Jesus, God, and Revelation 1:1

Dr. Christopher Plumberg

One of the most important doctrines in Christianity is the deity of Christ. It is therefore unsurprising that this doctrine is routinely under attack by those who do not belong to the church. Some who wish to deny Jesus' deity do so by appealing to Revelation 1:1, which speaks of "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place..." (NASB). The objectors argue that, having received a message (or "Revelation") from God, Jesus could not have known the message without the Father giving it to Him, implying that Jesus was not omniscient, and therefore not truly God.

How can we as Christians respond to this? Does Revelation 1:1 really demonstrate that Jesus is not truly God? There are three major components to answering this question. First, we need to ascertain what Scripture actually teaches about the deity of Christ. Second, we need to decide whether "receiving" (in any sense of the word) a message implies that the person receiving it does not know it in advance. And third, we need to decide whether not knowing something implies that a person is not God.

The first component is probably the easiest to settle: Scripture unquestionably teaches that Jesus was (and is) God. One of my favorite passages which demonstrates this is John 8:48-59. The passage is a bit long, but it's so good that I'll quote the whole thing here anyway:
The Jews answered and said to Him, "Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?" Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death." The Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.' Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?" Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, 'He is our God'; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. (NASB, emphasis added).
Notice towards the end of this passage, the Jews ask Jesus how He can possibly have known Abraham, who lived hundreds of years earlier, when Jesus Himself is less than fifty years old. Jesus' response, at first glance, contains some bad grammar: "before Abraham was, I am." Normally, we would expect Jesus to have said "before Abraham was, I was." So why does Jesus change the tense? In fact, Jesus is alluding to the name that God used for Himself in the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 3:14): "I AM THAT I AM" (NASB). In other words, Jesus is calling Himself God. Notice, furthermore, that this point is not lost on Jesus' audience, as they immediately respond by attempting to stone Him for blasphemy.

All of this goes to show that Scripture really does imply the full deity of Christ, and so there must be a way of understanding Revelation 1:1 which is consistent with this. That brings me to the second component of my answer: does giving Jesus a message really mean that Jesus didn't know the message?

This answer is also fairly easy to discern. Consider an example: my wife and I love to sing songs together. Sometimes, we will take turns singing different parts of the same song; I might say something like "I will sing verse 1; you sing verse 2; and then we'll both sing verse 3 together." In this sense, I have "given" my wife a verse to sing (cf. Revelation 1:1, "gave" [NASB]), in the sense that I have given her responsibility for a portion of the song. But of course, this doesn't imply that my wife doesn't know the verse before I give it to her; in fact, it assumes that she already knows the verse in question (otherwise, she wouldn't be able to sing it by herself). Thus, it doesn't really follow from the Father's entrusting a message to the Son that the Son didn't know the message in advance, and so this verse really doesn't accomplish what those who wish to challenge the deity of Christ want it to.

But you may still wonder: what if Jesus really didn't know the message beforehand? Would this imply that He really wasn't God?

In short, the answer is again, no. First of all, there are other things in Scripture which Jesus directly admits to not knowing, such as when His own second coming would be (cf. Mark 13:32). So if Jesus' ignorance is supposed to contradict His deity, there are much better texts to look at than Revelation 1:1. Moreover — and this is the important point — Jesus' not knowing certain things is in no way inconsistent with His full divinity.

Why not? A huge amount of literature has been generated on this point, so let me try to simply summarize the conclusions that nearly two thousand years of Christian thought have produced. When Jesus, the Son of God, became man, He did not stop being God; He simply became fully man, in addition to already being fully God. In effect, Jesus had two natures, instead of just one: whereas you and I would have only a single, human nature, Jesus had a complete human nature and a complete divine nature. The technical name for this is the hypostatic union.

One of the most important consequences of this hypostatic union between Jesus' two natures is that, while Jesus continued to be omniscient in His divine nature, He willingly divested Himself of exercising His omniscience when He donned a human nature (Philippians 2:6-8). So although Jesus as God does know all things, Jesus as man knows only what the Father grants Him to know (John 15:15), and so need not possess and exercise omniscience in every respect.

To summarize: Scripture certainly teaches that Jesus is fully God, and that there were certain things which He did not know, at least during His time on earth. However, it is not automatically clear that Jesus' being given a message from the Father has anything to do with His omniscience. And even if it does, this still would not imply that Jesus is not fully God, since Jesus' lack of knowledge of certain things during His time on earth is not inconsistent with His full divinity and omniscience.

Image Credit: Philip Swinburn; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Controversial-Issues  | Jesus-Christ  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 4-13-17