I Am Alpha and Omega
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death."
In Revelation 21:6 God identifies himself as "Alpha and Omega." Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and omega is the last letter of the alphabet. In other words God is "the beginning and the end."
But God isn't speaking about alphabets. He is speaking of reality. God is absolutely the beginning and absolutely the end. Everything that is originates ultimately in him. And everything will somehow end with him.
Isaiah puts it like this: "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god" (44:6). In other words, since everything comes from God and nothing will outlast God, therefore God has no final competitors. "Besides me there is no god!" God has the first word and the last word in history. All other attempts to have the last word will fail. The pottery has no beginning apart from the Potter, and in the end it will all serve the purposes of the Potter.
I can't urge you too often to meditate on the staggering truth that God is the absolute Alpha. Find some serene moment of your life and let the truth take hold of you that God is the FIRST—the BEGINNING. Before him there was nothing. There was no "before him." Just think of it! For millions and billions and trillions of unending years God existed and never had a beginning. He is the beginning. From everlasting to everlasting, he is God (Psalm 90:2). There never was a time when he was not.
We might marvel that God is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in his justice, wisdom, power, goodness, and truth. But when you pause to think that he never chose to be this way, nor did anyone else choose to make him this way, it staggers the mind. The justice and wisdom and power and goodness and truth of God are eternal reality. The character of God is not what reality brought forth. It is reality. God did not emerge out of many possibilities. Everything emerged out of him. He determines all possibilities. God is not a piece of reality that you try to fit in with other pieces. He is the first and the last and the all-encompassing reality: "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
But the truth that I want us to focus on this morning is that God is Omega. I think that is the focus of our text in Revelation 21:6. The statement, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end," comes in a passage dealing with the end of history. So the special focus in this text is on God as the omega of all things.
What does it mean that God is Omega, or the end? Let's read verses 5–8. "And he who sat upon the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true,' And he said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.'"
How God Is the End for those Thirsty for Him
This text makes plain that God is the Omega, or the end, in two different senses. For the thirsty (it says in verse 6) he is the end in the sense that he will be the source of their life forever. He will be their God and they will be his children enjoying his inheritance forever and ever. He was the fountain of their life in creation, and he will be the fountain of their life in the consummation.
For those who conquer, for the thirsty, God is not the beginning and the end the way a river begins with a spring and ends in an ocean. An ocean is supplied and filled up with the rivers that flow into it. God is not supplied or filled up by the thirsty saints that come to him in the end. No, for the thirsty, God is the beginning and the end the way a desert caravan begins at an oasis and ends at an oasis. God is a fountain of life at the beginning, and he is a fountain of life at the end—forever.
How God Is the End for Those Not Thirsty for Him
But there is another group of people mentioned in verse 8. These are the people who were not thirsty for God. For these, too, God is the Omega, but not in the same way. God is their end in the sense that they will finally meet God as Judge. They have their beginning in God's oasis of life. Then they take the forbidden southern route by the shallow streams of faithlessness, far from the narrow path of God. But the end of every road is God. And in the end they come to the other side of the desert. And they meet God. But instead of an oasis of eternal life, they find a lake that burns with fire.
The Eternality of Hell
There are many Christians today, not to mention people who reject Christianity, who do not believe in the eternality of hell. They do not believe that the lake of fire is anybody's omega. Some reject the thought altogether; others say it is a temporary place of purification. In either case, they say, all people will be saved in the end. God has the last word, and that word will always be merciful for every single creature. Omega will mean mercy for all in the end, not fire and brimstone.
But verse 8 does not shrink back from the terrible reality: "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
Two other verses in Revelation make clear that this judgment is eternal. Revelation 20:10 says, "The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever."
Lest we think that this eternal punishment is just for the devil and his servants, Revelation 14:9–11 says, "If any one worships the beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also shall drink the wine of God's wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."
