The Vile Person of Daniel 11: Is it Antiochus IV or a final world-wide anti-God ruler?

Summary

Introduction

Daniel mentions the kingdoms of Greece and Mede-Persia by name.  Critics do not accept that God knows the future.  They propose that Daniel was written after these kingdoms already came to power.

The main character in Daniel 11 is a “vile person.”  It is generally agreed that this person is the same entity as the evil horn-king of Daniel 7 and 8.

Daniel 11Antiochus IV was a Greek king who ruled in the middle of the second century BC.  He fits the sequence of kings and the activities of the “vile person” of Daniel 11 quite well.  Critics therefore propose that the book of Daniel was written in his time and that Antiochus IV was the “vile person.”  Critics transfer this interpretation to Daniel 7 and 8, and interpret the evil horn-king in these chapters also as Antiochus IV.

Interpretation

Interpreters generally agree on the interpretation of the first 13 verses of Daniel 11.  The chapter opens with a description of individual Persians kings.  It then moves to the Greek Empire.  It is generally understood that verses 14 to 19 describe Antiochus III; one of the Greek kings and predecessor of Antiochus IV.

Verse 22 is a critical verse.  It says that the Vile Person will:

Flood away the “overflowing forces“ and
Shatter the prince of the covenant.

There are strong word links between this verse and Daniel 9:24-27.  The words “flood” and nagid (prince) are unique to these two passages.  Only in these passages is “covenant” linked to a nagid-prince and is the nagid-prince cut off.  On the basis of these links it is proposed:

That the Prince of the covenant is Jesus;
That “broken” refers to His death on the Cross.
That the flood is the Roman Empire.

Since the events in Daniel 11 are given in their chronological sequence, and since the abomination (11:31) and the persecution of God’s people (11:32-34) are described later in Daniel 11, these must occur in time after Christ’s death in the first century AD.  These events therefore cannot be the activities of Antiochus IV.

Objections

One objection to this interpretation is that Daniel 11 provides much more detail about Antiochus III (vv 15-19); the father and predecessor of Antiochus IV, than about any previous king.  It is argued that Antiochus III is emphasized to identify the subsequent king (the vile person) as his son Antiochus IV.  But below it is argued that Antiochus III is emphasized because his reign was a turning point in history; not to identify the next king.

A second objection is that the Roman Empire is not mentioned in Daniel 11.  Daniel 11 continues, without an intervening empire, from Antiochus III to the vile person.  To this objection we respond by showing that the symbol of the evil king includes the Roman Empire, as well as the anti-God power that arose from it.

A principle in these prophecies is, once the prophecy reaches a key turning point in history, that the prophecy jumps over the remaining kings of that empire to the next empire.  The wars of Antiochus III were a key turning point in history.  At that point the prophecy jumps over the remaining Greek rulers to the Roman Empire, represented by the symbol of the vile person.

A third objection is that Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings in Daniel 11 as well as the actions of the “vile person.”  This is acknowledged, but, on the other hand, the description of the “vile person” exceeds Antiochus IV.  There are much in the prophecy that does not fit Antiochus IV.  Antiochus IV is only a partial fulfillment of anti-God successor.  He is a type of the ultimate fulfilment of the final and much larger worldwide anti-God ruler that will arise after the time of the Roman Empire.

Purpose

Daniel 11 is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible.  The conservative interpretation, as defended in these articles, is not based on Daniel 11, but on the earlier and easier to understand chapters.  The current article attempts to explain Daniel 11 from a conservative standpoint.

Introduction

Daniel is History written as Prophecy.

Daniel 8 mentions the kingdoms of Greece and Mede-Persia by name.  The first verses of Daniel 11 also clearly describe these kingdoms.  But critics do not accept that God knows the future.  They do not accept that these accurate descriptions in Daniel of historical events could have been written in the sixth century BC.  They therefore propose that Daniel was written after these kingdoms already rose to power.  In other words, in their view, Daniel is history written in the form of prophecy.

The Vile Person is the Small Horn of Daniel 8.

The main character in Daniel 11 is a “vile person” (KJV; 11:21).  It is generally agreed that this “vile person” is the same as the horn of Daniel 8 and Daniel 7, argued as follows:

(1) As stated before, the later prophecies in Daniel elaborate on the earlier prophecies.  Based on this principle chapter 11, even though it does not have beasts and horns representing kingdoms and their division, but rather a series of selected individual kings who ruled those kingdoms, still refers to the same kingdoms.

(2) Both the horn and the vile person:
. . . Persecute God’s people (7:25; 11:32-34);
. . . For a period of 3½ times (7:25; 12:7); (See **)
. . . Profane the temple (11:31; 8:11) (See ***)
. . . Set up “the abomination that makes desolate” (11:31; 8:13); (See ****).
. . . Remove the continual (tamid) (8:11; 11:31);
. . . Work through deceit (8:25; 11:21-24); and
. . .Magnify himself” (8:11; 11:36-37).

Notes

Note ** The persecution by the vile person is described in 11:32-34, but when Daniel asked “How long shall it be?” (12:6), the response is, “it would be for a time, two times, and half a time; and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be accomplished” (12:7).  This seems to say that the holy people will be persecuted for the prophetic period of “a time, two times, and half a time“, —a total of 3½ times.  Since this question and answer come at the end of the prophecy of Daniel 11·12, it refers to the previously mentioned persecution, which is the persecution in 11:32-34.

The 3½ times of Daniel 12:7 is also mentioned in Daniel 7:25—where it is also a time of persecution for the saints of the Most High, namely by the little horn-king.

Note *** The vile person profanes the strong temple (11:31), which is equivalent to the casting down of the place of the temple by the horn in 8:11.

Note **** An abomination is a sin.  In Deuteronomy 7:25 “graven images of their gods” are called “an abomination to the LORD your God.`” Both of these expressions are related to the tamid (continual) in their respective contexts (compare 11:31 with 8:11-12).

Daniel 11 therefore covers the same ground as Daniel 8, and provides additional detail.

The Vile Person is Antiochus IV.

After the death of Alexander the Great, his Greek kingdom was divided into four empires.  One of these was the Seleucids of the Middle East.  Antiochus IV was one of the kings in this kingdom.  He ruled in the middle of the second century BC.  He fits the sequence of kings and the activities of the “vile person” of Daniel 11 quite well.  But the events described in the last part of Daniel 11 do not fit known history.  Critics therefore propose:

(A) That the book of Daniel was written in the time of Antiochus IV;
(B) That Daniel was written in response to the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV;
(C) That the evil king in Daniel is Antiochus IV, and
(D) That the events in Daniel 11, that do not fit history, are the guesswork of the uninspired writer of Daniel.

Daniel 7 and 8

Critics transfer this interpretation to Daniel 7 and 8 as well, and interpret the evil horn-king in these chapters also as Antiochus IV (the Maccabean thesis).  As one critic wrote:

Daniel was written during the period of the Maccabees, in the middle of the 2nd century B.C., or about 400 years after the events it describes.  Its origin is betrayed in chapter 11, when Daniel supposedly prophesies about the future.

Conservatives, on the other hand, base their interpretation of Daniel mostly on Daniel 2, 7 and 8, and often find it difficult to explain Daniel 11.

Interpretation

Critics do not accept that the future can be known. They believe that the evil king in Daniel 11 was the Greek king Antiochus IV.  The current article defends the conservative interpretation of Daniel 11.There are no animals in the vision of Daniel 11.  The Persian kingdom is identified by name (11:2), but none of the later kingdoms or kings are named.  Instead, the names “king of the south” and “king of the north” are used; each describing an entire kingdom consisting of a whole series of kings.  The reader of Daniel 11 has to identify the individual kings by comparing the events described in the prophecy with actual history.

