In the Bible, is Jesus the Almighty and the Alpha and the Omega?

Purpose

I received a comment from a reader which claimed that Jesus Christ knew who He was, namely “the Almighty,” for that is exactly how He identified Himself, and as the Alpha and the Omega. 

I had a similar comment in the past and thought that it might be wise to respond by means of a short article.  The purpose of this article is, therefore, to determine whether the Bible applies titles “the Almighty” and “the Alpha and the Omega” to Jesus, and the implications thereof.

Introduction to Revelation

The phrase “the Alpha and the Omega” is found only in the book of Revelation.  Furthermore, of the ten times that the title “Almighty” appears in the New Testament, nine are in Revelation.  For this reason, this article commences with a discussion of Revelation’s introduction.

Jesus is distinct from God.

Revelation begins with the words:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him” (1:1). 

This immediately sets a distinction between God and Jesus.  This distinction is repeated in the next verse:

John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ.”   

The point is not that Jesus is distinct from the Father, for that all agree, but that Jesus is distinct from God, which implies that Jesus is not God.

The same John who wrote Revelation also wrote the gospel of John.  The opening verse of that gospel reads,

(a) In the beginning was the Word,
(b) and the Word was with God,
(c) and the Word was God.

The Word was GodPart (b) makes a distinction between God and the Word, but part (c) informs us that “the Word was God.”  A series of articles on the website discusses this and shows that part (c) has a special grammatical construct which should be translated “the Word was like God.”  This is, therefore, similar to Philippians 2, which says that, before His incarnation, that Jesus “existed in the form of God.”  For is a discussion of these two passages, see:

John 1:1
Jesus in Philippians

Him who is and who was and who is to come

Revelation 1:4-5 refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as follows:

Him who is and who was and who is to come;”
The seven Spirits who are before His throne;” and
Jesus Christ;”

Him who is and who was and who is to come” is, therefore, a title for the Father.  The Father is also identified by this title is 4:8 (cf. 11:17).  It is possible that this title is an interpretation of God’s title in Exodus 3:14, where “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM”.

Since “the seven Spirits … are before His throne,” the Father is the One who is often mentioned in Revelation as “sitting on the throne” (4:2, 9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13), and who is identified as “our Lord and our God” (4:11) and as “God” (5:9, 10; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4).  Jesus said, “I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).  This confirms that it is the Father’s throne.

Jesus has a God.

1:5-6 continues as follows:

To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.

The Father is therefore also Jesus’ God.  In 3:2 and 3:12 Jesus similarly refers to the Father as “My God:” 

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God

The key verse

The purpose of the analysis above is to explain the first verse in Revelation that refers to the “Almighty,” namely  1:8, which reads as follows:

“’ I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’.”

For the following reasons, this is the Father speaking:

(1) This is the One “who is and who was and who is to come,” who has been identified above as the Father.
(2) He is described as “Lord God,” and the previous verses three times made a distinction between God and Jesus, and once even said that the Father is Jesus’ God. 

This distinction between God and Jesus is a consistent pattern in the New Testament and in Revelation.  See the articles:

Does the book of Revelation present Jesus as God? and
The NT distinguishes between God and Jesus.

The important conclusion is as follows: Since this is the Father speaking in 1:8, it is implied that the phrases, “the Alpha and the Omega” and “the Almighty” do not refer to Jesus, but to the Father.

Almighty

As stated, the title “the Almighty” is used 10 times in the New Testament, but only once outside Revelation.  In 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 Paul quotes from the Old Testament and identifies “God” as “the Lord Almighty.”  In Revelation “the Almighty” is used as follows:

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8).

The Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come” (4:8)

Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were” (11:17)

Those who had been victorious over the beast” sang, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty.”  (15:2-3)

The altar says, “O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Rev. 16:7)

The “spirits of demons … go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14)

A great multitude,” says, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come’” (Rev. 19:6).

The Word of God … treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 19:13-15).

