Is Jesus Yahweh? “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain”

Generative AI summary:

The debate between James White and Dale Tuggy revolves around whether the New Testament writers consider Jesus to be Yahweh. White argues that in Revelation 4-5, the Lamb (Jesus) is worshipped as God, paralleling Isaiah’s vision, indicating Jesus as Yahweh. However, Tuggy’s approach differs. This article highlights the messianic titles of Jesus in Revelation 5, indicating his future role as ruler and judge. The Lamb’s worthiness to receive honor and power is linked to his sacrifice and redemption of people. The text suggests that God grants Jesus divine privileges, reflecting the New Testament’s perspective. Analogies from Nebuchadnezzar’s story reinforce the concept of divine authority transferring to Jesus as the Davidic Messiah.

Read time: 7 minutes

I’m not sure how much more I can do with the debate between James White and Dale Tuggy over the question of whether Jesus is regarded by the writers of the New Testament to be, in some sense, Yahweh. Tuggy’s approach doesn’t lend itself to the same sort of analysis, and after that it all gets a bit ragged.

In his pugnacious follow-up to Tuggy’s presentation, however, White asserts that in Revelation 4-5 the Lamb is worshipped in the same terms as God and therefore is understood to be God. This is worth addressing.

White first says that the vision of God on the throne in Revelation 4 is meant to parallel Isaiah’s temple vision, to which he thinks John is referring when he says that Isaiah saw Jesus’s glory (Jn. 12:41). “Jesus sitting upon the throne as Yahweh, worshipped by angels. There is no higher form of worship than that, my friends.”

I don’t think he’s right about John, but there is some basis for the first supposition. The four living creatures seen in Revelation 4:6b-8 seem to combine the features of Ezekiel’s “four living creatures” and Isaiah’s six-winged seraphim (Is. 6:1-3; Ezek. 1:5-13). The creatures give glory and honour to God, and then the twenty-four elders prostrate themselves and declare that God is worthy to receive “glory and honour and power” (Rev. 4:9-10).

In chapter five, Jesus is also said to be worthy to receive “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12)—the “exact same things,” White says, “that were ascribed to God in chapter four.”

Moreover, every created thing declares, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:13). What does that tell us? That the Lamb is not a created thing, in White’s view. He is the object of the worship of all created things.

So what are we to make of White’s argument?

1. When the seer is invited to enter through an open door into heaven, he is told, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1). There is a dynamic aspect to the throne room vision. It is not a static scene, nor is it the culmination to past events; it is the beginning of something new—the opening of the scroll of judgment (Rev. 6:1).

2. When it is said, therefore, that God is worthy, the ground is that he created all things, but the reception (labein) will be in the future. In fact, labein would normally have the active sense of taking hold of: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to take hold of the glory and the honour and the power….” Either way, the thought is of the future acquisition of glory, etc., through the coming act of divine judgment—I think, first against Jerusalem, then against Rome.

3. However, John then sees the scroll of judgment in the hand of God on the throne, and the question is asked, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Rev. 5:1-2). No one is found “in heaven or on earth or under the earth” who can open the scroll or look into it, but one of the elders informs John that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5).

4. It is immediately apparent that these are messianic titles, and there is no suggestion that the messiah is somehow ontologically different from those who are in heaven, on earth, or under the earth.

5. White notes the paradox of the Lion of the tribe of Judah who is also the Lamb and observes that it is meant to make us ask what is happening here. Unfortunately, he does not stop to consider what that might be. The title “Lion of the tribe of Judah” alludes to this passage:

Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Gen. 49:9-10)

The “shoot from the stump of Jesse” is one who will “judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Is. 11:4). The Lamb who is both lion of Judah and root of David, therefore, is the messianic king who will judge his people and receive the obedience of the nations. In the chronology of the vision, this is still to come: the messianic narrative runs right through the throne scene in Revelation 5 and out the other side.

6. The Lamb will not only judge and rule as Davidic messiah. Having received or taken “the glory and the might,” he will also come “with the clouds, and every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:5-7). He is, therefore, the “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14, who is identified not with the Ancient of Days but with the persecuted saints of the Most High.

7. The taking of the scroll with a view to opening it is an answer to the prayers of the persecuted “saints” (Rev. 5:8; cf. 8:3-4). This is a further reminder of the experiential or historical dimension from which the Lamb has come and which he represents.

8. The Lamb is qualified to open the scroll by the fact that he was slain and “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,” making them a “kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).

9. The throng around the throne declares, “Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb to take hold of the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12*). I suggest that the thought here is that the Lamb as Davidic messiah will take or receive the power and glory, etc., that formerly belonged either to Israel or to Rome. When the nations abandon their idols and their corrupted way of life, they will bring their diverse glories, riches, intellectual resources (sophia) into the kingdom of Israel’s God.

In this respect the Greek church was right to exploit its inherited philosophical traditions in the construction of a post-biblical, Christendom worldview.

10. It is nonsense to argue that the expression “every creature in the heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea and everything in them” (Rev. 5:13*) excludes Israel’s messiah from the category of created things. If we read in a news report that all the people sang “God save the king,” we do not think that the king, being present, was not also a person. He just doesn’t sing to himself.

