What is the Morning Star? Is it the planet Venus, or is it Lucifer, or is it the Lord Jesus?
In this series, Revelation Revisited, we are still exploring the letters to the seven churches. At the end of the Letter to the church in Thyatira Jesus makes an enigmatic but intuitively wonderful promise: “To him who overcomes… I will also give (him) the morning star” (Revelation 2:28). What could the Lord be meaning here?
In Revelations 1:20 Jesus gives the key to interpreting the book of Revelation when He identifies the stars in his hand as symbols of the angels of the churches, and the candlesticks as symbols of the churches themselves. This symbolism is derived in part from Old Testament passages such as Job 38:7 which describes the creation of the cosmos as a time when ‘the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy’ (NIV). However, the specific phrase used in Revelation 2:28 is ‘Morning Star’, so something more specific than angels in general is in view here.
In ancient times the planet Venus was commonly referred to as the ‘Morning Star’ because of its appearance as the brightest visible object in the eastern night sky just before sunrise. Peter used this symbolic phrase when he wrote, ‘And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’ (2 Peter 1:19). Scholars are divided as to what this text means but my understanding is that Peter is giving Christians the third of three evidences of the divinity of Jesus:
- In verses 16 to 18 he testifies that he was on the mount of transfiguration and personally heard the voice of God the Father proclaiming that Jesus is His Son.
- Peter points the believers to the prophecies of the Old Testament that foretold the coming of the Son of God into the world.
- He tells them that they themselves will fully believe that Jesus is God as the Spirit of Christ rises up in them and testifies to this truth.
The matter is settled when Jesus personally concludes the book of Revelation by saying, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16) So when Jesus promises persevering believers the ‘morning star’ he is assuring them of his presence in their lives; his authority, his power, and his indwelling companionship. A wonderful promise indeed!
I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
Of course, as usual, the devil seeks to distract and delude. In the book of Isaiah God castigates the king of Babylon for his presumptuous pride but it appears that the Lord is also reprimanding the sinister power behind the king of Babylon, Satan. “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit”. (Isaiah 14:12-15) The Hebrew word translated in this passage as ‘morning star’ is Heeyleel, meaning ‘to shine’ but in the late fourth century Latin Vulgate version of the Bible it is translated as ‘Lucifer’. From then on a number of commentators used the word ‘Lucifer’ as a synonym for Satan. This is a serious error! Jesus is the one who shines with glory, not Satan! Jesus is the source of the light of truth, not the devil! The ascription ‘Morning Star’ is reserved for Jesus alone.
We shouldn’t be surprised at Satan’s deception because he wants to appear to the world as illuminator and saviour. He is the anti-Christ. The word ‘anti’ means both ‘against’ and ‘instead of’, and Satan is both against Christ and seeks to present himself as a substitute Christ. Interestingly, although the planet Venus is known by most as the ‘morning star’, Mercury sometimes also appears in the Eastern sky before the dawn and has also been referred to as the Morning Star. Mercury is of course much smaller and duller than Venus, just as Satan is nowhere near the status and glory of the Son of God. Satan was cast out of Heaven because he persuaded a number of the angelic host to obey him rather than God; he wanted to be his own ‘god’. Then he used the same subversive tactic on Adam and Eve. An early Gnostic interpretation of the Genesis 3 account of the fall could be paraphrased as follows:
“Listen you two, God is lying to you. He just wants you to be his slaves to do the hard labor here on earth while he reaps the rewards. He wants to keep you ignorant and that is why he has forbidden you to gain the knowledge of everything, including good and evil. Lissssssten to me. I am telling you the truth. Obey me and I will make you the real gods of this planet.”
The devil makes all sorts of false promises to those who choose to believe him and ‘masquerades as an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14). Jesus, however, is the light of life and makes the greatest promises of all to His faithful disciples … eternal life, purpose, peace, and most of all, himself! He says, “I will give him the morning star”.