But it would be inaccurate that these were the only “I Am” statements in Johannine literature. The Book of Revelation picks up a lot of the themes and wording that the Gospel of John uses. Many think the same author wrote both; some say “No, but they are part of the same school of theological thought and writings as John’s Gospel and the 3 letters of John.” And among the shared wording is another, quite significant “I Am” statement. Three times in Revelation, once in the first chapter and once in each of the last two chapters, Jesus says to John, “I Am the Alpha and the Omega.” Sometimes he adds, “the beginning and the end.” Which makes sense because Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last. It would be the equivalent of Jesus saying in English, “I am the A and the Z.”
What does he mean by that? Well, it could mean he is literally the first thing to exist and will be the last thing as well. In other words, it could be a way of saying he is eternal. And it’s certainly true. According to John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” It becomes obvious that Jesus is that Word. John probably got the term from Philo, a Jewish philosopher who tried to reconcile Judaism with Greek thought. The Word, or Logos in Greek, was the principle of reason that gives the cosmos order. It could be seen as analogous to Wisdom, which in the Book of Proverbs is personified and who worked with God in creating the universe. Anyway, if Christ is the Word through whom God made the world, he would be pre-existent to it and all creation. And as God he would last forever though the world would not.
But there is another sense in which Jesus could mean he is the Alpha and the Omega. He is not only the first thing that existed but should be the first priority in our life. First principles are the most important. A principle all doctors should observe is “First, do no harm,” a paraphrase of a key part of the Hippocratic Oath they swear. In the jail, the first priority is “safety.” It trumps everything else and explains why certain things that we might see as innocent, like hardbound books and regular rosaries, are considered contraband. The first priority in our lives should be Jesus. Using the question “What would Jesus do?” to determine ethical behavior is a version of this.
But when would Jesus be the last priority as well? Perhaps it would be best to say, instead, that Jesus should be the first and last thought in any endeavor. It’s possible to start off on the right foot but get sidetracked along the way. For instance, in the jail, shaving is encouraged, especially for trustees and those going to trial. To that end, male inmates are issued razors at specific times for a limited period of time in exchange for their IDs, which they otherwise must have on themselves at all times. To get his ID back, an inmate must return the razor which is inspected to see that it is intact and unaltered. How important is the last part? Just last month a serial killer in Alaska committed suicide with a razor the floor officer did not check back in. And dying along with him was the information officials hoped to get on his other victims. So safety should be first and last in your mind, and Jesus should be both your first and last thought as you serve him.
Another possible meaning of “I Am the Alpha and the Omega” is that Jesus both starts and ends things. He created the world; he will bring about the end of the world, as we know it. He is not only the beginning and end of history; he is the cause of both. He starts creation and brings it to its culmination. And he, of course, brings us into existence and brings our existence, at least as animals, to its conclusion.
Or, should I say, its zenith. Because unlike the stories we tell, there need not be any end to our life histories. Jesus offers us eternal life. But that’s not merely more life, endless life, but eternal life, life of a different quality. It is life outside of time, life in the eternal now, God’s life. It is also a transformed life. When Jesus rose again, his body was both like and unlike ours. Still bearing his scars, he could eat, drink, touch and be touched but was not limited by time and space. He appeared to the disciples despite the fact that they were behind locked doors and did so having been with 2 disciples in Emmaus, 4 miles away, just minutes earlier. The risen Christ did things that are not actually impossible, but which only sub-atomic particles have been observed doing.
Geologist, paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin developed the idea of the Omega Point, the supreme point of complexity and consciousness, towards which all creation is moving. The Omega point is already existing, personal, transcendent, free from the limits of time and space, and irreversible. And not only is everything moving toward the Omega Point but it is actually drawing all things to itself. Chardin, of course, saw the resemblance between the Omega Point and the Logos, of which John wrote. In John 12:32, Jesus says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to me.” If Christ is the image into which we were created, the image his Spirit works to restore in us, the model and exemplar of what we should be, as well as the one through whom all things were made, then it makes sense that he is the goal towards which everything in creation is moving and growing. Christ is the Alpha in the sense that he is the original pattern of creation and he is Omega as its ultimate destination.
There is one last way in which Christ is the Alpha and Omega. We have dictionaries and encyclopedias; the British call these, generally when the book is limited to one subject, an “A to Z.” In other words, everything you need to know about the subject can be found within the pages of the book. Jesus can be thought of as covering everything in this life from A to Z. In him we live and move and have our being. He encompasses all of creation and all of our experiences. He knows joy, pain, humor, grief, anger, reconciliation, injustice, vindication, friendship, betrayal, prejudice, openness, false expectations, honest appraisal, kindness, contempt, peace, turmoil, love, life and death. And life after death.
That is truly the undiscovered country, as Shakespeare put it. True, throughout history people thought dead have come back to life and described being met by a being of light and love. Since the invention of far more effective forms of medical resuscitation we have many more people reporting such experiences. In a recent book, a neurosurgeon had such an experience and, what’s more, had it when his brain activity was nil according to monitors in the ICU. It could not, then, have been an hallucination, says Dr. Eben Alexander, for his brain was not working. But Jesus returned after 3 days in a tomb, not a nearly invalided survivor, requiring months of care, but hale and hearty, so robust and beaming with health that they often didn’t recognize him at first. His resurrection convinced the disciples to unlock their doors and go into the world fearlessly announcing his incarnation, death and resurrection as the ultimate good news. They went to their deaths, proclaiming his risen and eternal life, confident that they would on the last day once again stand with him in risen and renewed bodies.
Jesus is the beginning and the end, the one who was and is and is to come, the start of all things and their destination, the original pattern and its final culmination, the sum total of all there is, the Alpha and Omega. He should be our first priority and last consideration. He should be our first thought of the day and our last thought at night. He should be our last thought at our death, too, for he will be the first person we see after that, bursting with love and with light, like the sun rising behind me, but more radiant, more splendid, giving warmth and light to not merely to this terrestrial ball, but to the whole of creation, which was born out of his love and which he plans to bring within the all-encompassing sphere of his love, of which Jesus is the first and last word on the subject.