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The Morning Star

The Morning Star

One question I get asked often concerns the phrase “(bright) morning star.” The question usually concerns some presumed relationship between Jesus and Lucifer, but that's really not what's going on in biblical theology here. I'll have to unpack that before I can get to what the Bible says about the “morning star.”

Morning Star: Isaiah 14

In Isaiah 14:12 we read about one “shining one, son of the dawn” (ḥêlel ben shaḥar). The phrase “son of the dawn” refers to the (astronomical) “morning star”—the small light first visible above the horizon when the new day dawns. This was, in ancient terms, a way to refer to Venus, as it was that first light in terms of real naked eye astronomy. The ancients knew Venus was a planet, but often referred to it as the largest star (see Pliny, Hist. nat. 2.37). Venus, appearing just before the sun, heralds a new day. Because of this it was termed “morning star.”

When most people think of the morning star, their minds go to Isaiah 14. In Hebrew, ”shining one” (ḥêlel) is rendered as “morning star” (ἐωσφόρος) in LXX (a derivative of Φωσφόρος, the word used for Venus). In Latin, this word is translated “Lucifer.” The ḥêlel figure in Isaiah is some sort of tyrant, described in terms of a tale about a divine being who wanted to be like the Most High and so snubbed his authority. Combine that backdrop tale with the Latin Vulgate's “Lucifer” and you get the presumed picture of Satan's rebellion.

This identification is not as simple as it sounds for a number of reasons; namely, the term “satan” is never used of the serpent (naḥash) of Genesis 3. The identification of that figure with God's arch rival, the Devil, came along in the second temple period. It isn't until the last book of the Bible (in Rev 12:9) that the words “serpent,” “devil,” and “Satan” are actually connected. Granted, the ideas are all interconnected much earlier, but as far as the use of the terms, the connection is pretty late.

I hold a minority view that there are good textual connections (besides these terms) between Isaiah 14 and Genesis 3, along with Ezekiel 28. I think they all draw on the belief and theology of the rebellion of a non-human divine figure against the Most High, who is Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible. (I have published an article on Isaiah 14 and its connection to a similar story in Ugaritic religion).

The question about the use of “morning star” terminology for Jesus usually brings this backdrop with it. Some people like to rant that Jesus is Satan here, or how Satan and Jesus are brothers (e.g., Mormons, though their argument usually comes from a different flawed trajectory). All of these notions are good illustrations of what happens when you ignore the context.

Morning Star: What is It?

The point of the terminology has to do with: brightness. Stars were bright, and brightness is a common description of divine beings throughout the ancient world. They are often described as luminous or fiery (cf. Ezek 1:13; Ps 104:4). Divine beings were therefore associated with, or identified with, objects in the sky—stars or planets. This idea is all over the ancient Near East. In terms of the Old Testament, Job 38:6–7 is the best example,

On what were its [the earth's] bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Notice that “morning star” is plural. Why the plural? Because there were more than one. Why the metaphor? Because it's the dawn of a new day—the first day, actually. This is the first day of earth's creation.

While the focus in Isaiah 14 is the human king of Babylon, the description of that king's arrogance is drawn from a story of a divine being's rebellion, a shining, luminous, bright divine being—like the morning star.

Morning Star: New Testament References of Jesus

When it comes to the use of the “morning star” terminology in the New Testament and its link with Jesus, on the surface, it would be easy to simply say, “The resurrected Christ is certainly divine, so, yes, that description fits.” In fact, every “morning star” occurrence with respect to Jesus is about the risen Christ or his re-appearing. The Bible even mentions the manifestation of Jesus' pre-resurrection glory and its connection with the very presence of God (John 1:14; 2:11; Acts 7:55; Titus 2:13).

But there's more to it. While the morning star did shine, it denoted something more important: the dawn of a new day and, thus, the new kingdom come to earth. The return of Jesus to earth to consummate the new kingdom of God, the new Eden, is always part of the context of the “morning star” references when used of Jesus.

We shall examine the three New Testament “morning star “references below.

Revelation 22:16

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.

The reference to the morning star has something to do with kingship (“I am the root and descendant of David”). Coming where it does, the unveiling of the new Jerusalem and new Eden, the context couldn't be clearer. Basically all New Testament scholars see the description here as hearkening back to Numbers 24:17: “a star shall rise out of Jacob.” (“Jacob” is another term used for Israel throughout the Bible).

Numbers 24:17 was interpreted messianically in Judaism apart from the New Testament writers (T. Levi 18:3; T. Jud. 24:1; 1QM 11:6–7; 4QTestim 9–13; CD 7:18–20). Everyone would have known this morning star reference was not about brightness; it was about the dawning of the returned kingdom of God.

Revelation 2:26–28

26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.28 And I will give him the morning star.29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The point of Revelation 2:26–28 is similar to that of Revelation 22:16 (only much cooler). Notice how in this case Jesus isn't the morning star—he gives the morning star. Look at it again:

26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.28 And I will give him the morning star.29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Who are the ones who overcome in Revelation? Believers. What do they get? Authority. Over whom? The nations that are presently under the authority of the corrupted sons of God (Deut 32:8–9, with LXX and DSS; cp. Deut 4:19–20; Psalm 82). Believers share in the kingdom (see Daniel 7:27–28, another divine council passage). They will “ruler over angels” (1 Cor 6:3) because they displace them in God's hierarchy in the last day. Verse 27 has Jesus ruling (“he”) with a rod of iron (cf. Ps 2), but it is Jesus who gives to mere believers, the overcomers, the morning star. What is the morning star? The divine authority to rule in the new kingdom.

The last reference is not difficult to parse in light of all this:

2 Peter 1:17-19

17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…

2 Peter, like the references in Revelation 2, has a good bit to say about persecution and false teachers. Believers, the ones who need to overcome, need to follow the truth that shines like a lamp in a dark place until the morning star rises in their hearts (or “until the new day dawns in their hearts”). What new day? The one that happens after Jesus returns. Because all believers are in Christ and he is them, they will be resurrected to rule and reign with him, and they will receive the new body promised through the guarantee of the Spirit. Peter’s “in your hearts” idea is communicating something like “until this hope rises in you”—until you see the blessed hope dawning.

So, no, the morning star references don't identify Jesus with Satan, he is not identified as Satan, nor are the two brothers. Lucifer isn't sharing in any of this.

 

Resources:

  • Amzallag, Nissim, and Mikhal Avriel. “The Cryptic Meaning of the Isaiah 14 Māšāl.” Journal of Biblical Literature131, no. 4 (2012): 643-662.
  • Moffatt, “The Bright and Morning Star.”The Expositor6 (1920) 224–41
  • S. Moore, “Jesus Christ: ‘Superstar.’ ”Novum Testamentum24 (1982) 82–91.



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