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.
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.
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,”
“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.
“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.
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” 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).
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.
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?