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The Apologists  Bible Commentary

 

 

Revelation 22

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3

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him;

 

Grammatical Analysis...

Other Views Considered...

For Further Reading...

 

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This verse contains two ambiguous uses of the third-person singular pronoun, "His/Him."  Does "Him" refer to God or the Lamb?  Is it possible that it refers to both?  This issue centers on the word "serve" (Greek: latreu˘), which has a technical sense in the New Testament of "sacred service" rendered properly to God alone (see Grammatical Analysis, below).  Trinitarians have long argued that one of the most important evidences that Jesus is the true God is that He is described as receiving worship in the New Testament (e.g., Revelation 5:13).  Non-Trinitarians have argued that because there are no references to Jesus receiving "sacred service" in the New Testament (but only, they assert, the "lesser" form of worship or obeisance denoted by the Greek verb proskyneo), Jesus actually does not receive the highest form of worship reserved for God alone.  Thus, they argue, He cannot be God.

Clearly, the Non-Trinitarian objection may be disproved if it can be demonstrated that "Him" in Revelation 22:3 refers either to the Lamb or to both the Lamb and God.

Generally speaking, a pronoun will refer to the nearest noun that precedes it.  In this case, "the Lamb" is the nearest preceding noun (or "antecedent"), and thus the Lamb would seem to receive "sacred service."  However, this general rule does not always hold true.  If context dictates, it is possible that a prior noun may be the referent, particularly if that referent is paramount in the writer's mind.  Let's look at two examples in Revelation which parallel 22:3 to see how context may serve to "disambiguate" (remove the ambiguity) of the singular pronoun:

Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6 NIV).

Does "him" refer to God or Christ?  The nearest referent is "Christ," but we have noted that proximity is not always determinative.  Context must resolve any ambiguity.  Immediately before, in verse 4, we read that the martyrs "reigned with Christ for a thousand years."  Thus, the  most likely referent of "him" is Christ.  God, of course, is said to have "begun to reign" on earth as well (11:17), but whenever the "thousand years" are mentioned in Revelation, they refer specifically to the period of time when Christ reigns on the earth over His millennial kingdom.  And whenever the saints are said to "reign with" someone, it is always with Christ.  The context, then, in all likelihood, disambiguates the pronoun, making "Christ" the probable referent.

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15 NIV).

The pronoun "he" (bolded above) does not occur in the Greek.  Instead, the verb rendered "will reign" (Greek: basileusei) occurs in the third-person singular.  But is the referent of the verb "our Lord" or "his Christ?"  The closest referent is "Christ," in English.  But in Greek, it is actually "his:" christou autou kai basileusei (where autou = "his").  But this fact cannot establish with certainty that "he will reign" refers to "our Lord."  The elders fall down and worship God in the next verse, but this, too, is ambiguous - does John use the noun "God" as an anaphora (a reference back to "his," i.e., "our Lord") or as a new subject, distinct from "Christ?"  In verse 17, the elders praise God, saying He "has begun to reign."  This would seem to tip the scales in favor of "our Lord" as the referent.  However, since the kingdom is attributed to both God and Christ, it is certainly possible that both Christ and God may be said to be reigning - Christ in verse 15 and God in verse 17.  This sharing of rule is evident throughout Revelation, where both God (11:17; 19:6) and the saints alongside Christ (1:6; 5:10; 20:4, 6, 22:5)1 are said to reign; where God and the Lamb share one throne (22:1); and where the Temple (21:22) and the light (21:23) of the Heavenly City are said to be both God and the Lamb.

Thus, while it may be that John intends "he will reign" to modify "our Lord," it is also quite possible that he intends it to modify "Christ."  Indeed, it may be possible to understand him to intend both referents:

God shall reign, but the rule of God and of Christ is one as the kingdom is one (Roberston).

He will reign with them in heaven to all eternity; for though, at the end of these years, he shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father, yet he will not cease to reign (Gill).

