Alpha & Omega

Jesus Christ is not the Alpha and an unknown x’; he’s the Alpha and the Omega.

The apostle John uses the title “Alpha and Omega” three times in the book of Revelation. He’s using the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet to talk of “the beginning and the end,” or the “first and the last” (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). And that makes me think he must surely have had in mind the Old Testament background for this: “This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies: ‘I am the First and the Last; there is no other God’” (Isa 44:6 NLT). In other words, John the revelator’s Christology builds on this reference to God’s eternal and monotheistic uniqueness.

Revelation 1:4–8 (esp. v. 8)

Alpha and Omega
The Greek letters alpha (Αα) and omega (Ωω)

In this first use of Alpha and Omega, John evokes the early Old Testament understanding of the divine name. When God commissioned Moses to go down into Egypt and set his people free…

Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they won’t believe me. They will ask, ‘Which god are you talking about? What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” God replied, “I Am The One Who Always Is. Just tell them, ‘I Am has sent me to you.'” (Exod 3:13–14)

Look at the language surrounding John’s use of Alpha and Omega:

This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the commander of all the rulers of the world. All praise to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. He has made us his Kingdom and his priests who serve before God his Father. Give to him everlasting glory! He rules forever and ever! Amen! Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him—even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the earth will weep because of him. Yes! Amen! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the LORD God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come, the Almighty One.”

The Almighty
Phillip Medhurst, “The Almighty”

John expands on Alpha and Omega, calling Jesus “the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come” (Rev 1:8). This isn’t  just an expression of timeless eternity; John speaks also of “timeless sovereignty.”1 He’s saying, “I, the Almighty LORD of hosts, the unchangeable God, will accomplish all My will, fulfill all My word, and execute all My judgments.”2

He’s not just the source of everything, not the Alpha of a sequence that then runs its autonomous chaotic course. He’s not the initial Alpha followed by an unknown quantity x, y, or z. He’s not the Alpha and a chaotic particle in a materialistic universe. He’s the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent—and good—Alpha and Omega.

Dwelling place of God
Logos verse art for Revelation 21:3

Revelation 21:1–8 (v. 6)

The second occurrence of the formula is in Revelation 21:6. Here is the context for that use of Alpha and Omega:

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. But cowards who turn away from me, and unbelievers, and the corrupt, and murderers, and the immoral, and those who practice witchcraft, and idol worshipers, and all liars—their doom is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This is the second death.”

Wipe away all tears
Logos verse art for Revelation 21:4

Here the context is the consummation and the final contrast between eternal bliss in the new heavens and new earth versus eternal judgment, “the second death.” Jesus’s “It is finished!” here (vv. 5–6) reminds us of the final cry on the cross; only now he’s sitting upon a throne, and declaration “finished” is his shout over new creation. This indicates that he’s not only the initiator of creation, but he’s also the one who brings it to its telos as well. And in his hands lies the whole intermediary process, which he guides to its desired conclusion. So he’s not only the first point in time, but he’s the telos (“goal”) of creation, which is perfected in new creation. He’s certainly the preexistent architect of creation:

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. (John 1:1–3, see also Prov 8:21–31)

He’s also the architect of new creation: John reports that he is “making all things new” (Rev 21:5–6). And his purpose is not “well maybe,… on the other hand,… perhaps,… or ‘only time will tell.'” His word is sure, good as done, signed and sealed—and it will be delivered.

Make all things new
Logos verse art for Revelation 21:5

So whatever lies between the Alpha and the Omega, we can know that it’s part of his larger plan. It’s not just Henry Ford’s “one damn thing after another.” Rather, it’s one divinely foreordained thing after another. As Paul notes, “we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom 8:28).

Rev 22:13
Logos verse art for Revelation 22:13

Revelation 22:7, 10–17 (esp. v. 13)

The third occurrence is in Revelation 22:13, which is in the context of final judgment, final separation between the wicked and the blessed.

Rev 22:12
Logos verse art for Revelation 22:12

22:7 “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the prophecy written in this scroll.”… 10 Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words you have written, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who is doing wrong continue to do wrong; the one who is vile, continue to be vile; the one who is good, continue to do good; and the one who is holy, continue in holiness.” 12 “See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” 14 blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. 15 Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie. 16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let each one who hears them say, “Come.” Let the thirsty ones come—anyone who wants to. Let them come and drink the water of life without charge.

