Class on Christology in the Book of Revelation: Chapters 4-7

Class 31 – Revelation 4-7



Towards a Theology of Revelation (3)

Today we pass from theology to Christology. The teaching on Christ in Revelation is perhaps the most developed in the whole of the New Testament. It is the main story line of the book, telling how the Lamb has conquered and will bring his faithful ones to an everlasting reunion with him. This Christology is expressed by images and actions: Christ speaks to the churches and moves among their lampstands, opens the scroll which no one else can open, is slain, achieves redemption by his blood, shepherds and leads great throngs, escapes the snare of the Dragon, fights a fierce battle and comes out victorious, reigns for a thousand years while the Dragon is imprisoned in the abyss, and reigns on the same throne as his Father in the new Jerusalem. But of all the Christological images, three stand out in particular and they emerge successively as the book progresses. We look at these three in succession below.


1.The “one like a son of man” and the churches

The first great image John employs in speaking of Christ is that of “one like a son of man” (Rev 1). This image indicates a likeness to humanity, rather than to mythological animals (Dragon, Beast, Lamb) or to angels. It is therefore an image of nearness to man: Christ appears in human semblance like John and the members of the churches. It is an image that differs also from that of Christ as army commander in Rev 19 who leads the assault against his enemies. It is the image of the one who loves the churches, affectionately holding their stars in his right hand and moving among their lampstands, which are the churches themselves. Identifying himself as the one who has conquered death and now holds the keys of Death and Hades, the “one like a son of man” presents himself as “firstborn from the dead” and so as beginning and archetype of the new creation.

In the first chapters of Revelation, there is a correlation between the traits of his identity, his action and his appearance in the initial vision of 1:9-20 and the messages to the churches in chs. 2-3. For example, the fact that he moves among the seven lampstands is connected in his message to the church of Ephesus with his threat to remove its lampstand, if it does not return to its first love. Again, his having conquered death is applied to the church of Smyrna to invite it to remain faithful until death. Having a sharp sword come out of his mouth is applied to the church in Pergamum to say that by means of them Christ will fight the Nicolaitans in Pergamum. His eyes are connected to the church in Thyatira to say that he searches the loins and the heart, and gives to each according to his deeds. In a sort of sevenfold Sunday homily, he has words of praise, encouragement, reproof, threat and promise to each church, to fight the snares of false apostles, of the synagogue of Satan, of the dread throne of Satan, of the Nicolaitans and Jezebel, and to counteract lukewarmness and the sense of self-sufficiency.


2.The Lamb – Revealer, Redeemer and Shepherd

The second great image is that of the Lamb. If the “one like a son of man” moved on the local scene and concerned himself with spiritual disturbances barely perceptible to the eye, the Lamb takes the Christology of Revelation to universal horizons. Before all, the messianic Lamb takes hold of the sealed scroll of divine decrees from the right hand of the seated sovereign. Even though in the twenty-eight times he is mentioned he does not  utter a word, the Lamb who opens the scroll is the equivalent of Jesus who with the parables entrusts to his own the mysteries of the kingdom (Mk 4:11); in fact, it is the icon itself of God imparting his word. There is to need to seek God’s will from the Delphic oracle as in the Greek world, nor to check the flight of birds or the entrails of sacrificial victims as in the Roman world, since God’s will has now been revealed by the chief mediator, Christ.

Besides being Revealer, the Lamb is also the Redeemer who has ransomed a people for God from every nation and made it a kingdom and priests. Even after Easter, Christ is still the leader of his own: on the exterior front he leads them into battle against the Beast and wins the victory, since he is king of kings and lord of lords, while on the interior front he leads his own to pastures and to the waters of life, and so prepares the wedding banquet for his spouse which is adorning herself with the righteous works of the saints. His own follow him wherever he goes; by his blood they win the battle against the Dragon, the Beast and its worship; and he who receives and welcomes the invitation to the wedding banquet is blessed.


3.The victorious rider and his names

In Rev 19, the Lamb metamorphoses into a rider seated on a white horse at the head of his armies, who are also riding white horses: this is the third great image in John’s Christology.

