Trinity Sunday from the perspective of John in the throne room of God

Read time: 10 minutes

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (Rev. 5:6)

Is this a good example of what might be described as latent or incipient Trinitarianism in the New Testament—a vivid heavenly tableau in which God the Father and the Son are worshipped in the presence of the Spirit which speaks to the churches? Trinity Sunday is coming up, and we would do well to think about such things. In a spirit of orthodox generosity I would say, “Yes, but….”

First, let’s set the scene.

John has just written seven letters to churches in Asia Minor at the behest of the risen Christ, who spoke of himself in these terms: “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17–18).

In a piece on Jesus as Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end, I argued that the transfer of divine language to Jesus presupposes a pervasive and persistent distinction between two narrative levels. “God is the beginning and the end of the creation story, but Jesus is the beginning and end of the political subplot.”

This seems to me to be the key to the structure and meaning of any latent or incipient Trinitarianism that we may think we have found in the New Testament.

The last of the seven letters happens to conclude—not accidentally, I think—with this characterisation of Jesus: to the one who overcomes hardship, opposition and fear he will “grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Then we hear the refrain: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:21-22).

After this John sees a door standing open in heaven, and a voice invites him up to see “what must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1).

What he sees first is the throne of God, surrounded by the twenty-four elders on their throne and the four living creatures. The living creatures repeat the chorus without ceasing: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8).

When the living creatures “give glory and honour and thanks to him who is seated on the throne,” the twenty-four elders fall down before him and throw their crowns before the throne, saying:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11)

The scroll of God’s judgment

Then John observes that the psychedelic figure seated on the throne is holding in his right hand “a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals” (Rev. 5:1). An angel proclaims a contest: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” John is at first distraught that no one is found, but then he is told 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.”

Only now does he notice, between the throne and the four creatures, “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6).

The lamb approaches the throne and takes the scroll, and the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb, “each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

We now begin to understand that this is a scroll of divine judgment which will be opened in response to the prayers of the persecuted churches.

Those killed for their testimony to Jesus will cry out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10).

We may recall the story that Jesus told about the mean-spirited judge who gave in to the widow’s demands for “justice against my adversary” (Lk. 18:1-8). He tells the story as an encouragement to the disciples to pray and not lose heart: “will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” But he wonders in the end whether the Son of Man will find faith when he comes. Will the opposition that they will encounter in the period leading up to the public vindication of Jesus be so great that there will be no witnessing community left?

‘Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”’ The Psalmist complains. ‘Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!’ (Ps. 79:10). “How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?” (Ps. 119:84).

Songs about the lamb

So now the living creatures and the elders sing a new song, similar in form to the one they sang about God, but this time addressed to the lamb:

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9–10)

What happens next is really quite extraordinary, breath-taking as a piece of theological imaging. First, the angels in heaven in their countless multitudes take up the song:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!

Then “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” joins in:

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever! (Rev. 5:13)

The four living creatures say, “Amen!”, and the elders fall down and worship. Then John watches apprehensively as the lamb begins to open the seals on the scroll of God’s wrath.

The apocalyptic narrative

The Trinitarian argument is that the lamb receives the same worship as the figure on the throne. For example, Richard Bauckham writes:

Revelation portrays the worship of Christ in heaven quite explicitly as divine worship…. The heavenly worship of God the Creator… is followed by the heavenly worship of the Lamb…, and then, as the climax of the vision…, the circle of worship expands to include the whole of creation addressing a doxology to God and the Lamb together.1

Well, perhaps, if we don’t look too closely….

The twenty-four elders “fell down before” God and “worshipped” (proskynēsousin) him. They also “fell down before” (epesan enōpion) the lamb, but it is not said that they “worshipped” him. At the end of the section the elders “fell down and worshipped”, but no object of worship is specified. Falling down before a person and worshipping him is not reserved for God in the Greek Old Testament. Abigail “fell before (epesen enōpion) David on her face and did obeisance (prosekynēsen) to him on the ground” (1 Sam. 25:23 LXX). Jesus is, after all, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.

In chapter four it is said that God is worthy to receive “glory and honour and power” because he created all things. In the new song in chapter five, it is said that the lamb is worthy to open the scroll because by his death he has brought into existence a multinational people of God, a “kingdom of priests to our God”, who will reign on earth. The parallel is between the God who created all things and Jesus who “made” (epoiēsas) an international priestly people to serve the creator God on earth. Here we see the differentiation between the creation story and the political subplot.