Interpreters generally agree on the interpretation of Daniel 11:1-13:

Persian Kings
The chapter opens with a description of individual Persians kings, concluding with Xerxes, who attacked Greece (11:2).  By virtue of his failed attack on the Greeks, he brought the Greek nation onto the ‘world’ scene.

Greek kings
King of the NorthThe prophecy then jumps over the next 150 years of Persian rule to the first Greek king—the “mighty king” (Alexander the Great) (11:3).  His kingdom was divided into four divisions after his death (11:4).  Verses 5 to 13 describe key events in the history of two of the four divisions, namely those divisions that were threats to Judea.  To the north of Judea was the “king of the north;” the Seleucid kings of the Middle East.  To the south was the “king of the south,” namely the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt.  The actions of the Ptolemies and Seleucids, as described in these verses, are fairly consistent with what we know today as their history.

Antiochus III

Verse 14 refers to the “breakers of your people.”  Here interpretations diverge.  But it is generally agreed that verses 14 to 19 describe Antiochus III.  To quote a critical scholar:

Daniel 11:2-20 is a very accurate & historically corroborated sequence of events from the third year (10:1) of the Persian era up to the predecessor of Antiochus IV: some 366 years!  Only the names and dates are missing.  Most of the details are about the conflicts between the kings of the South (the Ptolemies of Egypt) and the kings of the North (the Seleucids of Mesopotamia/ Syria).  The Seleucids are shown to become stronger and stronger (despite some setbacks) …  Of course, Jerusalem was in the middle and changed hand (197, from Egypt to Syria).

Prince of the covenant

Verse 22 is a critical verse.  The following is a rather literal translation of this verse:

the arms of the flood are overflowed from before him, and are broken; and also the leader (nagid; prince–NASB) of the covenant (YLT)

The text presents a picture of inferior forces (“the arms of the flood“) being defeated by the superior forces of the vile person. The lesser flood is flooded by an even greater flood of arms.  The prince of the covenant is also broken.  In other words, it says that the vile person will:

Flood away the “overflowing forces“ and
Shatter the prince of the covenant.

The current article proposes that the prince of the covenant is Jesus, and that “broken” refers to His death on the Cross.  This conclusion is based on the word links between 11:22 and the prophecy of Christ’s death in Daniel 9:24-27.

Word Links

The word “flood,” as a noun occurs only twice in Daniel—in 9:26 (“Its end shall come with the flood, and to the end there shall be war“) and in 11:22.

The word ‘sar’ (translated “prince”) occurs 11 times in Daniel (8:11, 25; 9:6, 8; 10:13, 20 [twice], 21; 11:5; 12:1).  But the word ‘nagid’, which is also translated “prince,” occurs only in 11:22 and in 9:24-27. In 9:24-27 we find nagid in the phrases “Messiah the Prince” and “the prince who is to come.”  The implication is that “the prince of the covenant” (11:22) is the “Messiah the Prince” (9:25), describing Christ in His earthly incarnate state.

In both 9:24-27 and 11:22 the nagid-prince will be destroyed.  He is “cut off” (9:26) and ”broken” (11:22).

The word covenant occurs in both passages.  Covenant also occurs elsewhere in Daniel, but only in these two passages is a prince connected with the covenant.  Consequently, only the nagid-prince is connected with the covenant.  In 9:26-27 the nagid-prince makes strong the covenant for one week. (See Covenant in Daniel 9:27.)  In 11:22 the nagid-prince of the covenant is broken.  “Covenant” elsewhere in Daniel always refers to the covenant between God and His people (9:4; 11:28, 30, 32).  It is therefore assumed that the covenant in 11:22 also refers to God’s covenant with Israel.

Conclusion

On the basis of these word links it is concluded as follows:

1. The nagid-prince in the two passages refers to the same individual, namely that the Prince of the Covenant is Jesus.
2. The breaking of the prince of the covenant in 11:22 refers to the death of Jesus Christ.
3. The flood in the two passages also refers to the same power: The flood that floods away the “overflowing forces“ in 11:22 (and destroys the city and the sanctuary in 9:26) is the Roman Empire.

Since the events in Daniel 11 are given in their chronological sequence, and since the abomination (11:31) and the persecution of God’s people (11:32-34) are described later in Daniel 11, these events must occur in time after Christ’s death in the first century AD.  These events therefore occur during or after the Roman period, and cannot be the deeds of Antiochus IV.

Jesus confirmed this when He said:

Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet (Daniel 11:31 and 12:11), standing in the holy place“ (Mat 24:15)

Jesus therefore also interpreted the vile person as an anti-God ruler that will arise after His time; not as the Greek king Antiochus IV who lived about 200 years earlier.

Prophecies Compared

We are now able to compare Daniel 11 with the earlier prophecies:

Daniel 11 Daniel 9 Daniel 8 Daniel 7
Persian kings (v2) Persian decree (v25) Ram (v2-4) Bear (v5)
Greek king (v3) Goat (v5-7) Leopard (v6a)
Kings of North and South Goat’s four horns (v8) Leopard’s four heads
Roman flood breaks Nagid of covenant (v22) Nagid cut off (v 25-27) Horizontal expansion (8:9) Fourth beast (v8, 23)
Vile person: profanes temple, set up abomination (v31), persecute for 3½ times (v32-34; 12:7) Little horn: casts temple down, removes daily, transgression of desolation (v8-13) Little horn: persecute God’s people for 3½ limes; (v25)

 

Objections to this interpretation

Antiochus III emphasized

One objection against this interpretation is that Daniel 11 provides much more detail about Antiochus III (vv 15-19); the father and predecessor of Antiochus IV, than about any previous king.  Critics argue that Antiochus III is emphasized to identify the subsequent king (the vile person) as his son Antiochus IV.  To this reasoning we respond as follows:

The reign of the fourth Persian king (Xerxes) was also emphasized earlier in verse 2 of Daniel 11, but not to identify the Persian king that would follow after him.  Xerxes was emphasized because his unsuccessful wars against Greece was a key turning point in history that shifted the balance of power in the known world from Mede-Persia to Greece.  After Xerxes was mentioned in verse 2, the prophecy immediately jumps over the next 150 years during which seven Persian kings reigned (Arlaxerxes I, Darius II, Xerxes II, Artaxerxes II, Artaxerxes Ill, Arses, and Darius III), to the first Greek emperor; Alexander the Great (11:3).

We then note that Antiochus III’s unsuccessful war against the Romans, as described in Daniel 11, was similarly a key turning point in history.  It shifted the balance of power from the Greek Empire to Rome.  As a result, Antiochus and his sons had to pay penalties to the Romans, and were left subject to the growing dominance of Rome.

Both the reigns of Xerxes and Antiochus III were therefore turning points in history that shifted the balance of power in favor of the next empire.  These two reigns are emphasized in the text of Daniel 11 for this reason; not to identify the kings that follow them.

In the case of Xerxes we note, once the key turning point has been reached, that the prophecy jumps over the next 150 years of Persian rule to the next empire.  This principle applies equally to the shift from the Greek to the Roman empires.  After Antiochus III’s unsuccessful war against Rome, the prophecy jumps over the next 170 years, during which several Greek kings reigned, to the next empire (Rome).  11:19 is then a description of the death of Antiochus III, while 11:22 describes the death of Christ 200 years later.

