Revelation 5: Evidence for the Trinity?
My theology professor argued that God must exist as a tri-unity of persons based on Revelation chapter 5, among others. He points to the distinctions made between the one sitting on the throne, the lamb, and the spirit.
Revelation 5:1 And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.
2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?"
3 And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it.
4 And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it;
5 and one of the elders *said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals."
6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.
7 And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. [for the Lamb to take the scroll from the One on the throne would indicate that the Lamb is distinct from the One on the throne]
8 And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
9 And they *sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
10 "And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
11 And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands,
12 saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."
13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, " To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." [for it to say the Lamb was accorded praise as well as the One who sits on the throne indicates that they are distinct persons]
14 And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshiped.
How does a Oneness theology account for this passage?
A lot of groundwork needs to be laid to understand the reason for the Biblical distinctions between Father and Son. If you have not already, you need to read my articles titled "Christology," "Understanding Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," and "Avoiding the Achilles Heels of Trinitarianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, and Nestorianism: The Acknowledgement and Proper Placement of the Distinction Between Father and Son."
The first principle we must understand relates to the Biblical distinction between Father and Son, and the reason for such a distinction. The Bible is clear that Jesus, the Son of God, prayed to the Father. By portraying Jesus (Son) as praying to the Father the Bible is making a distinction between the Father and Son. The Bible often distinguishes between the Father and Son, so this should be no surprise. We cannot deny these distinctions. To recognize them in not an affirmation of Trinitarianism, for both Trinitarians and Oneness believers confess these distinctions, but understand their nature and origin differently. It is both possible and necessary to maintain the uni-personal nature of God's eternal essence (rather than tri-personal as in Trinitarian dogma) and a genuine distinction between Father and Son if we wish to adequately explain the Scriptures. We can avoid both Trinitarianism and Tritheism by placing the distinctions in their proper place. The proper place for these distinctions is not in an eternal distinction of three persons within one essence, but a distinction arising in the incarnation due to God's newly acquired human existence.
Biblically speaking "Jesus" or "Son" most always refers to God's existence in the incarnation, while "Father" refers to God's existence beyond the incarnation. The Father/Son distinction is not indicative of two different personal deities in the Godhead, but of one personal deity in two distinct modes of existence: as God, as man.
The Son is truly distinct from the Father because in the incarnation Jesus' two natures were metaphysically united to form an existence distinct from God's normal and continued manner of existence beyond the incarnation as the transcendent, unlimited Spirit. The Son is distinct from the Father, not in the identity of His deity, but due to the addition of humanity to His existence. Jesus' deity is the deity of the one uni-personal God, YHWH, but in the incarnation the Spirit of YHWH became a human being, resulting in a union of the divine and human natures of Christ in such a way that makes Him a fully integrated and fully functioning individual in contradistinction to God's continued existence beyond the incarnation. Seeing that Jesus' identity is distinct from the Father's due to the union of Christ's deity and humanity into one person, Jesus can be, and is spoken of as a possessing a distinct identity from the Father.
This distinction between Father and Son arises because of Christ's humanity, not in His deity, or between His deity and the deity of the Father. With the assumption of a genuine human existence complete with a human psyche, will, emotions, and consciousness, Jesus' existence is distinct from the Father's. In the incarnation Jesus came to possess a distinct and limited human consciousness, differing from God's unlimited divine consciousness beyond the incarnation. Such a distinction in consciousness' demands that we speak of the Father and Jesus as being distinct both metaphysically and psychologically. This distinction is not between eternal persons within the Godhead, but rather between God's existence in the incarnation and His continued existence beyond the incarnation.
To further demonstrate that the assertion being made here is not comparable to the Trinitarian notion of "person," let me elaborate on the difference between the manner in which Oneness believers make a distinction between Father and Son and the manner in which Trinitarians make a distinction between the same.
1. Trinitarianism teaches three eternal distinctions of persons within the one essence of the Godhead. Oneness theology, however, only admits a distinction between the Father and Son, not between the Father, Son, and Spirit.
2. The distinctions in Oneness theology are not distinctions within God's very essence as in Trinitarian theology, but a distinction between the uni-personal God's existence beyond the incarnation and the same uni-personal God's existence in the incarnation, wherein God added a human nature to previously unmitigated existence as exclusive Spirit. The distinction arises only due to the hypostatic union of Christ's deity and humanity, in contradistinction to God's continued existence beyond the incarnation as Spirit alone.
3. The Oneness understanding of the distinction between Father and Son is not an eternal distinction of persons prior to the incarnation. Oneness theology understands the distinction as arising only after the incarnation when the one uni-personal God, YHWH, Himself became a man, acquiring a genuine human existence/consciousness. Whereas the Trinitarian distinction is eternal and unrelated to the incarnation, in Oneness theology the distinction is temporal and exclusively bound up in the incarnation.
In light of the above, to confess a distinction between Father and Son is not a Trinitarian confession of an internal distinction of persons within God's nature. Rather, it is a recognition that when God brought into union with Himself human nature, a distinction between Father and Jesus (Son) came into being. Such a distinction is not between divine persons in the Godhead (Trintiarianism), but between God's existence beyond the incarnation and God's existence in the incarnation (Oneness theology).