The Never-Ending Omega for Everyone
God is a never-ending omega for every man: either as a fountain of eternal life or as a winepress of wrath and a lake of fire. We need to remind ourselves again and again that our lives will end in God. He may seem distant now, but Paul said to the scoffers in Athens, "He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27). He is never out of reach for the thirsty. And even though he may seem as far away as moon-cheese for the self-satisfied, in the end he will be utterly real to every man, woman, and child—gloriously real to the thirsty and terrifyingly real to the self-satisfied.
I am Alpha and Omega, says the Lord, the beginning and the end—the fountain of eternal life for one and a lake of fire for another.
Life in this world is utterly serious, because what you make of God here will determine how you meet him in the end. I pray that God will give us the eyes to see the staggering alternatives at the brink of eternity. I pray that we will not be able to say ho hum and return to lukewarmness.
Even if you know you are saved in the raft with the Captain, the lightning and the thunder and the 80 foot waves and darkness and gale winds ought to fill you with shivering awe and a trembling gratitude that you were plucked out of the water. It is no small thing to be alive between the Alpha and the Omega of our Creator.
The Great Division
Let's go back to the image of the desert. All of life begins with the creative power of God. He is the Alpha. He's the oasis at the beginning of our life. All of us start in the same place. But then sooner or later there comes a division. And we need to know what that division is, because in the end everything depends on it. One person meets the Omega as a fountain of life, and the other meets him as a lake of fire.
Revelation 21:6–7 uses two words to describe the person who will meet God as a fountain of life. In verse 6 it says, "To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life." The first characteristic of the person who will meet God as a fountain instead of a fire is that he is thirsty.
Revelation 22:17 is a beautiful invitation to the thirsty: "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let him who hears say, 'Come.' And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price." So when God says that he will give the water of the fountain of life to the thirsty, he means he will give it to those who desire it—those who have a taste for it and long for it and have turned away from the soul-beverages of the world.
When God says thirst is a condition of salvation, he doesn't mean that everybody who would like to avoid hell and live for ever will be saved. That's everybody. Everybody is thirsty in that sense. God means that everybody whose soul-thirst is really for God, and not for the praise and power and pleasures of the world, will be saved. People whose thirst has driven them away from the shallow streams of sin to the deep oasis at the far side of the desert—these are the ones to whom God will give to drink of the water of life forever.
The other word in verse 7 that describes the person who will meet God as a fountain and not as a fire is the word conquer. "He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son." The word "conquer" is used about a dozen times in Revelation to refer to the victory of the saints which brings them into the blessings of eternal life.
For example, in 2:10–11, Jesus says to the church at Smyrna, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life . . . He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death." Remember from our text in 21:8 the second death is the lake of fire. So this text in 2:11 says the same thing: if we conquer, we will not be hurt by it. And conquering is defined for us as being faithful unto death: "Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life." Conquering means getting victory over the forces which tempt us not to be faithful to Christ. (See also 2:26 and 12:11.)
The Conquering Thirst
If we put the condition of thirst and the condition of conquering together, the picture we get is something like this: There is a battle going on in every one of us. The struggle is between thirsting after God and thirsting after anything else. If our soul thirsts for God the way a deer pants for the flowing streams, if we have tasted enough of the beauty and love and power of Christ that we forget the things which lie behind and pursue him, if we deny our worldly thirst and take up our cross and thirst after Christ, then God will meet us on the other side of the desert as an all-satisfying fountain of life forever.
In other words, if we conquer all the competitors for our thirst and satisfy ourselves with Christ, we will gain the inheritance of eternal life. Thirst for Christ must conquer thirst for the world and all it offers.
Those Who Did Not Conquer Thirst for the World
The people who will meet God on the other side of the desert as a lake of fire instead of a fountain of life are people who did not conquer the thirst for the world. To them Christ was no more enticing than castor oil. To some he tasted bland. To others he tasted bitter. But the world, ah the world, now there's taste. And so due to the willful cancer of their spiritual tongue they found no satisfaction in Christ.
But in what? Look at verse 8. God calls them cowardly and faithless. Back in 2:10–11 Jesus had said to the church, "Fear not what you are about to suffer . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." Don't be cowards, have faith! Satisfy your thirst for life and security and happiness in me. Don't surrender to the thirst for earthly life and security and self reliance.
