Or, Christology A to Z
Dee Dee Warren
I have been in discussions over the years with Unitarians from different persuasions over the issue of whether or not Christ is ever given the Divine designation "Alpha and Omega." I assert unequivocally that He is, and that such is a clear testament to His absolute and unqualified Deity. The main verse under dispute is:
Revelation 22:12 "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last."
The specific Unitarian argument that I will deal with basically states that neither Christ nor the Father is directly speaking in this passage, but rather the angel that John was previously speaking with in the preceding verses has continued speaking as the representative of the Father. Of course that begs the question of why the angel could not be speaking as the representative of Christ if indeed the angel is still speaking. In answering these questions, there are many assumptions made in the Unitarian argument to this passage, the foundation of which is the assumption of the unipersonality of God and a "functional-only" Christology. Those are assumptions imported into this text, not derived from this text (and in fact highly foreign to it).
As its first support, the Unitarian argument states that although Christ is the One who is literally coming to earth throughout Revelation, the Father is also spoken of as the One coming, though He never will literally descend to the earth. Now I unabashedly answer this point from my orthodox preterist position and state that Revelation does not in fact teach that Christ is "literally" coming, if by "literally" the meaning is that He is leaving Heaven bodily and physically descending to the earth. That is not something taught at all by Revelation. It is taught elsewhere in the Bible, but not here, and is speaking of an entirely different event than the bulk of Revelation.
Of course, even if the Unitarian were correct about the nature of this "coming," the assumption is also made in this argument and elsewhere that Christ is ONLY acting as the representative/agent of the Father and that such would necessarily exclude Him from the Identity of Deity (an unwarranted leap). If in fact, this is not a bodily coming to earth, and it is not, but rather a judgment from Heaven, the need for a representative "agent" in the person of Christ is not needed. The only "agents" of God in Revelation are the earthly participants and demonic hosts perpetrating the destruction. And the very concept that Christ is "coming in the clouds," is yet again, another reference to His Deity. The judgment cloud-comings are always comings of YHWH Himself in the OT, through the agencies of His creation, very often pagan nations. The "clouds" symbolize His glory, terror, and unapproachable holiness, and they are claimed for Christ. This sort of "functional only" Christology ignores the fact that Christ can function as Deity specifically because He is Deity.
Now in order to show that it is Christ speaking in our passage under examination, I point out that Christ has already taken the title of "First and Last" in Revelation 1:16. The Unitarian argument then counters that although the Father is called the "First and Last" in several places in Isaiah, Christ is called the "First and Last" in Revelation for an entirely different reason. This is not true, but rather a poor attempt to explain away the Revelation passages. If one were to just take the Revelation and the Isaiah passages together without importing Unitarian presuppositions into the text, the Deity of Christ is obvious. Revelation is recognized as being an accumulation of hundreds of allusions to OT texts. There is no indication whatsoever that "First and Last" is being used for two entirely different reasons (and the exalted nature of that very term would make it impossible in the first place). That is reading one's preset theology into the text and is blatantly circular.
I agree with the Unitarian foundation that Yahweh is called the First and the Last in Isaiah because He is the Creator and the Completer. He also bears that title to show that there is nothing outside of Him, He is the Totality. The fullness of that term is protological and eschatological. He began all things and will end all things. He is the Creator and the Consummator. This is clearly a strong title of Deity. It would be very, very misleading to just go and apply that title to Christ, without qualification (and this Unitarian explanation is doing a lot of qualifying), when it is such a clear title of Deity. In fact its use in the exact same phraseology as used of God would be downright inappropriate. Jews were notoriously careful in their writings to use certain characteristics and titles of God exclusively for God to unambiguously differentiate Him from all other reality, including exalted patriarchs and angels or other exalted personages. This is such a title and would have been understood in that manner.
In addition to all of the above, it cannot be said that the reason that this phrase is used is because Christ is elsewhere called Firstborn, since that also simply begs the point in that that Title (Firstborn) indicates His preeminence over everything, and also points to His Deity, and an appeal cannot be made to a "last Adam" comment in an entirely different context, as the "last Adam" there (1 Cor. 15) is juxtaposed with the "first Adam" which would be the natural referent of "first" in the "First and Last," if the "last" indeed refers to the title of "last Adam." And in the next sentence Paul equates the phrase "last Adam" with "second man," showing that "last" means the same in that context as "second." Christ did not say that He was the "First and the Second."