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22)

Almighty God JesusIn all nine instances, “the Almighty” is God.  The last three instances make an explicit distinction between the Almighty and the Son (the Word of God and the Lamb).  In other words, “the Almighty” is always the Father.  This title is never applied to Jesus.   

Alpha and the Omega

On the other hand, Jesus said, “I am the first and the last” (1:17; 2:8).  This phrase “the Alpha and the Omega” describes the Father in 1:8, and appears twice more in Revelation.  21:5-6 reads:

He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ … Then He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end’.”

He who sits on the throne” is the Father.  In 22:12-13 an unidentified Person says:

I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

This could be Jesus, for:

(1) Jesus in 3:11 similarly said, “I am coming quickly.”  
(2) Jesus is “the first and the last” in 1:17 and 2:8, and this title is never used for the Father.

Whether 22:12-13 refers to the Father or to Jesus does not really matter, for Jesus is already explicitly called “the first and the last,” and this probably has the same meaning as “the Alpha and the Omega.” 

Conclusion

The question is then, how could Jesus be “the Alpha and the Omega” if He is not “the Almighty?”  This is explained as follows:

Firstly, God created all things through Jesus. 

John, who wrote the Revelation, also wrote, “All things came into being through Him (the Word = pre-incarnate Jesus), and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3; cf. Col. 1:16).  The term “through” implies that God created all things “through” the Word.  This is explicit in Hebrews 1:1-2:

God … in these last days has spoken to us in His Son … through whom also He made the world.

The different roles of God and the Word make a distinction between Jesus and the Almighty Creator.  We need to recognize and respect the distinction which Revelation. and the rest of the New Testament consistently make between God and Jesus. 

Secondly, Jesus is the Beginning. 

The Person or Persons in 22:13 and 21:6 are also called, “the beginning and the end.” Jesus is similarly “the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14).  This is not understood as to mean that He is a created being, for He has been begotten.  In fact, He is “the only begotten” (John 1:14, 18; 3:16).  “Begotten” is human language for a mystery which beyond human understanding, and which describes the origin of the Son.

If God created all things through the Word, then the Word already existed in the beginning.  But the point here is that He Himself is “the Beginning:” 

He is the beginning” (Col. 1:18).
He is “the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14). 
Justin Martyr also described Him as “a Beginning.”

It is therefore proposed that God created all things by begetting Him.  

Thirdly, the Word upholds the universe.

A number of times we read that “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17; cf. Heb. 1:3). This concept should not be separated from the concept that God created all things through Him: It is the same thing.  It is therefore proposed that God upholds the universe through the Word.  (The term “Word” is here used for the pre-incarnate Jesus, for that is how John described Him, not only in His pre-incarnate state (John 1:1-3) but also when He returns to earth (Rev. 19:13).  

Therefore, He is the Alpha and the Omega.

To conclude; God exists beyond time and He created time.  Jesus Himself is the Beginning of time and of everything else.  And since “in Him all things hold together,” He is the entire existence of the Creation.  He is, therefore, the “Alpha and the Omega” of the creation.

But that does not make Him “Almighty” or equal to “the Almighty,” for it is still God who created and upholds all things “through” Him.  Both the Father and the Son are eternal, for both existed as long as time existed.  Therefore both are the “Alpha and the Omega.”  But they are not co-equal and co-eternal, as in the Athanasian Creed, for in the incomprehensible infinity beyond time, the Father is the Great Source that begat the Son.

 

Justin Martyr viewed the Son as distinct from God and subordinate to the Father.

Justin MartyrJustin Martyr was an early Christian apologist. He was born around AD 100. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue did survive. The First Apology, his most well-known text, passionately defends the morality of the Christian life and provides various arguments to convince the Roman emperor to abandon the persecution of the Church. But apparently he failed, for he was martyred, more or less in the year 165, alongside some of his students.  It is for that reason that he is called Justin Martyr.