Besides attributing warlike features to the white rider (mantle stained with blood, hosts of cavalry, sword issuing from his mouth), John of Patmos also attributes a long series of five names to him. The most emphatic of these – because it is a double superlative – is the title “king of kings and lord of lords.” It is a written name, as is also the one known by no one other than himself. As for the other three names, they are unwritten and are called out. Both speech and writing, then, tell of him and indicate his complex and mysterious identity to the reader. The name “Word of God” (19:13) is the strongest name christologically since it shows a tight connection with the Logos of Jn 1 and the “Word of life” of 1 Jn 1. It is more important than the other two names, “faithful” and “true”, which in Revelation are elsewhere applied also to Jesus and to the words of God. The name “Word of God” explains why the sword is issuing from the rider’s mouth: it serves as a tongue in his mouth rather than as a weapon in his hand. When this is taken with his message to the church in Pergamum, where the sword battled against the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, not against some army, we see that this Word of God is engaged in a war of truth against falsehood, not a battle of conquest over earthly kingdoms. In this same spiritual fashion must we understand his armies and his victory.


4.”Yes, I am coming soon.”

Interestingly, the motif of the glorious coming of Christ is not expressed in any great image – not just when the promise is given in the first person (“I am coming soon”, “I am coming like a thief”) but also in the third person (“He is coming on the clouds and every eye will see him”). On the contrary, in the second-last verse of the book, he is invoked in the plain Christological language of the New Testament, “Come, Lord Jesus” after having identified himself as “I, Jesus.” Such a bare designation reflects the fact that Johannine images can sometimes feel cumbersome: though they seize the reader’s attention so as to stir him to action, they also distance him from the object of faith. This risk John avoids when it comes to the Parousia of Christ toward which the whole book tends: from the first verses which announce “the time is near” to the last ones “Come! Yes, I am coming soon.”

The urgency expressed by “soon” and “like a thief” is the positive flipside of the time periods set aside for the repentance of adversaries or for the last snares. Fortunately, these time periods are brief even though providentially hidden from our knowledge. The two facets of the Parousia are found in the recompense promised to each one “according to his deeds”, and still more in the succession of beatitude and decree of expulsion in Rev 22:14-15: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood.”


5.An inexpressible and multi-faceted title

Among all the titles and attributes of Christ, that of the “Lamb” has a certain incomprehensibility. First of all, except for being slain, the Lamb never does what a real lamb would: a lamb does not open books, vent wrath against mankind, direct a host of 144 000 people, lead an exodus through the sea, fight against dragons and beasts, celebrate a wedding banquet, sit on a throne, or be a temple. Secondly, notwithstanding OT parallels and notwithstanding the “Lamb of God” in Jn 1:29,36, because of the perplexing gamut of characteristics that have to be pieced together, it is a title with an elusive content.

Perhaps it is a sort of “working title” which serves to express the manifold relationships of Christ with God, with history, with the Church, with the deemed and with enemies or with the Bride. In this way, it would function like the title “Son of man” in the synoptics. Or perhaps it is a sort of superlative, hinting at the excess of meaning in Christ, a way of saying that he is inexpressible, just as is the one who “appeared like jasper and carnelian” in 4:3 and who must refer to God. This inexpressibility also comes through in the fact that the “one like a son of man” catches John of Patmos by surprise in the first chapter by appearing to him from behind and it comes through in the name of the white rider of Rev 19 which is known to no one but him alone.


Guided Reading of Rev 4-7


Recall that we saw in the book of Revelation the recurrence of the number 7: seven letters, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls. These are by no means merely on the margins of the narrative but at its very core. Note that these cover chs. 2-3; 6-7; 8-11; 16-17, i.e., 10 chapters out of the 22 in the book. Then, if we consider that each of these sets of seven except the third is introduced by a vision (the letters by the vision of the glorious Christ, the seals by the throne and the Lamb, the bowls by the evil triad), we see that the whole of chs. 1-17 is spanned by the preparation for and unfolding of these sets of seven. They are part of the narrative structure of the book. They tell of how Christ addresses his churches (1-3) and of how God unveils and brings to pass his plan in history (4-16). Chapters 17-22 then tell what God will do at the end of time when his action in history will have encountered only hardened resistance and blasphemy.