This principle is also noted when Daniel 7 and 8 are compared.  The vision in Daniel 7 mentions Babylon, but the vision in Daniel 8, which was received only two years later (compare 7:1 and 8:1) does not.  The reason is that the key turning point, that shifted the balance of world power from Babylon to Mede-Persia, was reached between these two dates.  This was the war between the Medes and the Persians, which resulted in the prophesied Cyrus becoming supreme ruler of both the Medes and the Persians.

Conclusion: Antiochus III is emphasized because his reign was a turning point in history; not to identify the next king.

Roman Empire is not mentioned

A second objection is that the Roman Empire is not mentioned in Daniel 11.  Daniel 11 continues, without an intervening empire, from Antiochus III to the vile person.

To this objection we respond in the same way as to the same question in Daniel 8, namely that the evil horn-king of Daniel 8 represents both the Roman Empire and the evil horn that arises from it.  The same principle applies to Daniel 11: The symbol of the evil king includes the Roman Empire, symbolized by the flood (11:22), and anti-God power that arose from it.  To explain further:

Daniel 7 describes a fourth empire, followed by a horn-king that seeks to exterminate God’s people and God’s message.  But even in Daniel 7 the emphasis is on this anti-God ruler.  Daniel 7 describes the fourth empire in only two verses, but allows 6 verses for the evil horn.

Daniel 8 does not mention the Roman Empire directly.  Political Rome is mentioned only indirectly in the initial horizontal expansion of the little horn (8:9).  The religious phase is represented by the subsequent vertical growth of the horn.  Daniel 8 uses the horn-king for both the Roman Empire and worldwide anti-God ruler.  Nearly all the attention in Daniel 8 is on the religious phase.

Daniel 11 continues this pattern by representing both the Roman Empire and the anti-God ruler as a single symbol; the despicable person.  Political Rome is seen only as the flood that flows away the “overflowing forces” and also flows away the “prince of the covenant” (11:22).  By far most of the descriptions in Daniel 11 are about the anti-God king.

To this we must add the principle in these prophecies that, once the prophecies reach a key turning point in history, the prophecy jumps over the remaining kings of that empire to the next empire.  Daniel 11:19-22 can be interpreted as a jump from Antiochus III to the Roman Empire.

As mentioned before, the sole purpose of these prophecies, including the first four kingdoms, is to locate to the worldwide anti-God ruler in time.  Moving from Daniel 2 to 7 to 8 to 11, the emphasis on the political powers reduces in each later prophecy, while the emphasis on the anti-God power keeps increasing.

Conclusion
The wars of Antiochus III were a key turning point in history.  At that point the prophecy jumps over the remaining Greek rulers to the Roman Empire, represented by the symbol of the vile person, that first overflows “the arms of the flood” (Greek Empire) and also breaks the Prince of the covenant.

Antiochus IV fits.

A third objection is that Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings in Daniel 11.  Studies by the current author (comparing Daniel 11 to the history of the Seleucids kings as it is available on internet) have confirmed the majority interpretation up to 11:19, where Antiochus III dies.  The description of the vile person starts in 11:21.  Therefore, if 11:20 describes Seleucus IV (and not Heliodorus), then Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings.

Critics also correctly argue that the descriptions of the “vile person” in the verses after 11:21 fits the actions of Antiochus IV.  These include his double invasion of Egypt (compare 11:25, 29), and the persecution of God’s people.

For critics these are conclusive evidence that the vile person is Antiochus IV, and not the Roman Empire or some later ruler.

This is acknowledged, but, on the other hand, the description of the “vile person” exceeds Antiochus IV.  For instance, Antiochus never gained authority or ruled through deceit (v21).  He did not distribute the plunder (v24).  He did not magnify himself above every god or not had regard for the god of his fathers, nor for any god (v36-37).  And, as all agree, the events of the “time of the end” (v40-45) do not fit history at all.  As Desmond Ford noted:

Verses 21-35 fit his (Antiochus’s) time perfectly, but let it be noted that this interpretation by no means exhausts the passage (p 144; Daniel and the coming King).

For more detail, see Does Antiochus IV fit the profile?

Antiochus IV is a type.

Daniel 11 may therefore be understood as two stories intertwined:  The first story starts with Persia and continues until and including Antiochus IV.  But while discussing Antiochus IV it jumps to the second story, which is of a future and worldwide evil king.  This story continues until Michael stands up (12:1-3).

We see the same double meaning in Joel, where the prophet describes a local locust plague, but unexpectedly jumps to the day of the Lord.  Isaiah 14 jumps from the king of Babylon to Lucifer, without interruption (14:4, 12).  Ezekiel 28 moves from the king of Tyre (v12) to an “anointed cherub who covers” (v14).  It is also similar to Matthew 24, where Jesus combined the description of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the end of the world into a single story.  As another example, John the Baptist was a first representation of the Elijah to come.

We then conclude as follows:

The “vile person” is a symbol, and not a literal prediction.  It is a symbol of both the Roman Empire and its anti-God successor.

Antiochus IV is only a partial fulfillment of anti-God successor.  He is a type of the ultimate fulfilment of the final and much larger worldwide anti-God ruler that will arise after the time of the Roman Empire.

Why did God also reflect the events of Antiochus IV in Daniel 11?  Perhaps His purpose was, as the Jews see these events fulfilled in Antiochus IV, that they would accept the book of Daniel as inspired and expect the coming of the Messiah as predicted in Daniel 9.

For a more specific identification of the evil horn-king, please read the article on The Seven Headed Beast in Revelation.

God is in control.

This article therefore supports the view that the book of Daniel was written before the time of Antiochus IV, and that the prophecies are real predictions of future events.  God is in control of history:

There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days” (2:28).

The Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes” (5:21).

NEXT:  Antiochus Does Not Fit the Description: In support of the current article, this article shows that Antiochus IV does not fit the specific characteristics of Daniel’s evil king.  Summary of this article

Jesus is the firstborn of all creation – Colossians 1:15

Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15).  The purpose of this article is to determine what this means.

1. Summary of this article

1.1 Jesus is part of Creation.

That Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” means that He is part of creation. 

Since “by Him all things were created,” it is possible to argue that Jesus is not a created being, but that does not necessarily follow.  Absolute phrases, such as “all things,” are sometimes qualified by their contexts:  Technically, Jesus is included in “all things,” but He did not create Himself. Similarly, in verse 17, Jesus is before “all things,” but Jesus was not before Himself.  In this context Jesus is excluded from “all things.” Consequently, to say that Jesus created “all things” does not prove that Jesus is not part of “creation.”

It is proposed here that Jesus is part of creation, but not a created being; for He was “born;” not created.  Born and created are sometimes used as synonyms, but John emphasized that Jesus was begotten by the Father, while all other things were created.  He is the “only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:7).  What this means is beyond human understanding, for it is hidden in the infinity of God. 

1.2 Firstborn means Jesus was the first to exist.

Firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 means that Jesus was the first in time to exist.  This conclusion is justified as follows:

Firstborn” literally means the one born first. 

Firstborn” is also occasionally used figuratively in the Old Testament, meaning ‘first in importance’, but the dominant meaning is the one literally born first.

In the New Testament “firstborn” always means literally first in time.

Twice “firstborn” is used literally for people born first (Luke 2:7; Heb. 11:28).

Twice Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), which means that He was the first in time to be resurrected to eternal life.

God brought “the firstborn (Jesus) into the world” (Heb. 1:6; cf. 1:1), which refers to Jesus becoming a human being.  In this verse “firstborn” describes Jesus’ prior to His incarnation, and therefore implies that He was first is time. 