In his view, the Greek philosophers had derived the most essential elements of truth, found in their teaching, from the Old Testament. Thus he does not hesitate to declare that many historical Greek philosophers, such as Socrates and Heraclitus, in whose works he was well studied, were unknowing Christians (Apol., i. 46, ii. 10). However, in his view, the old philosophers had only a part of the Logos (the Word or Wisdom), while the whole is in Christ.

CHRISTOLOGY

Angel of the LORDJustin Martyr identified Jesus with the Logos of John 1 and Revelation 19,  He also identified Jesus with the Angel of the LORD and with many other Theophanies of the Old Testament.  He used this argument to convince Jews of the truth of Christianity.

Origin of Christ

Justin Martyr described Jesus as follows:

God begot before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself” (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 61).  He was “born of the very substance of the Father.”

To describe the Word as “a Beginning” implies that God’s purpose, in begetting the Son, was to create all things.  We often read in the Bible about “the beginning,” such as that “in the beginning, God created heaven and earth.”  But Justin Martyr thought of Jesus Himself as the Beginning.  Jesus is also described as “the beginning” in Colossians 1:18, and the Revelator referred to Him as “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14).

Since the Word is “rational,” He is a separate Person.

Creation

Justin Martyr wrote, “through the Word, God has made everything.”  In other words, it is still God who created, but He created “through the Word.”

Distinct

Justin Martyr described the Logos as “numerically distinct from the Father;”  “Numerically distinct” is a phrase that philosophers use.  It stands in contrast to “qualitatively distinct” and means that one being is different from another, even when they are extremely similar; qualitatively the same.  Justin used the sun as a metaphor to explain the relationship between the Father and the Son: The sun and the light that comes from the sun are highly related but still distinct entities.

For Justin Martyr Jesus was distinct from the Father, but in his view the Father is God.  This is seen in the statement quoted above that “through the Word, God has made everything.”  That means that Jesus is also distinct from God.

Subordinate

In Matthew 28;19 Jesus told His disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Justin similarly wrote:

For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water” (First Apol., LXI).

This expands Matthew 28, for Justin replaced “the Father” with “God, the Father.”  He also added in a few words to exalt the Father over the Son and over the Holy Spirit.  The reference to “God, the Father” confirms the distinction between God and Jesus.  Furthermore, the description of the Father as “God” and as “Lord of the universe” and implies that the Son is subordinate to the Father.

Justin continues to speak about baptism in the very next paragraph.  He again equates God with the Father, in distinction to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and describes God alone as ineffable (indescribable):

The Cross of ChristNo one can utter the name of the ineffable God…And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost” (First Apology 61)

In his First Apology 8, Justin explicitly states that Jesus is “in the second place” next to God.  This clearly evidences his view that the Son is subordinate to the Father.

Slick quoted Justin’s version of the baptismal creed because it mentions all three Persons, but the way in which the church fathers in the second and third century used these triadic passages make a distinction between God and His Son and declare the Father to be superior over the Son.

Conclusion

Justin Martyr’s understanding of Christ and the Trinity may be summarized as follows:

The Father, who is God, begot the Son before all creatures.  The Father begot Him as a Beginning; born of the very substance of the Father; a rational power that proceeded from God; numerically distinct from God and subordinate to the Father.  Through Him, God has made all things.  In Old Testament times the Son appeared as the Angel of the LORD.  In these quotes Justin did mention substance, but not that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature or that the Holy Spirit is self-aware.

Polycarp’s view of God and Christ: Did Polycarp believe in the Trinity?

This is the second article in the series on the development of the Trinity doctrine.  The previous article defined this doctrine and gave a brief overview of its development.  The current article discusses the views of one of the first post-Biblical writers, namely Polycarp, who lived from about the year 70 to 155.  The following short excerpt comes from the Martyrdom of Polycarp (ch. 14), giving Polycarp’s prayer just prior to his execution:

O Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers and of all creation … I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages to come. Amen.

(Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Third Edition (Grand Rapid: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 321-323.)

The Martyrdom of Polycarp is sometimes a bit incredible.  For example, when they attempted to burn Polycarp in a great fire, it miraculously shaped itself into the form an arch and burned around him, emitting a sweet odor like frankincense.  It is, therefore, difficult to say how trustworthy this document is, but it is accepted as early and that it has a historical core.

