The Trinity in the Book of Revelation3
Many struggle to understand the Trinity. I count myself among them! But I believe it! I believe it not because I can explain it with logical precision, but because the NT so clearly and repeatedly teaches it. One such place is the book of Revelation. There we see consistent and repeated evidence of the Deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three co-equal persons existing as One undivided God. Continue reading . . .
Many struggle to understand the Trinity. I count myself among them! But I believe it! I believe it not because I can explain it with logical precision, but because the NT so clearly and repeatedly teaches it. One such place is the book of Revelation. There we see consistent and repeated evidence of the Deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three co-equal persons existing as One undivided God.
The first explicit reference to the Triune character of God is found in Revelation 1:4b-5a,
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
There are only two occasions on which God himself speaks in Revelation, and they are both declarations concerning his identity as God:
“I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8).
“I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (21:6).
What makes these important is that they correspond to two self-declarations of Jesus, thus testifying to their shared deity:
“I am the first and the last” (1:17).
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13).
The words “the first and the last” are taken from Isaiah where it occurs as a self-designation for God (44:6; 48:12). One could hardly find a more explicit claim to exclusive deity than this. As the first and the last Jesus is not only claiming equality of nature with the Father but is declaring that he both precedes all things, as their Creator, and will bring all things to their eschatological consummation. He is the origin and goal of all history.
On three occasions God is called “the One who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4,8; 4:8). On two other occasions he is “the One who is and who was” (11:17; 16:5). This is most likely an interpretation of the divine name YHWH. Some have found in this title a reference to past, present, and future existence. However, the third term is not the future tense of the verb “to be” but the present participle of the verb “to come”, lit., “the one who is coming.” John’s aim is “to depict the future of God not as his mere future existence, but as his coming to the world in salvation and judgment. He no doubt has in mind those many Old Testament prophetic passages which announce that God will ‘come’ to save and judge (e.g. Ps. 96:13; 98:9; Isa. 40:10; 66:15; Zech. 14:5) and which early Christians understood to refer to his eschatological coming to fulfill his final purpose for the world, a coming they identified with the parousia of Jesus Christ” (Richard Bauckham, Theology, 29).
Why, then, the abbreviated form, “the One who is and who was,” in 11:17 and 16:5? The answer is found in the context. At these points in John’s vision the eschatological, end-of-the-age coming of God is taking place. “It is no longer future, and the hymns which use the designation praise God for the occurrence of this eschatological fulfillment of his purpose. . . . Necessarily the future element in the designation of God is replaced by the thanksgiving that his role has begun” (Theology, 29).
The title “the Lord God the Almighty” occurs seven times (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22). A shorter form, “God the Almighty” occurs twice (16:14; 19:15). This is probably a translation of the OT title, “the Lord, the God of hosts” (e.g., 2 Sam. 5:10; Jer. 5:14). The word “almighty” points not so much to God’s abstract omnipotence as to his actual providential control and oversight of all things.
God is also seven times referred to as “the One who sits on the throne” (4:9; 5:1,7,13; 6:16; 7:15; 21:5). Variations of this title are also found in Revelation (4:2,3; 7:10; 19:4). “On earth the powers of evil challenge God’s role and even masquerade as the ultimate power over all things, claiming divinity. But heaven is the sphere of ultimate reality: what is true in heaven must become true on earth. Thus John is taken up into heaven to see that God’s throne is the ultimate reality behind all earthly appearances” (Theology, 31).
The worship of Jesus in Revelation also testifies to his deity.
• On two occasions John prostrates himself before the angel who mediates the revelation to him (19:10; 22:8-9). On both occasions the angel protests and directs John to worship God only. The angel isn’t the ultimate source of the revelation: Jesus is (22:16).
• In chapter 5 Jesus, the Lamb, becomes the center of the circle of worship in heaven. Eventually myriads of angels join the living creatures and the elders in worshipping the Lamb. “It is important to note,” observes Bauckham, “how the scene is so structured that the worship of the Lamb (5:8-12) leads to the worship of God and the Lamb together (5:13). John does not wish to represent Jesus as an alternative object of worship alongside God, but as one who shares in the glory due to God” (Theology, 60).
• We should also note the occasions where the mention of God and Christ together is followed by a singular verb (11:15) or singular pronouns (22:3-4; 6:17). John is evidently reluctant to speak of God and Christ together as a plurality. “He never makes them the subjects of a plural verb or uses a plural pronoun to refer to them both. The reason is surely clear: he places Christ on the divine side of the distinction between God and creation, but he wishes to avoid ways of speaking which sound to him polytheistic” (61).
• In 1:5b-6 the doxology is addressed to Jesus alone. There could hardly be a clearer way of ascribing to Jesus the worship due to God.
• Finally, in Revelation what Christ does, God does. For example, the eschatological “coming” of God, referred to in the designation, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming,” is the coming of Jesus to earth at the end of the age.
As for the Holy Spirit, four times we read of the “seven Spirits” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). The “seven Spirits” are the fullness of God’s power sent out into all the earth (5:6). Or again, “the seven Spirits represent the fullness of the divine Spirit in relation to God, to Christ and to the church’s mission to the whole world” (Theology, 115). There are also fourteen references to the “Spirit,” seven of which are in the refrain to the churches, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). Four times we find the phrase “in the Spirit” (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). See also 14:13; 22:17; 19:10.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise him all creatures here below!
Praise him above ye heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”