The following is the manuscript of the message given at our Christmas Eve service this evening.
In February 1942, the American war against the Japanese in the Philippines was not going well. It was going so poorly that by March 12, 1942, President Roosevelt ordered General Douglas MacArthur, who was stationed in the Philippines, to leave and relocate his command in Australia. MacArthur briefly considered resigning his command and staying in the Philippines to fight as a soldier, but was talked out of it by his staff. So on the night of March 12, he left the Philippines. About a week later, on March 20, MacArthur gave his well-known speech in Adelaide, in which he said, “I came through and I shall return.” That statement emboldened his staff and soldiers — as well as the Philippines. He promised he would come back to save them, and they believed him.
In the weeks and months that followed though, as MacArthur didn’t return and the Japanese seemed to flourish and the Americans continued to struggle in the battle (having surrendered Bataan and Corregidor weeks after MacArthur left), they all had to wonder, “Will he return? On what basis can we be sure that He will return?”
The same question might be asked much more significantly of Christ. Yes, He came to earth 2000 years ago. But He left. And He too promised to return, and it is now 2000 years since He left. Will He return? On what basis can we be sure that He will return?
For two Sundays, we’ve looked at the coming of Christ and then the return of Christ. This evening, as we think of Christmas morning, now only a few hours away, I want to think about the guarantee of His return, and our assurance that despite the time He’s been gone, we can know He will return. Our assurance is given in the same passage we’ve been considering, Revelation 1. We know that Christ will return because God has spoken and God has given His Word.
When I first recognized this passage as having Christmas implications a couple of years ago, I was excited because I saw vv. 4-8 to be all about Jesus. I broke it down in my head and I saw three nicely packaged Christmas sermons, culminating in the declaration by Christ in v. 8 that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord, and the One who is coming. And then a few weeks ago I began studying it carefully and I realized I’d misread verse 8; the verse is not about God the Son, but about God the Father. It parallels v. 4, which is clearly about the Father and serves as a pair of brackets around the verses in between (inclusio). But thinking about it more, it gave me greater confidence in the guarantee of Christ’s return, because this is the promise of the Trinitarian godhead that the Son will return to complete His work. What do we learn about the One who made this promise?
- God, Who Sent and Is Sending His Son, is the Beginning and the End
When God says, I am the Alpha and Omega, the pronoun is emphatic — “I and no one else…” There is no one else that can say that about themselves. This exact phrase is used only three times in Scripture (Rev. 21:6; 22:13), though similar expressions like “first and last” are also used (Rev. 1:17; 2:8). It is similar to a phrase used in the Old Testament about God (Is. 41:4; 43:10; 44:6; 48:12). This phrase obviously refers to God’s eternality and His infinitude, but it also refers to His transcendence. God is supreme over all and greater than all. He is “the absolute source of all creation and history. Nothing lies outside of him. He is the “A to Z” of life. Therefore, he is ‘the Lord God of all…’” [Johnson]
God’s existence beyond the beginning and ending of all things affirms that we can trust what He has promised about His Son. We can trust that our salvation will be secured. But it also has other implications. It means that God and Christ themselves are the start and finish of life. God begins life with creation and He sustains life through death. He makes all people and all things and He will take all people into eternity and will righteously judge all men and sovereignly rule over them in Heaven and Hell. Because God is the source of all life, it also means that he is the goal and purpose of life. All things have been created by Him and for Him and thus we have a goal of always living for Him. Because we will live for Him in Heaven; we live for Him now on earth. Everything else will always ultimately disappoint.
Back in late March, I went to get a sandwich for lunch at Subway and the manager asked me (knowing I was a pastor), “what do you think about the hoarding and conflicts and worried people…?” I said then what I still say today — “People’s hearts are being revealed.” They are being greedy and are anxious because they have placed their confidence in something that they believe will give them happiness and keep them from dying. They are desperate to keep those things and COVID is revealing that they are incapable of keeping what they want. So they respond with greed (desperately trying to get more than others), fear (knowing they aren’t ready for eternity), and anger (against God who has exposed and removed their faulty treasures).
Brothers and sisters, Christmas and the promise of Christ’s soon return to judge and rule, are reminders to us that only one thing counts in life — and that’s Christ. You know that. We talk about that all the time. We live for God’s glory. We seek refuge in Christ. We pursue Christ as our treasure. We want the happiness that can only be found in Christ. But friends, it really is true that God is the beginning and end of all things. There is no one and nothing else. Do you really live for Him as if that is true? Do you want Him more than any other treasure (and has our COVID response revealed that we really do want Him)?
