Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: First and Last

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

Crying AngelIn Revelation 19:12–13, Jesus is said to have “a name [ὄνομα] written that no one knows but himself…and the name by which he is called the Word of God.”[1] The meaning of this secret ὄνομα has long been a topic of speculation, including postulation as this passage as a reference to Sophiology, Gnostic myths, the “Destroyer” of Wisdom 18:15–16, and/or the “Angel of the Lord” of Exodus 12:23.[2] J.E. Fossum suggests that this final possibility—the Yahweh Angel of Judaism—is here identified with the Logos, thereby distinguishing the Lord—the proper name of God—with the Logos himself.[3] If this understanding is correct, John applied the ὄνομα of God to Jesus in Revelation 19 as a means of classifying him as both the Jewish Angel of the Lord and as an instrumental force in creating the world.

A number of titles applied to Jesus in Revelation employ “different metaphors to conceptualize a continuum bounded by extremes.”[4] The most important of these are the chiastic and coordinating self–declarations of God and Jesus: in 1:8 God is called “Alpha and Omega” and in 1:17 Jesus is designated as “first and last.” Then in 21:6 God is named “Alpha and Omega, beginning and end” and in 22:13 Jesus is praised as “Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end.” These declarations not only set Jesus apart as proceeding all things, but also situate his role in the final judgment on the Day of the Lord (19).[5] Furthermore, this repetition of terms between God and Christ (τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ, ἡ ἀρχὴ καὶ τὸ τέλος) suggests a growing mutuality (and identification) of Yahweh with Jesus. As W.J.P. Boyd notes, “Alpha and Omega” is a translation of the Hebrew ri’shon and ‘acharon of Isaiah 44:6, through which Isaiah declares Yahweh the Lord of History.[6] Thus not only does this title suggest John’s affirmation of Jesus’ generative and eschatological power, but also of his governance of all time and history.

[1] English Standard Version Bible (New York: Crossway, 2010). “ὄνομα γεγραμμένον ὃ οὐδεὶς οἶδεν εἰ μὴ αὐτός… κέκληται τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ , ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ.” Unless otherwise indicated, all Greek text is taken from the Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle–Aland 27, ed. Kurt Aland (Westphalia: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2011).

[2] J.E. Fossum, “In the Beginning Was the Name: Onomanology as the Key to Johannine Christology,” in Images of the Invisible Go: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology (Freiburg/Gottingen: Universitätsverlag Frieburg/Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995), 112–3. On Christ’s name as secret, see also Gospel of Philip 54:5–12, Acts of Thomas 163, and Irenaeus Adversus Haereses I.21.3. On the exultation of Christ’s name, see Phil. 5:9–11. On the name among the people of God, see Didache 10.1–4, Apostolic Constitutions 7.26.1–2, Jubilees 32:10; 49:21, and LXX Ez. 43:7.

[3] Fossum, 114–6. Cx. John 17:6, 11–12, 14, 26.

[4] Aune, Apoclypticism, 269–70.

[5] Bauckham, Theology, 26, 57. Witherington, 29. Cx. John 1:1–18.

[6] Boyd, W. J. P., “’I Am Alpha and Omega’ (Rev. 1,8; 21,6; 22,13),” in Studia Evangelica Volume II: Papers presented to the Second International Congress on New Testament Studies held at Christ Church, Oxford, 1961: Part I: The New Testament Scriptures, ed. F.L. Cross (Berlin: Akademie–Verlag, 1964), 526. Cx. Is. 48:12.


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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