Alpha & Omega: Jesus' Divine Identity in Revelation
Christmas & the Worship of Jesus
At this time of year, it’s fairly common to see nativity scenes. A stable. A few animals. Joseph, Mary, a shepherd or two. Then some wise men laying gifts before the Christ child. As the story goes, they’ve come to worship the child. Matthew 2:11 says, “going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” But few realize how subversive this worship of Jesus really is.
According to Matthew, not everyone worships the child. King Herod claims he wants to “worship” the child. But we know it’s really to serve himself. Herod wants to know where the child is so Herod can destroy any threat to his political power. In fact, when he learns that the wise men trick him, Herod orders all the boys two years old and younger to be slaughtered (Matt 2:16)—it’s horrific. Herod hates the worship of Jesus; the worship of Jesus subverts Herod’s lordship, Herod’s politics, Herod’s glory.
The Christmas story confronts us with a worship question. Will you surrender all loyalties to Jesus and worship him? Or, will you remain part of the evil kingdoms vainly trying to destroy the worship of Jesus? Like Matthew’s Gospel, Revelation confronts us with the same worship question. In Revelation, God divides creation into two groups: those who worship God and the Lamb; and those who worship idols and trust human power and give themselves to the Beast’s allurements, especially idolatry, political might, earthly gain, and sexual immorality.[i]
Unveiling the Glorified Jesus for the Church
One way that Revelation compels our worship of Jesus is by unveiling the worth and majesty of Jesus. You may have heard Revelation described as apocalyptic literature. It’s more so a prophecy like that of Daniel, but there’s certainly overlap with apocalyptic. One overlap is how it unveils the way things really are but from a transcendent perspective—like seeing the world through heavenly eyewear.
Revelation pulls back the curtain so that we see the world as it is. It’s not just a seductive image on your phone but a Beast behind it winning worship for the Dragon. It’s not just China arresting Christians but the Dragon himself waging war on the saints because he knows his time is short. Into that situation God unveils the glory of Jesus, so that the worshipers of Jesus stand firm in their allegiance to him.
The point isn’t mere foresight into God’s unfolding plan. It’s to awaken obedience in God’s people and reassure them of his favor. Verse 3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it…” The point is persevering in obedience to Christ. That’s certainly echoed in the repeated words of chapters 2-3: “to him who conquers.”
But to compel that obedience, to compel our loyalty to Jesus, God unveils the glory of Jesus and his saving purpose in Jesus. A significant part of that unveiling is Jesus’ Godhood. In John’s Gospel, we studied the Son’s deity before creation. We also studied Son’s deity once he became flesh. Jesus’ words, Jesus’ works, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ Spirit—all lead John to say, “[we saw] glory as of the only Son from the Father.”
Revelation continues the narrative, but now unveils Jesus in his glorified state as the God-man. How do we know that? Because verses 9-20 say so. John describes Jesus’ majesty with a mosaic of Old Testament images; and we’ll be looking at some later. But in verse 17 he says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
That’s how we know it’s the glorified Jesus—“I died…I’m alive forevermore.” Nobody else can say that. Death always terminates earthly rulers. Jesus is the sole ruler who conquered death. And now John sees the glorified Jesus and writes about him for our sake. In the process, he reveals Jesus as God in at least four ways in Revelation…
1. Jesus’ Words Are God’s Very Words
To begin, Jesus’ words are God’s very words. Look at 1:1-2. “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave [Jesus] to show to his servants…” So, God the Father stands as the source of Jesus’ revelation. But in verse 2, “the word of God” parallels “the testimony of Jesus Christ.” You could even translate it like this: “[John] bore witness to the word given by God, namely, the testimony given by Jesus Christ.” They’re one and the same. Jesus’ testimony further describes God’s self-revelation.
Something else is how Jesus’ testimony differs from other witnesses in Revelation. You’ve got all kinds of witnesses in Revelation: angels, John himself, other servants, the church.[ii] But Jesus delivers God’s word in a manner far superior to God’s angels and servants. We see the superiority in the prophetic oracles of chapters 2-3.