One cannot take a unified (and already established) concept of "First and Last" and then pull in two other concepts that have not been Biblically related to each other in sequential manner, as "First and Last" is intended to be taken. It does complete violence to the text, and especially so in Revelation where it is obvious that the allusions are almost always directly to the OT firstly, not the NT. And of course, the phrase is an "exact" title from the OT, which would then be the natural referent for all three of its usages in Revelation (chapters 1, 2, and 22 - and in 22 in which the Unitarian argument does argue that it IS referring to the Father)
Not only that, but that title had already become an exchange term for God Himself within the first century Jewish context. God uses it of Himself almost polemically. He is not just claiming to be the First and the Last, as if whatever exists between "first" and "last" has nothing to do with Him, but is claiming to be the First and the Last and everything that is between. To use that exact same phrase to mean something else is to reduce it to nonsense and to disregard the "everything in between" aspect of its meaning and its polemical placements in Isaiah.. Additionally, where that term appears and is repeated in Isaiah is also very, very important as those chapters have been called and recognized by many scholars as the pinnacle of the OT expression of who God is and Judaistic monotheism. It would be blasphemous for a creature to take from those passages (especially those passages!!) a title of Deity and apply it to Himself. If all that was meant to be expressed was "firstborn" and "last Adam," there were much less dangerous ways to express it (such as actually saying Firstborn and Last Adam). Isaiah Chapters 40-55 contain the strongest and greatest divine assertions of God's unique identity as Creator and sovereign of the universe. You cannot divorce "First and Last" from that "baggage."
Further, this Unitarian explanation ignores and totally wrests the connection between Revelation 1 and 22. The Unitarian wants us to go through places in the NT to find our referent for "First and Last" which I have already shown to be highly superficial and incorrect methodology. There is no indication in the passage that it is alluding primarily to NT titles, and in fact, the first place to start looking for the meaning of the phrase is within the same Book itself, and the exact phrase, in a tititular context, is used three times (at a minimum and with one disputed usage in 1:11) in Revelation, and with the third usage the Unitarian is arguing that it is used of the Father!
Now, I would argue that all three times that "First and Last" is used in Revelation, it is clearly used of Christ, but just for the sake of discussion, we will assume for a moment that in Revelation 22:13, it is the Father who is speaking, and He claims to be the "First and the Last." However, in Revelation 1:17 Christ claims that title for Himself. The connection is obviously meant to be made to the declaration in Revelation 22:13 (both uses have very near proximities to threats/warnings/promises of "coming quickly") in which it is given as an unequivocal declaration of Deity and explained by its repetition (in case we were thick - which it appears that we are) of the synonymous terms of "Alpha and Omega" and "Beginning and End." "First and Last" does not mean anything substantially different from "Alpha and Omega" or "Beginning and End," it is simply sequentially alphabetically expressing the same thing that was expressed sequentially numerically and sequentially temporally. This is so patently obvious that the burden of proof is upon those who would assert otherwise. They are synonymous and yet we all agree that Jesus claims the title of "First and Last" for Himself at least once. The enormous burden of proof is on the one who wants to claim two entirely different meanings for the same title within the same Book in similar contexts (and even possibly if the textual variant in verse 1:11 is correct within 7 verses of each other), especially in light of its importance as a title of Deity in Isaiah, and synonymous pairing in 22:13 with undisputed titles of Deity.
And if one wants to travel to the rest of the NT for the referents for the title, its use for the Deity of Christ comes into clearer focus when the fact that "First and Last" is to be understood protologically and eschatologically is fully explored. Christ, throughout the NT, is given protological preeminence, thus demonstrating Him as the First, and also is given eschatological preeminence, thus demonstrating Him as the Last, and interestingly claims that title in an eschatological context in Revelation (the Firstborn title that was appealed to in Colossians 2 in the Unitarian explanation is the claim in a protological context). It is beyond belief to posit that the exact same title, worded in the exact same way, taken from the pinnacle of the expression of Judaistic monotheism, is to be understood in different ways within the same book and possibly within eight verses of each other (if the textual variant is correct).
These incorrect and untenable Unitarian assumptions unfounded by, and in fact contradicted by the text, continue with the argument that it is the angel who is allegedly still speaking in Revelation 22:13. Some texts indicate that it is Christ Himself speaking. I certainly believe that it is Christ Himself speaking. The fact that an angel was speaking, and then there is a change to Christ without explicit introduction causes no problem in the style and format of Revelation. Christ is the one who has been revealed (and remember that the book is the "Revelation" of Jesus Christ - the unveiling of who He really is) throughout Revelation as the one who is coming quickly (and as a thief). A statement to that affect, with nobody explicitly identified as the speaker already happened earlier in Revelation at 16:15., and thus it would be not be unnatural to assume the same here.
That being said, however, if one is going to maintain it is the angel continuously speaking, then there really is no warrant at all for changing the speaker then to Christ at verse 22:16, and that change I would say is in fact most likely motivated by Unitarian bias. There is no compelling textual warrant for it and in fact explicit warrant against it if the Unitarian argument were true because the very same reasons that would motivate someone to hold that the angel is speaking up through verse 15 would be just as valid to have the angel continuing to speak. In other words, the Unitarian argument claimed that because verse 16 says, "I, Jesus,…" then Jesus must then be speaking, but wants to have it both ways since the same angel supposedly says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," which is an explicit personal identification as well, but that occurrence does not necessitate there that the actual "Alpha and Omega" be actually speaking. This is highly inconsistent.