The Throne, the Scroll, and the Lamb (Rev 4-7)

  • Note the transition from Rev 1-3 to 4-22:
    • Change of place: John passes through the opened door into heaven; he is again “in spirit”; no longer on the tiny island of Patmos but at the court of the heavenly king and Lord; from the local problems of the seven churches he passes to the battle of cosmic proportions between forces of good and evil
    • Change of subject: John will now be shown “what must take place”, as promised in Rev 1
    • Change of dominant vision: not that of the glorious “one like a son of man” but that of a throne with the “Seated One”; this “throne” will be the reference point for the subsequent visions, as they alternate between earth and heaven – it will be mentioned 34x
    • Underlying continuity: despite the above changes, it is the same trumpet-like voice as at first – that of the risen Christ – which calls him to come up to the heavens
  • Overview of Rev 4:1-8:1, the heptad of the scroll with the seven seals:
    • Events:
      • the scene opens with the throne upon which is a “seated one”; everything tells of his awesome majesty:
        • his being compared to precious stones and metals (as in Ezek 1:26-28; no use of anthropomorphic features; precious stones bespeak the mute and mysterious beauty of nature),
        • his being surrounded by elders (“24” suggests the twelve OT tribes succeeded by the 12 NT apostles as representing the whole of history around the Lord of history) and living creatures (these and the lightning recall Ezek 1:4-13; 10:18-22),
        • his being acclaimed with the Trisagion of the seraphim in Isa 6:3;
        • the emphasis is on God as Creator, worthy of all praise and having authority over all things
      • in the next scene, he holds a scroll in his right hand: it is a scroll with abundant writing, yet completely sealed (“seven seals”); no one in all creation can open it until the Lamb is presented, who takes the scroll; the action pauses to show how he, the Lamb, receives the same adoration as the one Seated, but the heavenly court also sings him a new song which praises him for having redeemed all mankind by his paschal mystery
      • then the Lamb opens the seals one by one and the content of the “writing” is presented dramatically in events (4 horsemen who represent the positive (white horseman) and negative (red: war; black: injustice; green: death) forces recurrent in history, the cry of the martyrs for vengeance, great calamities on earth); the sixth seal is quite prolonged and also leads to visions of two crowds: the 144 000 who are protected but still suffer, and an innumerable crowd that already shares in the victory around God’s throne; the seventh seal is followed by a half-hour of silence and the beginning of the next heptad of the seven trumpets
    • Focus on the Lamb: [Read Rev 5:1-14] While the image of the One Seated is one of peaceful, serene, awesome adoration of the majestic ineffable God, a narrative “complication” comes in when the scroll is brought into view. It seems tremendously important, but who will open it? With this, we are introduced to the Lamb. His intervention will bring the consoling solution to the narrative “complication”. Biguzzi, 147-148 notes 5 components of the image of the Lamb in Revelation:
      • a messianic component: he is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the shoot of David (5:5), revealer and executor of God’s plans because he takes the scroll from His hand (5:7), conqueror of God’s enemies as King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14)
      • a paschal component: standing upright but as though slain (5:6); he has redeemed a people for God by his blood and has inaugurated a reign and a priesthood (5:9-10); he exercises the power he has gained in his paschal mystery in the following two ways:
      • in history: the benefit which the Lamb has brought, and hence his influence, extends to every realm of creation (see the praise of every creature in heaven, earth, the underworld and sea in 5:13) and every time (those ransomed come from every nation); his exercise of paschal authority in history can be grouped in three categories: a) prophetic-revelatory – because of his paschal victory he alone is worthy (axios) to open and reveal the contents of the divine scroll; b) leadership – later, he is said to have the twelve apostles as his followers (21:14), as well as the firstfruits of the redeemed who follow him wherever he goes, he who is the Moses of the new Exodus (15:3); c) warring – he will unleash his fury (6:16-17), lead the martyrs to victory by his blood (12:11), and fight and overcome the Beast and its accomplices because he is the King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14)