Look at 2:1, and notice how Jesus begins his words: “the words of him who holds the seven stars…” Then 2:8, “the words of the first and the last…” Then 2:12, “the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword…” Then another four times at the start of each letter: “the words of…the words of…” That little phrase appears repeatedly in the Old Testament to introduce prophetic utterance: “thus says the Lord.”
When prophets said, “thus says the Lord,” people received the message as the very words of God, but not because the words originated with the prophet. The word originated with God and was delivered through the prophet. What distinguishes these oracles is that they come directly from the glorified Jesus Christ. It’s not merely a matter of “thus says the Lord;” it’s a matter of “thus says the first and the last,” and “thus says the Son of God,” and so on. In short, it’s a matter of “thus says Jesus Christ,” and John is the prophet delivering Jesus’ words.
Even more, the prophets would explain how God, not the prophet, would judge those who rejected their words. God would also reward those who obeyed their words. But in chapters 2-3, Jesus says that he himself would judge those who failed to repent and how he himself would reward those who endure. Consider the judgment in 2:16, “…repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” Or, 2:26 in terms of a reward: “the one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations…” No mere prophet could ever say that. Jesus can say that, because his words carry the same authority reserved for God alone in the Old Testament.
To be clear, Revelation still maintains Jesus’ distinction from God the Father—the Father still gives to Jesus what to say. At the same time, Jesus says those words as God himself. Jesus’ words manifest God’s self-revelation directly and immediately. Angels only deliver it, John writes it, and the church must obey it.
2. Old Testament Metaphors Unique to God Yet Applied to Jesus
Next, Revelation takes Old Testament metaphors unique to God and applies them to Jesus. Let’s start with the unique title, “the Alpha and the Omega.” It doesn’t appear elsewhere in Scripture. But in Revelation the title appears besides two others that clarify what “the Alpha and the Omega” means. In 22:13 we find, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (also 21:6).
Now, the additional title, “the first and the last” does appear in Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12. Each time God distinguishes himself from the nations and their idols. The nations and their idols lack any power to determine the future.[iii] But God who is “the first and the last” not only knows the future before it takes place; he creates the future by his sovereign word.[iv] So, this title “the first and the last” has a polemical edge.
And that’s what the title “the Alpha and the Omega” carries with it—or “the first and the last.” God knows the end from the beginning; his word creates and governs history. Neither the nations nor their idols are really in control. In Revelation both God and Jesus self-identify as “the Alpha and the Omega” or “the first and the last.” God says it of himself in 1:8 and 21:6. Jesus says it of himself in 1:17 and 22:13. The link couldn’t be clearer: Jesus can say this of himself only if he is truly God.
Let’s look next at Revelation 1:14. Remember that John sees the glorified Jesus here. But he describes him like this in verse 14: “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.” In Daniel 7:9, the same words describe the Ancient of Days, who is Yahweh:[v] “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool…”
Even more, in Ezekiel 1 the prophet sees a vision of Yahweh seated on his fiery throne-chariot. Ezekiel also sees four living creatures around God’s throne; and in verse 24 he describes the sound of the wings of the four living creatures like this: “[it was as] the sound of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty.”[vi] So, to hear God Almighty speak was comparable to a tumult of waters—think Niagara Falls, perhaps. Revelation 1:15 says this of Christ: “his voice [was] like the sound of many waters.” In other words, the voice of the glorified Jesus is the voice of God Almighty.[vii]
3. Old Testament Motifs Unique to God Yet Applied to Jesus
A third observation: John will also take Old Testament motifs/themes unique to God and apply them to Jesus. Take the Day of Judgment, for example. Isaiah 2:19 describes it this way: “…people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the LORD, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth.” Isaiah 13:10 and 13, “the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil…I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.”
Joel 3:15-16, “The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake.” So you have this Old Testament motif of God’s final judgment; and when he shows up, it’s a day of great dread and cosmic upheaval.
