What about language applied to God in the Old Testament but applied to Jesus in Revelation?
This is a quite frequent question in discussions between Trinitarians and Oneness (UPCI) on one side and non-Trinitarians, including biblical unitarians (principally Christadelphians). Why would language exclusive to God in the Old Testament be applied to Jesus in the New Testament, particularly in Revelation.
The first thing to say is why not? There are whole raft of terms which describe God in the Old Testament which – after his Son is conceived and born and glorified in the New Testament – could equally be applied to the Son who reveals, or manifests God.
Some of these are not greatly different from the way that angels manifest God in the Old Testament. So “God” appeared to Abraham or Moses, for example, but we know that in fact it was an angel. This is sometimes called the manifestation of God, or ‘God manifestation’. But there are limits to this. It needs to be said clearly that Jesus is never called “God” when revealing his Father, so that is something that applies to angels, but not to Christ. Mainly because angels are mere messengers, little more than prisms or vehicles through which God speaks and acts. Jesus is not a mere prism, he is a separate individual with separate authority and position – a son not a messenger.
The usual examples
This listing is not exhaustive but includes some of the frequent asked questions.
1. God brings down to Sheol, Jesus has been given the keys to Hades
Hannah’s statement “the LORD .. brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6). While Jesus has been given the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:18) .
Which is what we would expect, as all judgment has been entrusted to the son.
2. The one who lives forever
The phrase “the One who lives forever” is used of God in Daniel 12:7, but also the angel swears by “the One who lives forever and ever in Revelation 10:5-6. And this might be referring to Jesus. Whether it is or is not, Jesus also now lives for ever – but with the difference that this is by the power of God, not his own power.
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:4)
3. First and the last
God is called “the first and the last” in Isaiah 44:6. In Revelation 22:13 that is used of Jesus.
Here is a suggested answer: What does it mean Jesus is the first and the last?
4. Alpha and Omega.
This is primarily a title of God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) and yet by the end of Revelation Jesus has taken on the same title.
5. Lord of Lords.
Lord of Lords is a title of God used in Deuteronomy 10:17 and Psalm 136:3. And a title of Jesus used in 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, and Revelation 19:16.
The noteworthy thing here however is what is not said.
“For the LORD (YHWH) your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:17).
Yahweh is not only God of gods – without implying that other gods exist – and yet Jesus becomes only Lord of Lord, not God or a god.
6. One like a son of man comes to the Ancient of Days
and behold, with the clouds of heaven, there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days, and was presented before him. (Daniel 7:13).
13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. (Revelation 1:13)
Except here the son of man in both verses is not God, but someone presented before God. So it is difficult to see how this is a problem.
7. Jesus is called “mighty God” in Isaiah 9:6
This is an unusual passage because El Gibbor, possibly God is mighty, or mighty god, is not used of God in the Old Testament. And here is part of a name. Academic commentators, and Jewish commentators, usually read Isaiah 9 as an extension of the Immanuel prophecies in Isaiah 7 and 8, which apply first to a child born in the reign of king Ahaz, father of Hezekiah.
8. Isaiah 40:3 applied to John the Baptist
Another verse, not from Revelation, which is often raised by Oneness churches is the way that Isaiah 40:3 is applied to the work of John the Baptist:
“A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD (YHWH), make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)
This passage is linked to the work of John the Baptist by all four evangelists: Matthew states of John “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:3), then the same in Mark 1:3 Luke 3:4 and in Gospel of John we read that John the Baptist himself claims, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23).
Interestingly none of the four evangelists extend the verse to include the second part which mentions “God”. Still we have this passage where in Isaiah it is preparing for the LORD, Jehovah/Yahweh, but in the New Testament where the word “Lord” (Greek Kyrios) is often ambiguous between the Lord God and the Lord Jesus it seems as if the four evangelists have supplanted Jesus into a slot talking about the way of Jehovah.
The solution as so often is not to read out of context. The Old Testament prophecy in its first application is about events in the days of Hezekiah, and the way of the LORD obviously relates to God alone, since Jesus did not yet exist. As so often the New Testament takes an Old Testament prophecy with an initial fulfillment and then reapplies it to a later greater fulfillment in Christ, or in this case in John the Baptist, preparing the way of God, by preparing for God’s son.
Some Trinitarians and Oneness may also claim the following:
- God in Psalm 45:6; since applied to Christ in Hebrews 1:8 – see Why does Psalm 45 say concerning Jesus “your throne O God” in Hebrews 1:8, if Jesus is not actually God?
- LORD in Psalm 102:25–27 applied to Jesus in Hebrews 1:10 – see Is “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth” (Hebrews 1:10) about God or about Jesus?
- Emmanuel – God with us (Isaiah 7:14), – see first Did Matthew realise that the original “Emmanuel” prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) refers to a child at the time of Pekah and Rezin (Isaiah 7:1, 16)? and then secondly see Doesn’t the name “Immanuel” show that Jesus is God, and therefore proves the Trinity? (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23)
- “mighty God” (El Gibbor אֵל גִּבּוֹר) in Isaiah 9:6, coupled to ” The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God” (El Gibbor אֵל גִּבּֽוֹר׃ ) in Isaiah 10:21 – see three answers
- Why does God call Jesus “God” in Isaiah 9:6, if he is not actually God? from June 2014
- and Is Isaiah 9:6’s “Wonderful counselor” related to Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8’s “Immanuel”? from 2013
- and Why does Isaiah 9:6 call Jesus “Mighty God, Everlasting Father”? Answered by Bible Q 2009
- my Lord in Psalm 110:1 – see In Psalm 110:1 is “my Lord” Adonai (God) or adoni (human lord)?
- “the LORD is our righteousness” Jeremiah 23:6 – see link to answer here.
- 1 Corinthians 10:4 They drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. (KJV) – see What does “the rock that followed them was Christ” mean? (1 Corinthians 10:4)
- 1 Corinthians 10:9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes … does this really require any explanation?
- Hebrews 1:2–3, – see Explain Hebrews 1:2 “by whom also he made the worlds.”
- Hebrews 1:8–10 – see Is “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth” (Hebrews 1:10) about God or about Jesus?
This exercise can go on if someone is looking for any similar language used of both God and his Son, the Lord Jesus. But the more the exercise goes on the more obvious it becomes that the key unique terms used of God – namely “God”, “YHWH”, “Almighty” – are missing from the language used of his Son.