"I am the Alpha and the Omega …
The first and the last, the beginning and the end"
by Paul Thigpen
© 2000 by Paul Thigpen
The guest list for our holiday bash was growing, so we needed an extra table. I turned to the Yellow Pages under "Rental Service," and there was the solution to my problem, first in the column of ads: "A TO Z RENTAL CENTER. Billy Brock, Owner. Look No Further. You Need It, I've Got It."
We gave him a call, and sure enough, he had it.
I think of old Billy whenever I read the words our Lord spoke to the Apostle John three times in the dazzling vision we call the Book of Revelation: "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Rev 1:8, 21:6, 22:13). It's a crude analogy, I know, but the parallel is real. These were the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so to say "Alpha and Omega" was the Greek equivalent of our expression "from A to Z." "Everything good you could possibly hope for is in Me," Jesus is telling us. "Look no further. You need it, I've got it."
What a comforting promise! And yet as remarkable as it is, there's infinitely more here. Other layers of meaning start to unfold when we consider the words the Lord adds to this statement.
"The First and the Last"
First we should note that the contexts of this phrase as it's repeated imply the all-important reality that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. The first time we hear the words, John plainly tells us that "the Lord God" is talking (Rev 1:8); the second time, the One who speaks is "seated on the throne" of heaven (21:5). The third time, it's "Jesus … the Offspring of David" who uses this name for Himself (22:16). With this clear identification of Christ with God, additional meanings begin to come into focus.
Consider first two other phrases closely connected with the title "Alpha and Omega" as the Lord speaks to John: He says He is "the First and the Last" (Rev 22:12) and the One "who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Rev 1:8). In these added statements we find a profound historical dimension.
This dimension shouldn't surprise us, of course; the Book of Revelation, after all, is all about history. It reveals the often-hidden meaning of historical events, soaring above them and looking down from heaven in order to explain them. John's vision actually completes the Scripture's breathtaking panorama of the human story, which begins in Genesis.
However we may interpret the richly suggestive details of Revelation, the overarching theme of the book is that history is working its way to a glorious conclusion, a conclusion planned and ordained from the very first. And at the beginning, the end, and the center of that history stands Someone who is the key to understanding it all: the Lord Jesus Christ.
How is it that Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was born on the earth only two millennia ago, is "the First" historically? The opening of John's gospel makes explicit what His vision assumes: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. … The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us" (Jn 1:1, 3, 14).
The same Man who "made His dwelling among us" when He walked the dusty streets of Jerusalem two thousand years ago is the God who created the molecules of that dust out of nothing. The first microsecond of the cosmos' existence, the very moment when time itself came to be, was His handiwork. Then at the dawn of human history, it was He who shaped the clay into the first man, his rib into the first woman. And even as He breathed life into them, He knew that that because of their rebellion, He would one day take on their human nature, and their offspring would crucify Him — "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Rev 13:8).
Here the historical dimension of the "Alpha" mystery confronts us: The first-century human "Root of David" (Rev 5:5) is also the eternal divine Ruler on the throne, who "created all things," and by whose will they were created (4:11).
And what of the "Omega"? If the Man died twenty centuries ago, how can He be the historical "Last"? The Book of Revelation declares the answer: "These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again" (2:8). "The Lamb who was slain" and was resurrected is "worthy … to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise" (12). He has already taken His rightful throne in heaven, but one day He will come again to claim His rightful throne on earth as well. So Jesus promises again and again: "I am coming soon!" (3:11; 22:7, 12; see also 3:3; 16:15; 22:20).
Here the historical dimension of the "Omega" mystery confronts us: The One "who is" (Jesus of Nazareth) and "who was" (the Creator in the beginning) is the same One "who is to come" — the cosmic Lord returning to conquer and reign (Rev 1:8). He will draw the curtain on human history; He will bring to a close the age-old human story. The First is the Last; the Last is the First; the Author is the Finisher (see Heb 12:2).
When Jesus says, then, that He is "the Alpha and the Omega," He's revealing Himself as the very Framework of history, who stands at its beginning as at its end, encompassing the whole within Himself. When we ask, "Where did the human race come from? Where is it going?" the Scripture replies: "It began in Him, and it will end in Him."
"The Beginning and the End"
Yet there is more meaning still to be plumbed in this mystery. Jesus isn't content to call Himself only "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last." He must add as well "the Beginning and the End" (Rev 22:13).
We might be tempted to think that our Lord is merely repeating the idea for emphasis. But a look at the New Testament Greek words here suggests a far deeper reality. Their meanings point us beyond the merely historical dimension to a more foundational one: what theologians call the ontological level — the level of our very being.
Long before John recorded his vision of heaven and history, even some of the pagan Greek thinkers — without any special revelations from God — had reasoned their way to certain basic truths about the world. The celebrated philosopher Aristotle, for example, had figured out that behind everything in the cosmos must stand the "Unmoved Mover," as he put it: the primary, the fundamental Cause of everything else that is, which has no cause Itself. This universal Mover, as the Cause behind all other causes, could also be called the "First Cause."
That insight may seem obvious enough to us, who have been raised with the notion of an Almighty God; but it was news to the Greeks, who tended to believe in a host of less-than-all-powerful divinities. More remarkable still, however, was Aristotle's insistence that the cosmic First Cause was also what he called the cosmic "Final Cause." That is, the philosopher claimed that things were "caused" — moved, shaped, determined — to a great extent by their purpose, by their destiny, by what they were intended to be. This "final cause," as it's called, is like the DNA within an organism: Present from the beginning, it causes the organism to grow in a certain way, to mature into a certain thing, the thing it was ordained to become.
Perhaps most remarkable of all was Aristotle's insistence that the unmoved Mover, as the ultimate Final Cause of all things, actually moves the world through love. He taught that the Final Cause (by now we should recognize, of course, that he's talking about God) is like a great magnet that draws all things to Itself. The natural goodness in all things loves and yearns for perfection — loves and yearns for God, whether or not they realize it. So God is both the Source and the intended Destiny of all that is.
The Greek terms in Revelation translated "beginning" and "end" are colored with these philosophical insights and reflect this deep, ontological level of meaning. Arche, "beginning," means in this context more than simply "the start." It signifies the origin, the foundational principle — the First Cause. Telos, on the other hand, does mean "end," but not in the sense of cessation. Instead, it's "end" in the sense of the purpose for which something exists, the goal toward which it is striving — the Final Cause.
Seen in this light, Christ's claim to be "the Alpha and the Omega" should pierce us to our very depths. He didn't just make us; He is, moment to moment, our very Source, the Ground of our existence. Though we can't see Him now, He's the One in whom "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28 — words which, as a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul quoted from a pagan Greek poet). By His will, the twenty-four elders said in John's vision, "all things … have their being" (4:11).
That's the "Alpha" end of the ontological mystery. But the "Omega" end is just as awesome. It's not just that Jesus Christ, God the Son, made us; He made us for a purpose. And what is that purpose? He made us for Himself.
He's not only the Soil in which we grow; He's the Sunlight for which we reach. We spring from His love as Creator; we blossom and bear fruit in His love as Redeemer. He Himself is our Destiny, our Home, our Perfection.
"The Alpha and Omega," though in Himself a mystery, thus answers some of the deepest questions of the human heart: "What is the first chapter of the history of our race? What is its last? What is our origin? What is our destiny?"
The reply thunders from heaven with a single declaration: "I AM."