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

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

Chester Beatty Papyrus (Romans)While early Christian literature remains maddeningly obscure in its identification of source texts, theological influences, and employment of traditional materials—thereby rendering futile many attempts at identifying a single source as the genesis for any given idea or practice—Revelation’s general conception of the boundaries of Jesus devotion nonetheless seems to have coordinated with other now–New Testament writings in the formation of limits concerning what constituted acceptable Christian confession and practice.

Within mere decades of its composition, the Apocalypse was utilized by Ignatius of Antioch and the authors of the Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas.[1] Somewhat later, Revelation was labeled as γράφε (or scriptura) by a number of Christians, among them Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.[2] For these writers, defining what it meant to be a “Christian” constituted a central task for their work. In arguing for and eventually defining the boundaries of “heresy” and “orthodoxy”, these writers utilized the Christology espoused by Revelation and other now–New Testament writings, namely, that “Jesus is Lord” and worthy of worship.

Tjesus_catacombhis identification of Jesus with Yahweh—the God of Judaism—served as a boundary marker against heretical positions which denounced the Jewish scriptures (Marcion) and the Jewish God (various forms of Gnosticism). Similarly, claims that Jesus was worthy of the worship attributed to God pushed back against perspectives which viewed Jesus as a mere man (Ebionites) or something less than fully divine (Arianism). In a very palpable way, then, Revelation’s Christology assisted in the formation of orthodox Christology, not only by providing theological material for the christological debates, but also by shaping the thought, expectations, and praxis of Christian communities which read the Apocalypse.


[1] Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians, trans. Bart D. Ehrman, in The Apostolic Fathers: Volume One (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas, trans. Bart D. Ehrman, in The Apostolic Fathers: Volume Two (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).

[2] Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 28–34. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 18–24. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, trans.Robert M. Grant, in Irenaeus of Lyons (London: Routledge, 1996), 5.30.3. Clement of Alexandria, Quis Dives Salvetur, ed. P. Mordaunt Barnard (Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1967), 42. Origen of Alexandria, Commentary on Matthew, trans. and ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in The Ante–Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Father Down to A.D. 325, Volume 9 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 16.6 See also Victorinus of Petteu, Commentary on the Apocalypse, trans. and ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in The Ante–Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Father Down to A.D. 325, Volume 7 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 10.11 and Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, trans. G.A. Williamson, ed. Andrew Louth (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 3.17–18; 5.8.6.

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