The only pre-history ascribed to the lamb is that he is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” who has conquered (Rev. 5:5): he is the forerunner of the martyrs who will also “conquer” and sit with him on his throne. He is the “male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” who is caught up to the throne of God (Rev. 12:5).

It is the redemptive act that qualifies Jesus, makes him “worthy”—not to receive worship but to open the scroll. The song announces and celebrates the fact. Jesus is not worshipped; he is declared worthy to do one thing because he has done another thing. It is an exceptional declaration and an exceptional achievement, but God and the lamb remain quite distinct. Whether Jesus has his own throne or shares the throne of God is unclear, but if he will grant the martyrs to sit with him on his throne, we cannot make too much christological capital out of the fact that, as the Davidic king and shepherd, he was enthroned with God (Rev. 3:21; 7:17; 12:5; 22:1,3).

When the angels join in the chorus, the message has changed slightly. Jesus is worthy not only to open the scroll of God’s judgment but also to “receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). This looks like a package of rather worldly values, and it may be that they are due more to the priests of the good creator God on earth than to the lamb in heaven. But they include the attributes which God was judged worthy to receive: “glory and honour and power”. The point here, I think, is that the attainment of kingdom, from the perspective of John, will bring glory both to God and to Jesus, who will rule on God’s behalf.

The closing worship of the elders is ambiguous. Is it directed only to God, as in Revelation 4:10? Or does it now also include the lamb? In any case, we are not bound to restrict proskyneō to divine worship in Revelation. Jesus has just told the church in Philadelphia that certain Jews will be made to “bow down (proskynēsousin) before your feet” (Rev. 3:9). In the background are such Old Testament texts as Isaiah 49:23 LXX:

kings shall be your foster fathers, and the women who rule, your nurses. On the face of the earth they shall do obeisance (proskynēsousin) to you, and they shall lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord, and you shall not be put to shame. (Is. 49:23; cf. Is. 60:14)

Putting the apocalyptic back in Trinitarianism

The basic flaw in Bauckham’s argument, therefore, is that he disregards the apocalyptic context and misses how the narrative shapes the language of the passage. He has reduced the whole event to an isolated account of a new binary pattern worship. What is actually going on here is the celebration in heaven of the creation of a new priestly people and, more importantly in the context of Revelation, of the coming judgment on the political powers that opposed this whole transformation. The opening of the seals, I think, releases the conditions for judgment, followed by the seven trumpets of God’s wrath against Jerusalem, and the seven bowls of God’s wrath against Rome.2

But here’s where we can be more generous.

The early Christian conviction was that the crucified Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God, in the language of Psalm 110:1, and given a divine authority to judge and rule, at some point in the not too distant future, over both Israel and the nations. In Revelation 4-5 John attempts to picture a decisive moment in the heavenly drama.

But close heaven’s door again and return to earth and these careful narrative distinctions are no longer so obvious. Pull the plug on the dazzling apocalyptic vision, lose sight of the brazen ambition of the early church, begin to ask more philosophical question about differences of person within the frame of a rational or logical monotheism… and we can understand how a very different conceptuality and language soon came into play.

  • 1R. Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Paternoster, 2008), 141-42.
  • 2See my book The Coming of the Son of Man (2005, reprinted Wipf & Stock, 2012), 198-203, 216-19).

Angry comments centering around the word “latreuo” commencing in 5… 4… 3… 2…

@Phil L.:

Only latreuō, meaning to “serve” or “worship”, isn’t found in Revelation 4-5. It occurs twice elsewhere in the book. The martyrs who have come through the great tribulation “are before the throne of God and serve (latreuousin) him day and night in his temple” (Rev. 7:15). And in the new Jerusalem the servants of God will “serve” (latreusousin) him. In the throne scene in chapters 4-5 the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne and worship (proskynēō) God (Rev. 4:10; 5:14). But I get the impression that people have stopped taking me to task over this.

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew, I enjoyed the article. The idea of Jesus being worthy of receiving riches and honor is not because He is being seen as divine, but rather He is seen as the slain Passover Lamb Who is the Davidic King of Israel. The Glory of Kingship has been bestowed upon Jesus just as it was bestowed upon Solomon (1 Kings 3:13, 1Chron. 29:23-25). To see Him as divine in Rev. 5, (not saying He is not) is to read more into the text than what is there. I look forward to reading more articles. 

