December 27, 1998

THE BEGINNING AND THE END

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Revelation 22:13

Are you curious about your ancestors and your family tree?  If so, join the crowd.  Computer programs for making family trees are big sellers.  People trace their family line back for generations, even centuries.  Some go much farther than just buying a convenient computer program.  They do intense personal research, travel to libraries and cemeteries and all sorts of unusual places, and try to learn more about their roots.

Many of us want to know something of our family history.  This desire is especially strong in some who have no idea who their biological parents might be.  Many adopted children want to meet their biological parents or at least find out something about them.  Complicating the picture still further, there’s a growing number of children these days conceived through artificial insemination from anonymous donors.  As these children come of age, they aren’t always content for the “donor dad” to remain anonymous.  They want to find out who he is and what he’s like or at least learn something about his medical history.  They’re not satisfied having their father remain a blank.

Sometimes this fascination with parents and ancestors is expressed in very strange ways.  Some people go so far as to pray to dead ancestors or resort to seances and channeling and other occult practices in their efforts to make contact with people from their past.  Such practices are deceptive and even demonic, but they are one more indication of our desire to look back and make a connection with our past.

Looking back is very important to many people; and so is looking ahead.  We want to know where we come from and also where we’re going.  We want to learn about our beginnings and also about how we are going to end up.

Almost all of us are curious about the future and would like a preview of what lies ahead.  What will happen in the economy and financial markets?  What will happen politically?  What about wars, earthquakes, floods, and other disasters?  Where is technology headed?  What will be the impact of the millennium bug–the Y2K problem?  How many microchips will malfunction on January 1 of the year 2000, and what will be the impact?

We’d like to figure out the future before it gets here, and we may look to experts and authors who do careful research and try to predict future events based on leading economic indicators and analysis of various trends.  However, their predictions are at best an educated guess and aren’t at all certain.  What’s more, most of the books by experts deal with societies and nations, not with our individual future.

If we want a glimpse of the future that is more certain and more personal, what do we do?  Some folks turn to horoscopes, palm readers, psychic hot lines, crystals, tarot cards, and other occult activities.  Again, such practices are deceptive and even demonic, but they are one more indication of our desire to look ahead and get in touch with our future.

Whatever else we say about all this, one thing is absolutely clear: we are not people of the present alone.  The past matters to us, and so does the future.  At this time of year, especially, we look back and think ahead.  One year is ending; another is about to begin.  As we think back on the year that lies behind us and look ahead to the year that lies before us, we feel more keenly than ever that we’re tiptoeing and teetering on a tightrope suspended between the past and the future.  We wonder how we got from the past to where we are now and how we’re going to make it to the destiny that lies ahead.

What ultimately drives us to look back and look ahead? Is it just a longing to know a bit of history or catch a few glimpses of the future?  No, when we look back, what we most want to know is our origin.  And when we look ahead, what we most want to know is our destiny.  We want to know the beginning and the end.

And in order to do that, we need to know Jesus.

In the Bible book of Revelation, Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13).  Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  As Alpha and Omega, Jesus is the start of the alphabet, the end of the alphabet, and every letter in between.  As the living Word of God, Jesus encompasses every reality that can be described with every part of language.  He sets in order everything in the universe and directs every event of history, and he is the true meaning of it all.

You can research your family tree and go back countless generations, you can do all sorts of other things to learn more about your origins, but you won’t really know your beginning until you know Jesus.  He is the beginning.  You can study the predictions of experts, you can explore science fiction’s vision of the future, you can even resort to occult methods of looking ahead, but you won’t really know how things are going to end up until you know Jesus.  He is the end.

Why is Jesus the beginning and the end?  Because Jesus is God.  In the prophet Isaiah, we hear the Lord Almighty saying, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).  In the book of Revelation, we hear Jesus saying, “I am the First and the Last” (1:17; 22:13).  Jesus is clearly identifying himself as God and speaking with divine authority.

The voice of God the Father Almighty and the voice of Jesus the Son are interchangeable.  In Revelation we hear the voice of God the Father saying: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega… who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty'” (1:8).  Later we again hear God the Father saying, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End'” (21:6).  And what God the Father says, Jesus, the Son also says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13).  Jesus is the beginning and the end because Jesus is one with God.

As eternal, almighty God, Jesus has no beginning or end himself, but he is the beginning of all created things and he is their end, their final destiny.