Slick probably thinks that this quote proves the Trinity because:

(1) it mentions all three Persons together; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
(2) Polycarp glorifies the Father “with” Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
(3) This implies that the Holy Spirit is self-aware. 

Triad

Trinitarians are fond of the triadic passages in the New Testament, which are passages where the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned together.  In these statements, they find support for their view that the Three are one and equal.  This is also what Slick by implication is doing in his article. 

To mention the three Persons together does indeed indicate a close relationship, but it does not prove that they are one, or that they are equal, or consist of the same substance.  On the contrary, Polycarp identifies the “Lord God Almighty” as the Father alone.  He does not identify the Son as God or as Almighty, but as “the eternal and heavenly high priest.”

In his only authentic work, Polycarp clearly distinguished between God and Jesus when he wrote, “Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up” (Holmes, p295).

The word “through” appears three times in Polycarp’s prayer, and explains the Son’s roles: “Through” the Son we receive knowledge of God and through the Son do we glorify God.  The Son’s role as “high priest” also emphasizes His intermediary role between God and man.

Worship

That our glory goes to the Son as well, is consistent with the Bible.  Jesus Himself said, “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).  This does not mean that the Son is God or is equal to Father, as per Slick’s definition of the Trinity, for it is God who exalted Him, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:9-10; cf. Heb. 1:6). 

As stated, the Trinity doctrine argues that Jesus had both a divine and human nature and that only His human nature died on the Cross.  But God exalted His Son to be worshiped after His human nature already died (Phil. 2:8-9), as some propose, and only His divine nature existed.  That means that He is subordinate to the Father also in His present state.  His subordination is confirmed by the verses that say that He now sits at God’s right hand (e.g. Acts 2:33), and even in that position He received the Revelation from God (Rev. 1:1) and recognize the Father as His God (Rev. 3:12).

On the other hand, since the Son is worshiped together with the Father, it would be very difficult to believe that Jesus did not exist before He was born as a human being, as Dr. Tuggy proposes.

Holy Spirit

The version of Polycarp’s prayer which Slick quotes implies that the Holy Spirit is given glory and that the Holy Spirit is therefore self-aware.  But the version of the prayer that is preserved in Eusebius’ Church History (4.15.35) reads differently.  It does not say “and the Holy Spirit,” but that Polycarp glorified God “through…Jesus Christ…in the Holy Spirit.”  As a result of this textual uncertainty, we should not rely on this quote as evidence of Polycarp’s confession in the Spirit as a distinct person.

Eternal

Polycarp described the Son as “the eternal and heavenly high priest.”  He was not always high priest because sin and man did not always exist.  He became high priest at His ascension (Heb. 2:17; 5:9-10).  “Eternal” therefore does not mean that He always existed.  It rather means that he will be our high priest for as long as we need a high priest.

Conclusion

Did Polycarp believe in the Trinity?  He made a clear distinction between God and the Son, describing the Father as Almighty God and the Son as the High Priest.  As mediator, the Son is subordinate to the Father. 

There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Titus 2:5).

Polycarp did not make any mention of substance or that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature.

The Historical Development of the Trinity – From before Nicaea to the Reformation

Purpose

Nicene Creed
Emperor standing behind the church fathers

The purpose of this article series is to trace the development of the Trinity theory through the centuries, commencing with the pre-Nicene fathers, though the tumultuous events of the fourth century, down to the Reformation.

In the year 325, the Council of Nicaea decreed that the Lord Jesus Christ exists as one substance (homoousios) and as co-equal with the Father.  The purpose of the first articles is to determine what Christians believed about Christ and the Trinity in the three centuries before Nicaea. 

Method

Matt Slick is a prominent Trinitarian apologist.  To prove that Christians did believe in the Trinity during the first three centuries, his brief post, “Early Trinitarian Quotes,” provides a collection of proof texts from prominent second and third centuries theologians.