God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3) to set the creation free “into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v21).  In this way Jesus became “the firstborn among many brethren” (v29). He literally was the first Son of God.

Jesus is the Old Testament Wisdom.

God brought Wisdom forth in the beginning. Wisdom worked with God in establishing all things (Pro. 8:22-31). The closest and most commonly accepted background for Colossians 1:15-16a is this Old Testament Wisdom. This implies that “the firstborn of all creation” refers to Jesus being “brought forth” “in the beginning.” In other words, Jesus is “firstborn” because He was first in time. 

The immediate context defines “firstborn” as first in time.

The phrase “the firstborn of all creation” must be interpreted in the immediate context:

He is … the firstborn of all creation,
for by Him all things were created…
He is before all things.” (1:15-17 NASB).

From this the following conclusions are possible:

Firstly, the word “for” means that Jesus is the firstborn because by Him all things were created. In other words, He is “firstborn” because He is before all things; literally first in time. 

Secondly, verses 15 to 17 form a unit, expressing a single thought.  Then the phrase “He is … the firstborn of all creation” can be understood as equivalent to “He is before all things;” literally first to exist.

Thirdly, “all things” include time itself.  This means that there was no time or object or thing before God “brought forth” His Son, and created “all things” through His Son.

The beginning of the creation

Revelation 3:14 contains a very similar statement:

The firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15);
The beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14);

The similarity implies that the “firstborn” is equivalent to the “beginning,” which again implies that Jesus was the first to exist. 

1.3 All things have been created “in” Jesus.

The second word of Colossians 1:16 is the Greek word “en.”  This means “in Him all things were created.” It is difficult to explain how the universe can be created “in” (within) the Only Begotten Son of God.  But it is equally difficult to understand how “in Him all things hold together” (v17):  These things are beyond human understanding.

What we learn from the fact that “in Him all things were created” is that an unexplainable, but close relationship exists between the Only Begotten Son and the creation.  God “brought forth” (Proverbs 8:24, 25) the Son to bring forth the universe. 

The message of the Colossian false teachers was that Jesus is great, but He is only one of many great ones.  To conclude, as the Jehovah Witness do, that Jesus is “a god,” is consistent with the Colossian heresy.  Jesus is not one of many; He is the Only Begotten Son of God.  God has begotten Him to bring the creation into existence through and in Him.

This concludes the summary. The points above will now be explained in more detail:

2. Prōtotokos

Prototokos

Firstborn” is translated from the Greek word prōtotokos (protos = first; tokos = born).  Literally, it means the one born first.  For example, Mary “brought forth her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7), namely Jesus.

The firstborn son, in the Jewish tradition, also received certain rights and privileges:

“In Jewish society the rights and responsibilities of being a firstborn son resulted in considerable prestige and status. The firstborn son, for example, received twice as much in inheritance as any other offspring.” [J.P. Louw and E.A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, Second Edition, 2 Volumes (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), 1:10:43.]

Due to the prestige and status of the firstborn son, the term “firstborn” over time also came to be used figuratively as a designation of preeminence—one that stands out above his peers—for example:

► Manasseh was born to Joseph first, but Ephraim, his younger brother, was “firstborn” due to his position as given by their father Jacob (Gen. 48:13–20, Jer. 31:9).  Exodus 4:22 similarly speaks of Israel as God’s firstborn. Israel (Jacob) and Ephraim in these verses represent the nation of Israel.  The meaning would be that Israel has an exalted position among the nations.  It is as if the nations were all children and Israel was the firstborn among them: The one most highly esteemed in the eyes of God.

► David was the youngest son of Jesse, but God promised, “I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 89:27).  Here “firstborn” is explained by the phrase “the highest of the kings of the earth.”

► In Job 18:13 we read of a disease that is “the first-born of death.”

► Isaiah 14:30 refers to “the first-born of the poor,” meaning the poorest of the poor.

3. Part of Creation

firstborn

As already stated, prototokos may mean first in time or first in importance, but in both cases the firstborn is part of the group, for instance:



► The firstborn son is literally the first son, but part of the group of children.
► Jesus is literally “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5). He is part of the group that is literally resurrected from death.
► Jesus is literally “firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29), which means that He is one of the brethren.
► David is figuratively God’s “firstborn,” but remains one of “the kings of the earth.”

Therefore, since Jesus is “firstborn of all creation,” He is part of creation.

Some argue that “firstborn” must not be understood literally as first in time, but figuratively; as first in importance.  But even then the “firstborn” remains part of creation.

Since “by Him all things were created,” some argue that Jesus is not part of creation, and that Jesus Himself was therefore not created.  Another statement that makes such a distinction between Jesus and all created things is Revelation 5:13, where “every created thing” worship “Him who sits on the throne, and … the Lamb (Jesus).”

But in these verses “all things” is qualified by the context. Technically, Jesus is part of “all things,” but He did not create Himself. In verse 17 Jesus is before “all things,” but Jesus was not before Himself.  He Himself is therefore excluded from “all things.”  Other examples of this principle are:

The phrase “all things,” without qualification, includes God, but obviously God is here excluded from “all things.”
1 Corinthians 15:27 reads, “All things are put in subjection,” but then continues, “it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him”. 
► The Septuagint version of Genesis 3:20 says that Eve is “the mother of all living.” But Eve was not the mother of Adam and herself.  The context of this statement excludes them from “all living.”

So, when we read that “by Him all things were created” (Col. 1:16), that logically excludes God and Jesus.  In other words, this phrase says nothing about them. It cannot be used to prove that Jesus is not part of creation.

Since verse 15 explicitly states that Jesus is part of creation, some argue that He is a created being; the first being ever created.  That proposal is not accepted here, for He was “born;” not created. This is reflected by the term “born” in “first-born”.  The article Only Begotten argues that His Son was not created, but eternally begotten by the Father.  He is the “only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:7).  “Begotten” must be understood different from created.  He was not born like a human child is born, but God brought forth His Son.  What this means is difficult to imagine, for it is hidden in the infinity of God.  For a further discussion, see Only Begotten.

4. Jesus was the first to exist.

The word “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 may be understood, either:

Literally, namely that Jesus was the first to exist, or
Figuratively, namely that Jesus is the most important.

Most non-literal translations render the phrase “firstborn of all creation” as meaning that He is superior over all creation, for instance:

Firstborn over all creation” (NIV);
Preeminent over all creation” (New Heart English Bible).

It is proposed here that “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 means that Jesus was the first in time to exist.  This conclusion is justified as follows:

4.1 “Firstborn” in the Old Testament

Firstborn” is occasionally used figuratively in the Old Testament, meaning first in importance, but the dominant use is literally as the one born first.

4.2 “Firstborn” in the New Testament.

According to Biblehub the word prototokos (firstborn – Strong’s #4416) occurs 8 times in the New Testament.  One of those is Colossians 1:15; “the firstborn of all creation.”  This section analyzes the other 7 instances to establish the meaning of “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15. 

Twice Literal

Twice “firstborn” is used literally for people born first:

1 Mary “brought forth her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7) Jesus.
2 Moses “kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them” (Heb. 11:28).  This refers back to the exodus from Egypt.

Firstborn from the dead

Resurrection of the Dead

Parallel to Jesus being the “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15), He is also twice called “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5).  He is “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

The implication is that believers will be resurrected because He was resurrected first.  Jesus triumphantly said, “I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18). 

Some people were raised from death before Jesus was, but to our knowledge they all died again.  Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” in the resurrection to eternal life: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body” (1 Cor. 15:42).