@Andrew Perriman:

As with the ending of Revelation 5 where worship is rendered unto both the Father and the Lord Jesus, the Father and the Lord Jesus are also the proper recipient of latreuō in the Book of Revelation. This worship rendered unto both of them is seen in chapter 7 as well as in chapter 22.

Marc Taylor | Sun, 06/16/2019 - 10:07 | Permalink

The fact that the Lamb is ascribed the attributes of God is worship. J. Goetzmann: In Revelation sophia is praised in two hymnic texts as an attribute of God (Rev. 7:12; cf. also Rom. 16:27); it is also to be attributed to the slain Lamb at his exaltation (Rev. 5:12). The exalted Christ has the same power and wisdom as God (NIDNTT 3:1032, Wisdom).

Furthermore, the “Amen” in 5:14 is proclaimed to what has been previously stated in verse 13 which was done by all creation. So I am not sure how you can assert that “Jesus is not worshipped” when Revelation 5:13 reads, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” If the Lamb is not worshiped then neither is God the Father. H. H. Esser: He who sits upon the throne is worthy to receive glory, honour and power, for he has created all things and they owe their existence to his will (4:11). This worship of every creature (ktisma) belongs (5:13) not only to him, but also the Lamb (a metaphor for the crucified and exalted One) (NIDNTT 1:386, Creation).

@Marc Taylor:

The difference between Revelation 7:12 and 5:12 is that while God has wisdom, Christ receives wisdom: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive (labein) power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” The point here is that Jesus has been enthroned as king at the right hand of God and is worthy to receive from God these various attributes.

Daniel 2:37 LXX, which is addressed to Nebuchadnezzar, provides a good parallel: “You, O king, are king of kings, and to you the Lord of heaven gave the rule and the kingdom and the power and the honour and the glory.”

Jesus is being presented in Revelation as a superior “king of kings” to the emperor of a second Babylon: “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rev. 17:14; cf. 19:16).

So I am not sure how you can assert that “Jesus is not worshipped” when Revelation 5:13 reads, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” If the Lamb is not worshiped then neither is God the Father.

You have a point. But the song in Revelation 5:13 ascribes “blessing and honour and glory and might” to God and to the Lamb on the basis of the distinction that has been firmly and unequivocally established: the God who is creator of all things has given Jesus, who was crucified, the authority, etc., to judge and rule at his right hand. The elders prostrate themselves before God and the king at his right hand.

@Andrew Perriman:

In Revelation 4:11 the Father receives glory, honor and power because they are His attributes. The same holds true concerning what Christ receives in Revelation 5:12.

 A key difference with the Daniel passage is that it isn’t followed by “forever and ever” as well as by “Amen.”

 In Revelation 5:13 the same attributes the Father is praised for (in worship ) are also used in reference to the Lord Jesus.

@Marc Taylor:

A key difference with the Daniel passage is that it isn’t followed by “forever and ever” as well as by “Amen.”

Obviously not. What justifies the escalation of the language in Jesus’ case is that unlike Nebuchadnezzar, and for that matter David, he has overcome death, he has gained an imperishable body, therefore his reign will be forever and ever.

You’re right about 4:11, but notice that “wealth and wisdom” are not mentioned here. The parallel with Revelation 11:17-18 is instructive:

We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken (eilēphas) your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth. (Rev. 11:17–18)

This suggests that receiving glory, honour and power refers to the particular moment when God, on the one hand, and his anointed king, on the other, take action to defeat their enemies and vindicate the oppressed and martyred saints.

@Andrew Perriman:

 Thus the “Amen” in Revelation described worship taken place, but in this section of Daniel worship does not occur.

 It is noteworthy to point out that the BDAG (3rd Edition) — concerning Revelation 5:12 — the Greek word for “wisdom” is sophia and it is used “of the exalted Christ” (page 935), but when defining “might” (ischys) which appears in the very same passage it is “used with dynamis and similar words as attributes of God” (page 484). 

 The fact that Christ mentioned for possessing these attributes demonstrate that worship is also being rendered unto Him.

@Marc Taylor:

Marc, this looks like a very peculiar argument. Ischys (“strength”) is not a unique attribute of God. People have ischys (Mk. 12:30, 33; Lk. 10:27; Eph. 6:10), angels have ischys (2 Pet. 2:11). And in the LXX God gives strength to the kings of Israel: “He will judge earth’s ends and gives strength (ischyn) to our kings and will exalt the horn of his anointed” (1 Sam. 2:10 LXX). Christ is worthy to receive strength because he is one of the kings of Israel, seated at the right hand of YHWH on an eternal throne, and will need wisdom and strength in order to judge and rule over Israel and the nations.

