What is the connection between the eschatology and the Christology of the book of Revelation? In exploring the connection between the eschatology and the Christology of the book of Revelation, we shall briefly consider our hermeneutical approach and exegetical assumptions. Then we shall proceed to an extensive, Christologically-focused treatment of passages of major Christological import for the book. In drawing this together, we will consider the two questions of how the eschatological concern of the book impacts the Christological presentation, and how the Christology of the book informs its eschatology. I. Assumptions Revelation is a text with considerable presuppositional controversy. For the purposes of this essay many are irrelevant. Nonetheless I will refer to the author as John, who may or may not be also the apostle and/or the author of the fourth gospel.1 I agree with Lioy’s sentiment, “the consensus of the early church consistently favoured the apostle...and there seems to be insufficient evidence to overturn this view.”2 As to date, I hold the balance of data to favour Domitian’s reign.3
The key relevant question is the book’s nature and the interpretative approach required. Revelation, the only full-blown canonical apocalypse, though it has precursors in parts of Daniel and the OT passim, its genre and literary functions are best paralleled in Jewish Apocalyptic texts. The core visionary material of the book is given an epistolary frame.4 As an apocalyptic-visionary text, the primary hermeneutic approach is to consider Revelation as a symbolic-literary text. It is constructed, polyvalent text with complex resonances, in common with ancient and classical literature in general5, that works with multi-level symbolism and allegory to communicate a visionary depiction of reality. II. Treatment of Christological Important passages Revelation 1 In 1:1 the book begins by identifying Jesus as the source of the Revelation, but immediately referring the source of Jesus’ revelation to God. Repeatedly this dual action is seen, putting Jesus on the divine side of the Creator/Creation line. This association of Jesus with God is reiterated in v2, “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ”. Almost a hendiadys, the emphasis stresses God’s Word, and Jesus’ Witness, and so throughout the book.
Much of the Christology of Revelation comes not through explicit ‘titles’, but through descriptions. The first of these comes in 1:5, “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth”. These three descriptions will echo throughout the book, the image of the ‘faithful witness’ – Jesus holding fast to God and his Word through persecution, ‘the firstborn from the dead’, a description grounding both the historical resurrection with the eschatological expectation of general resurrection, and ‘the ruler...earth’, which read against the whole points to Jesus’ over-arching sovereignty, and ultimately to the Kingdom which he will present to his Father.
v5b-7 extends the description, referring to his continual attitude (loves us), his accomplished work (freed us), his perfected work (has made us to be...) and his coming (v7) echoing Dan 7:13-14, Zech 12:106, though Lupieri argues convincingly the reference is tantamount to “with his holy angels”7. Revelation explicitly uses the ‘like a Son of Man’ picture of Dan 7, an eschatological figure par excellence.
Beale summarises the visual-description (1:12-18) and its individual repetitions through ch.2-3 as portraying Jesus “as the eschatological heavenly priest, end-time ruler, and judge”8. The link between Jesus as priest-king and the of basilei,an( i`erei/j of v6 should not be overlooked. Jesus’ eschatological-and-christological roles are paralleled by the faithful.
The involuntary falling at his feet (v17-18) denotes, if not explicit worship, inescapable awe, and Jesus’ acceptance without rebuttal affirms himself in the ‘circle’ of the Divine. His claim to be “the First and Last”9 underscores his eternity, pre-existence, and eschatological transcendence: one who stands as the End and at the End of all. He is “the Living One”, who controls death (holds the key), moreso, has “life in himself” – an ascription of deity.10 Revelation 4-5 The Theocentric vision of ch.4 pre-empts the Christology of Ch 5. The mysterious scroll (5:1), filled with the course of world history in its eschatological manifestation and fulfilment (6:1-8:1 and so to 20)11, provides the key-note which introduces the figure of Christ in this chapter, the only one worthy to open it (v5).