Firstborn from the dead” must therefore be understood as first in time.  He is “the firstborn from the dead” because He was the first to be raised to eternal life.  There is also a causal relationship: Just as He was brought forth and all others created through Him, Jesus was resurrected and others are resurrected through Him (1Th. 4:16).  

Hebrews

The word firstborn is also twice used by the unknown writer of Hebrews.  God brought “the firstborn (Jesus) into the world” (Heb. 1:6; cf. 1:1), which refers to Jesus becoming a human being.  “Firstborn” here refers to Jesus’ existence prior to His incarnation, and therefore probably refers to the fact that He is first is time.   The second time “firstborn” is used in Hebrew is:

You have come to Mount Zion and to … the heavenly Jerusalem, and … to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:22-23).

Since the phrase “church of the firstborn” appears in the same letter, and since “firstborn” is never used for Christians in the New Testament, “firstborn” in this phrase is understood to have the same meaning as in 1:6, namely as a reference to Jesus, and therefore of Jesus as first in time.

8:29 Firstborn among many brethren

Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).

Verse 3 of the same chapter refers to God “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.”  This means that He was God’ “own Son” before He became a human being.  He sent His Son so that “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v21).  Verses 14 to 23 refer to Christians as “sons of God” or “children of God” about six times.  The “brethren” in verse 29 therefore consist of:

(A) Jesus, who was God’s “own Son” already before He became a human being, and 
(B) Christians, who became the “sons of God” through Jesus. 

This suggests that Jesus was “firstborn” in the sense of first in time.

Only Begotten Son

We have now discussed all 7 occurrences of “firstborn” in the New Testament—apart from Colossians 1:15—and we have discovered that in every instance it means first in time; not first in importance.  “Firstborn” is occasionally used figuratively in the Old Testament as meaning ‘most important’, but never in the New Testament. It uses this word only in the literal sense of being first in time.

We also notice that “firstborn” is twice used for people, but six times for Jesus.  It is surprising how often this term is applied to Jesus.   “Firstborn,” used for Jesus, may be a synonym for the phrase which John elsewhere uses for Jesus, namely the “only begotten from the Father.”  He is not only born first; He is the only One born of God.

4.3 Proverbs 8

Another way to think about Colossians 1:15 is to find its background in the Old Testament:

“The closest and most commonly accepted background for the description in Colossians 1:15-16a is the OT picture of personified female Wisdom, the image of God’s goodness (Wisdom 7:26) who worked with God in establishing all other things (Pro. 3:19), that Wisdom was created by God in the beginning (Pro. 8:22; Sirach 24:9).” [Raymond E. Brown, “An Introduction to the New Testament,” The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 803-804. 27 Burney, 173. 28 Ibid., 173-174.]

Proverbs 8 speaks about Wisdom that was “brought forth” (vv. 24-25) “from everlasting … from the beginning” (v22).  The Greek translation of the Old Testament, that was used by the apostles, and from which they most often quoted (the LXX or Septuagint), translates “brought forth” in these verses as “born.” 

If Paul thought of Jesus as the Wisdom of Proverbs 8, and if “the firstborn of all creation” is Paul’s interpretation of Proverbs 8, then Paul, when he referred to Jesus as “firstborn,” spoke of Jesus’ preexistence (His existence before He became a human being).  This supports the conclusion above that “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 identifies Jesus as first in time.

4.4 The Immediate Context

The phrase “the firstborn of all creation” must be understood in the immediate context, summarized as follows:

He is … the firstborn of all creation,
for by Him all things were created…
He is before all things.” (1:15-17 NASB)

Firstly, “by Him all things were created” refers to the creation event; the beginning of time. The first word in verse 16 is “because” or “for.”  This word means that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” because “by Him all things were created,” including time.  In other words, He is “firstborn” because He is before all things; literally first in time.

Secondly, verses 15 to 17 form a unit, expressing a single thought.  Then the phrase “He is … the firstborn of all creation” can be understood as equivalent to “He is before all things;” literally first to exist.

Thirdly, since “all things” include time itself, there was no time or object or thing before God “brought forth” His Son, and created “all things” through His Son.

4.5 The beginning of the creation of God (Rev. 3:14)

Revelation 3:14 contains a very similar statement:

The firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15);
The beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14);

The similarity implies that the “firstborn” is equivalent to the “beginning,” which again implies that Jesus was the first to exist.  There are, however, some dispute about the translation of the word arché as “the beginning.

One view interprets arché as that Jesus is the “Origin or Source” of creation (e.g. the Berean Study Bible.  However, the phrase “the beginning of creation of God” makes a distinction between God and Jesus. (It means that the creation belongs to God and Jesus is the Beginning of the creation.) God is therefore the Originator and Source of the creation; not Jesus.  This is also clear from the definition of God as the One “out of whom are all things” (1Cor. 8:6, literal).  

Another view, provided by the NIV, finds Jesus to be “the ruler of God’s creation.”  But, just taking the first 8 translations of this verse on Biblehub, it shows that the NIV translations is fairly unique:

New International Version – the ruler of God’s creation;
New Living Translation – the beginning of God’s new creation;
English Standard Version – the beginning of God’s creation;
Berean Study Bible – the Originator of God’s creation;
Berean Literal Bible – the Beginning of God’s creation;
New American Standard Bible – the Beginning of the creation of God;
King James Bible – beginning of the creation of God;
Christian Standard Bible – the originator of God’s creation:

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives 5 meanings of arché:

(1) the beginning of all things or of something specific,
(2) the first in a series of persons or things,
(3) the active cause of something,
(4) the extremity of a thing, or
(5) that which holds the first place, such as a ruler

For the following reasons it is proposed here that arché in Revelation 3:14 is correctly translated as “the beginning,” namely as a reference to time, meaning that Jesus was the first in time:

Out of the 56 occurrences in the New Testament, the NASB translates arché 38 times (68%) as “beginning” and 7 times (13%) as rulers or rule or principalities, as originator of an action.  The dominant meaning of arché is “the beginning.”

█ The New Testament never uses arché for the singular ruler.  Another word (archon) is used for “ruler.” For instance, Jesus is the “ruler (archon) of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5)

3The expression “the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev. 3:14) is probably an allusion to Proverbs 8:22: “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way.”  If this is true, then arché in the phrase “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14) means first in time; not ruler or origin or source.

4.6 Summary

In this section the following reasons were provided to support the conclusion that “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 means that Jesus was the first to exist:

4.1 In the Old Testament the dominant meaning of “firstborn” is literally as the one born first.
4.2 In the New Testament “firstborn” always means first in time.
4.3 Jesus is Wisdom, whom God “brought forth” “in the beginning,” and
who worked with God to create all things.
4.4 The immediate context identifies the “Firstborn of all creation” as “before all things” because “by Him all things were created.”
4.5The firstborn of all creation” is very similar to “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14), which implies that “firstborn” is equivalent to “beginning.”

In conclusion, the Son is “firstbornin terms of time. The meaning of ‘preeminent over’ cannot be found in the phrase “the firstborn from the dead.”

All things have been created “in” Jesus.

The second word of Colossians 1:16 is the Greek word “en.”  The NASB translates en here as “by”, but perhaps this is not the best translation:

█ The primary meaning of en is “in.”
█ “En” appears twice more in verses 16 and 17 (“in the heavens” and “in Him”), and in both instances the NASB translates it as “in.” 

So “in Him all things were created” could have been an alternative translation.  This is how the NIV, ESV and many other translations read.

By him” can be misunderstood as meaning that Jesus is the source of creation.  Rather, Jesus is the means by which God creates, as indicated later in that same verse: “All things have been created through Him.” See God created all things through His Son.