11. The argument in this passage is that God will acquire glory, honour, and power indirectly, because he has given the scroll of judgment to Israel’s crucified messiah. This is one of Tuggy’s key points: ‘Jesus’ “divine” privileges, powers and prerogatives are explained by God having granted them to Jesus.’ The seems to me to be what the New Testament mostly says.

There is nothing very strange about this. Nebuchadnezzar boasts that he built “great Babylon… by the might of my power (en ischui kratous mou), but at that moment a voice from heaven tells him:

The kingdom of Babylon has been taken away from you and is being given to another, a contemned person in your house. Lo, I establish him over your kingdom, and he will receive (paralēpsetai) your authority (exousian) and your glory and your luxury (tryphēn) so that you may recognize that the God of heaven has authority in the kingdom of humans and he will give it to whomever he desires. (Dan. 4:31 LXX)

The word translated here “receive” is a compound of lambanō and also could properly be translated “take control of”: Nebuchadnezzar’s successor will take from him his authority, glory, and luxury. But the point, nevertheless, is that it is God who has the ultimate authority to take such possessions from one king and give them to another—so from Caesar, in the case of Revelation, to the Davidic messiah who was slain.

Gerard Jay | Mon, 03/25/2024 - 12:27 | Permalink

I find 1 Chronicles 29:20 to be an interesting parallel to this in terms of the language used:

“Then David said to the whole assembly, ‘Bless the Lord your God.’ And all the assembly blessed the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and bowed their heads and prostrated themselves before the Lord and the king” (NRSV)

The passage would necessarily indicate that each was worshipped in their own right, not constituting some type of “composite recipient”. One might describe the situation as involving “dual worship” of God and his King, acknowledging the honour and reverence accorded to each separately. The language would have naturally parsed in the minds of the original audiences. I suppose it’s also the more modern monistic paradigm of the divine that forces some Christians to not see it contextually.

@Gerard Jay:

Thanks for this, Gerard. The point about the “modern monistic paradigm” is well made. We also have, a few verses later:

Then Solomon sat on the throne of YHWH as king in place of David his father. (1 Chron. 29:23*)

I’m inclined to think that the monistic paradigm was inevitable, and some way needed to be found to resolve the sort of duality evident here, metaphysically. But we are beyond that now, and we are bound to return to history.

@Andrew Perriman:

What exactly do you mean by “…we are bound to return to history.”? 

And how would it affect/change Christianity as it is today in your opinion?

I’m not sure if you have more insight into the global Christian landscape, but so far I haven’t come across any public Christian voice (priest/pastor/leader or church) taking a more historical (narrative-historical if you prefer) approach to interpreting the text. Everyone’s bound by their sectarian-post-Jewish doctrinal framework (be it Roman Catholic or protestant), accompanied by their statements of faith that draws a clear line between who’s a Christian and not. And that gate is indeed very narrow. 

On the other end we have uber-liberal Christianity which in my opinion seems to be a complete uprooting from all of history and is merely and purely a by-product of a recent identity crisis.

How do you see the “return to history” play out, in our time or the next? 

@Gerard Jay:

It was late at night when I wrote that, and I realise an explanation would have been helpful.

In general terms, our theologies mostly operate in universal categories, and even when we try to add a narrative dimension, we simply shift from one universal defining moment to another—from creation and fall to redemption to final judgment, etc. Biblical thought, however, is much more tightly bound up with the historical experience of a people that fills the gaping spaces between these moments.

But no less importantly, western culture is in massive transition from Christendom to some complex amalgam of secular-global states, and the church as a result is going through an existential crisis on a par with the crises that provide the narrative framework of scripture.

Our inherited theologies are the product of Christendom more or less, and it seems to me that they will prove unsustainable. So we need to revert to the historical categories that emerge in the course of the biblical narrative. For example, wrath and salvation are not universal personal events but defining moments in the history of God’s people, in which individuals participate.

I’m sure you’re right about high profile figures not buying into this sort of approach, but it’s well embedded in academia, and my experience within a fairly small circle in London is reasonably positive. The experience of being marginalised pushes us either into a cult-like mentality or into an engagement of some sort in historical change. So potentially there are both top-down and bottom-up pressures that will over decades shift the mindset of the church.

@Andrew Perriman:

Yes I’m in full agreement about most if not all concepts/experiences being oriented towards moments or periods in history, especially those relating to eschatology. And yes this particular approach even from my experience is quite dominant in academia. However, even those who bridge the gap between academia/scholarship and church are super hesitant at educating the (church) masses. 

I was once told by a theologian, when I questioned why the traditional idea of a literal sulphur-and-brimstone version of hell was being still being preached, that it’s more important for a community to function based on its traditional beliefs than to put forward a potential truth that might damage it. 

While it makes sense in a strangely misplaced sense of community sustenance, this leaves zero room for progress. It’s why I’m generally quite pessimistic about the church “… returning to history.” 

I find this line from Aristotle’s poetics quite insightful and relevant:

…for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.”