“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13).
John is the only Gospel writer to record Jesus’ eight startling declarations that begin with the cryptic phrase, “I am …” According to the book of Revelation, Jesus’ final assertion was His post-ascension pronouncement, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13).
Although authorship of the Revelation is not certain, there is a long tradition that the author, called John throughout the book, is the beloved apostle. He was the author of five New Testament books, including the Gospel of John; 1, 2 and 3 John; and the Revelation. Early evidence suggests that the Apostle John was indeed the author. Justin Martyr (135 A.D.), one of the early church leaders, believed him to be the author, and a document known as the Muratorian fragment (c. 170 A.D.) ascribes authorship to St. John. If the Apostle John is the author, it is fitting that he would record Jesus’ final proclamation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega …”
John wrote the Revelation while imprisoned on Patmos, a narrow, rocky island in the Aegean Sea off the coast of modern-day Turkey. Under the egocentric Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.), John was banished to the island because of his faith (1:9). Domitian was the first Roman emperor to compel all his subjects (including Jews and Christians) to worship him as a divine son of the gods.
John testifies that it was on a Sunday, “the Lord’s day” (1:10), that he heard a loud voice directing him to “write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches …” (1:11). When John turned to see who was speaking, he saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest” (1:12- 13). John was so overcome that he “fell at his feet as though dead” (1:17). The figure among the lampstands was Jesus, who then placed His right hand on John and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (1:17-18).
JESUS AFFIRMED THAT HE WAS THERE
AT THE BEGINNING, AND HE WILL BE
THERE AT THE END.
First and Last
Jesus’ use of the phrase “First and Last” is a reference to the self-description of God. He echoes God’s pronouncements recorded by the prophet Isaiah: “This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: ‘I am the first and I am the Last; apart from Me there is no God’” (Isa. 44:6). A few chapters later, God declares, “Listen to Me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am He; I am the First and I am the Last” (Isa. 48:12).
Alpha and Omega
The expression “Alpha and Omega,” along with its parallel phrase “First and Last,” is found four times in the Revelation. In two places, the idioms refer to God (1:8 and 21:6), and in two they clearly describe Jesus (1:17-18 and 22:13). In the latter passages, Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha is the first letter of the 24 letters in the Greek alphabet. Omega is the last letter. The phrase “alpha and omega” suggests completeness.
Although John recorded the divine vision in Greek, the phrase has a Hebrew counterpart. The first letter of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph, and the last is tau. The rabbis had an expression: “Adam transgressed the Law and Abraham kept it from aleph to tau.” They also said that “God had blessed Israel from aleph to tau.” As in Greek, the Hebrew phrase represented God as absolutely complete. He is before time began. He is now, and He will be when time ends.
Beginning and End
John’s extraordinary vision concludes with the risen Christ assuring the readers of His eminent return. “Behold, I am coming soon!” Jesus promised. “My reward is with Me, and I will give it to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:12-13). Jesus affirmed that He was there at the beginning, and He will be there at the end. He is there from birth to death. He is there when we start our walk with Him, and He will be there at the end.
The word for beginning (arche) means more than first in a point of time. It means first in the sense of the source of all things. The word for end (telos) does not simply mean an end in the point of time. It means the goal. All life begins and ends in God. As the poet F. H. Myers aptly notes:
Yea thro’ life, death, thro’ sorrow and thro’ sinning
He shall suffice me, for He hath sufficed:
Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ is the beginning, for the end is Christ.
Not only is Christ coming soon, but He assures His followers that when He comes He will reward every man according to his work. This is indeed good news. The best is yet to come!
Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.