The first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  How did God create all things?  Through the eternal Word, his Son Jesus.  “Through him all things were made,” says the Bible.  “Without him nothing was made” (John 1:2).  The book of Revelation picks up on this theme of creation in a great hymn of praise.  “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (4:11).

Revelation adores God as the Maker of everything in this creation, and Revelation also pictures a new creation, “a new heaven and a new earth.”  The old creation has been damaged by sin and death, but the new creation will have no more death or crying or pain.  God says he will bring the old order of things to an end and make make all things new (21:1-5) and reign with Christ and all his people for ever and ever (22:5).

In the book of Revelation, God reveals a perfect new creation and then declares:

“It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To him who is thirsty, I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur.  This is the second death” (Revelation 21:6-8).

With those solemn words, God reveals his own majesty and sets before us the final realities of heaven and hell.  The only way we can understand our past or our future or our present situation is to take into account the infinite, overwhelming reality of Almighty God embodied in Jesus Christ.

Often we don’t take Jesus seriously enough, even when we know that he’s real and that the future is in his hands.  Remember the excitement surrounding baseball this past year?  The best part was Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa trying to break the long-standing home run record of Roger Maris.  It was thrilling, and the good-natured sportsmanship and respect between Sosa and McGwire made it even better.  As the excitement kept building, reporters asked Mark McGwire if he thought he could break the record.  Big Mac replied, “I don’t know the future.  Only the man upstairs knows.”  When McGwire and Sosa had both broken the record and were entering the last part of the season neck and neck, McGwire was asked if he or Sosa would end up on top.  Again he said, “I don’t know.  Only the man upstairs knows.”

Now, I’m glad Big Mac was humble enough not to boast ahead of time or pretend he knew the future, and I’m glad he acknowledged that Someone above us does know the future.  But referring to Jesus as “the man upstairs” is a poor choice of words.  Yes, Jesus is human, but he not just a man; and yes, he is above us in heaven; but he’s not just “the man upstairs.”  Jesus is the eternal Son of God, one with the almighty Father.  I don’t want to pick on Mark McGwire, and I’m not saying a great home run hitter must always be a precise preacher, but words are important, especially words about the Lord.

When we speak of Jesus, our words must never be casual or careless.  We should speak with reverence of the infinite King of kings who created all things and brings all things to their appointed end.  We should speak with awe of the all-knowing Judge who not only knows who will have the most home runs at the end of a season but also judges who will go to heaven and hell at the end of the world.  Jesus doesn’t just say, “I’m the man upstairs who happens to know more of the future than you do.”  He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”  The sheer solemnity and immensity of those words should shake us and stagger us.

[In the book of Revelation, the apostle John saw Jesus in his heavenly glory and fell at his feet as though dead.  During Jesus’ time on earth, John had been Jesus’ closest friend.  But when Jesus returned to heaven, he didn’t just move up to a different floor and become “the man upstairs.” He took up his rightful might and majesty as God, and his splendor is enough to overwhelm and flatten even the person who knew him best.]

If you take all of time and space, all the matter and energy of the entire universe, and include all the most brilliant thoughts and achievements of humanity, it doesn’t begin to compare with the power and majesty and wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Scripture says 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

We may try to figure out where we come from by looking back to previous things in this world, and we may try to figure out where we’re going by looking ahead to what may yet happen in this world.  But there was a time when this world didn’t even exist, and there will come a time when this world will be removed like an old piece of clothing and replaced with a new one.  Only one thing remains constant amid these enormous changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).    Jesus is the Beginning and the End because of who he is as eternal, unchanging God and also because of who he is as the head of a brand new kind of humanity.

[He is the first of the new humanity in time and first in importance.  To say that Jesus is the Alpha, the first letter of the alphabet, can be similar to our expression that something is on our “A” list or that it’s “A-1” quality.  Jesus is the best, the most important.  In the Bible, God spoke of Jesus even before he became a man and said, “I will appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.  I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail.  I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure” (Psalm 89:27-29).]

Adam was the first of the old humanity; Jesus is the first and foremost of the new humanity.  The Bible often speaks of Jesus as “the firstborn.”  According to Hebrews 1:6, “when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.'”  When baby Jesus came into the world on Christmas, the angels praised God’s firstborn.  This firstborn would be followed by many others who, according to God’s eternal plan, would turn out to be like Jesus.  “For those God foreknew he also predestined to conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

As the firstborn of God’s new humanity, Jesus is the first to win a decisive victory over death.  Revelation calls Jesus “the firstborn from the dead” (1:5).  On the cross he faced the worst of sin and death and hell, and he won a great victory, a victory which brings victory and eternal life to others.  The Bible says, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23).  In Revelation Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.  I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (1:18).  A bit later Jesus says, “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again” (Revelation 2:8).  One reason Jesus can be called the Beginning and the End is that he can turn an awful ending like death into a brand new beginning.

