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 Smyrna

Christ - the First and the Last

John Hoole May 21, 2006


The Book of Revelation opens with John the apostle exiled on the island of Patmos. In Chapter 1, verse 10, John says, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice..." As he turned to see who had spoken to him, he sees his Savior, Jesus Christ. How would you be feeling to see with your own eyes a friend you haven't laid eyes on for over 60 years.

Verse 17 tells us the apostle fell towards the Lord's feet as dead. Christ sought to comfort John, by saying,

17. … "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
18. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.
(Revelation 1:17-18)

I want to quickly review the fact that in each of the seven letters, Christ reveals Himself in a unique manner to each of the churches. I mentioned in our introductory lessons on the 7 churches, that each representation of Christ in the letters to each church was first mentioned in chapter one.

7 Attributes of Christ in Revelation 2 & 3

Let's look at the different descriptions Christ gives of Himself to each church.

1. He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (Revelation 2:1)

2. The First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: (Revelation 2:8)

3. He who has the sharp two-edged sword (Revelation 2:12)

4. The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass (Revelation 2:18)

5. He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars (Revelation 3:1)

6. He who is holy, He who is true, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens" (Revelation 3:7)

7. The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God (Revelation 3:14)

Every description Christ gives of Himself in chapters 2 & 3 are also found in chapter 1. I will not go through the entire list, but let me go through the first two churches.

1. Ephesus

Revelation 2:1 NKJV

1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:

Let's correlate this to what we find in chapter 1.

Revelation 1:12, 13, 16 NKJV

12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.

16 He had in His right hand seven stars,...

2. Smyrna

Revelation 2:8 NKJV

8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, 'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:

This description of Christ also shows up in chapter 1.

Revelation 1:17-18 NKJV

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.

Today, we are going to look at the phrase: I am the First and the Last. It implies a number of important things.

WHAT DOES THE PHRASE, "I AM THE FIRST AND THE LAST," SAY TO YOU?

Although the phrase, "I am the first and the last," has become an integral part of our understanding of Jesus, it may surprise you that this phrase is only found in the Book of Revelation. And in this book, it is found only four times. It is mentioned here with regard to the church in Smyrna. We have already read Revelation 1:17, where it appears for the second time in this Book.

The first time this phrase appears in the Book of Revelation is Revelation 1:11, where Jesus states: "I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last,..."

Dr. Henry Morris is a man I highly respect. Many years ago I met him and have attended conferences where he was the primary speaker. I especially enjoyed his studies on creation versus evolution. At the time I met him, he was a professor and the head of the department of Civil Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. But his studies and books reach into subjects far beyond the sciences.

Commenting on Revelation 2:8, he states, 'The First and the Last...means very much the same as "the Alpha and the Omega" used of God in verse 8...' He is referring back to Revelation 1:8.

Revelation 1:8 (NKJV) reads:

8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End," says the Lord, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

Dr. Morris is not the only writer who takes the position that these titles of Jesus have quite the same meaning. Other theologians I respect say much the same. This might sound like a good interpretation of the phrases. And it might be true that the phrases, "I am the alpha and the omega," is similar to "I am the first and the last." But, for me there are still some questions needing answers, especially when we come to the fourth and final time this phrase occurs in this Book.

In Revelation 1:8, which we just read, Christ identifies Himself by two phrases. "The Alpha and the Omega", as well as "The Beginning and the End."

In Revelation 22:13, Christ is speaking, and He uses all three phrases,

13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last."

Again, Morris simply concludes that "All three expressions mean much the same and they set Christ apart from all created being." In making that statement, Morris is implying that Christ is describing, in part, His deity. And it is true that each of these 3 statements certainly do emphasize the deity of Christ.

While it is true that Jesus could have used these phrases to emphasize His divinity, using differing phrases which were nearly identical, I tend to think that there may be shades of meaning here that we would do well to consider. Why would God use 3 titles of Christ meaning essentially the same? And why did He sometimes use only one title, and sometimes two or three of them together?

Don't get me wrong. God can do whatever He wants without getting my permission. And He certainly is able to do things that I don't understand.

Isaiah 55:9 (NKJV) God says:

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.

So, God could certainly have used all three titles of Christ to have the same or similar meanings. But, I still ask: "could it be that these three titles are used together not to repeat and emphasize one aspect of the character of Christ, but to state three quite different and distinct points." So let's look at these three titles of Christ.

Let's look at all occurrences of these three phrases in the Book of Revelation.

In Revelation 1:8, we find "the Alpha and Omega" and "the Beginning and the End."

In Revelation 1:11, we find "the Alpha and Omega" and "the First and the Last."

In Revelation 1:17, we find only "the First and the Last."

In Revelation 2:8, we also find only "the First and the Last."

In Revelation 21:6, we find "the Alpha and Omega" and "the Beginning and the End."

In Revelation 22:13, we find all three mentioned.

