What Does “Alpha and Omega” Mean?

“‘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

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus is given a host of titles.

He is called “the faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5), “the Son of God” (2:18), “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David” (5:5), “The Word of God” (19:13), and “the Lord Jesus” (22:21), among many other titles.

In Revelation 1:8, John says that Jesus is he “who is and who was and who is to come” (cf. Rev. 1:4; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). This is a peculiar title given to Jesus and one I believe encourages us to seek to know and live for him, as well as endure any hardship or trial that we may undergo.

What does John mean?

Many commentators have observed that this title attributed to Jesus is a paraphrase of God’s name in Exodus 3:14. When Moses asks what he should tell the Israelites what God’s name is, God replies, “I AM WHO I AM.” Being familiar with this Jewish tradition, we get the idea that John picked up on this and attributed God’s covenantal name to Jesus.

Some have also suggested that John attributed this title to Jesus for apologetic purposes. In Greek literature, there was a similar title attributed to Zeus, who was considered the one “who was and who is and who will be.” So, John may have even attributed this title to Jesus as a way of identifying him as far greater than Zeus. 

In this title, we learn four important truths about Jesus.

1. Jesus Is in Control of the Present, Past, and Future.

Jesus is sovereign over creation and time. Jesus is, Jesus was, and Jesus will return. Jesus is in control over the present, past, and future.

Jesus Was

As the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, Jesus is eternal. He has always been and will forever be. According to the author of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

Jesus Is

The eternally existing second person of the Trinity has entered into human history as the man Jesus Christ. As the God-man, Jesus came to live, suffer, die, and rise from death for the penalty of our sins.

Jesus Is to Come

Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus proclaimed to the high priest, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Additionally, we see this prophecy reiterated in Revelation 19–21, as Jesus comes down from heaven, judges and defeats his enemies, and establishes his kingdom in full.

A Final Word

Understanding that Jesus is the one who is and who was and who is to come has two important implications for our lives. 

First, Jesus is going to return. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, but inevitably he’ll return. His impending return serves as a means of encouraging us to examine our lives to see if we are prepared to meet our maker.

In Revelation 1:3, John says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” John reminds us that Jesus is returning, and he will do so “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1–11), so be encouraged as you live your life for him. This is a great reminder for us today.

There will be times when you are maligned or even persecuted for your faith, and this is to be expected (Matt. 10:22). Be encouraged: Jesus is alive and is coming back to claim those who are his and judge those who oppose him and his people.

Second, Jesus, the Sovereign Lord over all of creation (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15–17), oversees human history. For John to have written these letters to the churches would have been an encouragement to many who may have questioned or even doubted God’s rule in light of their present day struggles and the testing of their faith.

As Christians, we can be encouraged that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega—the eternal, Sovereign Lord—who is over our life and all of creation, guiding everything to its appointed purpose. And even if we don’t feel or see it at the moment—we will see it in the end.