Excursus: Jesus as the good Lucifer in Revelation and 2 Peter

 

6.4) Excursus:  Jesus as the good Lucifer in Revelation and 2 Peter

 

We have seen that the “dualistic” contrast between Light and Dark is a natural image or metaphor for making stark distinctions between Goodness and Badness, Virtue and Vice, Truth and Error.  We have noticed its use particularly in discussing the Dead Sea Scrolls (chap. 2.3), Paul in the Beliar passage (chap. 3.3), and the Gospel of John (chap. 4.4), and just now in the First Epistle of John.

In terms of his origins Satan should be aligned with Light, Goodness, Virtue, and Truth, since his main function was seen as making sure that no defects in these qualities should escape detection.  But there was not much chance of regarding Satan as a particularly luminous figure, because he developed an “attitude problem” early on:  he was too cynical and sharp in his insinuations, too underhanded in his methods.  Even when the Angel of Yahweh performed a Satanic function against Balaam (chap. 1.1), he did not come off very well, seeming a little mean-spirited, wrong-headed, and heavy-handed.  Eventually, Satan was seen as so concerned about testing for vice that he was considered to be on the side of vice, which put him squarely on the Dark Side of things.

Jesus, in contrast, is consistently seen to be on the Light Side.  This is a drumbeat particularly in John’s Gospel:  the Word is the true Light who enlightens every human being (John 1.9).  John the Baptist, for his part, “was not the Light, but he came to bear witness to the Light” (John 1.8).  “Bearing witness to the Light” is a good functional description of the Morning Star, namely, the planet Venus.  Venus always stays very close to the Sun, and when it appears at all, it is seen in the East just before the sun rises or in the West just before the Sun sets.  In the latter position it is called Hesperos in Greek, and

 

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in Latin the related forms Hesperus and Vesper.  In the former position, it is called Phosphoros or Heosphoros (“Dawn-bringer) in Greek and Lucifer in Latin.  Both phosphoros and lucifer mean “bringing light.”  In other words, Lucifer is not the light, but announces the light.  Hence, one would think that John the Baptist would be the best candidate for being likened to the Morning Star.

But as we saw in our discussion of Luke (chap. 4.3), John seems to be designated as the pre-Luciferian announcer, and the Messiah himself as the Lucifer figure.  Zachary says to the baby John:

You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High.  For you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the forgiveness of their sins.  By the tender mercy of our God, a Rising from on high will come to us, to appear to those who sit in Darkness and in the shadow dark as Death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.  (Luke 1.76-79)

Earlier I translated “Rising” (Anatole) as “a Star that heralds the Day.”  But since it appears not simply to announce the light but to give light, the Anatole may be the Rising Sun itself.

On the other hand the Anatole need not be connected with the Dawn and the Sun.  In Matthew’s Gospel, the Magi come “from Risings” (apo Anatolon), that is, from the East, the direction not only of the Rising Sun but also of the Rising Stars, looking for the King of the Jews, for they have seen his Star “in the Rising” (en te Anatole) (Matt. 2.1-2).  The appearance of a such a Star was one of the Messianic signs in Balaam’s prophecy:  “A Star will rise from Jacob, a Man from Israel, who will crush the Leaders of Moab” (LXX Num. 24.17).

In the book of Revelation John the Divine more clearly attributes the function of Lucifer to Jesus.  Actually, it is not so obvious in the first passage, because Jesus himself gives the Morning Star to the faithful.  John is relaying the message of the Son of Man to his followers in Thyatira, those who have not taken up the so-called deep things of Satan (see section 1 above).  He says:

 

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To everyone who conquers, and who continues to do my works to the end, I will give power (exousia) over the Nations, to rule them with an iron rod and shatter them like so many pots, as I received this power from my Father.  To the one who conquers I will also give the Morning Star (ho Aster ho Proinos).  (Rev. 2.26-28)

Some commentators assure us that the Morning Star is Christ himself, since later on in Revelation (as we will see), Jesus identifies himself as such.  But it may be that there is a different system at work there.  In the present passage, for the Morning Star to be Christ, we have to assume that Christ says “I, Jesus, give you Jesus.”  It would be more natural for him to say, “I give you myself as the Morning Star.”

An alternative explanation is to see the passage as in tune with the Last-Supper discourse of Jesus in John, where he says that he will send his Spirit—that is, the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate or Paraclete (see above, chap. 4.4).  In support of this latter interpretation, perhaps, is the fact that the Son of Man goes on in the Apocalpyse to mention the Spirit:  “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches” (Rev. 2.29).  He is saying that his message is really the Spirit’s message, and that it is addressed not just to the Church of Thyatira, but to all the Churches.  He will repeat the same thing at the end of the messages to each of the three remaining Churches, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

At the end of Revelation, the book proper concludes with an account of the New Jerusalem, in which there will be no more night:  “They need no light of lamp or Sun, for the Lord God will be their Light, and they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22.5).  Then John has an exchange with the Angel who has revealed these things to him, but the words of Jesus keep bursting in, unintroduced by narrative cues.  The third time this happens, Jesus says:

It is I, Jesus, who sent my Angel to you with this testimony for the Churches.  I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star (ho Aster, ho Lampos, ho Proinos).  (Rev. 22.16)

 

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This is equivalent to saying, “I, Jesus, am Lucifer.”  And since the Morning Star is designated as Bright (Lampos), it is not just the forerunner of the Light.  It is the Light itself.

Finally, in what is probably the last-composed book of the New Testament, the Second Epistle of Peter, similar imagery is used.  The author, Pseudo-Peter, claims to have heard the voice of God speaking on the Mountain of Transfiguration, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1.17-18).  He says that these words of God are confirmation of the words of the prophets.

He continues:

You will do well to pay attention to it as to a Lamp for lighting a way through a murky place, until Day dawns and [the] Morning Star (Phosphoros) rises in your hearts.  (2 Peter 1.19)

The basic imagery here seems to be that the prophets provide weak light until Jesus comes with the fullness of Light.

The imagery is introduced rather awkwardly, since presumably the Morning Star has already risen in the hearts of the Christian faithful and replaced dimmer lights.  On the other hand the imagery is realistic, in that the Dawn is said to precede the rising of the Morning Star, but no separate significance seems to be attached either to the light of Dawn or the full light of the Sun that will naturally follow.

Upshot:  Lucifer, that is, the Morning Star, the planet Venus when it appears in the dawning, which was recognized as the brightest of all Stars, is a consistently positive image, one that is solidly associated with Jesus the Messiah.