The second thing we learn about God who made the promises about the coming and return of Christ is —
- God, Who Sent and Is Sending His Son, is Sovereign God
The One who says that He is the Alpha and Omega is the Lord God. That phrase is commonly used in the OT (more than 550x, about 40% of those are in Ezekiel). This is an identification with the OT message and the prophetic message — the One who revealed Himself through the prophets is speaking again. He is speaking as the One who is Lord — powerful, sovereign, and authoritative (Rev. 11:15, 17; 21:22). He is obviously sovereign over us, but He is also sovereign to accomplish and bring about anything He has decreed, including the return of His Son.
The One who speaks these things is Lord — and He is also the One who is and who was and is to come. Here we see God transcendent in three dimensions: He currently exists as sovereign Lord over all; He always existed in the past (and eternally beyond) as sovereign, and He always will exist (eternally) as sovereign God. So to say that He has always existed and always will exist is also to say that everything is sourced in Him. In Acts Paul uses God’s self-sufficiency to explain that “in Him we live and move and exist” (17:28). So this phrase means that God is infinite in relation to time, but it also infers that He is infinite in sufficiency. And if He is infinitely sufficient (capable), then He will be able to bring about the return of His Son. There is no possible circumstance that He doesn’t know and there is no circumstance that can preclude Him from doing what He has promised to do with His Son. He sent the Son the first time; in the same way He has the power to send Him the second time. And He will.
One pastor summarizes this verse this way: “God is always and eternal, everlasting and almighty, and there is no escaping him. By giving his solemn self-attestation to what John has written, the Father is verifying its truthfulness. Nothing has been overlooked or unexamined by him. Nothing was before him, and nothing will outlast him. What he declares to be true is certain to be inerrant, infallible, authoritative, reliable, totally true and trustworthy. You can trust the book of Revelation, and you can trust the Bible.” [Hamilton]
The Sovereign King has acted for us by sending the Son. He will come again. Whatever is provoking you to be anxious, fearful, angry, or distressed, know that God is Lord. And He will send His Son to fix it.
The final thing we learn about God who made the promises about the coming and return of Christ is —
- God, Who Sent and Is Sending His Son, is Omnipotent
God declares that He (alone) is the Almighty. That word appears only 10x in the NT and only once outside of Revelation (2 Cor. 6:18). It is always a reference to God. No one and nothing else is almighty. Only God.
This is a title that refers to God’s omnipotent rule and authority. It is comparable to the OT title, El Shaddai (God Almighty) or “Lord of Sabaoth” (Lord of Hosts). He is power beyond power. He is master of all the armies. He is first in power and authority. One writer said there is no name for God higher than this name.
Because He is almighty also means that no one can resist Him. No one can undermine Him. No one can act apart from His will. He controlled the events of the world that brought about Christ’s first coming, and it is no strain on His power to orchestrate the events that will culminate in the return of Christ and Christ sitting on His throne. This is such great hope to us when we are suffering, oppressed, and discouraged — the One we serve is not overwhelmed by circumstances on earth. He overwhelms and will overwhelm finally all the difficulties of earth and sin and death and will reign as sovereign and gracious King.
I have said many times, “I don’t need to be anxious because I’ve read the end of the book and Jesus wins.” Friends, this is the end of that book that tells us that Jesus wins — “‘I am the Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” No one else is Alpha God — no one else has begun anything themselves; they have all begun by God’s hand. No one else is Lord; there is only One Master. No one else is Almighty — in fact no one else is even mighty — the most powerful man in the world (physically or politically) is weak, dependent, frail, broken before Almighty God.
God who sent and is sending His Son, is omnipotent. He is winning. He has won. And He will always win. And the Son He sends will sit on His throne.
General MacArthur left the Philippines in March, 1942. And on the afternoon of October 20, 1944 (2-1/2 years later), MacArthur walked onto the beach of Leyte in the Philippines. While the Japanese would not be completely defeated for another 9-10 months, the end was in sight. In a speech that afternoon, he said,
People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil — soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.
In an infinitely greater way, Almighty God has made a revealed promise about the return of His Son. Christ has come as a child to live the righteous life we could not live and die a righteous and substitutionary death for us, taking God’s wrath against our sin. He now reigns in Heaven with His Father (and our Father). And He is coming again. The God who sent Him, the God who is beyond all things and eternal in Heaven and omnipotent in Heaven and earth has promised it. And His promise guarantees it.
In this world, we have tribulation. But Christ has overcome and is coming back for us. The Father has sent His Son; the Father will send Him again. We are safe. We are safe in the arms of the Savior who came, and the Savior who is coming, and a Father who promised to send His Son.