Sean Finnegan—a Unitarian (believing that the Father alone is God)—responded to Slick’s article with an article titled Trinity before Nicaea.  His purpose was to show that Christians in the first three centuries did not believe in the Trinity.  He discussed Slick’s articles but added further quotes.  Dr. Tuggy’s podcast 262 presents his response.  Dr. Tuggy is a well know Socinian Unitarian, which means that he believes that Christ did not exist before His human birth.  

The current article series analyzes the quotes from both these articles to see what the Christian authors believed in the first three centuries about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The purpose is not to determine whether what those early Christians were correct in their teachings, but rather to understand whether the Nicene and later creeds were consistent with the teachings of the early Christians.

To simplify these articles, many of the quotes below are summarized.  For the full quotes, refer to Finnegan’s article.

Trinity Defined

Trinity
Trinity

Slick’s definition of the Trinity, in summary, is as follows:

God is one, but is a Trinity of three distinct persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each has a will and is self-aware, but they are not three beings. They consist of one substance.  Each person is the one God and is eternal, equal to the others and equally powerful.
Jesus, as a man, has both a divine and human nature.

In this definition, “each person is the one God.” This means that God = the Father = the Son = the Holy Spirit.  This sounds like Modalism, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three different Persons, but three modes of the same Being. But then Slick also says that they are “three distinct persons.”

The three-ness of God is expressed as three separate wills and self-awareness.
The one-ness of God is expressed as a single substance, understood as a single Being.

Historical Development

The conceptual progression and historical development of the Trinity theory can be described as follows:

Jesus is God.

Worship JesusBased on the High Christological statements in the Bible, Trinitarians believe that Jesus is God as much as the Father is God.  This was the main point of the Nicene Creed of the year 325, which identified the Son as “true God from true God.”

Three Persons in One Being

This creed caused much dispute and controversy in the church for the next 50 years, for the Bible is clear that only one God exists (monotheism).  Trinitarians, therefore, developed the concept that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are a single Being; together they are the one God of the Bible. However, since there are differences between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, such as that the one is begotten and the other not, the thought developed that they are three different Persons within the one single Being.  The Three Person in One Being theology was clearly enunciated by the first council of Constantinople in the year 381.

The word Trinity has two possible meanings.  With a lower case, “trinity” simply means a group of three.  But we currently use the word “Trinity,” with a capital “T,” as a proper name for the single Being who consists of three divine Persons.

Two Natures

But then, Christ Jesus, when He was on earth, did not know the day and hour of His return, and said that only the Father knows that.  And in many other ways, He indicated that He is subordinate to the Father.  For example, He was sent by the Father and that the Father gave Him what to say and what to do.  Trinitarians, therefore, developed the thought that Jesus had both a human and a divine nature.  In His human nature, He did not know the day or die hour, but in His divine nature He knows all things.  This “two natures” theory was articulated at the council of Chalcedon in 451.

The conclusion that the Son is God as much as the Father is God is, therefore, the foundation on which the Trinity theory rests.  Both the One Being/Three Persons and the dual nature theories simply are secondary attempts to reconcile the Bible with the conclusion that the Son is God. 

The concepts in this section will be brought out in more clarity in the articles that will follow.

Arianism

AriusIn the fifty years after Nicaea, that creed was rejected by most church leaders.  Arianism was the main competitor for the Trinity theory and held the sway until the year 381.  This theory is analyzed in a later article.  In summary, Arianism argues that the Son is not equal to the Father, but was begotten by the Father before time and that God created all things through the Son.  In other words, in the infinity beyond time, the Father was before the Son, using the word “before” metaphorically. 

Questions

The articles below discuss the Christologies of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons), Tertullian and Origen; the greatest and most influential Christian theologian before Augustine.  The purpose is to evaluate the following aspects from the definition of the Trinity against their works:

1. The Son is God.
2. The three Persons are equal.
3. The Holy Spirit is self-aware.
4. The three Persons consist of one substance.
5. Jesus has both a divine and human nature.