The book of Revelation opens with John the apostle exiled to the island of Patmos. He “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” when he heard a loud voice behind him. As he turned to see who had spoken, he beheld the Lord Jesus — upon whose blessed countenance his eyes had not rested in more than sixty years.
The apostle was terrified and fell toward the Lord’s feet. Christ sought to comfort him, admonishing:
“Stop being afraid (so the emphasis in the Greek text), I am the first and the last, and the living one; I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and Hades” (1:17-18).
In this discussion, we wish to focus special attention upon the phrase, “the first and the last.” It implies a number of important things.
Jesus Christ: Eternal
Note that the phrase is expanded later in the book. As Revelation is concluded, the Lord affirms: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13; cf. 21:6). This is a clear declaration of the eternal nature of Christ, hence, his deity.
Consider that the expression “Alpha and Omega” is applied to the Father in 1:8. This passage and numerous others demonstrate that the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” are seriously in error when they deny that the personal Word (Jn. 1:1,14) is eternal in his existence, and contend that he was the first of God’s created beings. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that there never was a time when the Second Person in the Godhead did not exist (cf. Mic. 5:2; Isa. 9:6; Jn. 1:1; 8:58).
For a more complete discussion of this matter, see our booklet, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Doctrine of the Deity of Christ.
Jesus Christ: Unique
The expressions “the first and the last” and “the Living one” also suggest the uniqueness of Christ. He stands in bold relief to the non-gods of pagan idolatry.
An Old Testament prophet, speaking for the Lord, declared: “. . . I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no god” (Isa. 44:6). Paul commended the saints at Thessalonica in that they “turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God” (1 Thes. 1:9).
The Christian religion stands in a class by itself with reference to its concept of God, as manifested in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ: Sovereign Creator
Christ is also “the first and the last” with reference to the material universe. The preincarnate Lord was present at the creation event, and he was an active agent in the process.
The plural form elohim (God) in Genesis 1:1 hints of this (Stone, 11), and that thought is expanded in 1:26. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .” (cf. 11:7; Isa. 6:8). An apostle plainly says that “[a]ll things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn. 1:3; cf. 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).
Elsewhere in the book of Revelation, Jesus is designated as “the beginning of the creation of God” (3:14). This does not suggest, as the “Watchtower Witnesses” propose, that Jesus was the first of God’s created ones; rather, it stresses his role as Creator. The Greek word for “beginning” is arche, which, in this context indicates “that by which anything begins to be, the origin, active cause” (Thayer, 77). A.T. Robertson called arche “the originating source of the creation” (VI, 321).
On the other hand, it is also true that Jesus will bring the material universe to a conclusion at the time of his return. Note Paul’s declaration:
“Then comes the end, when he [Christ] shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be abolished is death” (1 Cor. 15:24-26).
In 2 Peter 3 there is a discussion of Christ’s “coming” to render judgment (cf. 4). On that “day of the Lord” the “heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (10). The notion that this chapter refers merely to the destruction of Jerusalem is utterly without merit (see Jackson, 78-79).
Jesus Christ: Savior
Christ is “the first and the last” with reference to the gospel system as well. The writer of Hebrews characterizes the Lord as “the author” (archegos – the beginner, the leader) and “the finisher” (teleiotes – one who brings to completion) of “the faith” (12:2).
The expression “the faith” (the article is in the Greek text) represents the sum total of the gospel plan of redemption. This sacred operation needs no modification from sinful men. Let those who would add to, delete from, or alter the divine scheme in any way desist from such.
We are complete “in Christ” (Col. 2:10). We have no need for the mediation of angels or “saints,” and no refinement from councils or popes is required. Everything to sustain us is in the gospel package. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift (2 Cor. 9:15), who is the first and the last.