It is difficult to explain how the universe can be created “in” (within) the Only Begotten Son of God: 

█ Some propose that the Only Begotten Son is the pattern after which the universe has been created.
█ Others propose that the creation came forth from Him.  In other words, God begat (symbolically) the Only Begotten Son, and the universe came forth from within the Son.

But it is equally difficult to understand how “in Him all things hold together” (v17):  These things humans are not able to understand, for God is beyond understanding.  We cannot explain why God exists.  We cannot explain how the universe can be infinite.  Nor are we able to understand how He created.  Therefore, let us be content to interpret the Bible literally on this point, and confess our ignorance.

What we learn from the phrase “in Him all things were created” is that an unexplainable, but close relationship exists between the Only Begotten Son and the creation.  God “brought forth” (Proverbs 8:24, 25) the Son to bring forth the universe.   

The phrase analyzed by this article is found in the letter to the Colossians. The apostle Paul penned this letter to refute what is generically known as the Colossian heresy.  In general, the false teachers in Colossae argued that Jesus is great, but He is only one of many great ones.  This is perhaps similar to the Jehovah Witness understanding of Jesus as “a god.”  To conclude, as the Jehovah Witness do, that Jesus is “a god,” is to be consistent with the Colossian heresy.  As argued above, Jesus is not one of many; He is the Only Begotten Son of God.  God has begotten Him to bring the creation into existence through Him.  He is that which exists.  All else came forth from Him.

Articles in the Christology series: Is Jesus God?

For an overview of the articles, the reader may next read the summary, which is the 13th article, also called Jesus is not God, but He is God.

  1.    The three views of the Son 
  2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God. 
  3.    Jesus in Colossians
  4.    Jesus in Philippians: Did He empty Himself of equality with God? 
  5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
  6.    Jesus is not God.  
  7.    God is the Head of Christ
  8.    Jesus is called God. 
  9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God. 
 10.  God created all things through His Son. 
 11.  Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?  
       Worship verses in the New Testament   
 12.  Jesus has equality with God. 
 13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles 
 14.  Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?



Does the book of Revelation present Jesus as God?

John 1:1

The writer of Revelation wrote in John 1:1 as follows:

(a) In the beginning was the Word,
(b) and the Word was with God,
(c) and the Word was God.

John 1:14 identifies “the Word” as Jesus.  In John 1:1(b) “God” refers to the Father.  The statement that “the Word was with God,” makes a distinction between God and Jesus, as if Jesus is not God.  But this seems to be contradicted by the statement in (c) that “the Word was God.”  Different people explain this apparent contradiction differently.

Theos

The Greek word translated “God” is theos.  There are at least three possible ways in which theos is used:

(1) As a common noun (group name) for exalted beings;
(2) As a common noun (group name) for the Trinity;
(3) As a proper noun (a name identifying one specific Being), namely the Father;

The question is in what way or ways theos is used in John 1:1.  These three possible uses of theos, and their implications, may be explained as follows:

Theos as an exalted being

The Jehovah Witnesses propose that Jesus is a created being; the first created being that created all other beings; nevertheless, a created being.  Their New World Translation therefore renders John 1:1(c) as, “the Word was a god.”  They find support for this interpretation in the following:

Firstly, the Greeks used theos for their multitude of gods.  The deities that the ancient Greeks believed were hardly anything at all like the God of the Bible. Instead, they were essentially just immortal, glorified humans with supernatural powers.  Theos may therefore be used for any real or factitious being that is exalted above others.  The New Testament sometimes uses theos in this sense.  It several times uses theos for “gods made with hands” (Acts 19:26), and even once for Satan, as “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4).

Secondly, the original Greek text of the New Testament does not differentiate between upper and lower case letters.  Theos may therefore be translated either as “God” or as “god.”

Thirdly, the Greek language has a definite article (the).  Theos in (b) has the definite article, and literary translated reads “the God.” Theos in (c) does not have the definite article, and could therefore literally be translated “a god.”

The translation “the Word was a god” implies that Jesus is one of perhaps many similar created but exalted beings.

Theos as group name for the Trinity

When we say “Peter is a human,” then “Peter” is a name that identifies a specific being (WHO he is).  “Human,” on the other hand, is a common noun that explains WHAT Peter is.  Similarly, when we say “Jesus is God,” then “Jesus” is a name that identifies one specific being.  “God” is a common noun that explains WHAT Jesus is.

The Jehovah Witnesses understand theos in John 1:1(c) as a common noun for exalted beings.  An alternative understanding of theos is that it adopts a more specific meaning in the New Testament.  Specifically, some propose that theos is used in the New Testament as a common noun (a group name) for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  If that is the true, then theos in John 1:1(b), which refers to the Father, and theos in John 1:1(c), which refers to the Son, have exactly the same meaning.  Then theos in these statements describe both the Father and the Son as “Godhead,” a term which we can borrow from Colossians 2:8.  With this understanding of theos it is concluded that Jesus is co-equal with the Father; two Persons, but one divine Being.

Theos as a proper name for the Father exclusively

Others propose that theos in the New Testament adopts an even more specific meaning, namely that theos is used as a proper noun (a name) for the Father exclusively.  It is then proposed that John 1:1 uses theos in two ways:

In John 1:1(b) theos is used as a proper noun (a name) for the Father exclusively.

In John 1:1(c) theos is used as a common noun to describe Jesus as the Christian God; the One whom Christians worship, admire and obey.  The Greeks who worshiped Zeus and Apollos and many other gods, but Christians worship Jesus.

Purpose

This is a huge topic, which is discussed in a series of articles on this website.  One of the considerations, to decide between these alternatives, is how the New Testament uses the term theos.  The purpose of this article is particularly to determine how the book of Revelation uses theos:

Is theos used as a common noun or as a name?  Stated differently, is theos used as a name for one specific being (a proper noun), or for group of beings (a common noun)?

Specifically, is Jesus described as theos (God), or is theos only used for the Father?

Theos is used about 100 times in Revelation.  Most instances do not provide further identification, for instance:

The great wine press of the wrath of God” (14:19), or
The wrath of God” (15:1).

This article only considers uses of theos in Revelation that provide further identification that help us to understand who is intended.

Jesus is distinct from God.

(1) Revelation opens with the words,

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him …” (1:1).

This immediately makes a distinction between God and Jesus, which means that theos (God) is used for the Father exclusively.  The following further examples show that Revelation consistently and clearly makes a distinction between God and Jesus:

(2) In the next verse John testifies of “the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” (1:2).  There are many similar phrases in Revelation, making a distinction between God and Jesus:

the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9);
the commandments of God and … the testimony of Jesus” (12:17);
the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (14:12);
their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God” (20:4).

(3) Speaking about Jesus, John wrote “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (1:6).

(4) Jesus similarly refers to God as “My God.” He said, for instance, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God” (3:12, 13; cf. 3:2;).

(5) In Revelation 5 Jesus appears in the throne room as a Lamb.  Then “they sang a new song, saying … You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe” (4:9-10).

(6)a great multitude … standing before the throne and before the Lamb, … and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (7:9-10).

(7) The woman of Revelation 12 “gave birth to a son … and her child was caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5).  (To see that this Child is Jesus, compare this verse with 19:15.)

(8) After Michael won the victory over Satan, “I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come’” (12:10).

(9) The 144000 “have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (14:4).

(10) Those who have “a part in the first resurrection … will be priests of God and of Christ” (20:6).