We may ask why, if John intended to refer to both referents, he did not use the plural form of the verb "will reign?"  In other places, John consciously stretches grammar to make a theological point.  For example, in Revelation 1:4 (as well as 1:8 and 4:8), he writes "Him who is, who was, and who is to come."  In the Greek, there are several grammatical oddities in this phrase.  Robertson notes of the first:  "It is evidently on purpose to call attention to the eternity and unchangeableness of God" (RWP).  Thus, it is not impossible that John might use an ungrammatical singular reference (either pronoun or verb form) for both God and Christ, to signify the unity of the Two.  When we see the many other ways the Two are unified (in their reign, in the praise they receive, and in the future devotion of the saints, for whom they will be Temple and Light), a grammatical 'signal' seems at least possible.  As Richard Bauckham puts it:

Probably connected with this concern to include Jesus in the monotheistic worship is a peculiar grammatical usage elsewhere in Revelation, where mention of God and Christ together is followed by a singular verb (11:15) or singular pronouns (22:3-4 and 6:17, where the singular pronoun autou is the better reading).  It is not clear whether the singular in these cases refers to God alone or to God and Christ together as a unity. John, who is very sensitive to the theological implications of language and even prepared to defy grammar for the sake of theology (cf. 1:4), may well intend the latter.  But in either case, he is evidently reluctant to speak of God and Christ together as a plurality.  He never makes them the subjects of a plural verb or uses a plural pronoun to refer to them both.  The reason is surely clear:  he places Christ on the divine side of the distinction between God and creation, but he wishes to avoid ways of speaking which sound to him polytheistic.  The consistency of usage shows that he has reflected carefully on the relation of Christology to monotheism.  It is significant that one of the passages in question (22:3-4) concerns worship (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, pp. 60-61).

In this example, the context has not removed the ambiguity.  If we must pick a single referent, it would probably be "our Lord," but it must be admitted that ambiguity may be intended in this verse, particularly if we posit that the author, John, is the same careful writer as he who wrote the Gospel and the Epistles that bear this name.

Revelation 22:3-5 in the NIV reads:

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

As mentioned above, the nearest antecedent to "him" in verse 3 is "the Lamb," both in English and in Greek.  The context does not favor God over the Lamb as the preferred referent.  Verse 4 says that "they will see His face," but both the Lamb and God are seated on the throne, so both of their faces would be visible.  It also says that "His name will be on their foreheads."  But we are told that both the name of God and the name of the Lamb will be on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1).  Verse 5 says that the light of the "Lord God" will be their light, but we are told that both God and the Lamb will be the source of light in the Heavenly City (Revelation 21:23).  Of all the passages we have considered, this one seems the most consciously ambiguous in terms of who "him" refers to.  In fact, the only possible evidence that "God" alone is the referent is the claim that "serve" (Greek: latreu˘) is nowhere else ascribed to Christ (see Other Views Considered, below).  But the meaning of "sacred service" in the LXX denoted the cultic service offered to YHWH in the Temple, and though this meaning became spiritualized in the New Testament (e.g., Philippians 3:3), latreu˘ retains its original connotation in Hebrews, where the service is specifically related to priestly worship (e.g., Hebrews 8:2, 5).  The same is true in Revelation, but here both God and Christ are said to have priests (20:6).  Thus, if Christ has priests along with His Father, and receives the same praise and worship the Father receives (5:13), it does not seem unreasonable that latreu˘ would be offered to Him, just as it is the Father.

And if the author of Revelation depicts Christ receiving the same worship His Father receives, it seems likely that this practice derives from John's own worship experience:

Although the author of revelation attributes these passages to the figures seen in visions, it is reasonable to assume that their general form and content may have been consonant with worship practices in the churches known to him and that such materials are valuable indications of the activities of these groups (Hurtado, p. 101).