1. The Alpha and the Omega

It is used with the title, "The Beginning and the End" in Revelation 1:8 and Revelation 21:6. In Revelation 1:11, it is used with "the First and the Last." It is used with both "The Beginning and the End" and "The First and the Last" in Revelation 22:13. This phrase is also only found in the Book of Revelation. And, again, it is only found in 4 passages.

WHAT ARE THE WORDS "ALPHA" AND "OMEGA"?

Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Such a statement is understood to mean He is the Alpha and the Omega, and all the letters in between. We would say, "from A to Z."

But I don't think God is speaking about alphabets. He is speaking of reality. From an alphabet you make words, and Jesus Christ is called the 'Word of God' (John 1:1). He is the full revelation and communication of God. And He is the only alphabet you can use to reach God. If you are going to get through to the Father, you will have to go through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Living Word.

We are told in Hebrews 1:1-2 NKJV

1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,
2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

Colossians 2:9 tells us that in Christ dwell the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When Christ was here, He represented and communicated the fullness of God.

The written Word of God expresses the Son of God, and the Son of God, who is the Living Word, expressed the written Word. The truth reveals the Son, and the Son reveals the truth. The Scriptures interpret the Son, and the Son interprets the Scriptures. Wisdom unveils the Son, and the Son unveils wisdom. The Son declares the Father, and the Father declares the Son.

I am the Alpha and Omega.

All knowledge is conveyed through the letters of the alphabet. Christ's designation of Himself as the Alpha and the Omega affirms that He has all knowledge. By using that phrase, Jesus is saying, "I am the whole revelation of God." Other than our Lord Jesus Christ, no person exists who is in possession of titles and designation beginning with every letter of the alphabet. The Scriptures tell us that He has a name that is "above all names" (Philippians 2:9).

2. The Beginning and the End

This title is used 3 times, and only in the Book of Revelation. And it is never used alone. It is used with the title, "The Alpha and the Omega," twice -- in Revelation 1:8 and 21:6. And in Revelation 22:13, it is used with both "Alpha and Omega" and "First and the Last."

WHAT DOES "THE BEGINNING AND THE END" MEAN AS A TITLE FOR JESUS?

Christ is said here to be the beginning (when He has no beginning) and the end (when He has no end). Here, then, we are not looking at God's eternality, but His work of causing all things to come into existence and, finally, to end the existence of all things.

Christ is the beginning (not just 'at' the beginning'), and nothing exists except that He has caused it to begin or has allowed its possibility (John 1:2-3, 8:58, Col 1:17). Similarly, nothing will cease to exist except when God causes it to end. He is the end, the conclusion, of all things.

When looking at "the Alpha and the Omega" as a descriptor of Christ, we took note that Christ is also called the Word, and that words are made up of letters.

John 1:1-3 NKJV

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

We are told in this Passage that everything that exists was created by Christ. In Him was the beginning of everything. God began the world and the universe and He will also bring about its end. He began His work of salvation in believers and He will also bring it to completion. In all things, God is to be considered as the source and origin but also as the final outcome, therefore God is proclaimed as being both the Beginning and the End.

Whenever we turn on earth to contemplate men of ability and dignity, we cannot help also observing their limitations. But in Christ we meet limitlessness. Likewise, the authority of all people who wield powers is marked by boundaries. But in Christ we find One who is boundless. He is without beginning or end. But by Him all things have beginning and end. If we turn to consider the capability of those in national leadership, every one is surrounded by the confines of time. But the Lord Jesus is timeless.

Furthermore, when men of renown reach the borders of maturity, old age robs them of vitality and vision. But the Son of God is ageless and wholly immune from mortality. Christ spans the centuries, and the accumulating ages take no toll of His everlasting strength.

So, what do we have so far?

1. Christ is the Alpha and Omega. He communicates and is the full disclosure of God. This could speak to His omniscience - He know everything.

2. Christ is the Beginning and the End. All things had their start and end in Him. This speaks of His omnipotence - He has all power. Everything that exists was created by Him, and He will bring all things to a close.

Revelation 21 tells us that one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

3. The First and the Last

In the Book of Revelation, this title of Christ is used with "The Alpha and Omega" in Revelation1:11. It is mentioned alone in Revelation 1:17 and 2:8. It is used with the other two in Revelation 22:13.

The church at Smyrna probably would have liked Jesus to say to them that He was the beginning and the ending - especially the ending of their suffering. But that is not how Jesus addresses them here. For them He says He is "the first and the last."

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE PHRASE "THE FIRST AND THE LAST" MEANS?

Like the previous descriptions of Christ - "The Alpha and the Omega" and "The Beginning and End" the description of Him being "the first and the last," is found in Revelation 4 times, but nowhere else in the New Testament. But, unlike the other two, this phrase is found in the Old Testament. In the Book of Isaiah, it is used three times as a title for God. Let's quickly read each of them.

Isaiah 44:6 NKJV

6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.

Isaiah 48:12 NKJV

12 "Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last.

Isaiah 41:4 NKJV

4 Who has performed and done it, Calling the generations from the beginning? 'I, the LORD, am the first; And with the last I am He.'"

