The Bible teaches that only God may be worshiped (Exo 34:14; Deut 8:19; Matt 4:10; Luke 4:8; Rev 14:7). Similarly, in Revelation, John twice fell down to worship an angel, and both times the angel prevented him, saying:
“Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren … worship God” (Rev 19:10; cf. 22:9).
However, in Revelation 5, describing His enthronement after His ascension, the creatures in God’s throne room worship “the Lamb” (Jesus) together with “Him who sits on the throne” (the Father):
“The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders
fell down before the Lamb” (Rev 5:8).
“Every created thing” worships “Him who sits on the throne, AND … the Lamb” (Rev 5:13-14).
Does this mean that the Son is God or equal to the Father? To respond to this question, this article discusses two aspects:
Does Revelation present Jesus as the Almighty God? Is Jesus the One who exists without a cause; the Ultimate Reality?
What is the difference between the English word “worship” and the word that is sometimes translated as “worship” (proskuneó).
The article also notes that Philippians 2 describes the same event as Revelation 5, namely, what happens in heaven when Jesus arrives after His ascension. It then interprets the worship in Revelation 5 accordingly.
The last section of this article is important. It explains why we must worship Jesus to the full extent of the meaning of that word, even knowing that He is subordinate to the Ultimate Reality.
A Very Important Question
The question above is very important. The emphasis in Revelation 13 and 14 is on worship. The word “worship” appears several times. People worship the dragon (Rev 13:4) and the beast (Rev 13:4, 8, 12) as well as the image of the beast (Rev 13:15). In the context of that end-time persecution, the only direct command God gives to His people is to “worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Rev 14:7). The point is that the end-time crisis will be about who we worship.
Jesus and God
Revelation does not teach that Jesus is God. For example, the book begins with the following words:
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ,
which God gave Him” (Rev 1:1).
Firstly, this phrase MAKES A DISTINCTION between Jesus and God, implying that Jesus is not God. If we read on, we will see that Revelation NEVER refers to Jesus as God but ALWAYS maintains a clear distinction between Jesus and God (e.g., Rev 1:2, 9; 5:9-10; 7:10, 17; 12:5; 12:10, 17; 14:4, 12; 20:4-5; 21:22; 22:1, 3). It reserves the title “God” for the Father ONLY.
Secondly, according to that phrase, Jesus received this revelation from God. This implies that He is SUBORDINATE to God. Revelation does refer to Christ as “the first and the last,” “the beginning and the end” and as “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 1:17; 22:12-13), implying that He has always existed. It also describes Him as “He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev 2:23). Nevertheless, Revelation presents Christ as subordinate to His Father. This is also indicated by the following:
Revelation refers to the Father as Jesus’ God (Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12).
One of the frequent titles for the Father in Revelation is “Him who sits on the throne” (Rev 3:21; 4:2; 5:7; 5:13-14; 7:10; 12:5; 19:4). The Father, therefore, is the ultimate Ruler.
In defense against such indications that the Son is subordinate to the Father, some people make a distinction between different types of subordination. They say that Jesus is functionally (in terms of His role) subordinate to the Father but ontologically (in terms of His substance or being) equal to God. In other words, they say that Jesus is also the Almighty; the One who exists without a cause; the Ultimate Reality. In contrast, Revelation describes the Son also as ontologically subordinate to the Father:
Firstly, Revelation (and the entire New Testament) NEVER refers to Jesus as the Almighty but makes an explicit distinction between Jesus and the Almighty:
“The Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21:22; cf. Rev 19:15).
Revelation identifies “God” as the “Almighty” (Rev 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6) and “God” refers to the Father ONLY. For further discussion, see – Is Jesus the Almighty?
Secondly, Jesus is “alive forevermore” (Rev 1:18) and “will reign forever” (Rev 11:15), but Revelation identifies the Father as “Him who lives forever and ever” (Rev 4:9-10; 15:7). As Paul stated, the Father “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim 6:16). As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus derived His eternal existence and nature from the Father. The Father is the Unbegotten Source of all things. He, alone, has inherent (essential) immortality.
