"Fear Not, I Am The First And The Last"
“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” (Rev. 1:17-18)
During the period of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have likely heard someone quote the well-known words of president Franklin Roosevelt—“we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Usually, these words are quoted to encourage those who are fearful for their lives to be strong and courageous. They amount to saying—“don’t be afraid!”
The problem posed by these words, however, is that they do not have the power to change the inescapable reality or existential threat that the coronavirus pandemic represents. Nor do they have the power to reassure us that we are not vulnerable, liable to sickness, even to death itself, our “last enemy.” At best these words of encouragement can only be the occasion for us to muster the courage to go on, to take whatever risks we are willing to take, and then hope that it turns out well. After all, simply saying to someone, “fear not,” does not alter their circumstances or provide the help they need. These words, whether spoken by a politician or health official or whomever, can only ask us to conjure up the fortitude to carry on despite the dangers and the difficulties we may face.
Remarkably, the first words spoken by the risen and ascended Christ in the book of Revelation are—“Fear not.” These words were first spoken to the apostle John, who was in exile on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (v. 9). But they are also spoken directly to us through John, who identifies himself to his readers as “your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus” (v. 9). When Christ lays His right hand upon John, He lovingly and powerfully signals His awareness that John, and all his fellow believers in exile, are liable to fear, doubt and temptation. Aware of John’s fear in His presence, the heavenly Son of Man—whose voice sounded like “the roar of many waters” because it was the voice of God Himself (cf. Ezek. 1:24)—declares that he and all who are in Jesus do not need to be afraid.
When considering the power and meaning of Christ’s words, “fear not,” it is important to note that John’s fear was occasioned by his vision of Christ Himself. The first vision that is recounted in the book of Revelation is of special importance. It lays the basis for the great message of the whole book: the Lamb who was slain to redeem for Himself a people without number from all the nations is also the Lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5-6), the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). In order to gain perspective upon his own circumstance and that of the whole church, John must see who Christ is. Once John and all his fellow believers recognize that Christ is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (v. 5)—they will know that His power, wisdom, and grace ensure the triumph of His kingdom, even in the midst of the raging of the nations and the hostility of His and their enemies.
Immediately after Christ says, “Fear not,” He reminds John why he does not need to be afraid: “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The words, “the first and the last,” are reminiscent of words used earlier in the first chapter of Revelation: “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (v. 8). With these words, Christ assures John that He is sovereign over all things from beginning to end, including everything in between. Christ is also the One who, though He died, now lives and will live forevermore. He has destroyed the dominion and power of death, the last enemy. He has the “keys of Death and Hades.”
At this present moment in history, we do well to recall these comforting words of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. All who are united to Christ through faith do not need to succumb to fear, not even fear of our last enemy, death itself. But more than reminding ourselves of this truth, we also do well to tell our friends and neighbors of this good news: Jesus Christ, the heavenly Son of Man and Redeemer, truthfully and powerfully says to all who embrace Him by faith, “Do not be afraid!”
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