@Andrew Perriman:

No one else but God alone is worshiped for having these attributes. That is what separates God from His creation.

@Marc Taylor:

Well no, the evidence of Revelation 4-5 is that reverence or obeisance is due both to God and to his king because they have or have received “strength” etc. Abigail fell down and worshipped David.

@Andrew Perriman:

Reverence and obeisance are just ways to avoid saying the obvious — they were worshiped.
Abigail did not worship David.

@Marc Taylor:

Who’s avoiding the obvious now, Marc? The language is exactly the same. It clearly doesn’t mean “worship” in our modern understanding of the English word. In the ancient world it was possible to prostrate oneself before, do obeisance to, “worship” either a god or a high status human.

@Andrew Perriman:

Bg deal that the language is the same. We are to honor are mother and father and we are to honor God, but this doesn’t mean that we are to worship our parents. However, if anyone said they honored God without worshiping Him then their claim would be wrong.

@Marc Taylor:

You prove my point there. The fact that the same language can be used for doing obeisance to God and doing obeisance to Jesus doesn’t make Jesus God—any more than doing obeisance to David made him God, or honouring parents makes parents God.

@Andrew Perriman:

When wisdom and power and other such words as found in Revelation 5:12 are properly ascribed to anyone else but God in association with “forever and ever” and an “Amen” you would have a point. But no such example exists — and yet it does so in reference to the Lord Jesus thereby necessitating that He is worshiped as God.

@Marc Taylor:

“Amen” is not confined to the worship of God. To express his agreement with David, Benaiah says, “Amen!” (1 Kgs. 1:36). The archangel Michael says to Abraham, “Amen, may it be so” (Test. Abr. A 14:5). It’s an expression of agreement. The four living creatures agree that not only God is to receive “blessing and honor and glory and might” but also the Son whom he has installed on his throne at his right hand.

Jesus is certainly the unique recipient of such “worship”, but the reason for it is given in the text: “you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9–10).

@Andrew Perriman:

This is why I wrote when “Amen” is used in association with “forever and ever.”
Jesus is the proper recipient of worship because He possesses the attributes of God.

peter wilkinson | Wed, 06/19/2019 - 10:21 | Permalink

The Trinitarian argument is that the lamb receives the same worship as the figure on the throne…. Well, perhaps, if we don’t look too closely….

Looking more closely in Revelation 5 at the scene of “shock and awe” unfolding in Revelation 4, John sees “a Lamb looking as though it had been slain, standing in the centre (or midst) of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders”.

Looking more closely again, in Revelation 4 the throne is where the four living creatures worship God, day and night, and the 24 elders “fall down before him who sits upon the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever” — 4:10. In Revelation 5, the four creatures and 24 elders do the same to the Lamb — 5:8. Then 10 million angels worship the Lamb — 5:11, and to press the point home, God and the Lamb are given parity of praise, honour, glory and power in 5:13. 

You are making a point about apocalyptic, I think, as not merely a style employing a certain kind of language and figures of speech, but as a literary genre presenting momentous events in history, which from any perspective is true of the death and resurrection of the Lamb. For you however, the Lamb story is a subplot of the creation story, and on this hangs the entire issue.

The subplot, for you, as I understand it, is the role of the Lamb in determining the continuity of historical Israel, on whose existence depends the larger creation story. It is therefore a political and historical subplot, to achieve political and historical ends on behalf of a larger story.

For me, it is unnecessarily binary to split this subplot from the creation story in this way, and with it the humanity of Jesus from his divinity. Without denying the political subplot, which has been underplayed in traditional presentations of Jesus, it is (to me) perfectly possible to see the subplot as contemporaneous with the creation story, and contemporaneously inseparable from it.

Jesus was bringing his own style of politics to confront, and eventually undermine the Roman Empire. He also confronted Judaism’s misdirected sense of its own destiny and politics. Above and beyond both, Jesus the divine/human being, was accomplishing in himself the redemption of creation, through his resurrection, and the introduction of resurrection realities into an ageing and misdirected creation.  The political and religious realities of the time were the immediate arena in which this drama was worked out. 