      • in eschatology: he celebrates the wedding banquet, holds the books of judgment, is shepherd of an innumerable crowd, is fountain of the water of life, etc
      • eulogical: he receives the homage of the canticles sung by the court of heaven for his revelation and salvation and in this is put on the same level as God or praised at the same time as him (5:13; 7:10)
    • Where did John draw his inspiration for this depiction of the Lamb? We can think of several possible Jewish-Christian sources of inspiration (Biguzzi, 148-149) though none of them fully explains why John has chosen the title arnion (a diminutive) for the Lamb
      • The sheep (probaton) led to the slaughter, or the lamb (amnos) that is dumb before its shearers: the servant of the Lord in Isa 53:7 is compared to these and he will have a great following among those for whom he dies. Points of contact with Revelation for this source are: the root sphag- (“slain”), the positive outcome of his death for himself and others, and the comparison “like” (a lamb)
      • The Passover sheep (probaton) taken from either lambs (arnōn) or goats (eriphōn) which the Israelites are to slay (sphaxousin) and whose blood they will place on the doorposts of their houses to save them from the destroying angel. Points of contact: image of the lamb (amnos), slaying (sphazein), blood which saves.
      • The lambs of the two daily holocausts (Exod 29:38-42; Num 28:1-8). Here again, the term used is amnos, not the diminutive arnion. The lamb is sacrificial, though not expiatory.
      • One or the other victorious leader in Israel’s history which in 1 Enoch 89-90 is presented as a “sheep which is leader/lord of the sheep”; or again the lamb which in the Testament of Joseph 19:8 comes from a virgin and conquers all the beasts that attack it. Here the point of contact is the leadership and warring.
      • The amnos tou theou of John 1:29,36 (but again, not arnion) whose OT origin is hard to ascertain.
    • In the end, we see here again, John’s fidelity to tradition but creative use of it. The main inspiration seems to be the Passover lamb because the Exodus imagery is so prominent in Revelation. However, John has combined this with traits from many other sources, as noted above.
    • The action of taking the scroll from God’s right hand is not to be thought of as an investiture with authority but as the claiming of that to which he had won the right of access by his passion. Hence, the axios celebrates his past victory (5:5,9) not a present conferral of royal dignity.
    • Compare the canticles in 4:8-11 with those of 5:9-14:
      • The former praises God for creation, the latter praises the Lamb for redemption.
      • The former has only the living creatures and the elders as protagonists. The latter begins again with them but extends to the myriads of angels and then to every creature throughout creation, only to conclude again with the four living creatures and the 24 elders. The latter hymn is a new hymn because it celebrates what is about to take place, the opening of the scroll, which is a further extension of what has already taken place, the redemptive death of the Lamb.
    • What does the action of breaking the seals mean? This action corresponds very well to the enunciation made in Rev 1:1-2, namely, that this book is to be a revelation. The scroll is identical to the “revelation” of 1:1:
      • in its origin (God),
      • its intended recipients (a concrete time, as indicated by John’s disconsolate weeping, but also cosmic and universal time, as indicated by the fact that all in creation are awaiting one who may open the scroll),
      • and its mediator (Jesus Christ). What is revealed? The written decree of God for the destiny of the world, for the course of history. It is a decree of judgment, seeing as it comes from the right hand of God who is seated.
    • with the breaking of each seal, an action of punishment is unleashed:
      • recall that these are medicinal punishments: only a part of the earth and its inhabitants are impacted and this serves as warning to the rest



  • Show how the cycles of seven with their preceding visions are the backbone of the narrative of Revelation.
  • Why is the beginning of chapter 4 an important point of transition in the book of Revelation?
  • Describe the various roles of the Lamb as evoked by titles and actions he takes in the book.
  • How is the ineffable, awe-inspiring majesty of God evoked?
  • What does the scroll with seven seals symbolize? What does its opening by the Lamb express?




%d bloggers like this: