Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Jesus as LORD

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

Lord Jesus ChristThe most common name applied to Jesus in Revelation is κύριος, which is used some twenty three times.[1] Occasionally this designation comes within a larger title—such as “king of kings and Lord of lords” (17:14)[2]—but many times it occurs as a simple designator of who Jesus is, appearing in place of his name. Building on the connections between κύριος and Hebrew Adonai, Cullmann argues that any connection of Jesus to the title “Lord” must recognize the theological and philological implications of that term in its Hebrew/Aramaic context.[3] For Cullmann, one consequence of the application of κύριος to Jesus was that early Christians could apply to him “all the Old Testament passages which speak about God.”[4] Thus when John refers to Jesus as κύριος—even in a seemingly offhanded manner (22:20–1)—that title remains full of theological importance, identifying the Lord Jesus with the κύριος Almighty.

Onomanology—discerning the meanings of names—was an important practice in the ancient world, not least of all among biblical writers.[5] The titles applied to Jesus in the book of Revelation—far from being meaningless—revealed important aspects of who John understood Jesus to be, especially when he is called Son of Man, the Name, Alpha and Omega, and Lord. ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου designated Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, especially in light of the eschatological function evident in Revelation’s judgments. That Jesus shared the ὄνομα of God identified him both with the Yahweh Angel of the Jewish Scriptures and with the creative λόγος of the cosmos. The titles τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ, ἡ ἀρχὴ καὶ τὸ τέλος affirm Jesus’ generative and judgmental power, as well as his command over time and history. The all–important title of κύριος not only designates Jesus as possessing greater power and authority than other lords, but also begins to identify Jesus’ person and work with Yahweh himself. Jesus stands not merely as a messenger of the Lord, but has his very own identity wrapped up in Yahweh. Each of these titles not only conveyed a message about who Jesus is, but also how he was working in the world and among the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.


[1] Witherington, 28. Aune notes that “Alpha and Omega” has been viewed as the divine name on the papyri of pagan magical texts. David E. Aune, “Apocalypse of John and Greco–Roman Revelatory Magic,” NTS 33, 4 (1987): 481–501. See also Beale, Revelation, 200.

[2] On the origins of these titles, it has long been suggested that “king of kings and Lord of Lord” derives from Babylonian or Egyptian tradition, or 1 Enoch 9:4. See Robert H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St John, Volume 2 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Clark, 1920), 75. Contra this theory, Beale convincingly argues based on the similar wording, usage, repetitive emphasis, similarity of literary context, and frequency of citation that LXX Daniel 4:37 is the source of the titular expression in Revelation 17:14. See Gregory K. Beale, “The Origin of the Title ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ in Revelation 17.14,” NTS 31, 4 (1985): 618.

[3] Cullmann, 199–202.

[4] Ibid., 234.

[5] Charles A. Gieschen, “The Divine Name in Ante–Nicene Christology,” VC 57, 2 (2003): 115–158.

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