If the Father ALONE is the Almighty and has essentially immortal, then the Son is also ontologically subordinate to the Father. The Son, therefore, is not God (understood as the Ultimate Reality – the One who exits without cause), nor equal with God. For a more detailed discussion, see – Does the book of Revelation present Jesus as God Almighty?
Worship and Proskuneó
Then the question remains, if Jesus is not God, but subordinate to God, why is He worshiped? To explain this, consider the word “worship.”
No word in ancient Greek is fully equivalent to the modern English word “worship.” The word translated as “worship” in Revelation 5:13 is proskuneó and this word means “to do reverence to.” While the word “worship” generally implies that the one worshiped is a god, proskuneó is also used when people “do reverence to” an exalted person such as a king (Matt 18:26; Rev 3:7-9; Acts 10:25). Proskuneó merely means to show extreme respect to another being by bowing down.
When somebody proskuneó God or a god, “worship” is an appropriate translation. But when somebody proskuneó other beings, “bow down” or “do reverence” would be more appropriate translations. For example, in Revelation 3:9, Jesus said, “I will make them come and bow down at your feet.” “Bow down,” here, translates proskuneó.
In the New Testament, people proskuneó Jesus 13 times. In all instances, the KJV translates this as “worship” but in six instances, where it is clear from the context that Jesus was not worshiped, the NASB translates this as “bow down.” For example:
“A leper came to Him and bowed down before Him” (Matt 8:2).
“A synagogue official came and bowed down before Him” (Matt 9:18; cf. (Matt 15:25; 20:20; Mark 5:6; 5:9; 15:19).
For further discussion, see – If Jesus is not God, why must we worship Him?
The point is that when our Bibles translate proskuneó as “worship” when Jesus receives proskuneó, it is not because of anything in the word proskuneó itself; it is based on the view most translators have that Jesus is God. The same applies to the translation of proskuneó in Revelation 5:14. If the translators did not assume that Jesus is the Ultimate Reality, perhaps they would have translated proskuneó in that verse differently.
In conclusion, the translation of proskuneó in 5:14 as “worship” is an interpretation. It does not require Jesus to be God or equal with His Father.
Revelation 5 describes what happens in heaven when Jesus arrives after His ascension. In particular, it describes His enthronement at His Father’s right hand. Philippians 2:6-11 describes that very same event and EXPLAINS WHY the Son is worshiped in Revelation 5. In that passage:
1) Jesus is worshiped by the entire creation (“every knee will bow”) because “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil 2:9-11). This makes a distinction between God and Jesus. It also means that we worship Jesus because God wants us to (cf. Heb 1:6).
2) He is worshiped “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11); not independent from or co-equal with God. This relationship between the worship of the Father and the Son is also indicated by the statement: “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). In other words, by honoring the Son, we honor the Father.
3) “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord;” i.e., they do NOT confess Him as God.
This explains what we see in Revelation 5:13-14 where the entire universe praises “the Lamb” together with “Him who sits on the throne.” For a discussion, see the article on Philippians 2.
We must worship Jesus.
Therefore, we must “worship” Jesus:
- God is the Creator, but He created and still maintains all things THROUGH His Son (John 1:3; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:2-3; 1 Cor 8:6).
- God is the ultimate Ruler, but He GAVE all authority to His Son (Matt 28:18).
- The Father is the Judge but He “has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). He gave the Son “authority to execute judgment” (John 5:27).
- “Just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).
- In Christ “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9), because “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (Col 1:19).
- “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
- After His victory on earth, “God highly exalted Him … so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil 2:9-10).
- “All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).
The point is that God is the uncaused Cause of all things, but His Son is the Intermediary between God and the universe. The Son represents God. For that reason, to worship the Son, is to worship God. It does NOT mean that the Son is the Almighty Creator; equal with the Father.
Created beings simply cannot see God (1 Tim 1:17) because He exists outside the physical universe. However, inside this universe, His unique Son has “all authority” (Matt 28:18). In Christ, we can see the fullness of God. For these reasons, I maintain that we must worship Jesus to the full extent of the meaning of that word, even knowing that He is subordinate to the Ultimate Reality. He is worthy of all our adoration.
For further discussion, also see the articles on:
- Philippians 2 or
- Worship or
- Revelation 5.