And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:…
I. "I AM THE FIRST AND THE LAST." In these words Christ claims one of the incommunicable attributes of Deity — existence which had no beginning and can know no end. He is the first. Are there not before the throne of God beings who beheld the first star gleam out in the ethereal vault — beings who existed before all worlds, and who relate to younger spirits the wonderful history of God's creation? But this foremost of created things trembles before the face of Jesus Christ. His eyes gaze out upon the celestial host — rank behind rank — thrones, dominations, virtues, powers — He surveys all the solemn troops and sweet societies, glowing with eternal love, flaming with immortal beauty, excelling in strength, glorious in holiness, and having surveyed them, He cries, "I am the first." They shine, but with a glory borrowed from Him; they live, but with an immortality derived from the eternal throbbing of His infinite heart. "I am the first, and I am the last." He lives through two eternities — the eternity past, the eternity future — eternities which, like two infinite oceans, are joined together by the narrow strait of time. In the first eternity "He dwelt in the bosom of the Father," and made the world by the word of His power. In time He took upon Himself our nature, was formed in fashion as a man, and "His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." And when time shall be no more, through the eternal future, He shall be the centre of heaven's glory, the object of its ceaseless worship, the fountain of its ineffable happiness. "I am the first and the last." When heaven and earth have passed away He shall still abide.
II. "I AM HE THAT LIVETH, AND WAS DEAD; AND BEHOLD I AM ALIVE FOR EVERMORE." We do not worship a dead Saviour. In Him is life; with Him is the fountain of life. "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over Him." With joy He announces, "I am He that was dead." He remembers with satisfaction, with exultation, the shame and the pain, the conflict and the agony, by which He accomplished our redemption. He looks back, and with joy, upon the scenes of Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and Calvary. Never will He forget that day when the quivering flesh and fainting heart staggered beneath the awful burden of human sin and Divine wrath. The Cross and the sepulchre were His way to the throne.
III. "AND HAVE THE KEYS OF HELL AND OF DEATH." The key was part of the regalia in eastern courts. Like the sceptre, diadem, and orb, it was a symbol of power, one of the insignia of high office. Our Lord here claims supreme control, unlimited authority over death and the invisible world. Christ has the keys of death. The grave is part of Emanuel's empire. The king of terrors is the vassal of the Lord Jesus Christ. The doors of death cannot open to receive us until Christ has turned the key. We are a fallen race. Sin, being finished, hath brought forth death. Death hath dominion over us. But there is a consolation for us here — a voice like the sound of many waters cries: "I have the key of death." We do not die by chance or haphazard; the time and circumstance of our death are appointed by Christ our Saviour; everything connected with our departure from this world is under His control. Those doors will not be unlocked till you are ready to pass through them. At the right moment He will turn the key of death, and you will have gone through the most terrible crisis of your history as an immortal being. Through the whole of the time of His waiting He is busy preparing you for that crisis. This life is for you a season of discipline, of education, of culture. Not till the preparation process is completed will you be transplanted from the thorny wilderness to bloom in the paradise of God. But while the true Christian may rejoice in this thought, the heart of the sinner may well meditate with terror. When your measure of iniquity is completed; when by persistent sin and frivolity you have made yourself a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction, then the key will be turned, the doors of death will shut upon you, and in that sad hour shall all your joys perish. The door is shut; the key is turned; you have chosen your lot, and it must be yours for ever. Christ has the keys of death — of the grave. Our dust is in His charge. Over the tomb of every saint He writes, "I will raise him up at the last day." He is the Redeemer of the body. He has set His seal upon it; it is His. Our dust is precious in His sight. His eye follows it through all its changes, and keeps it safely. Our mortal frames contain the germ of an immortal body, and out of the dust of death His power shall raise us up beautiful in His own likeness. As the rough bulb buried underground springs up into green leaf and gorgeous bloom — as the grain, perishing in darkness, unfolds into tender blade and ripened ear; so this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption when the last trumpet blows. He who has the keys shall loose the bands of death. He turns us now to destruction, but will at last say, "Return, ye children of men." Christ has also the keys of Hades — that is, He is Lord of the invisible world of the dead. Death does not free us from His sceptre, but only brings us more sensibly under His authority. This mouldering frame (exquisitely made though it be) is but the least part of us; in the tombs of the saints we have only the "shells of fledged souls left behind" — the cumbersome garment of the spirit which it has thrown aside, in order to flee away to its rest in the arms of God. The notion that the soul passes the interval between death and the resurrection in a dreamless sleep, has been stoutly defended by many theologians. The most cursory examination will suffice to show that this doctrine has no foundation in the Word of God. It is there plainly taught that disembodied spirits are in a state of conscious enjoyment or misery directly after their exodus from this world. Over the world of disembodied spirits — where the Boule of the good have their perfect consummation and bliss: while the souls of the wicked are reserved in a prison of horror and chains of darkness, until at the last day they shall receive their unavoidable sentence — over this world Christ is King. From His golden girdle hang the keys of both the upper and lower Hades. When He turns the key to let us out of this world, He turns that other key which admits us to our own place in the world beyond the grave. His saints who die in humble and joyful faith, relying on His death, and resting on His promises, are borne by the angels to the gates of the upper Paradise. He who has the key graciously admits them, and bids them welcome from the toils and sorrows of earth to those scenes of quiet rest and calm enjoyment. Christ's enemies, who die rejecting His mercies and blaspheming His name, shall find His dreadful face frowning upon them as they enter the other world. That hand which was so long stretched out to them in mercy shall thrust them into the dolorous prison: house; and, turning the key upon them, He will leave them to anticipate the overwhelming shame and anguish of that dread day. In His Book of Life He inserts the names of His friends. As many as are not written in that book shall be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. Agree with thine adversary quickly. Kiss the Son! Accept at His hand deliverance for thy soul.
(T. J. Choate.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: