“THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA”
William Shakespeare famously asked, “What’s in a name?” In modern society the answer may be: “Mr. Shakespeare, not too much.” Not that personal names are unimportant. They are important. Parents may agonize for weeks, even months, over the perfect name for their child. But how often is a name chosen for its meaning? How often does the meaning of a name describe its owner—except for nicknames like Slim, Shorty, Sweetie, Grumpy, Sleepyhead, and Big John.
In antiquity, however, biblical names were often chosen for their meaning and they did describe their owner. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham because the patriarch was to become ‘the father of nations.’ Abram means “exalted father.” Abraham means “father of many.” Jacob’s name means “deceiver”—the same Jacob who deceived his own father Isaac in order to steal brother Esau’s birthright. Moses means “drawn out.” Pharaoh’s daughter drew Moses out of the Nile River. And so on.
Scripture contains many names for God, and each one relates something specific and important about God’s nature. For example, He is ELOHIM, the majestic God; ADONAI, the Lord or Master; EL ROI, the God Who Sees Me; EL SHADDAI, the Almighty God; YAVEH, the eternally existent “I AM.” These are not names that we chose for God, but names by which He revealed Himself to us. They are not merely forms of address, but descriptions of God’s divine attributes.
The Book of Revelation provides more than twenty names or titles for Jesus Christ. He is the “faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth,” 1:5. He is the “Son of Man,” 1:13; and the “Son of God,” 2:18. He is the “Amen, the Faithful and True Witness,” 3:14. He is the “Lamb,” 5:6; and the “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS,” 19:16. And in today’s text we find another name for Jesus: “the Alpha and the Omega.”
This name for Jesus, ALPHA and OMEGA, occurs three times in Revelation and nowhere else in Scripture. Jesus says in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” He says in Revelation 1:11, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.” In Revelation 22:13, Jesus combines the previous two verses, saying, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
Alpha and omega are the beginning and end, the first and last letters, of the Greek alphabet—equivalent to our “A” and “Z.” But when applied to Jesus, what meaning does this great name have? What does this name teach about who Jesus is and what He is like?
First, “Alpha and Omega,” particularly with the explanation “First and Last,” describes Jesus as eternal. Jesus was before all created things and will endure eternally beyond all created things. The author of Hebrews wrote of Jesus: “In the beginning, O Lord, You laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe, like a garment they will be changed. But You remain the same, and Your years will never end,” Hebrews 1:10-12.
You and I cannot understand the eternity of God; that He has always existed; that He Himself had no beginning and will have no end. We simply bow before this Bible truth, praising God with the heavenly host in Revelation 4:8, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
Yet, our inability to comprehend eternity does not mean that an eternal God brings no comfort. At its simplest, “eternal” means “always there.” As “the Alpha and the Omega,” Jesus is always there for us; always loving; always forgiving; always teaching the truth; always giving God’s Very Best; and always inviting: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11:28.
Second, “Alpha and Omega,” especially with the explanation “Beginning and End,” describes Jesus as the source of all things. He is the Creator, who carried out each of God’s the Father’s “Let there be” at the creation of the universe. The apostle Paul wrote of Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together,” Colossians 1:15-17.
None of us can truly imagine the infinite power and wisdom that God exerted in the Creation—the vastness of the universe; the complexity of life. But like God’s eternal nature, His infinite power and wisdom give us great comfort. For Scripture teaches that this same power and same wisdom are at work in our daily lives. On this basis, the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” On this basis, he asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Third, the name “Alpha and Omega” presents Jesus as true God. In fact, the Old Testament uses this same expression, “first and last,” to describe the One True God as opposed to all the idols and false gods of humanity. In Isaiah 44:6 God declares, “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.”
Despite all of the miracles Jesus performed, the unbelieving Jews and pagan Roman government saw only a beaten, despised, and rejected man. Little did they know that the man they crucified was also very God of very God. By God’s grace, you do know Jesus as true God, as “Alpha and Omega,” as Lord and Savior; and in this knowledge you are saved.
And fourth, the name “Alpha and Omega” describes Jesus as the All-Sufficient Savior. You’ve heard advertisements from retailers who promise: “We carry everything from A to Z.” This same idea is contained in the name “Alpha and Omega.” Jesus Christ is everything we need in life “from A to Z.” As beautifully expressed in LH 388: “Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind; yea, all I need, in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
Consequently, all of God’s names have meaning and purpose. In fact, as we study Scripture, we often find God revealing Himself by a specific name to meet a specific circumstance. When Abraham faced the human impossibility of fathering a child in his old age, God revealed Himself by the name of EL SHADDAI., God Almighty. By His very name God was telling Abraham, “You may be facing an impossible situation, but I am EL SHADDAI, the Almighty God, for whom nothing is impossible.” When you and I face impossible situations, we should remember God as EL SHADDAI too.
When Moses was called to deliver the Israelites from Egypt—Moses, who tried to excuse himself on the basis of “poor speech”—God revealed Himself by the name YAVEH; the eternal “I AM.” By His very name God was telling Moses, “Don’t worry, I AM with you. I’ll be with your mouth too.”
