FIRST AND LAST (Revelation 1:17)

January 22, 2011 on 6:25 pm | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on FIRST AND LAST (Revelation 1:17)

When the glories of God appear in all their splendor, they are apparently so overwhelming that fear is the instinctive response. Remember the angels’ appearance to the shepherds in Bethlehem (Luke 2:9). The shepherds were “greatly afraid” and the first words of an angel were “Fear not.” An angel said the same thing to Daniel (Daniel 10:12) after a glorious heavenly vision. Here in Revelation, after John’s vision of a glorified Christ, he became almost like a dead man. But then Jesus touched him (Jesus was not afraid to touch sinners or even lepers) with His right hand (symbolic of favor and power) and encouraged him not to be afraid.

That seems to be a typical response of Jesus to human fear. Once when the disciples were in the middle of a terrible storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mt. 14:25, 26) Jesus came walking on the water. They thought He was a ghost and were fearful, but His quick words of comfort were “It is I–be not afraid.” Another stormy event on the same lake (Mk. 4:40) found Jesus asleep in the boat with them. Upon awakening and seeing their fear, He calmed the storm and remarked, “Why were you so afraid–do you still not have faith?” Good question still today for those of us who wrestle with fears and panic attacks. A wonderful promise is in Isaiah 41:10: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee. Be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea I will help thee, yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” There is that victorious right hand again.

There would be some fearful events about to be portrayed in some of John’s visions, so this reminder at the beginning was a good one to hear. Besides, it is best to learn the lessons of trust now, while troubles are relatively minor, before encountering the more severe ones in the future.

But how does the next phrase–“I am the first and the last”–correlate with “don’t be afraid”?
It is stated as though it is the reason John shouldn’t be afraid. We saw that same phrase in verse 11 of this same chapter, so its repetition must mean it is significant. It is a phrase found several times in the Old Testament as well–Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12, 13; 43:1, 11-13 for example. The concept suggests one who can finish what he begins, one who is in control and not thwarted by obstacles. In other words, Christ is able to accomplish His ultimate purposes in spite of all obstacles, so don’t worry, no need to fear the outcome or your personal destiny. Besides, we already know the final results by reading the last part of the book of Revelation. In Hebrews 12:2 it calls Him the author and finisher of our faith and in Philippians 1:6 it says He who began a good work in you will complete it–i.e. He is competent to do so as we cooperate with Him. So don’t be discouraged if you slip up–get beck up and walk with Jesus again. He is able to extricate us from embarrassment and difficulty and ultimately to present us faultless before the throne of God with exceeding joy (Jude 24). Amazing grace! And there is more. He is able to keep what we have committed to Him (2 Timothy 1:12). He is able to aid those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18). And He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

Back in the 60s I was attending school in Germany. One afternoon after church students from our school went into the city to do street ministry with musical instruments, preaching, and giving out tracts. Right above the plaza where we were working was a large billboard advertising the James Bond film “Goldfinger.” The gold-gilded lady was quite a contrast to our activities below. But I still have one of the tracts they passed out then–“Das Letzte Wort Spricht Gott”–God speaks the last word, or in more idiomatic English “God has the last word” or “God has the final say-so.”

Ultimately He who is first and last will indeed have the last word–evil will one day be exterminated (see Hebrews 2:14). Even death doesn’t have the final say-so, for at the final judgment, it, too, will be eliminated (Revelation 20:14). Justice will have been administered, the love of God will have triumphed, and all things will be made new (Revelation 21:5). Even losing our lives here is not the end, for there is a spectacular resurrection at the coming of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). What a wonderful future we have to look forward to as we stay close to Jesus during these tumultuous times.

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