Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation
The concluding book of the New Testament begins in the following fashion: “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show to his servants.” (1:1a). One of the intriguing questions discussed by scholars is the phrase “of Jesus Christ” (Iesou Christou [genitive case]). The genitive frequently is expressed in English by the preposition “of,” as in this text—thus, “of Jesus Christ.”
The genitive is the most versatile case in koine Greek (the language of the original New Testament). The interpretation of the genitive in a particular situation depends upon context—either in association with the immediate text or elsewhere within the larger document body. The sense may be subjective, i.e., the revelation belonging to Christ and conveyed by him. Or the force could be objective—a revelation about Christ.
In some situations, if the larger context justifies it, the genitive may carry both subjective and objective senses, in which case it is called a plenary genitive. In his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Professor Daniel Wallace suggests this most likely is the sense in Revelation 1:1. It certainly is clear that the messages of this inspired book issue from our Lord (22:16); and yet the narrative also is “supremely and ultimately about Christ” (1996, 120-121; emphasis added).
In this article we will address some of the rewarding truths about our Lord set forth in this book.
Christ, Eternal Deity
The divine nature of Christ is amply illustrated in Revelation. For instance the Lord exclaims: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). This significantly replicates the descriptive of the “Lord God,” the “Almighty” in chapter one (v. 8; cf. 21:6; also Isaiah 44:6; 48:12). Without question this is an affirmation of deity as expressed in eternal terms. Is Christ’s claim a reflection of reality, or is it merely a vain boast that discredits him? How blighted is the one who contends for the latter.
Christ, the Creator
In his letter to the lukewarm Laodicean church, Jesus identified himself as the “faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God” (3:14; cf. 22:13). Several important expressions strike the reader. First, there is the Lord’s affirmation of his integrity. He is faithful in character and true in his teaching. Second, Christ did not subscribe to the theories that the universe is eternal, or that it is a self-caused accident; it is a creation in time. Third, the preincarnate Word affirmed his active role in the creation process (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15, 18; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2).
The term “beginning” is a rendition of the Greek arche (found fifty-five times in the New Testament), used in several senses in the New Testament. In this context it denotes the cause or source by which something was begun (Thayer 1958, 77; Balz and Scheider 1990, 162). It is one of the tragedies of theological history that some cultists (e.g., the ancient Arians) misappropriated this text to suggest that Christ did not exist eternally, but was created by God as the “first” of his creations. This is the false position of the modern Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Even the liberal scholar William Barclay repudiated such a view. He declared that arche signifies that Jesus “was the moving cause of all creation.” He was the one who “began the process of creation and who initiated the work of creation” (1960, 177).
Jesus, Messiah of Old Testament Prophecy
John describes the Lord as “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:5). Jacob prophetically declared: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come. And unto him shall the gathering of the peoples be” (Genesis 49:10).
Additionally, the prophets of the Old Testament indicated that the Messiah would descend from David. Nathan informed Israel’s king: “When your days are fulfilled, and you will sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, that shall proceed from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:12). That the context has an ultimate reference to Christ is confirmed by the book of Hebrews (1:5).
In Revelation, Jesus also describes himself as the “root and the offspring of David” (22:16b). This is a very significant descriptive. The root is the source from which a plant springs. The term is used metaphorically for the fact that the preincarnate Word (John 1:1, 14) was the “origin and strength of the Messianic line” (Hiebert 1975, 172). Or, as another expressed it, in his divine capacity Christ was David’s “root”; in his human role, he was David’s “offspring” (McClintock and Strong 1970, 124; cf. Matthew 22:43). Jesus’ lineage from David is established both legally (Matthew 1:1ff) and biologically (Luke 3:23ff) by means of the New Testament genealogical records.
Christ, the Sacrificed Lamb
In Revelation 5 there is a fitting description of Jesus as a sacrificial Lamb. The Lamb had been “slain,” but, amazingly, in John’s vision it was “standing” (v. 6). Both verbs are perfect tense forms, suggesting the abiding effects of the actions. In other words, the efficacy of Jesus’ death was permanent; it never needed repeating (cf. Hebrews 9:28)—contrary to the Roman Catholic dogma of the repetitious “sacrifice of the Mass.”
Moreover, the permanent standing aspect in the second verb indicates that following his resurrection Jesus never died again (cf. Romans 6:9). This is expressed vividly by Paul in his verbal “shift of gears” in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Christ “died” (aorist tense; a one-time act), was “buried” (aorist), and “has been raised” (perfect), i.e., he was raised and remained raised! He is the “firstborn of the dead” (1:5) and is alive “forever more” (1:18).
“Lamb” is a common symbol in Revelation. Twenty-eight times in this document Jesus is portrayed as a lamb. In 5:6 the Savior is described as a slain Lamb, which involved the shedding of his blood. The “four living creatures” and the “twenty-four elders” sang, praising him “who was slain, and did purchase unto God with your blood” a host of peoples over the earth (5:9). Elsewhere those purchased with his blood are designated as the church (Acts 20:28).
The Lamb’s blood cleansed the guilty from their sins. This is symbolized by robes made white in the blood of the sacrifice (7:14). The cleansing is effected when one obeys the gospel plan of salvation; specifically when one is united with Christ in water baptism (Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:26). As a result of their redemption through that blood, they are promised ultimate victory (see “overcame” in 12:11).
Appropriate Object of Worship
Because of the happy combination of both the Lord’s divine and human natures, and his redemptive mission at Calvary, Jesus is supremely worthy of the worshipful adoration of both angels and men.
The songs recorded in 5:9-10, 12, 13b clearly reveal that Christ is worthy of the worship that is due only to one who is divine. Note the following facts: (a) Christ was deemed qualified to take the prophetic scroll that foretold events to come; his sovereignty would be exercised in the future orchestration of historical events. (b) His worthiness was grounded in his sacrificial death. (c) His reign and priestly service was to be potentially universal. (d) He was characterized by power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.
Finally, observe that the worship addressed to the Father is identical to that offered to the Lamb—“Unto him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever” (v. 13b). How utterly baseless is the misguided theory that Christ may not be directly worshipped either by prayer or song!
The Victorious Commander
One of the concluding visions of the Apocalypse pictures the victorious “King of kings, and Lord of Lords.” He is riding triumphantly on a white horse—a symbol of conquest (19:11-16). He is faithful and true and, consistent with his holy character, he will “judge” and “make war.” The judging discriminates between the godly and the ungodly; the war signifies the punishment to be inflicted upon the rebellious.
His garment is red with the blood of his enemies (cf. Isaiah 63 from which the imagery is borrowed). Those who have served faithfully under his leadership likewise are on white horses and are clothed in white garments, signifying their purity and/or victory. By his word he smites the rebel nations and breaks them with his rod of iron (cf. Psalm 2:9). His enemies will feel the fierceness of his wrath and find no relief ever after (cf. 14:9-11).
Clearly this final book of the New Testament is very much about Christ, as well as being conveyed by him. Study it and be rewarded by it.
- Balz, Horst & Gerhard Scheider. 1990. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Barclay, William. 1960. The Revelation of John. Vol. 1. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster.
- Hiebert, D. Edmond. 1975. Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Vol. 5. Merrill Tenney, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- McClintock, John and James Strong. 1970. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Vol. 9. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
- Thayer, J. H. 1958. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.
- Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.