In conclusion, it seems probable that John intended, by a use of a distinctive and intentional grammatical signal, to include God and the Lamb as referents to "him" in Revelation 22:3.  John has demonstrated before (1:4) that he can stretch grammar for a theological purpose, and there are other examples in the Apocalypse where he seems to be doing the exact same thing(11:15; 20:6; and 6:17, if the majority reading is correct).  If so, Christ is shown to receive "sacred service" alongside his Father, just as He does worship and praise elsewhere (5:13):

and his servants shall serve him: either the angels, who are ministering spirits, and the servants of God and of the Lamb; or the ministers of the Gospel, the servants of the most high God; or rather all the true followers of Christ, who shall be where he is, and "serve him": both God and the Lamb, who are one in nature, though two distinct persons; wherefore serving them both is not serving two masters: and the service the saints will be employed in, in this state, will not be preaching the word, or attending on the ministry of it, or subjecting to ordinances, which will now be at an end, but celebrating the praises of God, adoring the perfections of his nature, ascribing the glory of every providence, and of all salvation to him, and magnifying the riches of his grace; and this they will perform in the most spiritual, fervent, and perfect manner, and that continually; see Rev 7:15 (Gill).

And:

That 'they will serve him' likely does not refer only to God or only to the Lamb. The two are conceived so much as a unit that the singular pronoun can refer to both... That both are sitting on only one throne and together form one temple (21:22) enhances their perceived unity. Also, this unity is highlighted by both having the titles 'Alpha and Omega' (1:8; 21:6; 22:13). Such statements as these in 21:22 and 22:3 were among those that gave rise to later Trinitarian formulas (Beale, The New International Greek Testament Commentary- The Book of Revelation [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. & Paternoster Press, 1999], p. 1113).

This fact is particularly striking, given the author's evident concern to contrast the proper worship with false worship throughout his book.2

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latreuw

latreu˘ (G3000)

2) to serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and freemen

2a) in the NT, to render religious service or homage, to worship

2b) to perform sacred services, to offer gifts, to worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for his worship

2b1) of priests, to officiate, to discharge the sacred office (Thayer)

(1) to worship, 

(2) to "serve;" in the latter sense it is used of service 

(a) to God, Mat 4:10; Luk_1:74 ("without fear"); Luk 4:8; Act 7:7; Act 24:14, RV, "serve" (AV, "worship"); Act 26:7; Act 27:23; Rom_1:9 ("with my spirit"); 2Ti 1:3; Heb 9:14; Heb 12:28, AV, "we may serve," RV, "we may offer service;" Rev 7:15; 

(b) to God and Christ ("the Lamb"), Rev 22:3; 

(c) in the tabernacle, Heb 8:5, RV; Heb 13:10; 

(d) to "the host of heaven," Act 7:42, RV, "to serve" (AV, "to worship");

(e) to "the creature," instead of the Creator, Rom 1:25, of idolatry (Vine)

The purely Religious Character of the Word as Determined by the LXX.  The influence of the LXX may be seen in the fact that the word never refers to human relations, let along to secular services.  The ministry denoted by latreuein is always offered to God (or to heathen gods") (TDNT).

 

In the New Testament, of the worship or service of God in the use of the rites intended for His worship. It came to be used by the Jews in a very special sense, to denote the service rendered to Jehovah by the Israelites as His peculiar people. See Rom 9:4; Act 26:7; Heb 9:1, Heb 9:6. Hence the significant application of the term to Christian service by Paul in Phi 3:3 (Vincent).

Shall do him service (latreusousin aut˘i). Future active of latreu˘, linear idea, ôshall keep on serving.ö See Rev 7:15 for present active indicative of this same verb with the dative aut˘i as here, picturing the worship of God in heaven (RWP).

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Jehovah's Witnesses

 

objection:  Some Jehovah's Witness apologists3 have argued that God is the referent of "him" in this verse, for the following three reasons:

 

1.  "Him" is a singular pronoun and therefore must refer to either God or the Lamb, but not both.  If John had intended to refer to both God and the Lamb, he would have used a plural pronoun.