Revelation 6:12-17 depict the great day of the Lamb’s wrath with the same imagery:
When [the Lamb] opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’
This is a bit of an aside. But brothers and sisters, this is also why Matthew 27 says the earth shook and the rocks were split when Jesus died on the cross. The images recall God’s judgment falling on the nations—only, at the cross, the wrath of God fell on Jesus in our place. If you trust in Jesus to save, you won’t need to hide yourself from the wrath of the Lamb on the Day of Judgment. He already bore that wrath in your place. That’s why God’s Son became a man, to be your human substitute.
Another motif relates to the title of Jesus in Revelation 19:16. Jesus is called, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” That comes from Daniel 4:37 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, sometimes called the Septuagint. The context is where God has humbled King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar’s reason returns to him and he honors Daniel’s God, the Most High. As he does, he gives the Most High this title: “God of gods and Lord of lords and King of kings.” He does this because Yahweh alone has the power to remove kings and set others in their place.
Well, in Revelation 19 John envisions Jesus removing all rebel kingdoms and establishing his own people to reign in his earthly kingdom; and it’s here that he gives him the title reserved for the Most High alone: “King of kings and Lord of lords.” In other words, Jesus is the Most High, who refuses to share his glory with another.
Here’s another motif, and this one is really beautiful. Do you remember how Ezekiel and Zechariah anticipate a river of life flowing from the midst of Yahweh’s glory in the temple? This would be Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Zechariah 14:8-9. God’s glory had once departed from the temple a because of the people’s rebellion. The land became a desert and destitute. But then God shows mercy. He promises to return to the temple. Then from his enthroned presence would come a river giving life to all it touched. God’s glory-presence would basically turn the earth into a paradise that makes Eden blush.
Get this. In Revelation 22:1, John sees the river of the water of life flowing from the one throne of God and of the Lamb: “the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…” Both God and the Lamb share the one throne. We know that because in 3:21 Jesus’ own throne is simultaneously his Father’s throne. Also, in 5:11-13 the Lamb approaches the throne and all heaven includes him in the worship of God. In other words, God and the Lamb share the one, single throne, making them both the one source of the river of life.
4. Jesus, the Lamb, Receives Worship Reserved for God Alone
Now, since I mentioned all heaven including Jesus in the worship of God, let’s move there next: Jesus, the Lamb, receives worship reserved for God alone. Look at 1:5-6. John writes about Jesus, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” John’s Christology leads to doxology. Who Jesus is and what he has done for us leads to worship: “to him be glory.”
To render Jesus glory is not to give Jesus something he lacks; it’s to recognize the worth he has. What may surprise John’s readers, though, is that “glory” is something regularly attributed to God in Revelation. In Revelation, God possesses glory that manifests his intrinsic worth.[viii] God’s creatures must recognize his glory in praise and devotion.[ix] Terrible judgments fall on those who refuse to give God glory.[x]
Yet John doesn’t hesitate to call us to give Jesus glory. In other words, giving Jesus glory fits into a broader theme, where to worship anything else alongside God is idolatry and merits judgment. And John’s point is that Jesus receives glory without compromising true worship, because Jesus is one with his Father in worth and glory. Jesus implied that himself in John 5:23, “The [Father] has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.”
When witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses, I like taking them to Revelation 4. John sees God’s glory in the throne room. The heavenly creatures rightly worship the Almighty. In verse 11 they say, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” I’ll ask Jehovah’s Witnesses, who alone is worthy of worship like this? Without batting an eye they’ll say, “Jehovah God alone.” “Right,” I say. Then I ask them to look at chapter 5, which continues the throne scene; and I ask, “Then why is the Lamb receiving the same worship in verses 12 and 13?” No answer. Read it…
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’”
Not to worship Jesus is to trivialize the glory all heaven witnesses he has.[xi] That’s four ways Revelation unveils Jesus’ Godhood: Jesus’ words are God’s very words. Several metaphors and motifs reserved for God alone in the Old Testament get applied to Jesus. And Jesus receives worship reserved for God alone.
Jesus deserves our exclusive worship.
If all that’s true of Jesus—and we have every reason to believe it is—then Jesus deserves our exclusive worship. I’m not just talking about showing up Sunday morning to sing. That declarative worship in song and confession is but one piece. Our demonstrative worship—what Romans 12 calls offering our bodies as living sacrifices—that’s the New Testament emphasis. If Jesus is God, we must surrender all loyalties to Jesus Christ every day in everything with everyone.
