“I am the first and the last.” The phrase, “the first and the last, ” is a title that is used five times in the Bible, twice in Isaiah of God (Isa 44:6; 48:12), and three times in Revelation of the Son (Rev 1:17; 2:8; 22:13). Trinitarians sometimes make the assumption that since the same title applies to both the Father and the Son, they must both be God. However, there is no biblical justification on which to base that assumption. When the whole of Scripture is studied, we can see that the same titles are used for God, Christ, and men. Examples include “Lord” (see commentary on Romans 10:9) and “Savior” (see commentary on Luke 1:47) and “King of kings.” If other titles apply to God, Christ, and men without making all of them into “one God, ” then there is no reason to assume that this particular title would mean God and Jesus were one God unless Scripture specifically told us so, which it does not.
In the Old Testament, God truly was “the first and the last.” The meaning of the title is not specifically given, and so scholars debate it, but it seems that a key to its meaning is given in Isaiah 41:4, in which God says He has called forth the generations of men, and was with the first of them and is with the last of them. Isaiah 41:4 says, “Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, Yahweh—with the first of them and with the last—I am he.” Thus, the Bible connects the phrase “the first and the last” with calling forth the generations.
While God was the one who called forth the generations in the Old Testament, He has now conferred that authority on His Son. Thus, it is easy to see why the Lord Jesus is called “the first and the last” in the book of Revelation. It will be Jesus Christ who will call forth the generations of people from the grave to enter in to everlasting life. God gave Jesus authority to raise the dead (John 5:25-27). His voice will raise all dead Christians (1 Thess. 4:16-17), and he will change our bodies into new glorious bodies (Phil. 3:20-21). However, even when Jesus said he had the authority to raise the dead, he never claimed he had that authority inherently because he was God. He always said that his Father had given authority to him. While teaching about his authority, Jesus Christ was very clear about who was the ultimate authority: “The Son can do nothing by himself…the Father…has entrusted all judgment to the Son…For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in himself. And He has given him authority to judge” (John 5:19, 22, 26-27). If Jesus had the authority to raise the dead because he was in some way God, he never said so. He said he had his authority because his Father gave it to him. With the authority to raise the generations came the title associated with the existence of the generations, and so that is a major reason that after his resurrection Jesus Christ is called “the first and the last.”
Another way that we can tell that the title “first and last” does not make Jesus God is simply the way Jesus used it. Note what the verse in Revelation says: “I am the first and the last, and the Living One, and I was dead, and Look! I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of the grave” (Rev. 1:17, 18). Patrick Navas observes:
“Jesus is the one who ‘was dead’ but now lives.... In two out of three instances where Jesus describes himself as ‘the First and the Last’ in the book of Revelation, the statement is made in association with his death and subsequent resurrection. …If ‘the First and the Last’ in this case means, or ultimately implies, ‘God (Almighty), the Eternal One,’ in what way would it make sense for Jesus to say, in effect, ‘I am the Eternal God, I died but came to life’? How strange and how unlikely—if not impossible—would it have been for God to have died or said that he died? Even many Trinitarians teach that ‘God,” or the ‘divine nature/aspect of Christ,’ did not die, in any way. …So Trinitarians would have to argue, ultimately, that Jesus is identifying himself as God by calling himself ‘the First and the Last’ and, immediately after, switching to, or speaking out of, his ‘human nature,’ due to the fact that he died. This would clearly be a case of ‘playing fast and loose’ with Scripture.”a
The fact that when Jesus used the title “the first and the last” he connected it with his death and resurrection shows us that, far from a claim to being God, it showed how, as the Son who obeyed his Father all the way to the cross and death, Jesus now had authority from God to even raise the dead. We can see this especially since he finished Rev 1:18 by saying that he had the keys to death and the grave, which would only make sense for him to say if his having those keys was not inherently part of his nature. If he were God, why say he had the keys to death and the grave? Of course God has those keys, but the human Son of God would only have them if God the Father gave them to him.
[For more discussion on this verse, see Charles Morgridge, True Believer’s Defense Against Charges Preferred by Trinitarians, Boston, Benjamin Greene, 1837, reprinted by Spirit & Truth Fellowship, p. 122; The Racovian Catechism, in Polish 1605; in Latin 1609; in English 1818, available through Spirit & Truth Fellowship International, pp. 157-161; Patrick Navas, Divine Truth or Human Tradition, Authorhouse, 2011, pp. 585-588.]