Only a genuine distinction between the Father and Son created by the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures can account for the hundreds of passages which speak of Jesus and the Father as being distinct "individuals," (examples include John 5:19-20, 30; 8:29; 12:49-50; 14:7, 9-10, 12, 20-21, 23-24, 26, 28, 31; 15:10) or those which distinguish Jesus from God Himself (examples of this phenomenon include Matthew 27:46; Luke 2:52; John 8:40; 14:1; 17:3; 20:17; Acts 2:22; 4:10; 7:55; 10:38; Romans 10:9; I Corinthians 8:4-6; Ephesians 1:3; Hebrews 1:9; I Peter 1:3). For example, Jesus distinguished His own testimony concerning Himself and His Father's testimony of Him, comparing the testimonies to that of two men (John 8:17-18). Oneness believers have traditionally shied away from this statement because it seems to imply that God's essence consists of more than one person. While such is not the meaning of the passage, the distinction of person Jesus made between Himself and the Father perfectly accords with the nature of the incarnation and the implications of a true human existence for Christ. Because of the metaphysical and psychological distinction between the Father and Son, Jesus' testimony of Himself was distinct from the Father's testimony of Him. Indeed there were two testimonies. These testimonies were not the testimonies of two distinct persons in the eternal Godhead, but the testimony of God's conscious existence beyond the incarnation, and the same God's human consciousness in Christ.
In summation, Jesus is distinct from the Father, not in the identity of His deity, but in the mode of His existence. In Christ, God came to possess a fully human consciousness, distinct from His divine consciousness beyond the incarnation. This distinction of consciousness between Father and Son, arising because of Christ's genuine human existence, demands that we consider the Son to have a distinct mode of existence from the Father. While we must reject an eternal, personal distinction within God's very essence, we cannot reject the temporal distinction between God's divine and human modes of existence.
What I have said heretofore is foundational to understanding the verses in question. Let us, now, move specifically to an examination of the issue.
In interpreting Revelation, we must realize that John is seeing visions here. There are many things John sees that are symbolic in nature, not pictures of reality. For instance, Jesus wasn't really going to remove a literal candlestick from the church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:5). In Revelation 4:1 there was not a door in heaven that John physically walked through. It was a vision. The same applies to Revelation 5. This was a vision full of symbolism. Surely Jesus is not a lamb. God does not have a right hand capable of holding a book (5:1). In Revelation 5:5 Jesus is called a lion, and yet in the next verse he becomes a lamb. Surely Jesus does not have seven eyes and seven horns (5:6). How can the lamb be slain, and yet move (5:6)?
The lamb is the sacrifice, which makes reference to God's human existence. God's essence could not be slain, but God's humanity could be. We might also ask where the supposed third person of the Trinity is at in this vision? Why is it that only the Father and Son are present? Can a lamb take a book out of someone's hands and hold the book (5:7)? Obviously this is prophetic and symbolic imagery. If we take the distinction between the one on the throne and the lamb to mean an eternal distinction of divine persons in the Godhead, then we must believe God the Father has hands, and God the Son is a bleeding lamb with seven eyes and seven horns. The symbolic nature of this entire passage should cause us to question if there is some symbolism in the very distinction between the one on the throne and the lamb.
Understanding the Father-Son distinction incarnationally helps us to understand the imagery of Revelation five. In the vision John is seeing symbolic representations of both God's transcendent existence (represented by the one on the throne), as well as His immanent existence as man (represented by the lamb, who is from the tribe of Judah and the root of David-5:5).
Let's just assume that Revelation 6:17 should read "their." This still does not argue for a Trinity or against Oneness theology. Again, where is the third person? As God, does He not have wrath or exercise His wrath too? When we understand, however, that God is judge, and He has appointed Jesus Christ as judge of the world (Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16; 2 Timothy 4:1), we can see how the one on the throne and the lamb would, together, pour out wrath on the world.
Most of the other verses you mentioned are similar to those just discussed, so I will not pursue them individually. Revelation 22:3, however, does deserve special attention. First, notice who is being distinguished. It is God and the lamb. The lamb is being distinguished from God Himself. How does this imply a Trinitarian understanding of God? Trinitarians see the Son as an eternally distinct person within God's one essence, but here John distinguishes the lamb from God Himself. Taken entirely at face value we might conclude that the lamb is not God. Obviously the distinction between God and the lamb is not meant to teach that the lamb is not God, and neither is it meant to teach that the lamb is a distinct person from God the Father in the eternal Godhead. Also notice that it goes on to say "His servants shall serve Him." The two pronouns are singular in form, yet they are referring to both God and the lamb (also notice v. 4 which speaks of his face and his name). If God and the lamb are so distinct so that one is on the throne and one is not, how can singular pronouns be used? Plural pronouns and referents have been consistently used throughout the rest of the book to distinguish the one on the throne from the lamb, and it was never believed that these plurals impugned upon God's oneness. But here again we have plural subjects, yet singular pronouns are used. This makes sense if we understand the symbolic nature of the use of the one on the throne and the lamb, and the distinction between God's existence in the incarnation, and that same uni-personal God's existence in the incarnation.
I believe all of this becomes clear when we understand who was on the throne. Revelation 4:2 says one sat on the throne, and He was identified as the "Lord God almighty who was, and is, and is to come." And yet previously, Jesus was identified as the one "which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty" (1:8). In Revelation 21:5-6 it is the one on the throne who said He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, and yet in Revelation 1:8, 11 and 22:13 Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. Jesus is on the throne, and I don't believe there is enough room for two on the throne!
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