Worthy God

In a 2001 article in JSNT, Russell Morton analyzes the Jewish and Hebrew-Bible background for the scene in Revelation 4-5. But this does’t explain every detail. In particular, “the acclamation of ‘worthy’ is not found in the hymns of the Hebrew Bible” but is “a typical feature of Hellenistic/Roman hymns to a god, to the emperor or to some other human benefactor” (99).

Morton elaborates: “John makes a contrast between the dignity of God and the claims of Hellenistic/Roman rulers, and especially of the application of the appellation to Domitian of Dominus et Deus, ‘Lord and God’” (100).

The theophanic phenomena of lightning and thunder recall Sinai, but also resemble features of the imperial cult: “Homer describes Zeus as the ‘thunder bearer’, whose throne radiates lightning. This characteristic is also applied to Jupiter. Domitian and Trajan later appropriated the same theme. Coins and columns dating from reigns of these two emperors display Jupiter hurling thunderbolts.39 In the time of Domitian, in particular, the cult of Jupiter not only gained in popularity, but also was closely associated with the imperial cult.40 Thus, the description of the throne in Rev. 4.5 would have a dual meaning for John’s Hellenistic-Christian readers. While reminiscent of epiphany scenes of the Hebrew Bible, it also contains imagery that would have reminded them of the claims both of the imperial cult and of the emperor” (100).

Morton seems to assume a Domitian date for Revelation, and I disagree. But the main point stands: The Enthroned One and the Lamb fulfill not only the hopes of Israel but the desire of nations.

(Russell Morton, “Glory to God and to the Lamb: John’s Use of Jewish and Hellenistic/Roman Themes in Formatting his Theology in Revelation 4-5,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 83 [2001] 89-109.)

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