I am not going to comment on these passages in Isaiah, except to say they describe the God of Israel. And with Christ using that title with reference to Himself, there can be no doubt that He is affirming His equality with the Father. Like the Father, Jesus is eternal and infinite. He already existed when all things were created. He is no mere human god of some country, but the very Son of the living God.

When Christ calls Himself "the first and the last," He is speaking of His eternal nature, One who has always existed and will always be. This is but one attribute of the deity of Christ. But it would be very encouraging to the Christians at Smyrna, for it declares to them that He will always be with them.

The subject of the eternal nature of Christ is one that is beyond the limits of our mind to comprehend. Our minds can do fairly well to comprehend the dimensions of time. But we have great trouble understanding the eternal.

One thing is certain - the Scriptures make a distinction between the "temporal" and the "eternal." Paul tells us, in 2 Corinthians 4:18, that the things that are seen are "temporal" but the things not seen are "eternal."

Jesus Christ has the same nature as the Father. The attributes of God are all found in Christ. Being eternal is but one of those characteristics of God.

HOW DO WE KNOW JESUS IS ETERNAL?

When speaking of the eternal nature of Christ, two aspects are important, depending with whom you are discussing this topic. First - was Jesus always eternal in the past? There are a number of cults that believe Jesus is eternal, but His eternal nature began after He came to earth. Those who hold this view do not believe He has always existed in the past. The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons would fall into this camp.

I am sure you all know that David did not write all the Psalms we have in the Old Testament. Do you know who wrote the 90th Psalm? It was Moses.

In describing God, Moses declares in Psalms 90:2 (NIV):

"Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

This Passage speaks of God as being eternal (everlasting) in the past to eternal in the future. Let's look at some Scriptures which speak of Jesus having the same eternal nature.

Here is a Scripture we usually read at Christmastime. Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, Micah prophecies that He will be born in Bethlehem.

Micah 5:2 NKJV

2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting."

The NIV Bible has a margin note for the last two words - "from everlasting". It reads, "from days of eternity." So, a verse speaking of Jesus, the coming Messiah, attributes to him an eternal nature in the past.

Looking to the future of this Messiah, let's take a look at Isaiah 9:6-7 (NKJV). This is another Passage read often at Christmastime.

6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.

Twice, we are told of the eternal nature of this Son - who is the Messiah. First, it calls the Son, "The Eternal Father," in verse 6. In verse 7, we are told He will reign over His kingdom forever.

Before Jesus was conceived in Mary, the angel told her that her child would be eternal. In Luke 1:33, we are told: "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."

Christ's pre-existence is not specifically in view here, but His future eternity and never-ending kingdom is a powerful statement. Christ Himself declared that he exists beyond the bounds of time, and that He has existed just like his Father.

In John 8:58, Jesus declared, "before Abraham was, I am." The Jews understood that He was claiming to be equal with Jehovah God. The next verse says they took up stone to throw at Him.

As with all human being, Abraham had come into existence at a point in time. But, by stating that "before Abraham was, I am," He was saying "I never had a beginning - I have always been." The Name "I Am" shows He exists outside of time - in the ever present tense.

IS THE NAME, "I-AM" FOUND ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE BIBLE?

When Moses was picked by God to lead the Jews out of Egypt, Moses asked God, "What do I tell Pharaoh?" "Who do I say has sent me?" and how do I convince the Jews to follow me?

God responds, in Exodus 3:14.

14 And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' "

This certainly is in keeping with what we know elsewhere about God. He lives in the continuous present tense. In the Greek, the phrase "I am" is "EGO EIMI." Christ takes that title to Himself in John 8:58.

In John 17, we find Jesus praying to the Father. He is praying for the disciples.

nd now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

Verse 24 adds:

24 "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world."

Both of these passages certainly speak of eternal nature in the pre-existent past. He didn't become God at his birth, as the Jehovah's Witnesses believe, nor did He earn the right to be God, as the Mormons believe. He was already God before He came to earth.

In 1 Peter 1:20, the apostle states that Jesus, the lamb offered as a sacrifice for us, "was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you."

Similarly, the apostle John calls Jesus, "...that which was from the beginning……that Eternal Life, which was with the Father..." (1 John 1:1-2)

In his gospel, John further declares that Jesus - The Word - existed in the beginning, and was with God and was, in fact, God Himself.

John 1:1 KJV

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Christ here is called "The Word."

Verse 2 & 3 add:

2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus has a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. You can find that in Hebrews 6:20. Three verses later - Hebrews 7:3 - the writer describes Jesus as "being without genealogy, without beginning of day or end of life." Then it adds: "He remains a priest forever."

There should be no doubt about the eternal nature of Christ, both eternal in the past and eternal in the future. Jesus is truly The First and the Last.

To the Christians, whether in Smyrna or here in Renton, WA, the description of Christ as "The First and the Last," would have been a tremendous promise. Come what will, from the first day of life to the last, the Risen Lord is with us. Of whom should we then be afraid.

   
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