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

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

Early Church FathersAs a professing Christian standing in the Great Tradition of the Church, I believe that the faith and practices of early followers of Jesus form an important authority for contemporary expressions of Christianity. Regarding devotional practice, worship of Jesus remains not only acceptable, but is in fact required for those professing orthodox Christian faith. The appropriateness of Jesus devotion remains not only a facet of Church tradition, but also of the earliest Christians faiths recorded in the New Testament, which testify to the fact that Jesus was and is Messiah, Redeemer, Coming Judge, and Lord, all within the context of monotheistic belief in one God. The identification of Jesus with Yahweh was not a later accretion. Rather, Jesus’ identification with God—Yahweh come to earth—was a hallmark of the earliest Christian communities. Those who diverge from this (minimally) “binitarian” understanding of God-Jesus stand outside the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. Therefore, contemporary followers of Jesus are called to affirm with the Great Church of history that “Jesus is Lord” and worthy of worship.

Though extremely important, those remarks do not constitute the fullness of what may be said concerning the implications of Revelation’s Christology for today. Although evidence for early binitarian conceptions of God remain extremely strong, this should not come at the expense of Trinitarian expressions of Christianity. Even less so should the binitarian aspects of Revelation be allowed to overwhelm the firm foundation of Trinitarian Christian theology, especially those forms which have developed and flourished since the Second World War.[1] Instead, Revelation and its Trinitarian aspects[2] should be incorporated into a wider swath of Christian theology. Revelation’s images have already begun to find integration into contemporary theology, such as in the work of Jürgen Moltmann, who writes, “No Trinity is conceivable without the Lamb, without the sacrifice of love, without the crucified Son. For he is the slaughtered Lamb glorified in eternity.”[3] At the heart of Revelation are concerns about who God is, and contemporary forms of Christianity would do well to ressource Revelation’s insights into the Trinity.[4] The space that remains reflects on Revelation’s insights for six realms of contemporary theology: prophecy, biblical theology, doxology, eschatology, and the ongoing work of God.


[1] Examples of outstanding work on the revitalization of Trinitarian theology include Karl Barth; Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York: Crossroad, 2002); and Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[2] The work of Louis Brighton offers an excellent starting point for this type of work, as he locates Trinitarian references in numerous locations, most importantly Rev. 1:1-8; 5:1-14; 11:15; 14:1-5, 14-16; 19:11-16. See Louis A. Brighton, “Christological Trinitarian Theology in the Book of Revelation,” Concordia Journal 34, 4 (2008): 292-7, esp. 292, 295. See also Bauckham, Theology, 23-25.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 83.

[4] For insights into the contextualization of the early Christian doctrine of God, see God in Early Christian Thought: Essays in Memory of Lloyd G. Patterson, eds. A.B. McGowan, B.E. Daley, T,J. Gaden (Boston: Brill, 2009). Also helpful are Robert Louis Wilken’s insights into the non-systematic way in which early Christians characterized God. See Robert Louis Wilken, “Liturgy, Bible, and Theology in the Easter Homilies of Gregory of Nyssa,” in Ecriture et culture philosophique dans la pensee de Gregoire de Nyssa, ed. Marguerite Harl (Leiden: Brill, 1971), 141-156. See also Gerald F. Downing, God with Everything: The Divine in the Discourse of the First Christian Century (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2008), 228-64.

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