The more I consider this, the less I see a split between the kingdom story and the creation story, which in effect you are making in Revelation 4 & 5. If the two stories are presented as separate, then Jesus the Lamb will inevitably be understood as a mainly political and human figure character in a smaller subplot to the larger story. However to me, this does not agree with how Jesus is presented in Revelation 4 & 5 in particular. 

@peter wilkinson:

…it is (to me) perfectly possible to see the subplot as contemporaneous with the creation story, and contemporaneously inseparable from it.

I agree. It is possible to see it that way. But it’s not how the New Testament presents it. I don’t thinkit can be demonstrated from Revelation, for example, that these two stories are contemporaneous in the way that you seem to be suggesting. John maintains temporal separation of the renewal of creation from the kingdom event of judgment on Rome.

But a good summary of my argument, by the way. Thank you.

@Andrew Perriman:

But it’s not how the New Testament presents it”.

That’s quite an absolute statement, which I think could be seriously questioned.

I’m glad I’ve managed to present an outline of your case without serious misunderstandings! I still think it presents one side of Jesus whilst blanking out the other — for which there is ample evidence in Revelation 4 & 5 (unless there’s something I’m not aware of).

@peter wilkinson:

But what we have in Revelation 4-5 is 1) a vision of the God who is creator (eg., Rev. 4:11); and 2) a vision of the Lamb who is qualified to open the scroll of judgment, which will culminate in the overthrow of Babylon the great, which is Rome. So yes, both themes are there, but the action all has to do with the Lamb and the initiation of a historical process that will answer the prayers of the persecuted saints (Rev. 5:8).

@Andrew Perriman:

As you say, both themes are there, and perhaps more of the creation theme than you suggest. Not only is there the hymn to God as creator, but various allusions to creation in 4, and the temple references in 5, with the saints addressed as “kings and priests” in 5:10, the prayers as incense, and the hymns of praise. In this context, the temple as microcosm of creation is replaced by the temple of worldwide creation in which the saints now minister. This is not connected directly with the judgements of the seven seals, which are executed by the Lamb, not the saints.

@peter wilkinson:

This is not connected directly with the judgements of the seven seals, which are executed by the Lamb, not the saints.

But judgment is executed for the benefit of the saints who are currently suffering and will eventually reign on the earth. That is the kingdom narrative.

The whole temple as microcosm thing is tenuous, and it’s not obvious to me that this heavenly scene is presented as a temple. In any case, the passage is not about creation; it’s about the recognition that the Lamb is worthy to initiate judgment on Israel and the nations. You certianly cannot pretend that there are contemporaneous creation and kingdom narratives here.

@Andrew Perriman:

I wouldn’t dream of pretending anything! However, there is more of creation in 4 & 5 than you would think at first glance (rainbow, living creatures, hymn to creator), and the kings and priests theme (5:10), echoing Exodus 19:6 1 Peter 2:9 etc,  along with temple references, connect with a wider theme than judgment alone.

But that’s not my real point here, which was to draw attention to the way in which “God” and Christ receive the same worship, the same language being used in the hymns of praise to both, and they occupy the same space — on a throne, at the centre, surrounded by the 4 creatures and the 24 elders, who give them the same worship. Put another way, it’s noteworthy that the Lamb does not deflect worship from himself towards “God”, or join the worship of “God” (as the angel does in 22:9, for instance). 

In my opinion there is enough renewal of creation and resurrection language (the two go hand in hand) in the rest of the NT to qualify it as a major contemporaneous theme with the political. Revelation seems to have more about the destruction of creation through judgments than its renewal,  but we finally get there in Revelation 21, with “new heaven and a new earth” (if that actually means new creation), and again somewhat interchangeable references to “God” and Christ (the Alpha and Omega 21:6), God and the Lamb (21:22), with the focus on Christ as the bridegroom to the bride, the New Jerusalem. There is one throne for “God” and the Lamb, and they share  attributes (21:23, 22:1,3-5).

Revelation finally reminds us that angels, John, and his brothers the prophets, are of an order distinct from God, the last only to be worshipped (22:9). This distinction is not made with regard to the Lamb and God.

@peter wilkinson:

In addition to what you have written, Revelation 5:13 specifically refers to “every created thing” in reference to those who render worship. So the “creation theme” does appear and the creative order know to whom worship is to be rendered.