When God rescued Hagar and Ishmael from certain death in a desolate, scorching wilderness, Hagar called God by the name BEER LAHAI ROI—literally, ‘The God Who Sees.’ “You are the God who sees me,” she said in Genesis 16:13. How often don’t you and I go through our lives and problems, thinking God doesn’t know or understand or see. He does see. He is BEER LAHAI ROI, ‘The God Who Sees Me.’
Or consider the names of Jesus. JESUS meaning “Savior.” CHRIST meaning “the Anointed One.” IMMANUEL meaning “God With Us.” How perfectly suited these names were for the purposes of Christ’s redemptive work. As we then contemplate the meanings of that “the Alpha and the Omega”—ETERNAL GOD, CREATOR GOD, TRUE GOD, ALL-SUFFICIENT GOD—we see that this name was perfectly suited for the circumstances of Revelation, and that it is perfectly suited for our circumstances too; specifically, our world, our congregation, and our individual lives.
First, our world. Revelation was written near the end of the First Century A.D. It first readers were Christians belonging to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. At this time, the Roman empire was at the height of its power; and Emperor Diocletian was on the throne. Diocletian was the first Roman emperor to insist on being worshiped as ‘Dominus et Deus;’ that is, as ‘Lord and God.’
Emperor worship was particularly prevalent in Asia Minor, the location of the Seven Churches of Revelation. Those Christians who refused to worship Caesar as ‘Lord and God’ were viewed as blasphemous and traitorous, and sentenced to death. Government persecution was exactly the way Revelation pictured it; as a ravenous, murderous beast from the sea. For the first readers of Revelation, the world must have seemed like a chaotic, dangerous place.
But is our world any different? The news today is both depressing and frightening. Turmoil in the Middle East. Wars. Earthquakes. Floods. Famines. Pestilences. All the natural disasters Jesus described in His Olivet Discourse as signs of the approaching end of the world. The constant threat of global terrorism. Who among us could have ever imagined living under color-coded security warnings; or being intimately familiar with names like AL QAEDA, ISIS, BOKO HARAM, HAMAS, HEZBOLLAH, and the MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD?
In our own country, senseless crimes, school shootings; corrupt politicians; political correctness instead of common sense; declining morals; and an increasingly organized opposition to Christianity. Do not think for one instant that the deadly persecutions of the First Century A.D. in Asia Minor could not happen in the United States of America. They could.
Now, more than ever, as the predictions of Revelation become the realities of the daily news, we need to see Jesus as “the Alpha and the Omega;” as the Eternal God; the Creator God; the True God; the All-Sufficient God for every aspect of our world “from A to Z.”
The same is true of our congregation. What images come to mind when you hear the phrase “the Seven Churches of Asia Minor?” Do you think of massive memberships or glass cathedrals or pipe organs? Quite the opposite was true. First Century congregations were typically small and met in the homes of members.
As the Seven Churches of Asia Minor felt overwhelmed by opposition from the world, they no doubt also felt underwhelmed in their ability to carry out their calling to share the Gospel. “How can we maintain a ministry under these conditions?” they may have asked. “We’re too small. We don’t have the right resources. We’re in a difficult area.” Sound familiar? Exactly the same type of questions many Christian congregations have pondered over time, as membership has diminished and challenges have increased.
But before ever addressing a single condition in even one the Seven Churches, Jesus first revealed Himself as “the Alpha and the Omega;” as the Eternal God; the Creator God; the True God; the All-Sufficient God for every aspect of congregational life “from A to Z.” And dear members of St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, that is exactly how we must see Jesus Christ too—as “the Alpha and the Omega;” as everything we need to fulfill the work He has given this congregation to do.
Finally, our individual lives. Indeed, it is in our individual lives that I find the greatest comfort and greatest application of that wondrous name “Alpha and Omega.”
According to Revelation 1:1, this last book of the Bible was written to show the people of God “what must soon take place.” For most of us, however, staring into the future can be a frightening experience. We have no idea what will happen in our individual lives from minute to minute, much less the next week, month, or year. We try not to worry; but we worry anyway—about food, drink, clothing, and mortgages; about life, death, and recovering from illnesses; about parents and children, successes and failures, the weakness of human nature and the need to stay strong in the faith.
At all such times, dear friends, remember Jesus Christ as “the Alpha and Omega;” as your “Alpha and Omega.” For by this very name He Himself is assuring you that He will be all you need for every aspect of your life—youth or age; sickness or health; poverty or wealth—“from A to Z.”
And give thanks to Almighty God that by His grace you can stand here today, knowing that every aspect of your eternal salvation, “from A to Z,” has been perfectly completed through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Nothing is missing. Nothing is left for you to do.
And to this “from A to Z” salvation the Scriptures repeatedly testify. John 5:24, “I tell you the truth,” said Jesus, “whoever hears My words and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Or as stated so beautifully in Revelation 1:5, “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.”
Don’t leave here today simply thinking, “Well, I know more about the name ALPHA and OMEGA than I did before.” Rise from these pews and step through the front door of this building in the almighty power of that name. Whatever you face in the days ahead, let these words of Jesus fill your heart and mind with joy and peace: “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”