2.  If the Lamb is offered "sacred service," God is not.  It is inconceivable that the Lamb would be offered this worship while His Father is not.

3.  Nowhere else in Scripture is Jesus offered "sacred service."  Therefore, the most likely referent of "him" in this verse is God.

Response:  It is not at all clear that had John wanted to refer to both God and the Lamb, he would have used a plural pronoun or verb.  The fact is that he does neither anywhere in the book of Revelation.  Instead, when God and the Lamb form a complex subject, a singular verb or pronoun always follows.  As discussed in the Commentary, above, John elsewhere stretches grammar to signal a theological truth (1:4).  The fact that there are several examples of singular verbs or pronouns following God and Christ indicates that this is an intentional feature of John's writing, and not an accidental introduction of ambiguity.  If John is consciously including both God and the Lamb in the singular pronoun "him," the first two points of the Witness argument are not sound.

Even if John intends to refer to a single noun, there are no contextual reasons for eliminating Christ, the nearest antecedent.  As for the third Witness argument, it is true that the word latreu˘ is not used in the New Testament to indicate the worship of Christ, but this is a superficial argument, at best.  The word latreu˘ originally signified priestly service rendered to YHWH in the Temple, but in Revelation, Christ is said to have priests (20:6) alongside His Father.  Revelation depicts Jesus sitting on the same throne as God (22:1) and receiving the same praise and worship the Father receives (5:13).  Within 50 years of the composition of Revelation4, Polycarp ascribes latreu˘ to Christ is his letter to the Phillippians:

Whom every breathing creature serves (latreuei), who is coming as ôJudge of the living and the dead,ö for whose blood God will hold responsible those who disobey himů (Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, p. 209).  

This evidence suggests that the First and Second Century church were comfortable attributing to Christ the highest form of worship alongside His Father because they recognized that such worship was rendered Christ in the New Testament itself.

For an in-depth response to these Witness arguments, see Sam Shamoun's  Jesus and Latreuo.

 

 

 

 

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Notes

1.  Verses 1:6, 5:10 and 22:5 do not specifically mention Christ reigning with the saints, but it is clear from the context of Revelation that the rule of the saints is participatory with Christ, as it is in His millennial kingdom (verses 20:4, 6):  

and they shall reign for ever and ever; they are made kings now, and in this state they shall reign with Christ for the space of a thousand years; and when they are ended, they shall not cease to reign; nor will Christ, when he delivers up the kingdom to the Father, for his and their kingdom is an everlasting one, Rev 1:6 (Gill).

See also Revelation 3:21.

2.  "The author of Revelation shows a sternly negative attitude toward other Christians who advocated what look like innovations in liturgical practice or in scruples about worship, such as those he accuses of 'the teaching of Balaam' (2:14) and the woman prophet whom he names 'Jezebel' (2:20), all of whom he denounces as advocating 'fornication and eating food sacrificed to idols.'  Throughout Revelation, the author warns about worship of 'the beast' (9:20; 13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4), and calls for worship of God alone (14:7; 19:10; 22:9).  In the context of the author's strict scruples about worship, the approval he give to reverence to the Lamb is remarkable, and also without precedent in the Jewish background.  But the author's very conservative attitude about worship makes it likely that his portrayal of worship as directed to God and to Jesus reflected traditional attitudes and understanding" (Hurtado, Worship, p. 92; emphasis in original).

3.  See, for example, Stafford, pp. 85-86).

4.  Assuming the widely-regarded "late date" for the composition of Revelation, about 96 AD.  Some scholars would date it somewhat earlier, closer to 70 AD.

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Articles...

   Jesus and Latreuo Sam Shamoun

   Trinity Prooftexts - Revelation 22:3 Steve Rudd (from The Interactive Bible).

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