This is a distinguishing mark of Christianity: we worship Jesus as God. If you asked pagans of the second and third centuries, “What distinguished Christianity from all other religions?” the pagans would answer, “The exclusive worship of Jesus.” It’s in their writings. They mocked Christians for it. Maybe you’ve seen the Roman graffiti before that dates back to about AD 200. There’s a man bowing before a cross, and on the cross is a man with a donkey’s head. Then the picture says, “Alexamenos worships [his] god.” Pagans knew what distinguished Christians: the worship of Jesus. They thought it was ridiculous, but they knew. Even more, they knew it was subversive.
True worship of Jesus cannot be privatized.
Because here’s the thing: the true worship of Jesus can’t be privatized. When you surrender all loyalties to Jesus, by necessity that will affect your public discourse and engagement. An inward allegiance to Jesus will proactively resist whatever compromises the worship of Jesus and publicly testify to whatever supports the worship of Jesus. Jesus’ doesn’t deserve to be worshiped only by you; all nations owe Jesus worship.
Therefore, the worship of Jesus becomes a very public matter. In Revelation (and really the rest of the Bible too) everybody is a worshiper. It’s just a matter of whom you worship. Either you worship Jesus or you worship Satan and his Beast. In Revelation Satan and the Beast lure the world into false worship; and they do it with idolatry, sexual immorality, economic exploitation, and political one-upmanship. People buy the lies of the Beast’s ideology and give themselves to his kingdom; and their slavery to his worship gets so bad, that even when God brings horrific judgments they still don’t repent.
How the church's worship of Jesus gets tested.
It’s within this setting that the church’s worship of Jesus gets tested. Brothers and sisters, just because you’re a Christian, don’t think you’re beyond the Beast’s deception. In 2:14 and 2:20 and 3:17, two churches get led astray by false teachers into idolatry and sexual immorality. Another gets led astray by its own self-confidence. Christ rebukes them as well and threatens judgment if they don’t repent. How worthy Christ is to us, is first and foremost a question for us who call him Lord.
In Revelation, the church’s worship of Jesus gets tested in several ways. In 2:10 the church is warned that Satan will cast some of them into prison. They will have to be faithful unto death. What would your worship of Jesus look like in the face of persecution? It’s easy for us to say he’s worthy in a setting like this. But how worthy is Jesus when someone puts a gun to your head? We should be praying for hearts that will so treasure Jesus’ worth that we can be faithful unto death.
In Revelation, the church’s worship of Jesus also gets tested by worldly treasures. In 3:17 the church in Laodicea says they’re rich and have need of nothing. Also, in 13:15-17 if anybody wants to buy, sell, or trade, they have to receive the mark of the Beast. You have this choice: identify with the Beast—in John’s day that may have been burning incense to the Roman emperor—and get all the riches and the luxuries you want; or worship Christ and remain loyal to his kingdom no matter how counterculture that loyalty becomes. When you choose to worship Christ over the Beast and money, either you starve because you can’t buy, sell, or trade, or the Beast’s people murder you.
Or consider how the church’s worship of Jesus would be tested before Roman political powers. In much of Revelation’s imagery—like Babylon or the Harlot of chapter 17—John is winking in the background about Rome. Caesar was Lord. Often that meant people treated him with utmost reverence and never questioned his rule. But worshiping Jesus as God relativized the emperor’s political authority, right? Worshiping Jesus means no person, no government, no regime has the ultimate say. Christ is the true Lord and God and he alone has ultimate say. But even more irritating for Rome was this: worshiping Jesus said the rule of God wasn’t with Rome and its elite; the rule of God was with Jesus whom Rome helped crucify. The rule of God was with the worshipers of Jesus who were often persecuted and martyred by Rome.[xii]
Beloved, we live in a culture where America is number one, where people can worship whatever god they want as long as that god serves our country’s interests, and where even some Christians put America’s interests above those of Christ’s kingdom. Is it a blessing to live here? Absolutely. Do we have much to be thankful for? Absolutely. But let’s be careful not to be deceived by the Beast. He works in subtle ways to lead people astray. Rome looked so good on the outside, but inside it was full of abomination. America has its own abominations inside, and to display the worth of our Lord and God, we must resist them.