Rev 22:17
Logos verse art for Revelation 22:17

Here Jesus speaks as judge of the whole world, claiming the title that the Lord God Almighty (see also Rev 1:8; 21:6). This implies that he’s not only the author, but also the finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2). He’s not only the one who starts a good work, but one who completes it: Paul could tell the Philippian church, “I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again” (Phil 1:6).

Creation is not going to go wandering on without purpose or completion. There’s an Omega point, and his name is Jesus, the Christ, the Everlasting God Almighty. He’ll bring it to its finish. And when he does, he’ll hold up the finished product against his eternal purpose, judging everything according to that unchanging purpose. Of some he’ll say, “Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life” (v. 14). Others he’ll define as “outside” (v. 15).

That doesn’t imply that we who are his followers in these last days should begin our own feeble attempts to hold everyone accountable to our own mini-eschatological judicial forums. Now is not the time for judgment; it’s the time for invitation. And in following the mandate to invite, we follow a heavenly pattern just as solid as the heavenly promise of final judgment.

  • Those issuing the invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let each one who hears them say, ‘Come'” (v. 17a). It’s a heavenly call issued throughout God’s earthly realm, sounded forth by the Spirit, but announced and incarnated by the church.
  • Those who receive the invitation: “Let the thirsty ones come—anyone who wants to” (v. 17b). It’s a summons to the needy—and to the unworthy. So we don’t do a mini-judgment upon anyone before we determine whether to hand out a precious invitation card.
  • The gift promised to those who respond to the call: “Let them come and drink the water of life without charge” (v. 17c).

Conclusion

The title ascribed to the Almighty Father God, belongs equally to the Son.

  • It speaks not only of God’s eternal nature, but of his eternal purpose.
  • This purpose is to make all things holy and full of life.
  • The divine invitation goes out now, inviting “anyone who wants to,” to “Come.”
  • The promise is “without charge” and gives “the water of life.”

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25, ESV).


Preaching Biblical-Theological Sermons

A Facebook Q&A

This is my response to a Facebook post that asked the following question: “Why would I ever preach from the Old Testament until after I have preached everything in the New Testament?” With some editing, here’s how I responded on Facebook:

  • Because you would immediately and permanently remove the largest part of Scripture from your preaching rota. How long would you have to preach before you “preached everything in the New Testament”?
  • Because you would be living in practical denial of Paul’s declaration that all Scripture is useful for preaching, teaching, and Christian discipleship (2 Tim 3:16). And of course the only Scripture Paul would have been speaking of is what we now call the Old Testament.
  • Because you would be ignoring the core path to preaching a proper understanding of Christ, which Jesus himself taught during the Emmaus encounters (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47). It was Christological interpretation of the Old Testament that opened their minds to understand Scripture; so excluding the Old Testament from the pulpit would be closing your mind and the minds of your congregation to the understanding of Scripture.
  • Because you would be violating core apostolic commands about preaching: (1) Preach Christ, and (2) preach the Word—which would have been the Old Testament at that time.
  • Because you would be modeling Marcionite practice, effectively rejecting the Old Testament. In doing so, two things would very likely happen: (1) Your congregation would infer that the Old Testament wasn’t really Scripture, but maybe second-level stuff like the Apocrypha. I suppose it wouldn’t be long till your congregation saw “Daniel” and “Tobit” on about the same level. (2) You would move toward idolatrous worship in the following sense: You would create “Jesus” in a fashion that fulfillment of the Old Testament would never countenance—even if you figured you had successfully managed it in the New—and then worship that “Jesus.”

This question sounds like the flip side of another question about how we might be able to preach: “Is it possible to preach a biblical sermon without mentioning Jesus Christ?” To this question and the one in the OP, my answer is this: “Why would you ever want to?!”