(11) John was given a vision of the New Jerusalem.  He “saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22).  Similarly, “the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23).

(12) John saw “a river of the water of life …coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1).  “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it (the New Jerusalem)” (22:3).

These examples show clearly that Revelation consistently makes a distinction between God and Jesus.  Theos is used about 100 times in Revelation.  The 12 points above show that in about 17 instances theos (God) refers to the Father exclusively.  In not a single instance in Revelation is theos used for Jesus.  This means that when we read of “God” in Revelation, we must always assume that the writer refers to the Father specifically.

God and Jesus are often mentioned together.  God communicates with the Church through Jesus (1:1).  Jesus make us priests to His God (1:6), but they become priests of both God and of Christ (20:6).  Jesus purchased for God with His blood men from every tribe (4:9-10).  Together God and Jesus are the temple and the light of the New Jerusalem (21:22, 23).  Together they will rule over the New Jerusalem (22:1, 3).  (The throne is a symbol of the right to rule.)  They are even worshiped together at the end of Revelation 5, but they are distinct.

Conclusion: Theos (God) is used in Revelation as a name (proper noun) for the Father exclusively.  Theos is not used for Jesus.

Him who sits on the throne

Further examples of the distinction between God and Jesus can be found if we recognize:

(1) That “Him who sits on the throne” is God, and
(2) That Jesus is presented as distinct from “Him who sits on the throne.”

The word “throne” is found about 100 times in the Bible.  Fifty of those are in Revelation.  The throne is therefore a central concept in Revelation.  Much happen “around the throne” (4:3, 6; 5:11; 7:11, etc.), “before the throne” (4:5, 6, 10; 7:9, 11, etc.) and comes “from the throne” (4:5; 16:17; 22:1; etc.).

Revelation 4 may be called the throne room chapter.  The word “throne” appears at least 10 times in that one chapter alone.  Jesus is absent from this chapter; He will only appear in chapter 5.  The description of God in Revelation 4 therefore refers to the Father only.  In that chapter John saw:

A throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance” (4:2-3)

This is not a very specific description, but then we must remember that John also wrote that “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18).  God certainly manifests Himself in different forms at different times, for instance in this vision, but God Himself cannot be seen, for He exists beyond the physical realm. “God is spirit” (John 4:24).

After the introduction of “One sitting on the throne,” He is often called “Him who sits on the throne” (4:9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16).

Him who sits on the throne” is God:

This already clear from the context in Revelation 4, where “Him who sits on the throne” (4:10) is called “God” (4:8, 11).  This is confirmed by the following:

The “great multitude” “cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne’” (7:9-10). 

A few verses later it says that the “great multitude” “are before the throne of God” (7:15).

The son of the woman of Revelation 12 “was caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5).

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne” (19:4).

Jesus is distinct from “Him who sits on the throne.

This is already shown by Revelation 4, where Jesus is absent, and where “Him who sits on the throne” is worshiped.  The following confirm the distinction between Jesus and “Him who sits on the throne:”

In Revelation 5 Jesus appears as a Lamb.  “He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (5:7).

At the end of Revelation 5 “every created thing … I heard saying, To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (5:13).

At the return of Christ, the lost masses cry, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16).

The saved “great multitude,” in contrast, stands “before the throne and before the Lamb.”  They “cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (7:9-10).  (Jesus is called “the Lamb” about 30 times in Revelation.)

If “Him who sits on the throne” is God, and if Jesus is distinct from “Him who sits on the throne,” then Jesus is distinct from God, which means that Revelation uses theos (God) to refer to the Father exclusively.

Revelation 22 refers to “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1, 3).  This again makes a distinction between God and Jesus, but now it is the throne also of Jesus.  Revelation 3:21 explains why: Jesus said, “I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).  This is consistent with the frequent message in the New Testament that Jesus sits “at the right hand of God” (e.g. 1 Peter 1:22).  It therefore remains the Father’s throne.

Titles unique for the Father

Revelation 4 introduces the throne room.  In this chapter Jesus is absent.  He only enters the throne room in Revelation 5.  Revelation 4 therefore describes the Father.  In it we find the following description of Him:

4:8 … the four living creatures … day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.” 4:9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 4:10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne (cf. 4:2; 5:1, 13; 6:16; 7:10), and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 4:11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

This quote describes this Being as theos (God) and twice as “Him who sits on the throne.”  This confirms that this quote describes the Father, in distinction to Jesus.  But this quote provides additional descriptions of the Father, namely as:

Who Was and Who Is and Who Is to Come,
The Almighty,
“Him who lives forever and ever” (twice), and
“You created all things

These descriptions are discussed below.

Who Was and Who Is and Who Is to Come

The context in which this title is found in Revelation 2 implies that this refers to the Father, as distinct from Jesus.  The following is further proof:  

Firstly, in Revelation’s introduction, John brings wishes of grace and peace to the seven churches from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (1:4-5).  In these verses the Father is called, “Him who is and who was and who is to come.”

Secondly, Him “who is and who was and who is to come” is also called”Lord God” (1:8; 11:17).  Since it was already shown above that Revelation applies theos (God) exclusively to the Father, the phrase “Lord God” means that this is the Father speaking.  

In 11:17, since the kingdom of the world has already become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, the “to come” is omitted, and the Father is only called, “who are and who were.”

It is proposed here that the title “who are and who were” may be understood as the “I AM WHO I AM” of Exodus 3, where YHVH (Yahweh or Jehovah) identified Himself:

I AM WHO I AM … Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you. … Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD (YHVH).’ This is My name forever” (Ex. 3:14-15)

LORD” in the Old Testament, in capital letters, translates God’s proper name YHVH.  These verse from Exodus explains the meaning of the name YHVH as “I AM WHO I AM.”  This may be understood to mean the One who exists without cause, but Who is the Cause of everything that exists.

Personal note: It always scares me to think about why things exists.  Why is there not nothing?  The answer is that all things exist because God exists.  In fact, He is that which exists.  Everything that exists came from within Him.  But these thoughts scare me.  My entire existence depends on Him.  But then I thank Him for the revelation which He gave of Himself through Jesus Christ.

The Almighty

Almighty” is used about 27 times in the Bible.  It is found 4 times in the Pentateuch, 9 times in Job and also 9 times in Revelation.  This is therefore also an important term in Revelation.  In Revelation this title is never used for Jesus; only for the Father, as is confirmed by the following:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22).

This verse makes a distinction between God and the Lamb.  It also identifies God as “the Almighty,” which means that Jesus is not “the Almighty.” 

We already saw that the contents of the book of Revelation was created by God, and given to Jesus (1:1).  The title “Father” also means that He is the ultimate Source of all things.  As stated above, Jesus referred to the Father as “My God”  (e.g. 3:2).

Further proof that “the Almighty” refers to the Father only is that the title “Him who is and who was and who is to come” and “God.” both of which have already been identified as the Father, are often combined “the Almighty”:

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8).

And the four living creatures… do not cease to say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is The Lord God, The Almighty, Who Was and Who Is and Who Is To Come.’” (4:8)

And the twenty-four elders … worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were” (11:16-17).

Those who had been victorious over the beast … sang … saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty” (15:2-3)

I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments’” (16:7).

The war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14)

I heard something like the voice of a great multitude … saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns” (19:6).

The Word of God … treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (19:13-15).

I saw no temple in it (the New Jerusalem), for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).

Him who lives forever and ever

This title is used of the Father in 4:9, in 4:10 and in 10:6.  In 7:2 He similarly is “the living God.”  He is specifically called “God, who lives forever and ever” in 15:7.  Revelation always uses “God” for the Father exclusively.