So whether it’s putting our country’s interests above those of Christ, or our culture using sex or sexiness to sell just about anything, or our culture elevating organized sports to a place of worship, or our culture saying “your comfort” and “your convenience” matters most in your ethical decisions—whatever the idolatry it is, we must resist any participation in it, because Christ alone deserves exclusive worship.
To worship him means to go his way, to follow his words, to uphold his justice, even when the world hates it. But by doing so, here’s what we become. We become a people who faithfully represent what the heavenly multitudes already see of Jesus’ worth right now (Rev 5:9-14; 7:9-12). And we become a people who expectantly prefigure what God’s final kingdom on earth will reveal about Jesus’ worth (Rev 21:22-26). All history is working toward the universal worship of Jesus. Let’s give him praise and glory and honor now as we come to the Table together.
[i]God’s worshipers: Rev 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:1, 16; 19:4; 22:3, 8. Dragon/Beast’s worshipers: Rev 9:20; 13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20.
[ii]Rev 1:1-2; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11, 17; 20:4; 22:16.
[iii]Isa 41:4; 44:6-28; 46:10; 48:11-16.
[iv]Isa 44:7-9, 18-19; 48:3, 6-8, 11-16; cf. 41:22-24; 42:9; 43:9b; 45:21; 46:10. I am indebted to Paul Hoskins for providing the insight into how Isaiah’s use of the title “the first and the last” contrasts Yahweh with the false gods of the nations in the manner specified here.
[v]The following description of his fiery throne/chariot in Daniel 7:9 matches the vision of Yahweh’s glory in Ezekiel 1:15-29, confirming that the Ancient of Days refers to Yahweh.
[vi]See also Ezekiel 10:5, “And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks” (cf. Ezek 43:2). The LXX drops the entire clause, “like the voice of the Almighty,” in Ezekiel 1:24 and instead simply says, “…as the sound of much water; and when they stood, their wings were let down.” Nevertheless, the LXX preserves the phrase in Ezekiel 10:5 stating, “and the sound of the cherubs’ wings was heard as far as the outer court, as the voice/sound of God the Almighty speaking.”
[vii]It is true that John also applies to Jesus imagery from heavenly beings who are less than God. Allusions to the heavenly figure in Daniel 10:6, 9-17 appear evident: “eyes like a flame of fire” (Rev 1:14; cf. Dan 10:6); “feet like burnished bronze” (Rev 1:15; cf. Dan 10:6); and “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17; cf. Dan 10:9, 10, 15). Some will argue that in Daniel 10:5-6, Daniel witnessed the glory of the pre-incarnate Christ, that is, the same messianic “son of man” figure of Daniel 7. Yet even if one does not accept the figure of Daniel 10:5-6 as the pre-incarnate Christ, Jim Hamilton has demonstrated how other heavenly beings often reflect aspects of Christ’s glorious appearance (see Hamilton, With the Clouds, 144-46). Hamilton’s point seems further supported in that Daniel 7:13 has “one like a son of man” versus “one as the likeness of the sons of man.” That is, there is enough to associate their likeness but not enough to equate them. The angel only reflects the “son of man” figure’s likeness. In other words, by applying to Jesus imagery of beings who are less than God, one need not conclude that Jesus is therefore less than God. Rather, these beings reflect aspects of his own divine glory as God. Even if the angelic imagery placed Jesus only in a category closer to God, when taken with the additional metaphors ascribed solely to Yahweh, one can see that John intends to state much more.
[viii]Rev 15:8; 21:11, 23.
[ix]Rev 4:9, 11; 7:12; 11:13; 15:4; 19:1, 7; 21:24, 26.
[x]Rev 14:7; 16:9; 18:7.
[xi]John is at one with Paul, Peter, and Jude who also include Jesus as the object of their doxology and worshipful devotion (1 Tim 6:16; 1 Pet 4:11; 5:11; Jude 25).
[xii]Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, 146.
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