The Unitarian relies upon his own presuppositions in a circular fashion to prove that the angel is still speaking as representative of the Father because the title "Alpha Omega" is never used of Christ and thus can never be used of Christ, thus they proclaim that the identification is obvious. The only things that are obvious, however, are the presuppositions brought to the text. I will go through this in great detail. First, there is warrant for believing that the angel is not speaking at all in that statement. In the OT with the exception of the Angel of the Lord (for very specific reasons) the general pattern is that a messenger or representative of God (such as a "regular angel" or prophet) prefaces such statements with an explicit identification that it is God's words by "thus saith the Lord" or something to that affect. (yes, there are a few 'possible' exceptions to that pattern, but it is undeniably the majority pattern)
Second, the Unitarian argument must assume that "Alpha and Omega" is never used of Christ, but that is assuming what must proven and was not proven. And in fact, "Alpha and Omega" is synonymous with "First and Last" which has been used of Christ. The Unitarian problem is that they must maintain that Revelation 1:8 using the title "Alpha and Omega," refers only to the Father, so then it must only be referring to the Father here. But the term is synonymous with one of the titles already unambiguously being used to refer to Christ. Also I say yet again, the Unitarian is also highly inconsistent with his "rules" here also because he claimed that one of the "proofs" that the Father was speaking in verse 1:8 was that the Father had already been earlier identified as the one "who is, and who was, and who is to come." However, the Unitarian does not apply that same standard to the term "First and Last" for if he did he would have to argue that Jesus is in fact speaking in 22:13.
Also, it is obvious that the angel does not only represent the Father (if the angel is even representing the Father at all) , but in fact represents Christ. Within the very same passage, if one wants to interject the Father here, the angel is sent by BOTH and is identified as the angel of BOTH. There is no indication of, or warrant for, positing two different angels. An appeal that the "angel of Jesus" spoken of in 22:16 is different from the angel speaking in verses 6-15 is completely specious. The only reason for the Unitarian to try and say otherwise is because he must make the angel in verse 16 different from the angel speaking, but that makes no sense in context. An angel was speaking, and then Jesus supposedly steps in and talks about an angel speaking but is referring to an entirely different angel?? Unbelievable. The statement is in fact a parallel to the previous angelic statement in 22:6 which makes it obvious there is one angel sent by BOTH, or alternatively, and what I hold, is that verse 22:6 is again another unequivocal reference to the Deity of Christ. He is the one who sent the angel to testify to His bondservants (as the prologue clearly states) and thus He is the God of the spirits of the prophets as stated in that verse.
One also cannot state that the "angel" mentioned in verse 22:16 is just an "epilogal" reference to the angel in the prologue and thus a different angel than the angel in verse 22:6 and speaking throughout for several reasons. First, the angel in 22:6 is obviously the same angel in the prologue as the same terms are used that this angel is to reveal things that "are shortly to take place." The angel in 22:16 is also obviously the same angel in the prologue for similar reasons. They are obviously one and the same angel, and the connection with this fact is also a clear testament to the Deity of Christ.
The entire context shows that it is Christ who is the One who is coming quickly. The Father is not coming quickly and it is totally begging the question to say that solely the Father is coming quickly representatively through Christ. The One who is coming quickly (who is identified as such unambiguously throughout the entire New Testament) is Christ. The One who is coming quickly also claims to be the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. It is an unequivocal reference to the Deity of Christ as the rest of the chapter even makes more explicit when the closing words are the call for Christ, not the Father, to come. The focus is on Christ who has already claimed the title "First and Last" earlier in the book.
Identical language (Isaiah 40:10) of YHWH's coming is ascribed to Jesus Christ in this very passage in Revelation 22 (and the same language is claimed by Christ for Himself in the Gospels). That would be very odd indeed if an identity connection were not intended. In fact, this is a common phenomena… there are many OT passages that teach certain things about YHWH. As White ably states, "… for some strange reason in the NT we find the NT writers ransacking the Old Testament looking for these very phrases to apply to Jesus Christ. It would be rather strange if the writers of the New Testament did not believe in the Deity of Christ that they would search the Old Testament from stem to stern for phrases used of YHWH to apply to their Lord, and the examples are numerous." Each one just on their own can be explained away with varying degrees of credibility, but the cumulative case is enormous, many of which are not just ascriptions of things that are "generic," meaning that they do not have to apply exclusively to Deity, but of things that are inherent to Deity itself, as are the unequivocal application of the phrases "Alpha and Omega, First and Last, and Beginning and End" to Christ, our Great God and Savior. Amen.
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