Revelation 1:8 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Rev 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.”

Charles Hodges uses Revelation 1:8 (and Revelation 21:6) as a prooftext for his concept of immutability:

The immutability of God is intimately connected with his immensity and eternity, and is frequently included with them in the Scriptural statements concerning his nature. Thus, when it is said, He is the First and the Last; the Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; or when in contrast with the ever changing and perishing world, it is said: “They shall be changed, but thou art the same;” it is not his eternity more than his immutability that is brought into view. As an infinite and absolute Being, self-existent and absolutely independent, God is exalted above all the causes of and even above the possibility of change. Infinite space and infinite duration cannot change. They must ever be what they are. So God is absolutely immutable in his essence and attributes. He can neither increase nor decrease. He is subject to no process of development, or of self-evolution. His knowledge and power can never be greater or less. He can never be wiser or holier, or more righteous or more merciful than He ever has been and ever must be. He is no less immutable in his plans and purposes. Infinite in wisdom, there can be no error in their conception; infinite in power, there can be no failure in their accomplishment.

The God who is the “Alpha and Omega” and who “is and was and is to come” is said to be in reference to His self-existence, absolute independence, pure actuality, and all sorts of concepts about eternality. But this seems more like projection onto the text rather than a solid contextual reading.

The entire book of Revelation is about a future apocalypse wherein God will descend to Earth and judge the wicked. In Revelation 21, God is said to come to Earth and rule, with the Jesus by His side. This was a common Jewish belief, that God would Himself rule Earth with or through a Messiah. This is actually the immediate textual context of the “Alpha and Omega” claims. The Alpha seems to be coupled with the creation of the world (or the beginning of the apocalypse) and the Omega is the coming judgment (or end of the existing world).

In a sense, the idea is not about lifespans or about God’s relation to time. The entire book of Revelation is about God acting in time and doing things. In any case, “Alpha and Omega” has nothing to do with “timelessness”. Instead, this is a phrase about power. In Revelation 1, the phrase “Alpha and Omega” and “beginning and the end” are both coupled with “who is and who was and who is to come”. This is further coupled with God’s attribute of Almightiness:

Rev 1:7 Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.
Rev 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

What is particularly of interest is this phrase “who is and who was and who is to come”. The layman might claim that this is, in fact, some sort of claim for God’s eternal nature. But a variation of this phrase is used of someone other than God:

Rev 17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition…

And

Rev 17:11 The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.

So the Beast was, and is not, and is to come. The best way to understand this is about power. The Beast once had power, the Beast currently does not have power, but when the Beast rises, it will regain power. The Beast is not popping in and out of existence. The Beast is not eternal into the past. Instead, the figure of speech is about past power, current power, and future power. If this is accurate, the Alpha and Omega phrase takes on a whole new meaning:

Rev 1:7 Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.
Rev 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

All four phrases could easily be variations on the theme of power. God is the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, “Who is, was, and is to come”, and is Almighty. The quote in Revelation 1 does not have context that suggests either way, but the context of Revelation 21 is all about God’s activity:

Rev 21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Rev 21:5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
Rev 21:6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.
Rev 21:7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

God abolishes evil. God is then said to “make all things new”. God then calls Himself the Alpha and the Omega. God then gives gifts. God then bestows inheritance. What makes more sense, God claiming in the middle of this to last forever or God claiming in the middle of this to be powerful?

In Revelation 22, God also couples “Alpha and Omega” with power statements:

Rev 22:12 “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.
Rev 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
Rev 22:14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.

This theme is actually echoed in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was written in Hebrew, so one would not expect claims about being the “Alpha and Omega” (Greek letters). Instead, the claims in the Old Testament are about being the “First and the Last”. Revelation borrows many themes from Isaiah, especially concerning the coming Apocalypse (see Rev 21:1 versus Isa 65:17, 66:22). The themes about being the First and the Last come directly from God’s primary power claims in Isaiah (chapters 40-48):

Isa 41:3 Who pursued them, and passed safely By the way that he had not gone with his feet?
Isa 41:4 Who has performed and done it, Calling the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first; And with the last I am He.’ ”
Isa 41:5 The coastlands saw it and feared, The ends of the earth were afraid; They drew near and came.

Isa 44:3 For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring;

Isa 44:6 “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.
Isa 44:7 And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them.

Isa 46:9 Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me,
Isa 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’

Isa 48:10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Isa 48:11 For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; For how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.
Isa 48:12 “Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last.
Isa 48:13 Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, And My right hand has stretched out the heavens; When I call to them, They stand up together.

Notice the coupling of activity with “First and Last”. God has performed. God is the First and the Last. God has no equal among other gods. God is the First and the Last. God does everything He wants. God declares the end from the beginning. God created heaven and Earth. God is the First and the Last. These are power claims.

Compare also the idea of water to the thirsty in conjunction (Isa 44:3) with being “the First and the Last”. This parallels Revelation 21:6 (“I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts”) which is also in the context of being the Alpha and Omega. The author of Revelation heavily drew on Isaiah for inspiration throughout the entire book. There is no reason to think the idioms would have morphed into some idea of timelessness.

Charles Hodge and others are divorcing statements from the context of Revelation in order to support their individual theologies which they want the text to be about. The author of Revelation does not seem concerned with Negative Theology, but is very concerned with God’s power to overcome the forces of evil. God is the Alpha and Omega because God is powerful. God is the First and the Last because God is powerful. God is the Beginning and the End because God is powerful. God is Almighty because God is powerful. The phrase is about power, not lifespan or interaction with time.

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