But the people in 21:8 did not heed the warning of Jesus in 2:10–11. They were cowardly and faithless. The thirst for this world conquered the thirst for Christ, and so their lot will be in the lake that burns with fire.
Then God goes on to describe some of them as polluted, that is, people who thirsted after hidden and indecent things. Murderers: people who thirsted after vengeance, or the convenience of having someone out of the way. Fornicators: people who thirsted after sexual pleasure in ways forbidden by Christ. Sorcerers: people who thirsted after magical powers and the "deep things of Satan" (Revelation 2:24). Idolaters: people who thirsted after manageable gods instead of a God who says, "I am Alpha and Omega." And all liars: People who thirsted not for the future God would bring them through the integrity of faith, but for the future they could create through all kinds of deceit.
In other words, the people who will meet God as a terrible lake of fire instead of a fountain of life are people who did not "conquer" these thirsts for the world. If they ever had any thirst for Christ, it was swallowed up in the love of the world. God will not give the precious water from the fountain of life to those who never developed a conquering thirst for him. If there is any thirst for Christ in you at all, I urge you with all earnestness to stir it up. Blessed are the thirsty, for they alone will be satisfied.
Creating and Increasing a Thirst for God
Therefore, let me close by trying to create in some and increase in others a thirst for God.
1. Water Without Price for the Thirsty
Notice in verse 6 that the water of life which God gives is free. "To the thirsty I will give water without price." You must be thirsty to get it, but thirst never has been considered a price or a merit by anyone. Nobody can buy and sell with the currency of thirst. Thirst is not a work. It's simply another way of describing faith. A sense of emptiness that looks to Christ for filling.
When a person crosses a desert and comes gasping to the oasis on the far side, and hears the words, "To the thirsty I will give water,"—no one in that situation says to the oasis owner, "You drive a hard bargain." He is not bargaining. It is not hard. It is free for the thirsting. God loves to satisfy the thirsty who come to him for the water of life. "Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price."
2. Your Eventual Meeting with God
Remember that the one who offers the water is called Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. That means that if you try to satisfy your soul-thirst anywhere but in God, you will eventually run into God and have to give an account to him for the infinite insult of preferring the streams of sin to water of life. It is an infinite sin to reject the infinitely valuable God as though something else were more satisfying.
3. The Benefit of Being a Child of God
3. Notice in verse 7 that the water of life is the same as the reward of sonship. "He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son." To be the child of God is a benefit that nothing in the world can compare to. It means that you become an heir of all that God owns. Everything that God owns will be at your disposal. All creation will serve you. No good thing will God withhold from those who thirst for him and so prove to be his children.
Just like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, God will welcome us home to his eternal oasis with a bear hug and a kiss; he will put a ring on our finger and a robe on our back and shoes on our feet; he will prepare the most tender cut of beef and seat us at a never ending banquet. All this just for the thirsting!
4. When God Will Wipe Away Every Tear
Reflect on the infinitely sweet truth of verse 4. "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
The one who is Alpha and Omega, God the Almighty, has pledged himself to take away every pain and every threat of death and everything that makes you cry. All causes of depression and anxiety and guilt, and all hindrances to joy and wonder and childlike delight will vanish. And in their place he will put a never-ending joy that will surpass the happiest vacation you ever had. All just for the thirsting.
5. The Light in the New Jerusalem
5. Finally meditate of the picture of the New Jerusalem in verses 22–23. "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its lights and its lamp is the Lamb."
God really is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. In the beginning he said, "Let there be light." And for thousands of years the sun has risen every day to make us thirsty for the Light behind the light. And in the end God is going to satisfy that thirst with an experience of his own brilliant beauty beyond all description.
As Isaiah says, "The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light and your days of crying shall be ended" (60:19–20).
At the end of every road is God. You will meet him as light and life or as fire and torment. "To the thirsty he will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life."
So the Spirit says, "Come!" Let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price!" (Revelation 22:17).