Samuel Conner | Wed, 06/19/2019 - 13:43 | Permalink

A thing that I have come to regard to be fascinating, and perhaps under-examined in theoretical Christology, is that the ground of the assessment of the Lamb’s worthiness is an historically contingent ground. I used to be scandalized by that, but my thinking has changed.

@Samuel Conner:

Quite right. Theoretical christology has no interest in history except in the most general sense that the incarnation—the becoming flesh of the eternal Son—happened at an arbitrary point in time.

Marc Taylor | Thu, 06/27/2019 - 16:21 | Permalink

You wrote: In any case, we are not bound to restrict proskyneō to divine worship in Revelation. Jesus has just told the church in Philadelphia that certain Jews will be made to “bow down (proskynēsousin) before your feet” (Rev. 3:9).

Revelation 3:9 is divine worship.

Revelation 14:3
And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. (NASB)
The singing that took place is worship. The song was directed to God even though it was also “before the four living creatures and the elders.” They were in God’s presence when the singing took place, but they were not recipients of this worship despite the fact that the song was done before them. The same holds true concerning the worship described in Revelation 3:9. Worship was directed to God but in the presence of (“before”) these believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:25).

Andrew Perriman | Thu, 06/27/2019 - 17:28 | Permalink

In reply to by Marc Taylor

@Marc Taylor:

Marc, this is hardly worth responding to. Check the commentaries first. The meaning of the idiom “bow down before your feet” (Rev. 3:9) is clear from its use in other Jewish texts. God will make the oppressors of his people grovel before them.

The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. (Is. 60:14)

And kings shall be your foster fathers, and the women who rule, your nurses. On the face of the earth they shall do obeisance (proskynēsousin) to you, and they shall lick the dust of your feet. (Is. 49:23 LXX)

And the lofty men of Seboin shall come over to you, and they shall be your slaves; they shall follow behind you bound in handcuffs. They will do obeisance (proskynēsousin) to you and pray in you, because God is in you…. (Is. 45:14 LXX)

O Zion, rejoice greatly, and rejoice, all you cities of Ju[dah. Open] [your gates forever, so that] the wealth of the nations [might be brought to you, and their kings shall serve you. All they that oppressed] you shall bow down to you, [and they shall lick the dust of your feet. (1QM 19:5–7)

To “bow down before someone’s feet” (proskyneō enōpion tōn podōn) is all one idea; it is directed towards the owner of the feet. The expression in Revelation 14:3 is different: the redeemed sing “before (enōpion) the throne and before (enōpion) the four living creatures and the elders.”

The Hebrew word for “bow down” in Isaiah 60:14 (shachah) is typically translated with proskyneō in the LXX, though in this case the LXX diverges from the MT.

@Andrew Perriman:

John Gill: the conversion of the Jews is here intended. The worship here spoken of is not either a religious or civil worship of the church, for the church is not the object of worship; only before whom, and at whose feet, this worship shall be given to God in the most humble and hearty manner: the sense is, that the convinced and converted Jews shall come to the church, and in the most lowly and contrite manner acknowledge their former blindness, furious zeal, and violent hatred of the Christians, and shall profess their faith in Christ; shall join themselves to the church, and partake of the ordinances of the Gospel with them; and shall worship God and Jesus Christ, their Lord and King, in their presence, and at their feet.…

 The expression in Rev. 14:3 is different, but the thought is the same: God is at the forefront as to why bowing took place. The same is true concerning Isaiah 49:23; 1 Cor. 14:25 and Isaiah 45:14. 

 Prayers have been said to God even though they were spoken “to” other people (1 Samuel 20:12; Acs 21:14) for they were done in the Lord’s “hearing” (1 Chronicles 28:8). Worshiping the Lord involves speaking “to” one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19).

 “You will know that I am the LORD” (Is. 49:23)

@Marc Taylor:

Like you, John Gill in his popular commentary gives no consideration to the linguistic evidence, which is why he gets it wrong. To bow before a person’s feet, to bow and lick their feet, is an expression of deference and subjection to that person. It is not said in the letter that their Jewish opponents will bow at their feet in the presence of God, but even if it were, it would still be very different to bowing in obeisance to God himself.

@Andrew Perriman:

It doesn’t need to be said that they bowed in the presence of God when elsewhere in the NT proskyneō was said to be done to a man (Acts 10:25-26) and an angel (Revelation 19:10) and in both instances it was condemned.

In this article you referenced Revelation 6:10. Was Christ the recipient of the worship that took place there?