Last time we looked at the two OT allusions packed into Revelation 1:7 and how they are pictures of Christ’s love for his bride from the cross to his Second Coming, as well as a promise to bring judgment upon all those that persecute God’s people and never repent. Today we will look at Revelation 1:8 as we conclude John’s worshipful response to who Christ is, what he has done, and what he has promised to do.
ISAIAH 41:4 IN REVELATION 1:8
After John’s praiseworthy description of Jesus’ being pierced on the cross and details of his Second Coming (1:7), John is zooming out from the church age and giving us God’s own summary statement describing his viewpoint from Heaven. God says in Revelation 1:8, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'” The emphasis here is to help the churches in Asia see that their God, who was gracious enough to enter into time and space to die, resurrect, and ascend, is still the Almighty and eternal One that stands outside of time. While these believers suffer under the hand of Domitian, and others suffer still today, God is more powerful and not bound to the limitations of time and space.
The well-versed Jewish reader would here this declaration of God and be quickly transported back to the Prophet Isaiah. What we now have as chapter 41 of Isaiah is a beautiful assurance to Israel where God himself promises to act on behalf of his people. He will come swooping in on the coastlands to deal with the nations (41:1) and with fatherly care he tells his people to “Fear not, for I am with you (41:10; 13).” In the midst of these beautiful promises, God tells Israel in Isaiah 41:4, “Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.” What we have here is God telling the people of Israel that despite the powerful nations around them moving in and out like swift horses, what seems to have no end in sight, God was before and after and is with his people. What a comfort to the Seven Churches in Asia, right? To know that God is showing up and declaring these same words almost eight-hundred years later, yet with such a similar meaning!
WHY THIS MATTERS?
At the core of the message to Israel is the same as the message to the churches in Revelation: “I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 41:14).” The word Redeemer finds it’s first usage in Job 19:25, a passage looking forward to the resurrected Christ. And who is speaking to the suffering believers in Revelation? The resurrected Christ himself. The eternality of the Alpha and Omega is meant to comfort the church because God is unchanging and is not having to react and correct his course with every event in human history. No, he is the god we have trusted in the past, can trust in the present, and ought to trust in the future. In Richard Phillips’ new commentary on Revelation, he gives a very helpful illustration:
“An analogy of a river may help us understand God as eternal. We experience time the way that a boat travels down a stream: we are on the river, are at only one place at one time, and can see only a short distance behind and ahead. But God has an aerial view that enables him to see the entire river at once. He knows every turn, sees every narrows, and foresees every difficulty and danger. As the Alpha who started it, God knows where the river began, and as the Omega, he has ordained its destination. Likewise, everything that is, was, or will be is present to God at the same time and is subject to his rule. This is true of our individual lives, the whole of which God sees at once from beginning to end. The same is true for all history.” (Phillips, Revelation: Reformed Expository Commentary, 50).
The comfort here is to not fear that which seems life-threatening because our God is outside of time, sees the beginning from the end, and is lovingly present with us in the midst of trials. His own Son entered into time and space to endure real wrath on a real cross, to purchase us into a real eternity. Even more of a comfort is when we get to Revelation 11:17 and the “who is to come” is dropped. In the third cycle of the same vision (there will be a post soon on the 7 cycles in Revelation), the perspective of worship is from those in the presence of Christ after his Second Coming. Imagine sitting in a first century church and noticing the “who is to come” being dropped and being pointed to that great Day when we no longer await the return of our Lord but are joyfully worshipping him by sight rather than faith.