Why does our Lord say in multiple places that He is the beginning and the end? Why is this mentioned in passages stressing that Jehovah alone is God? Could there be more than one who is the beginning? Could more than one be the end?
After an introductory article on the Trinity, we look now more specifically at God’s oneness. Afterwards, Lord willing, we will discuss the threeness of God.
There are two subjects I plan to address in this first article on God’s oneness. The first is what it means that God is “one only simple” Being, as stated in our Belgic Confession. Secondly, while searching the Scriptures to find passages emphasizing that Jehovah is the one and only God, we come across places where God says He is “the beginning and the end,” “the first and the last,” or something similar. We will consider the meaning of that, and what this teaches us about points for us to bring up when witnessing to others.
One only simple Being
That God is one simple Being is mentioned in the first article of the Belgic Confession: “We all believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God” (Belgic Confession, Art. 1). Perhaps one wonders what it means that God is simple. This means He is not composed of parts. There are three persons in God, but those persons are not parts of God.
Sometimes when trying to explain the Trinity in a simple way, perhaps for children, an attempt is made to illustrate the Trinity by pointing to an object that has three parts. An egg has sometimes been used for this purpose. The white, the yoke, and the shell are three parts of the egg, yet there is only one egg. This, it is said, illustrates the Trinity. Yet, that is not correct. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God, not part of God. As Calvin put it, the simple essence of God is not torn into three persons.1
The persons are not parts of God, nor are God’s attributes parts of Him. It is not that part of God is mercy and another part of Him is justice. Some speak of God this way and view these “parts” of God to be in tension. The part of God that is mercy wants to save everyone, but the part of Him that is justice will not allow Him to do that. Such is the way some speak of God, but that is not correct. It is incorrect not only because God does not desire to save everyone, but also because the perfections of God are not parts of Him, let alone parts that are in conflict with one another.
Jehovah is one simple Being: “So the Father is God, theSon is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God” (Athanasian Creed). He who is one God, the only God, refers to Himself as the beginning and the end. What does that mean?
“The beginning and the end”
In a number of Bible verses God refers to Himself as the beginning and the end, or something similar. Let us take a look at some of them, keeping in mind that what God says about Himself gives us instruction as to what to say when witnessing to others.
Some of these passages are found in the prophecy of Isaiah:
Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Is. 44:6).
Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together (Is. 48:12-13).
In both of these passages God says He is the first and the last. In one of them He says that He alone is God, and in the other He emphasizes that He is the One who has created all things.
A similar phrase is found in the book of Revelation: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev. 22:13). Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. So this is another way of saying that God is the beginning and the end.
This phrase is found repeatedly in Scripture. What does it mean? How does this distinguish the one true God from other gods?
Only one Creator and Governor of all
He who is the beginning and the end is the eternal God. Yet this phrase means more than this.
He who is “the beginning” or “the first” is the eternal Creator. Isaiah 48:13, which was quoted above, says that there were none before Jehovah. He is the One who has made all things. By Himself He created the heavens, the earth, the seas, and all that are in them. Such can be said about no other god. He, and He alone, is the beginning.
He is also the end. He is the goal to which all things are directed. The one and only Creator is also the one and only Governor, who controls all things and directs them to the goal of the glory of His name and the coming of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He who is the last declares the end. He declares the end from the beginning: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Is. 46:9-10). His counsel, and His alone, is the one that stands. He who is the beginning and the end does all His pleasure. Such can be said about no other god.
Bearing witness to others
The true God, the living God, is the Alpha and Omega. This is something to be pointed out when witnessing not only to the heathen but also to many professing Christians. There are many who deny what God says about Himself. There are those who reject what He says about His work of creation. What God says about doing all His pleasure is also commonly denied. Many say that God’s desire, His goal, is that all human beings be saved. Yet this goal is not reached. The Lord of heaven and earth, in their mind, does not accomplish His purpose.
Some speak of God as though He had two contradictory wills. They say that according to God’s secret will He has chosen only some, but His revealed will is that He desires all human beings to be saved. This is a denial that God is the end, and that He is simple. His will is one. If God had two conflicting wills, He would not be one simple Being.
He who created all things has determined everything that has happened, and that will happen. He does all His pleasure. His purpose is accomplished.
The context of the passages that have been quoted, both in Isaiah and in the book of Revelation, place emphasis on this. They set forth emphatically that God has determined what is going to take place, and that He makes known to His people His counsel and will concerning their salvation in Christ.
Jehovah God is the first and the last. He is the Creator and Governor of all. He is the only One of whom that can be said. There could be only one Creator. Only one could be directing all things. All things are “of Him.” All things are also “to Him.” He, and He alone, is the first and the last.
This point, repeated often in Scripture, we do well to remember. What a comfort it is to us in all the trials we go through in this life. The prophecy of Isaiah and the book of Revelation speak of upcoming suffering for the people of God. Yet they also speak of the great comfort we have knowing that our God, the only God, the beginning and the end, is with us. He is the One governing all things, and doing so by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who died that we might live.
1 Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, xiii, 2.