[In Colossians 1 the Bible ties together the fact that Jesus is first as divine Creator and the fact that he is the first of the new, immortal humanity.  “He is the image of the invisible God,” says the Scripture, “the firstborn over all creation…  all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:15-18).  Listen to that last phrase again: “that in everything he might have the supremacy”!]

Jesus is supreme over all things, and this means that everybody and everything will eventually end up answering to him at the final judgment.  In Revelation the Lord connects the fact that he is Alpha and Omega with his future coming.  “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty'” (Revelation 1:8).  When he comes, the Lord will make a new heaven and earth, he will perfect his people and give them eternal life in his new creation, and he will banish to eternal hell everyone who has opposed or ignored the living God.

Some people don’t even believe God exists; they think this world is all there is and random evolution determines everything.  Others believe in a higher power of some sort and think that God is intermingled with the world as the driving force of the evolutionary process and also as the “omega point,” the goal of evolution.  Still others believe in a God who is above and apart from the world.  They think the world will go on indefinitely and God will also go on indefinitely; they don’t believe in a decisive second coming of Jesus or in the end of the world and the final judgment.  But God describes himself as the one “who is, and who was, and who is to come.”  God is real, and he’s not just part of a process or aloof from the world.  He rules and directs all things, and he is coming again.

The Lord’s coming and the end of the world will be obvious, overwhelming, and supernatural; it won’t be the quiet culmination of a gradual process.  When the universe was created, did emptiness and nothingness gradually turn into something?  No, the universe burst into being at God’s command.  When the God-man came on Christmas, was that baby the result of a long line of people evolving to become better and better?  No, the virgin birth of Jesus was a miraculous intervention into history as the Lord took upon himself a human nature.  When Jesus rose from the grave, did his cold, stiff, dead body gradually evolve into a living one?  No, the resurrection of Jesus was the astonishing breakthrough of his divine life to overpower death.  So is Jesus’ second coming just a vivid picture of how his ideas and influence will make the world a better place than it was before?  No, Jesus’ second coming will be his final, decisive intervention which puts an end to the old order and brings in God’s new order.  “Behold, I am coming soon!” says Jesus in Revelation.  “My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:12-13).

Revelation says, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever… [We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.  The nations were angry; and your wrath has come.]  The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and all who reverence your name, both small and great–and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:15-18).

The Lord is coming again as Judge.  He will reward his servants in heaven and destroy all destroyers in hell.  He is the Omega, the last, the end.  He has the final word.  His judgment cannot be reversed.  Those Jesus decides to reward will be forever safe in heaven; nothing will ever be able disturb their joy.  Those Jesus condemns and punishes will be forever lost; nothing will ever be able to relieve their misery.  As God says in Scripture, “I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior…  No one can deliver out of my hand.  When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:11,13)

Jesus is the end, the goal, the destiny of the universe and of every individual.  You don’t know anything worth knowing about the future until you know that.  You can try to peak and plan ahead, you can chase phony things like horoscopes and fortune tellers and psychics, but your future ends up at the judgment seat of Christ.

You can even study Bible prophecy and try to figure out whether a certain event in the news might be a fulfillment of a biblical prediction about the end times, but if you get so busy speculating about such details that you forget Jesus himself, your speculation is useless.  Remember, the world won’t end with Israeli politics or a world government or a great tribulation or a battle at Armageddon; the world will end with Jesus.  Whatever else might happen leading up to the end, the most basic reality is that the world ends at the judgment seat of Christ–and you end up at the judgment seat of Christ.

The only way you can face that end with joy is if you have the beginning of eternal life in you through faith in Jesus.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, there’s a lot we don’t know about past, but we know this: you are the beginning of all creation, the firstborn of the new humanity, the firstborn from the dead.  There’s a lot we don’t know about the future, but we know this: you are the end, the one who determines our final destiny.  O Jesus, give us faith to join the new humanity and receive your resurrection life, that we may rejoice when you appear in glory and reign with your forever.  “Come, Lord Jesus.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with God’s people.  Amen.”  (Revelation 22:20-21)

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.