Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Jesus Devotion in Revelation

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

Jesus - History and TheologyTo this point, this study has examined Revelation’s names, images, and actions pertaining to Jesus, arguing that these characterizations conveyed the message that “Jesus is Lord.” This section examines the monotheistic context of Second Temple Judaism, considers Revelation’s portrayal of devotion to Jesus, and offers an assessment of Jesus’ identity in the Apocalypse. This examination suggests that Revelation considers Jesus on the level of Yahweh due to the advocation of Jesus devotion.

Following the general perspective of Bousset on early low Christology, a number of scholars have argued that the author of Revelation conceived of Jesus within the parameters of a strict Jewish monotheism, that is, as wholly distinct from Yahweh. Such is the perspective of Maurice Casey, who writes that, “There is no real worship of this being [the Lamb/Jesus] on this earth here and now, and he is not actually hailed as divine even in the pictures of him being praised in heaven.”[1] This, of course, stands in stark contrast to later professions of Christian orthodoxy, which claim that Jesus was “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father”.[2] To address the question of which perspective more faithful interprets how Revelation portrays the person of Jesus, one must first engage the question, “Who was worthy of worship for monotheistic Second Temple Jews?” since this was the theological context in which John wrote.

Model of the Second Jewish Temple
Model of the Second Jewish Temple

The first aspect of John’s Second Temple Jewish context worthy of notation surrounds first century Judaism’s complexity and often impossible to distinguish interaction of numerous factors.[3] For many Jews the question of monotheism was one sufficiently addressed by Deuteronomy 6:4 interpreted in light of the exclusivist monotheism advocated in Isaiah 43–48.[4] This strict monotheism lead to a firm distinction between Yahweh and everything else, the development of conceptions about Yahweh as “transcendently unique” from all other forms of reality.[5]

Building upon the insights of the Jewish Prophets, Second Temple Jews viewed the true litmus test of this strictly monotheistic faith as residing in the devotional practices of worship.[6] In the words of Richard Bauckham, “Jewish monotheism could not tolerate a mere spectrum between God and humanity; somewhere a firm line had to be drawn between God and creatures, and in religious practice it was worship which signaled the distinction between God and every creature, however exalted.”[7] A preponderance of Second Temple literature testifies to anxiety surrounding the limits of devotional practice to non–divine agents, especially in potentially confusing experience like the appearance of an angel. These include the Ascension of Isaiah 7:21–22, 8:5; Tobit 12:16–22; Apocalypse of Zephaniah 6:11–15[8]; Joseph and Aseneth 15:11–12; Coptic Apocalypse of Paul; Apocryphal Gospel of Matthew 3:3; Ladder of Jacob 3:3–5; 3 Enoch 16:2–5; and the Cairo Genizah Hekhalot A/2, 13–18.[9] The general parameters of acceptable Second Temple Jewish practice, then, seem to indicate that worship was fitting for Yahweh Almighty alone.

[1] Casey, 143, 142. See also Casey, 162–181 for his reconstruction of Jesus’ transition from prophet to θεος.

[2] “τον ει του πατρος γεννηθέν τα προ πάντων των αιώνων, φως εκ φωτος, θεον αληθινον εκ θεου αληθινου, γεννηθέντα, ου ποιηθέντα, ομοουσιον τωι πατρί.” Nicene Creed, English Common Liturgical Commission.

[3] Michel E. Stone, Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

[4] For a discussion of the contours of early Jewish monotheism, see Richard J. Bauckham, “The ‘Most High’ God and the Nature of Early Jewish Monotheism” in Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado and Alan F. Segal, eds. D.B. Capes, A.D. DeConick, H.K. Bond, T.A. Miller (Austin: Baylor University Press, 2007), esp. 41.

[5] Larry W. Hurtado, “The Origins and Development of Christ–Devotion: Forces and Factors,” in Christian Origins: Worship Belief and Society, ed. K.J. O’Mahony (New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 53–56. Bauckham, “The ‘Most High’ God”, 40.

[6] Richard J. Bauckham, “The Worship of Jesus in Apocalyptic Christianity,” NTS 27, 3 (1981): 322.

[7] Richard J. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 118.

[8] Akhmimic text 9.12–10.9.

[9] For some discussion of these sources, see Bauckham, Climax, 120–132. Bauckham, “Worship of Jesus”, 323–7. These Jewish/Christian sources shared some of the same concerns as Revelation 19:20 and 22:9 and/or are dependent upon the Apocalypse. Nowhere does the Apocalypse seem to rely on these sources, making this a thematic or worldview connection rather than an instance of literary dependence.


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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