“I AM the Living One” (Revelation 1:17-18 sermon)

It’s interesting to read the little “Twitter bios” people have on their Twitter home page, which give a brief introduction about themselves to those who read their tweets. Some of them are pretty straightforward, like: “I am a husband, father, grandfather, and pastor of First Baptist Church” — that kind of thing.  Others are funny, or creative:

— Like our former pastor from when I was recuperating in Norman, Ronnie Rogers; he has on his: “I knew all the alphabet letters by the 4th grade. I could say them in order by the 7th grade. No brag, just fact.”

— Or Bill Elliff, the pastor who did our wedding ceremony, and who wrote the Simply Prayer study we did this winter, put on his that he is: “A contented follower of a matchless God.” I love that!

What might Jesus’ Twitter bio be? We get a hint of it in Revelation 1. God gave John a vision of Jesus: His eyes a flame of fire, His face shining like the sun — and the Bible says John immediately fell down before Him like a dead man. But Jesus then put His right hand on him and said, “Do not be afraid.”  And He begins describing Himself to John; here’s His little “bio,” in a sense. He says: “I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” That’s would make a pretty good Twitter bio; that’s what Jesus says about Himself. And what He says about Himself is very applicable to us this Easter Sunday morning:

I.  The First and the Last: our GOD & comfort

The Bible says here in :17 that Jesus put His hand on John as he lay there terrified before Him, and said: “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last”

Why would Jesus say to John: “I am the first and the last”?

There is an important principle of scriptural interpretation: “Scripture is the best interpreter of scripture.” If you see something in the Bible that you don’t understand, see what it says elsewhere in the scriptures about it.

So is there somewhere else in the Bible where we see this phrase: “the first and the last”?  The answer is YES: especially all through the second part of the Book of Isaiah:

— Isaiah 41:4 “I YHWH am the first, and with the last. I am He.” 

— Isaiah 43:10 “Understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.” He’s saying He is the One True God. None before or after!

— Isaiah 44:6 “Thus says the LORD the King of Israel and his Redeemer the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.” Again He’s saying this in the context of being the only God. 

— Isaiah 48:12 “Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.”

So several times in these verses God says, “I am the first; I am the last.” And He says: “I am HE” — In other words, I am the One True GOD. I am the One who made the heavens and earth. There is no God before or after Me. HE is the One True God.

So how significant is it that JESUS says here: “I (emphatic) AM the first and the last”?!  Jesus is saying I AM the YHWH God of the Old Testament! 

So many times you read where people say things like: “Jesus never claimed to be God.” These people are either speaking from ignorance, or from purposeful deceit, because ALL through the New Testament Jesus makes it absolutely clear that He claims to be God. And this is one of those places.   All through Isaiah God says: I am the First and the Last; I alone am God. And now here in Revelation Jesus says “I am the First and the Last.” So Jesus is clearly saying that He is God!  

But let’s remember the context here: John had just seen this vision of Jesus that so terrified him, that he fell down before Him like a dead man — but in that situation Jesus put His right hand on John’s shoulder and said: “Do not be afraid, I AM THE FIRST AND THE LAST …”. So Jesus was specifically telling John that He was “the first and the last” — that He is GOD — and He says it in the context of John’s FEAR. 

This is important! Jesus is saying: “Do not be afraid. I am GOD!” I was there when the word came into being — in fact I made it! — like Isaiah 48 says: “My hand founded the earth; My right hand spread out the heavens.” Jesus is saying: Don’t be afraid; the One who made the world is with you!

It’s just like in Mark 4 when Jesus was in the boat with His disciples in the storm. They told Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”But Jesus said to them, “Why are you afraid?”, and He told the storm, “Hush” — and it was instantly still. When the One who made the sea is in the boat with you, you don’t need to worry! He is the First and the Last. He made the sea; He made the storm. 

John Newton was the former slave trader who was saved and wrote the song “Amazing Grace.” He also had a great counseling ministry, corresponding with people all over England through his letters. One person to whom he wrote was a Mrs. Wilberforce, the aunt of the famous William Wilberforce who helped abolish the slave trade in England. She talked about Satan had “pestered” her with “unspeakable and fierce” suggestions that just tormented her soul: temptations, troubles, fears. The devil was coming hard against Mrs. Wilberforce. But Newton wrote to her: 

“It is good to have one eye upon ourselves, but the other should ever be fixed on Him … He can control all that we fear.”  (John Newton, to Mrs. Wilberforce, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 72)

I love that. “He can control all that we fear.” That is just what Jesus is telling John here in Revelation. John was terrified. But Jesus said, Fear not; I am the first and the last. I am God, and I have My hand on you. And I can control all that you fear. 

That’s a good word for some of US this Easter Sunday morning. Write that down. Take it home with you and post it somewhere where you can see it repeatedly.  You’ve been afraid of something: maybe you’re afraid of an illness, or a person, or a situation — or you are in some kind of a “storm” or trouble of some kind in your life. But listen: as we saw last week, JESUS IS HERE! He is walking in the midst of His lampstand, His church. And what is He saying? He is saying to YOU who are so worried, or who are so fearful — “DO NOT BE AFRAID! I AM THE FIRST AND THE LAST” — I am GOD, who made the heavens and the earth, and I am with you. Jesus can control all that you fear! You don’t need to worry or be afraid.

As John Newton said: Keep an eye on yourself and your situation — but always keep an eye on Jesus, too — because He is God, and He can control all that you fear! 

II. The Living One: our salvation

:18 “And the living One, and I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore”

Here’s the amazing thing that we celebrate today: This “first and last,” eternal God, who holds every situation in His hand — came here to earth to live as a human being like you and I. This was because God saw what we’d done. He saw that we had sinned against Him, which cut us off from the relationship with Him that He designed us to have. And He knew that WE didn’t have any power to do anything about it. So HE HIMSELF came down to earth to do something about it.

It’s like Isaiah 59 says: our iniquities have caused a separation between us and God. Verse 16 says that “He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation …”. God saw that none of us could save ourselves, and He couldn’t just stay up in heaven and issue an order to save us. Our sins had to be paid for, with a costly sacrifice, more than any of us could pay. So HE came down, and perfect God, God the Son, came to earth to be born as a baby. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. He grew up, He lived a perfect life, He taught us the way to live — but most importantly, He died on the cross to pay the price for the forgiveness of all of our sins, so that we could be forgiven, and come back to God, and have the relationship with Him that he made us for.

But how do we know this is true? How can we believe that Jesus is God, and that He died on the cross for our sins? Because He rose from the dead on the third day. Jesus says here: “I WAS dead; but now I am alive forevermore.” THAT makes all the difference. NO other religion can make this claim.

A pastor I know has some friends, Jim & Darlene Graham, who were on a trip to the nation of Turkey (the very land where the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3 were located). While they were there they were touring in Istanbul, the capital of Turkey, and a tour guide was showing them some relics that were supposed to be from the Prophet Mohammed: a piece of his sandal, and a lock of his hair. After he showed it to them, he tour guide said: “Now, any of you Christian here, where are your relics of Jesus?” (Implying that we don’t have any). The Grahams said that from the back of the group someone called out: “His hair’s still on His head — He’s alive!”

That DOES make all the difference, doesn’t it? Jesus is alive.

He WAS dead, as He says here. He DID die on the cross. And when He died on the cross, He paid the price for ALL of our sins. I Peter 2:24 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” Isaiah 53 says “The Lord has placed on Him the iniquites of us ALL.” ALL of our sins came upon the body of Jesus on the cross. And at the end of His time on the cross He cried out, “It is FINISHED” — literally meaning, “It is PAID IN FULL” — the price for our sins — ALL our sins — was TOTALLY PAID by the death of Jesus on the cross. Our sins DIED with Jesus on the cross. 

He really died. The Romans went to make sure that He had really died, and they rammed a spear into His side, and blood and water gushed out, and John said I saw this with my own eyes. He died! Our sins WERE paid for. 

Jesus says, “I was dead.”

But then He says, “But behold, I am alive.” He paid for our sins with His death, but then He rose from the dead, something no other religious leader has done, not Mohammad, not Buddah, not anyone — proving that HE and only HE is the First and the Last and the Living God who paid for our sins.

That’s why Romans 1:4 is such a powerful verse. It says that Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” Of all the prophets and teachers and wise men and religious leaders who claimed to be the way to God, how can we know which is the true One? God says I’ll show you: I’ll raise Him from the dead. Jesus was declared the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead.  He WAS dead — but behold, He is alive. And because He is alive, we can know that He really did pay for our sins on the cross, and that He will save everyone who will call on Him, and ask Him to save them.  

Jesus is alive! And He will come into your life today and save YOU, if you will ask Him to. He “was dead — but now He is alive”! 

III. The Keys: our eternal life

“And I have the keys of death and of Hades”

What does it mean when Jesus says “I have the ‘keys’ of death and Hades”? Keys symbolize authority.  Again, we see this interpreted for us throughout scripture:

— In Isaiah 22:22 God says I will give Iliakim the son of Hilkiah the key of the house of David, and “When he opens no one will shut, when he shuts no one will open.” In other words, he had the authority to let in who he wants, or to lock out who he wants. 

— Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:19 “I give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” — the way to get in or out, through the gospel of Jesus he had just confessed. You can open or close heaven by sharing the gospel.

— Revelation 9:1 the 5th angel had the key to the bottomless pit. He had the power to open it, or to lock it.  

So we see throughout scripture that keys = authority.  

Just a few weeks ago, this picture came up in our memories on Facebook: of Cheryl & I with Pamela Brooks, who helped us get our house here in Angleton. As you can see, in this picture Cheryl is holding a big KEY. Why do they give you a big replica of a KEY? Because that day we bought our house on 109 Cay Court, and we got the KEYS to it. That was now OUR house. We let in who we want; we keep out who we want. We have the keys to that house — that means we have authority over it; it is OUR house!

This helps us understand what Jesus means when He says here: I have the keys of death and Hades! Death, and eternity, are HIS; HE has the “keys” to them! Jesus and Jesus only is in charge of it.  

In John 19 the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate to put Him on trial; they said “He ought to die, because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was afraid, and asked Jesus about it. But Jesus wouldn’t answer him. In :10 Pilate says to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” But Jesus answered him in :11, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.”   Jesus was saying to Pilate: I know who has the ultimate power of life and death — and it is not YOU! 

Here in Revelation 1 Jesus says I have the keys of death and of Hades.

Revelation 3:7 says He “has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this …”. 

Revelation says JESUS has the keys; He has the authority over life and death — and eternity. Jesus rose from the dead, and He can set you free from death, by giving you eternal life.

Jim Bernhard wrote a book called Final Chapters — stories of how famous authors died. In the introduction he wrote that the whole human race is “stuck on death.” He said this is because death is unpredictable, and it is “inevitable.” He quoted one author, William Saroyan, who wrote: “everybody has got to die, but I have always believed that an exception would be made in my case.” It wasn’t, Bernhard wrote: Saroyan died in 1982. He said death is coming for us all; you can’t escape it; it is “inevitable.” 

But the Bible tells us you CAN escape death. Jesus says “I have the keys of death.” He has power over death. He repeatedly showed that power:

— He showed it in Luke 7, when He came to the gate of the city of Nain and the funeral procession of a young man was coming out that same gate. Jesus called out: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” And that young man sat up and began to speak — and the Bible says “fear gripped them all.” Jesus had the keys of death!

— He showed it in Matthew 9, when a synagogue official’s daughter had just died, and He went into the house and took her by the hand and raised her up from the dead! 

— He showed it again in John 11, when Lazarus had died, and had been in the tomb for four days — but Jesus stood outside that tomb and cried, “Lazarus, come forth!” 

— And He showed it most powerfully on that first Easter Sunday morning, when, three days after He had been crucified for our sins, He ROSE from the dead, proving once and for all that He has the ultimate power over death!  He has the keys!  He conquered death Himself, and showed that He has the power to save YOU from death too. 

Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” If you will believe in Jesus, and commit your life to Him, YOU will live after death. In fact, as Jesus said, you will never truly die. You will simply close your eyes here — and open them up in heaven. 

On June 29,1861, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning died at her home in Casa Guidi in Florence, in the arms of her husband, also a poet, Robert Browning. Robert later wrote “my heart will keep till I see her again and longer—the most perfect expression of her love to me within my whole knowledge of her. Always smilingly, happily, and with a face like a girl’s, and in a few minutes she died in my arms, her head on my cheek … God took her to himself as you would lift a sleeping child from a dark uneasy bed into your arms and the light. Thank God … Her last word was—Beautiful.”  (Jim Bernhard, Final Chapters: How Famous Authors Died, p. 119)

“Beautiful.” What a comforting final word Elizabeth Barrett Browning had. “Beautiful.” Death had no “sting” for her. Jesus took that sting away. He has the keys of death. And Jesus can do for YOU just what He did for her, if you will give your life to Him. 

He is the first & the last, and He rules everything you fear.

He was dead, but now He is alive, and He has paid for your sins.

And He alone has the keys of death and Hades. And He will give YOU victory over death too, if you will call Him, “My Lord, and My God.”


Jesus said in Isaiah, “I am the first, and WITH the last” — He said “WITH” the last, because WE can be with Him in the end, if we belong to Him! You can have victory over death, like Elizabeth Barrett Browning did — but you need to make sure you belong to Him … why don’t you do that, this Easter Sunday morning …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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