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The Apologists Bible Commentary
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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;
Other Views Considered...
For Further Reading...
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
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:
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 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:
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:
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:
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:
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):
This fact is particularly striking, given the author's evident concern to contrast the proper worship with false worship throughout his book.2
objection: Some Jehovah's Witness apologists3 have argued that God is the referent of "him" in this verse, for the following three reasons:
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:
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.
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):
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).
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.
Jesus and Latreuo Sam Shamoun
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