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Revelation 1:1 (ESV) reads:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John

While researching the trinitarian implications of this verse, I found an interesting interpretation of it by Beatus of Liébana, an 8th century commentator. He writes:

‘“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him” — that is, to the most blessed Apostle John, “to make known to His servants”, so that what he says may unlock, and what he explains may be made plain. (source)

That is, Beatus interprets "God gave him" to mean "God gave John," as opposed to the rendering of the vast majority of interpreters, who understand it to mean "God gave Jesus." Beatus then sees "his servants" as referring to God's servants, not John's, avoiding one possible pitfall with this interpretation.

Is Beatus's interpretation of this text legitimate? Is it natural? I've found no other interpreters who take this approach, so I wonder if perhaps Beatus has erred in his understanding of Greek.

  • Assuming this is a valid interpretation, I wonder why Beatus decided that "him" was John and not the angel... – James Shewey Dec 17 '15 at 23:48
  • This question was prompted by the comments in this answer over at Christianity.SE. – user2910 Dec 19 '15 at 22:17
  • @Mark Actually, I asked here before the comments there. I also link to that answer in my question here. – Nathaniel is protesting Dec 19 '15 at 22:59
  • Derp. My brain didn't even register that there was a link in your question above. I just stumbled upon the other discussion and assumed this was asked because of it. – user2910 Dec 19 '15 at 23:01
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Revelation 1.1-2

Here is the text of Revelation 1.1-2, from the NRSV:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which [1] God gave [2] him to show [5] his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending [3] his angel to [4] his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

In other words, the traditional reading is:

  1. God
  2. Gave the revelation to Jesus
  3. Who made it known by sending his angel
  4. To his servant John, who testified to the word and the testimony, everything he saw
  5. To show God's servants (the seven churches in Asia) what must soon take place

So the question being asked is whether this flow is correct, and, if so, whether Jesus really is the 'him' of the second position of the sequence.

The very first thing worth mentioning almost immediately suggests 'him' refers to Jesus and not John:

Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἣν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ ὁ θεὸς δεῖξαι τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ ἃ δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐν τάχει, καὶ ἐσήμανεν ἀποστείλας διὰ τοῦ ἀγγέλου αὐτοῦ τῷ δούλῳ αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννῃ, ὃς ἐμαρτύρησεν τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ὅσα εἶδεν.

In a woodenly-literal translation, the very first line of the book says:

Revelation of Jesus Christ which gave to him God

'Him' is only the sixth word (in Greek), and it appears before either 'the angel' or 'John' have even been mentioned. 'Him' appears even before 'God' is mentioned. The most natural antecedent would be 'Jesus Christ', the only person that has been identified by the time a 'him' is referenced.


Revelation 4-5 and 10

Richard Bauckham interprets Revelation 1.1-2 the way as described above:1

The first verse, which is virtually a title, speaks of the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him and which reaches God's servants through a chain of revelation: God → Christ → angel → John (the writer) → the servants of God.

And he sees this interpretation corroborated by the symbolic events portrayed in Revelation 4-5 and 10.

Anticipating objections that the scroll in Revelation 10 is not the same as the scroll in chapters 4-5, Bauckham also writes:

The scroll itself [of chapters 4-5], now opened, reappears in 10:2, 8-10. Most interpreters have been misled by the word used in 10:2, 9-10 (biblaridion is diminutive in form, but like many diminutive forms in the Greek of this period, need not differ in meaning from biblion, which is used in 5:1-9; 10:8) and have supposed the scroll of chapter 10 to be a different scroll from that of chapter 5. But John carefully indicates their identity. The angel who brings the scroll down from heaven (10:1-2) is called 'another mighty angel' (10:1) in order to make a literary connection with 5:1-9, where the first 'mighty angel' is mentioned (5:2).

He then goes on to explain:

In Revelation [as opposed to the basis of John's symbolism, Ezekiel 1-3], the scroll must be opened by the Lamb before it can be given to John to eat. So the scroll is taken from the hand of God by the Lamb (5:7), who opens it (6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1). It is then taken from heaven to earth by an angel (10:1-2), who gives it to John to eat (10:8-10).

This chain of revelation, from God to the prophet John, corresponds exactly to 1:1 ...


Revelation 22

John also bookends the Revelation in the shape of a letter.

He begins with the typical form of address:

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace ...

And he closes with a salutation comparable to what we see in other new testament epistles:

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

G.K. Beale points out something significant about the final chapter of the Revelation:2

This segment [22:6-21] is the formal conclusion to the whole book and is especially linked with the introduction in 1:1-3 in that both identify the book as a communication from God (using the language of Dan. 2:28-29, 45), both highlight John as a "witness" to the revelation he has received, and both emphasize that the revelation is a "prophecy" communicated to "hearers."

Beale continues:3

Though neither Christ nor John is mentioned, the chain of the book's revelatory communication is from God to Jesus to an angel to John and finally to Christians (so 1:1; cf. 22:8).

Here, Beale only focuses on verse 22.8, so he says "neither Christ nor John is mentioned". I disagree, however; John appears to have taken all of the information presented in Revelation 1.1-2, though he spreads it out in chapter 22, instead of condensing it into a single verse as Beale implies.

And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true, for [1] the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent [3] his angel to show [5] his servants what must soon take place.’
...
[4] I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.
...
‘It is [2] I, Jesus, who sent [3] my angel to [4] you with this testimony for [5] the churches.’

There is a small smudging of details over whether 'the Lord, the God' or 'Jesus' sent the angel, but the end result is just what we otherwise expect based on the common interpretation of verses 1.1-2, and Bauckham's treatment of chapter 4-5 and 10:

  1. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent...
  2. Jesus sent...
  3. ... The angel
  4. To John, who heard and saw these things, and received the testimony
  5. To show God's servants (the churches) what must soon take place

Conclusion

Based on the verbal parallels between Revelation 1.1-2 and Revelation 22, and the thematic parallels between Revelation 1.1-2 and Revelation 4-5,10, it seems very likely to me that John intended for us to understand 'him' (in the phrase 'God gave him' in verse 1.1) as referring to Jesus, not John.


Footnotes

1 Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. (Ebook edition; no page numbers.)

2 G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, p. 1122.

3 Ibid., p. 1125.

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  • 2
    So it sounds like it's theoretically a valid reading to say "him" refers to John, but the evidence of both immediate context and larger context (Rev 22) make that very unlikely. Fair enough; this is helpful. – Nathaniel is protesting Dec 19 '15 at 23:03

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