The contrast between v5 and v6 is well noted. Verse 5 presents the Christ in OT and triumphant categories. He is the o` le,wn o` evk th/j fulh/j VIou,da, focusing on “the Messiah’s military prowess and victory over his enemies”12 who is also h` r`i,za Daui,d, another messianic-militant allusion.13 This imagery sets up an expectation of a militant-conquering messiah.14 It is immediately ‘re-interpreted’ by v6, the conquering-Lion is the slain-Lamb. Despite L.L. John’s careful work on the meaning of avrni,on15, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that John is alluding to OT passages of sacrifice and passover despite the disjunction in lexical domain between avmno,j and avrni,on.16 Here is a complex juxtaposition of ideas. Johns contends it highlights the vulnerability of the Lamb, and excludes any idea of a strong “ram” image, but the seven horns return the associations to Warrior-Messiah understandings.17
Ultimately John reinterprets Divine-Warrior understandings of the Messiah to reflect that the victory of the Lamb is inextricably linked to the Sacrificial Death of the Lamb. It is this central truth, the slain-risen-conquering-Lamb, which controls the whole book.18
The rest of Chapter 5 builds from this. The worthiness of the Lamb in his revelatory role of the Eschaton is grounded in his Victory-by-Redemptive-Death (v9). This then prompts the worship of v11-14, wherein the Lamb is located within the ‘circle of worship’, in a Binitarian-worship-relation. This is clear in the doxology (v12), and the double-recipient ascription: tw/| kaqhme,nw| evpi. tw/| qro,nw| kai. tw/| avrni,w| (v13). Revelation 7:9-17 In 7:9-17 the figure of the Lamb is again centralised with God as the source of salvation, h` swthri,a tw/| qew/| h`mw/n tw/| kaqhme,nw| evpi. tw/| qro,nw| kai. tw/| avrni,w|Å (v10). 7:14 notes their victory and redemption by the blood of the Lamb, a key motif found elsewhere in 1:5b, 5:6, 9, 12:11. The saints’ victory is linked exclusively to the Christ’s sacrifical death. Verse 17 is the locus of Christology in the passage: o[ti to. avrni,on to. avna. me,son tou/ qro,nou poimanei/ auvtou.j kai. o`dhgh,sei auvtou.j evpi. zwh/j phga.j u`da,twn (v17a-b). The Lamb is accorded worship alongside God19, at the center of the throne, and his eschatological work is correlated to God’s own (v17a-b & 17c). The shepherding motif picks up OT passages of God’s shepherding of his people, and echoes of John’s gospel (both the Shepherd and the living water).20 The verb poimanei/ is picked up again in 12:5, with its short symbolic presentation of the Christ-child in explicit reference to Ps 2:9, the classic royal-messianic psalm. Here the Christ is given a specific eschatological role: kingship over the nations, with the element of militaristic violence (the figure of the iron sceptre). Revelation 14 Lioy argues that ch 14, esp v1-5, are the chiastic centre of the book. I disagree that Revelation yields such a structure overall, but here again we meet the figure of the Lamb, paralleled to God (v1b and v4c), depicted as the leader of the pure eschatological community.
In 14:14-16 the Lamb Christology is laid aside and the figure of one “like a Son of Man” is reintroduced. The scene is specifically judgment. This passage is strongly angelomorphic, and the data presents some problems21. Alongside Dan 7, Joel 4:13 (LXX) is in view. The key exegetical question is whether the figure here can properly be seen as the Christ, given the angelomorphic presentation. I concur with Hoffman’s conclusion, “These reasons provide enough evidence to regard the one like a son of man in Apc 14 as Christ in his role as an eschatological judge of the final judgement”22 Revelation 19 Chapter 19 presents a full-blown depiction of the Christ-figure without ambiguity. In v10 there is the first of two incidents of angel-worship-refuted, which Bauckham argues is part of a technique to indicate the deity of Christ23. 19:11-16 then depicts the Christ as the eschatological victor. He is pisto.j kai. avlhqino,j24, a collocation that Lupieri suggests should be attached to the phrase o` lo,goj tou/ qeou/ in v13, as part of an overall strategy of resolving Jesus Christ, Word, and Lamb into the one figure.25 The righteousness by which he judges and wars reconfigures our understanding of this eschatological battle – not an act of final defeat for the forces of evil, but as an act of judgment on those (already) defeated by the Lamb’s sacrificial death. oi` de. ovfqalmoi. auvtou/ Îw`jÐ flo.x puro,j (v12) recalls 1:14 and 2:18, along with Dan 10:6, and reinforces the picture of the judge, with a sense of omniscient knowledge. The crowns (diadh,mata) directly contrast the other diadh,mata in the Book, on the head of the devil and the beast. Their crowns are usurpacious claims, and numerically limited, the Christ’s are true claims to royal authority (v16), and multiplicitious.
The unknown name has a background in Isaiah 62 and 65 pointing to a final consummation “when [his people] experience the fulfillment of prophecy in a new consummated covenantal marriage relationship with Christ”26, i.e. 21:2.
The blood on his robe (v13) is disputed. The context of v15 and judgment indicates the blood of his enemies27, though equally possible is his own blood, since it is repeatedly referred to as the basis and means of the Lamb’s victory and the Saints’ deliverance28.
The third ‘name’ is o` lo,goj tou/ qeou, which Beale takes as forming an inclusio with pisto.j kai. avlhqino,j as explanatory of the written name (v12), and having a “judicial role” in this context.29 Furthermore he notes the conjunction of the phrase “the word of God” with “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2, 9, 20:4) and “the testimony” (6:9), reinforcing the connection between Jesus as the Word, his own faithful and victorious witness, and the faithful witness of the victorious saints (and martyrs).30
v14-16 continue the heavily-laden depiction, and involve several key themes. The armies of heaven follow in a participatory and parallel way to the Warrior-Messiah – they share his clothing, a symbol of conquest, purity, and priesthood.31 The act of judgment and warfare, inextricably intertwined, forms the crux of action in 15, with strong OT backgrounds32, an act of eschatological judgment upon God’s enemies and the vindication of believers. v16 identifies, and climaxes, the Christological import of the passage, as the title Basileu.j basile,wn kai. ku,rioj kuri,wn33 is applied to the Warrior-Messiah, the true claimant to such a title, contra the false claims of the demonic forces passim Revelation, and an acclamation of deity, since its prior antecedents are God34. Revelation 22:12-16 The final passage for consideration comes in 22:12-16. v12 opens with a sense of imminence with regard to the Christ’s eschatological coming, and its associated judgment. The OT background is Isa 40:10, 62:11, relating to the coming of the Lord. This is matched by the assertion of 22:13, drawing together to. a;lfa kai. to. w= applied already to God in 1:9 and 21:6, h` avrch. kai. to. te,loj from 21:6, and o` prw/toj kai. o` e;scatoj applied to the Christ in 1:17, 2:8, and applying them all to the Christ. The significance is not simply deity, but pre-existence, creation, the control of history, and the teleological consummation of the eschaton. v14 points again to the basis of the victory of the saints – the blood of the Lamb, echoing 7:14.35 V16 is the ‘final clincher’ – all this lofty Christology is applied to VIhsou/j:without title or dispute, this man Jesus is the fully divine Christ, source of this apocalypse, both the root and descendant of David, the expected Davidic-Messiah, and yet the source of the Davidic line, being the pre-existence ‘bright morning star’.36 III. Eschatology and Christology Revelation is a unique work. As an apocalypse, it shares an eschatological framework with contemporary and preceding apocalyptic works, and yet as a Christian text it confronts the problem of reconciling eschatological expectation with a Christ who has come and been crucified. This tension is the key to resolving the eschatological and Christological themes of Revelation. The eschatological expectation of a messianic reign in traditional categorieshas been ‘pushed back’ from the first coming to the second coming.
The Christological motifs of Revelation could be centred around 3 presentations: Christ as the Faithful Witness, Christ the angelomorphic and judicial Son-of-Man, and Christ the Conquering Lamb. The second of these is the most traditional in contemporary apocalypses, but it is the other two informing this that transform the eschatological-Christology of Revelation. The first radically re-orients the Christ-figure with the historical life and death of Jesus, and connects this to the life of the faithful. The third element reconfigures the coming judgment and inaugurating-victory of the Son of Man figure: no longer solely future, reoriented to the Lamb’s death. The sacrificial and vulnerable ‘Lamb-Christology’ is virtually unprecedented in apocalyptic texts, and represents a distinctively Christian contribution born, from the events of Jesus’ life and death. The Faithful Witness37 element does what other apocalypses cannot do in encouraging perseverance and endurance to the faithful, it connects the faithful suffering witness of Jesus the Christ with the faithful suffering witness of the saints. This identificatory and participatory element is eschatologically orientated: the saints’ victory is linked both with their faithful witness and the Lamb’s sacrifice (Rev 12:11). The Christ of Revelation imaginatively recombines militant-messianic Davidic expectations with an angelomorphic-Judge strata, reorienting Divine-Warrior motifs to the Slain-Lamb, grounding an eschatological expectation in the historical events of the Gospel all centred on Jesus of Nazareth.
Hoffmann, Matthias Reinhard
Johns, L.L. Lioy, Dan
Osborne, Grant R.
The climax of prophecy: studies on the book of Revelation Edinburgh : T & T Clark, 1993. The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text. NIGTC Grand Rapids, MI : W.B. Eerdmans, 1998. The destroyer and the lamb: the relationship between angelomorphic and lamb Christology in the Book of Revelation Tübingen : Mohr Siebeck, 2005. The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John: an investigation into its origins and rhetorical force. Tübingen : Mohr Siebeck, 2003. The Book of Revelation in Christological Focus New York : Peter Lang, c2003. A Commentary on the Apocalypse of John Grand Rapids, Mich. : William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006. Revelation Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Academic, 2002.
1 Lioy, Dan The Book of Revelation in Christological Focus New York : Peter Lang, c2003. p 5-9.
2 Lioy, op cit. p9.
3 Cf. also Lupieri’s contention for a post-70, pre-100 dating on the basis of polemical response and counter-response in other apocalyptic-type texts. Lupieri, E. A Commentary on the Apocalypse of John Grand Rapids, Mich. : William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006. p44
4 Perhaps in a similar way to the epistolary nature of the oratorical text of Hebrews.
7 Lupieri, op cit. p105. Noting that meta. tw/n nefelw/n occurs in Mk 14:62, Dan 7:13 (Theodotion), and the association of clouds with theophanies and with angelic presence.
8 Beale, op cit. p206
9 Beale notes YHWH’s identifications in Isa 41:4, 44:6, 48:12. Beale, op cit. p213
10 Beale points to the phrase “the one living unto the ages of the ages” (Dt 32:40, Dan 4:34 [Theod.], 12:7). Beale, G.K. The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text. NIGTC Grand Rapids, MI : W.B. Eerdmans, 1998. p214.
11 Osborne describes it as both contract-deed and “containing God’s redemptive plan and the future history of God’s creation”. Osborne, op cit. p249
12 Ibid. p253. Cf the background in Gen 49:9-10.
13 This time to Isaiah 11, esp. v1, 10.
14 Bauckham, R. The climax of prophecy: studies on the book of Revelation Edinburgh : T & T Clark, 1993.p213-215.
15 Johns, L.L. The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John: an investigation into its origins and rhetorical force. Tübingen : Mohr Siebeck, 2003.
16 Exodus 11-12 for the Passover data, Isaiah 53 for the Suffering Servant.
17 Osborne op cit. p257, with reference to 1 Enoch 90:9, T. Jos 19:8.
18 Lupieri, “With these words we are at the heart of the mystery of Christian revelation”. He also suggests a polemical discourse against 4 Ezra 11:37-12:3, and the triumph of the Lamb, not an actual Lion, over the Eagle (Rome/the Gentiles). Lupieri, op cit. p140-1.
19 Lupieri notes that the human figures worship God and the Lamb, the angelic ones God alone, and suggests that for humanity, worship is only possible mediated by and including the Lamb. Lupieri, op cit. p151.
20 Osborne, op cit. p332.
21 Hoffmann, M.R. The destroyer and the lamb: the relationship between angelomorphic and lamb Christology in the Book of Revelation Tübingen : Mohr Siebeck, 2005. p30-101.
22 Hoffman, op cit. p66.
23 Bauckham, ‘The Worship of Jesus’ in The Climax of Prophecy. p118-149.
24 Beale notes an allusion to 3 Macc 2:22, and a context of “just and vindicating judgment”. p950.
25 Lupieri op cit. p303
26 So Beale, op cit. p953.
27 So Beale, op cit. p957, finding a background in Isa 63:1-3.
28 And so Lupieri, op cit. p305, and finding a background in Gen 49:11, and understanding the robe as a figure for his body.
29 Beale, op cit .p957.
30 Beale, op cit. p958.
31 Beale, op cit. p961. Cf then Rev 1:6 “a kingdom and priests”
32 Isa 49:2, 11:4, Ps 2:9, and Isa 63:2-6, so Beale, op cit. p961-2, Lupieri op cit. 306.
33 from Dan 4:37 LXX, also Rev 17:14.
34 As in the Dan 4 passage. Also 1 Enoch 9:4, 2 Macc 13:4, 1 Enoch 63:4
35 It also reverses the exclusion of Genesis 3 with admittance and authority over the Tree of Life.
36 Lupieri op cit. p361. Reading this as an origin reference, that “Christ’s preexistence is not merely human, but pertains also to the angels and to the stars”.
37 Which, admittedly, we have not explored here in the depth it warrants.