Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Early Christianity (Part I)

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

Shepherd Early ChristianityIt is now the place to examine the implications for early Christianity derived from this study of Revelation. Before proceeding, this project would be remiss to extract the Christology of Revelation from its larger rhetorical and theological aims, which convey to readers that God—through the Messiah Jesus—will fulfill his promises and defeat the forces of evil and wickedness in the world, vindicating with heavenly salvation those who follow the example of the Lamb and do not compromise the good news of Jesus.[1] This larger message stands in the background of all that Revelation reveals about early Christian understandings of the Apocalyptic Lord. This section examines four realms of Christological insight for the earliest hearers and readers of Revelation: devotional practice, coordination with other New Testament Christologies, a binitarian godhead, and the definition of “heresy” and “orthodoxy.”

What the Apocalypse reveals about the devotional practices of early Christians has long been a topic of debate.[2] Some have suggested that the worship in Revelation was primarily built around Jewish worship practices of the period.[3] Others have suggested that the liturgy of heaven comes directly (or nearly so) from the Ephesian liturgy with which John would have been intimately familiar.[4] Still others have argued that the heavenly worship cannot be viewed as a one–for–one parallel to John’s earthly church.[5] Given John’s opposition to cultic innovation (2:14, 20–3)—at least innovations with which he was not personally familiar—it remains highly likely that “the worship of Jesus he pictures and clearly advocates, and the visions that assert the transcendent validity of offering this sort of devotion to Jesus” reflect very traditional phenomena for John.[6]

Early Church FathersThis would seem to indicate that the devotional attitude of Revelation stand in coordination with John’s Asiatic church context. Yet at the same time, John’s interactions with the angel(s) concerning the focus of appropriate worship (19:10; 22:8–9) appear to function as prescriptions for acceptable Christian devotional practice.[7] This is not to suggest that Revelation functioned as a record of “officially–sanctioned liturgical practice” that was distinguishable from “popular piety.”[8] Rather, the devotional practices visualized in Revelation both affirm the worship and liturgy of the Asian congregations and at the same time admonish those congregations to recognize the boundaries of religion which is pleasing to God Almighty.

As has been discussed above, chief among the concerns of “what constitutes acceptable worship to God?” was the viability of including Jesus in divine devotion directed. It seems that for John, Jesus may rightly be given the same sort of cultic reverence that is deemed fitting for God. Indeed, the force of the worship granted to Jesus (and John’s care to include multiple instances of Jesus devotion) may safely be understood as an admonishment to worship the Lamb as one worships God.[9] Not only was worship of Jesus acceptable, but it was paradigmatic and even requisite for those claiming to follow the God of Israel.


[1] Beale, Revelation, 171. Lioy, 172–3.

[2] For a discussion of the broad factors influencing early Christian devotional practice, see Hurtado, “Origins and Development”, 77–78.

[3] Moule, 68.

[4] Henry B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St John, Second Edition (London: Macmillan, 1907), 84.

[5] Bauckham, Climax, 140.

[6] Hurtado, How on Earth, 202. See also Bauckham, Climax, 140. Swete, 84.

[7] Hurtado, “Report”, 170–176.

[8] Hurtado, “Binitarian Pattern”, 25–27.

[9] Hurtado, “Binitarian Pattern”, 31. Hurtado, How on Earth, 200.

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