical offspring of the Father.

[6] For a few examples, see Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8; 12:32; 12:40; and 13:37. For a helpful summary of the general semantic and linguistic background of “son of man”, see Larry W. Hurtado, “Summary and Concluding Observations,” in ‘Who Is This Son of Man?’ The Latest Scholarship on a Puzzling Expression of the Historical Jesus, eds. Larry W. Hurtado and Paul L. Owen (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), 159–77.

[7] Thomas B. Slater, Christ and Community: A Socio–Historical Study of the Christology of Revelation (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 83. See especially 1 Enoch 37–71 and 4 Ezra 13.

[8] Slater, 83–4.

[9] David E. Aune, Apocalypticism, Prophecy, and Magic in Early Christianity: Collected Essays (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 318. Slater, 106, 159. See also Lioy, 114–20 and Acts 7:55–6.

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