In Revelation 1 Jesus says “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” (1:18).  “The Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21), but we must always remember that “just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).  The Father is the ultimate Source of life, but that life flows through the Son to other beings.

 

Creator

It is said of the Father, “You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (4:10-11).  Later we hear:

The angel …  swore by Him who lives forever and ever, Who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it” (10:5-6)

“Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (14:7)

The Father created all things, but again, God created all things through His Son.  Jesus is the Mediator between us and God in all things:

There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tit. 2:5).

Worship

Worship” is another of Revelation’s key words.  This word is found about 150 times in the NASB translation of the entire Bible, of which more than 20 are in Revelation.  What we experience today a war for the minds of the people.  While “all who dwell on the earth will worship” the beast (13:8; 14:9), a strong message goes out world-wide: “Fear God, and give Him glory … worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (14:7).  The Creator alone must be worshiped.  

In Revelation 4—the throne room chapter—“Him who sits on the throne” is worshiped.  Similarly, during the seven last plagues, it is announced:

O Lord God, the Almighty … all the nations will come and worship before you.” (15:3-4)

Twice John fell down before the angel to worship him and twice the angel prevented him from doing so:

Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God” (19:10; cf. 22:9).

Since Revelation reserves the title “God” for the Father, these are instructions to worship the Father only:

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne” (19:4).

All the angels … fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God” (7:11).

The twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God” (11:16).

But in Revelation 5 Jesus is also worshiped:

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (5:8).

In Revelation 5 “every created thing” worships “Him who sits on the throne, and … the Lamb” (5:13-14).

In the article Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God? it is argued that Jesus is not worshiped independent or co-equal with God, but that He is worshiped:

  • Because God instructed the angels to worship Him (Heb. 1:6);
  • Because God gave Him “the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9);
  • To the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11).

Conclusion

In Revelation “Jesus Christ” (1:5) is many times called the “Lamb.”  He is also called “Lord of lords and King of kings” (17:14), “Ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5), “Faithful witness” (1:5), “Faithful and True” (19:11), “Firstborn of the dead” (1:5), “the first and the last” (1:17; 2:8), “One like a son of man” (1:13) and “the Son of God” (2:18).   “His name is called the Word of God” (19:13).

The Word was a god

Jehovah Witnesses point out that Jesus is also called “the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14), and propose that this means that He is a created being.  But the same John, who wrote Revelation, also wrote that Jesus is “the only begotten from the Father” (e.g. John 1:14).  If He was begotten from the Father, then He was not created.  See Only Begotten Son of God.  John is also clear that,

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being” (John 1:3)

If He created all things, then He Himself is not created.  In any case, it is clear from Revelation that Jesus is worshiped with God.  Jesus also said,

All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).

Furthermore, Jesus “has the seven Spirits of God” (3:1; cf. 5:6).  “He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself” (19:12).  For these reasons the New World Translation of John 1:1(c) as “the Word was a god” is not accepted. 

Co-equal

It is, on the other hand, also clear that theos (God) is used exclusively for the Father.

Of the about 100 times that theos is used in Revelation, about 17 instances provide further information that help us to determine who is intended.  In all 17 instances theos is not used as a group name for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but used to refer to the Father exclusively. 

The letter to the Colossians was also analyzed to see how that letter uses theos.  See Is Jesus God? – A study of the letter to the Colossians.  That articles shows that God created all things through Jesus, that Jesus holds all creation together and that Jesus rules over all.  But Colossians also presents Jesus as distinct from God.

Theos is used about 1300 times in the New Testament.  The article Jesus is not God shows many clear examples from the other books of the New Testament that theos is used as a name for the Father only.  Therefore, when we encounter theos (God) in the New Testament, we must assume it refers to the Father exclusively. 

However, in about 7 instances the New Testament refers to Jesus as God, of which John 1:1(c) is the best known.  It is proposed that, in those seven instances, theos is used is a different way, namely to say that Jesus is the One Whom Christians worship and obey. The Greeks who worshiped Zeus and Apollos and many other gods, but Christians worship Jesus.  This does not make Him co-equal with the Father.  The Father alone is God; the Source of all things.  The article Jesus is subordinate to God shows that Jesus was subordinate to God both prior to His birth and after His ascension.  Nevertheless, Jesus is our God, for He is the One whom we worship and admire.

Articles in the Christology series:
Is Jesus God?

  1.    The three views of the Son 
  2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God. 
  3.    Jesus in Colossians
  4.    Jesus in Philippians: Did He empty Himself of equality with God? 
  5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
  6.    Jesus is not God.  
  7.    God is the Head of Christ
  8.    Jesus is called God. 
  9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God. 
 10.  God created all things through His Son. 
 11.  Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?  
       Worship verses in the New Testament   
 12.  Jesus has equality with God. 
 13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles 
 14.  Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?

 


	

Jesus existed prior to His birth and incarnation. He existed in the form of God and had equality with God.

He descended from heaven; sent by God.  To become a human being Jesus emptied Himself of the form of God and of equality with God.

Jesus existed before He became a human being.

The Baptist said, “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me” (John 1:29).

Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

He shared glory with God “before the world was” (John 17:5).

He existed from eternity. 

He is “from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). The “beginning” is the beginning of time.  In other words, there was no time when He was not.

He is before all things” (Col. 1:17).

He descended from heaven.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man” (John 3:13).

 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven … I am the bread of life … I have come down from heaven” (John 6:33-38).

What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” (John 6:62).

I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23).

He came from God.

Jews questioning Jesus
Jews questioning Jesus

I proceeded forth and have come from God” (John 8:42)

I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father” (John 16:28).

God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16)

One hears many times the view that Jesus became God’s begotten Son when He was born as a human.  But John 3:16 indicates that He was God’s only begotten Son even prior to His birth as a human being.

He was sent by God. 

“... God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin” (Romans 8:3).

Later articles will provide many other examples to show that God sent Jesus.  This firstly implies His pre-existence; that He existed prior to becoming a human being.  Secondly this statement implies His subordination to God; not only as human being, but also in His pre-existence.

Incarnation

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14, NIV).

For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7).

Philippians 2

Philippians 2 contains an instructive passage in which Paul compares the existence of Christ through four phases:

(1)    Prior to His birth;
(2)   As a human being;
(3)   His death;
(4)   After His ascension

Prior to His birth Jesus existed in the “form of God” and had “equality with God”.

Jesus “emptied Himself” of the “form of God” and of “equality with God” to become a human being.  He remained the same Person as before, but He became a mere human baby, without knowledge or wisdom.  He was truly and fully human; not part God and part man.

The Cross

His Death was a test to see whether He would remain “obedient to the point of death” (v8).  His entire life was a test of obedience.

After His deathGod highly exalted Him.”  He is worshiped by all.  He is again equal with God.

For a further discussion of this important passage, see the article Jesus emptied Himself.

Summary

Jesus is before all things.  He existed in the form of God and had equality with God.  God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son.  His Jesus came forth from the Father, emptied Himself, descended from heaven, became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  He became a mere human baby, with no knowledge or wisdom.

Articles in the series: Is Jesus God?

1.     The three views of the Son
2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God.  (Current article)
3.    Jesus in Colossians (Next)
4.    Did Jesus empty Himself of equality with God?
5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
6.    Jesus is not God.
7.    God is the Head of Christ.
8.    In the Bible Jesus is called God.
9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God.
10.  God created all things through His Son.
11.  We must worship Jesus.
12.  Jesus has equality with God.
13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles
14. Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?