I think the real issue isn’t about preaching the Old Testament, but how to go about preaching Christ from the Scriptures—all of it, Old and New Testaments. I think I’ll use one of the very next blogs to recommend some preaching resources that help on this:

  • How to avoid moralizing sermons and preach the genuine biblical-theological substance of a text. For example, you don’t preach the David and Goliath story and encourage your congregation to believe that if they really trust God, they can kill bad people. Hint: David isn’t a type of you, he’s a type of Jesus, who triumphs over all his enemies.
  • How to avoid allegorizing and preach the genuine biblical-theological substance of the text. For example, you don’t preach the David and Goliath story and encourage people to believe that if they really trust God they can slay the “giants” in their lives—like depression, alcoholism, wife beating, and pornography. Hint: David’s life isn’t an allegory of your walk with God; he’s a type of Christ, who has already triumphed.

In that Facebook response, I promised to write this blog and recommend some useful resources, so here goes:

Resources for Preaching Biblical-Theological Sermons

I think preaching expository sermons is the most robust way of preaching in general; however, I think a biblical-theological frame of reference can rescue and recommend the topical sermon. An example of that would be a sermon on “The ‘Immanuel’ Principle,” which I believe I’ll use for the blog that follows this one.1

Annotated Bibliography

Here are the two key textbooks I use when I teach preaching at Bible college or seminary level. You could use either for an self-guided study to freshen up your expository preaching skills.

  • Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005. This is an outstanding textbook on preaching, and he’s exceptionally strong on moving from solid exegesis to genuine application that’s rooted in preaching Christ from all the Scriptures.
  • Carter, Terry G., J. Scott Duvall, and J. Daniel Hays. Preaching God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Preparing, Developing, and Delivering the Sermon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005. This is more broadly homiletical than Chapell; however, Carter et al. are excellent on how to move from exegesis to application and on identifying the Christological point anywhere in Scripture.

Besides textbooks on homiletics, I’ve found anything by Edmund Clowney, Sidney Greidanus, or Graeme Goldsworthy to be really helpful. So here’s some of their works that focus especially on preaching.

  • Clowney, Edmund P. Preaching and Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1961. This short book by one of my former professors is a foundational work on the subject. It may be hard to find a copy nowadays, but it’s worth hunting.
  • _____. “The Singing Savior.” Moody Monthly 79 (1980): 40–43. This is a magazine article that’s a wonderful example of what biblical theology looks like in a devotional work. If you would like a copy, I can email it. And once I figure out this blog site well enough, I’ll probably be uploading and linking it on my site.
  • _____. Preaching Christ in All of Scripture. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2003. I think you’ll love this work, even for devotional reading. And if you’re a preacher, you’ll  probably be telling yourself, “I’m going to preach that one,… and that one,…” and so on.
  • Greidanus, Sidney. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999. As you can tell from the title, this focuses on methodology. It warns against some erroneous ways of preaching from the Old Testament, and it sets out a solid methodology that “will preach.”
  • _____. Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007. This is Greidanus himself applying that method to the book of Genesis.
  • _____. Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010.
  • _____. Preaching Christ from Psalms: Foundations for Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016.
  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000. Goldsworthy is the gold standard on this matter, as far as I’m concerned.

Finally, R. Kent Hughes, a great preaching pastor, is producing a fine series called Preaching the Word. So far, I know of the following works in that series. These volumes are not the thin gruel you often find in homiletical or expository commentaries; they’re robust application of the biblical-theological method to the Bible book each one treats:

  • Hughes, R. Kent. Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004.
  • _____. Luke: That You May Know the Truth. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998.
  • _____. Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior. Preaching the Word. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1989.
  • _____. Acts: The Church Afire. Preaching the Word. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1996.
  • _____. James: Faith That Works. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1991.
  • _____. Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1990.
  • _____. Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. Preaching the Word. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1989.
  • _____. 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2006.
  • _____. Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1993.
  • Mathews, Kenneth A. Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009.
  • Ortlund, Raymond C. Proverbs: Wisdom That Works. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.
  • Ryken, Philip Graham. Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2005.

Biblical-Theological Method

I won’t spell out the method in this post; rather, I’ll refer you to the stream of this blog. It’s all about the biblical-theological method. Because this question about preaching and biblical theology has come up, I think I’ll try to focus more on preaching and biblical theology than on just academic biblical theology as we go forward.