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Motivated by an intriguing discussion I had in the comment section of an answer to a related question, I would like to know the meaning of the expression "I am the First and the Last" as used in the book of Isaiah (which is later reused in Revelation).

The expression is used 3 times:

4 Who hath wrought and done, Calling the generations from the first? I, Jehovah, the first, and with the last I [am] He. Isa 41:4 YLT

6 Thus said Jehovah, king of Israel, And his Redeemer, Jehovah of Hosts: `I [am] the first, and I the last, And besides Me there is no God. Isa 44:6 YLT

12 Hearken to me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called one, I [am] He, I [am] first, and I [am] last; Isa 48:12 YLT

Given that the expression is first used in Isaiah 41:4, where the context makes it quite clear that the meaning is "first and last generations", can we conclude that whenever we see expressions along the lines of "the first and the last", it is always about generations?

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    Up-voted +1. I would suggest there is a strong contrast with the other expression in Isaiah (43:27) Thy first father hath sinned which follows from 'I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake.' (43:25). And also to be noted is the repetition of 'first and last' regarding the acts of the kings being meticulously documented. (2 Chron 9:29 et al.) – Nigel J Feb 24 at 5:17
  • "can we conclude that whenever we see expressions along the lines of "the first and the last", it is always about generations" Do you mean whenever we see this sort of expression in Isaiah, or in Isaiah and Revelation? – One God the Father Feb 24 at 23:54
  • @AnthonyBurg - I meant anywhere in the Bible. – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 25 at 0:35
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"First and Last" as title of Jehovah occurs three times in Isaiah.

Isa 41:4

“Who has performed and accomplished it, Summoning the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’”

Gill summarizes the intended meaning here about Jehovah's eternal unchanging nature as the idiom of "generations" depicts. He is before the first generation and will long outlast the last generation.

I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he; the immutable Jehovah, the everlasting I AM, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last; all which is said of Christ, and is the person here speaking, Revelation 1:8, phrases expressive of his eternity and deity; he is the first and the last in God's thoughts, purposes, and decrees; in the covenant of grace; in the creation of all things; in the salvation, justification, sanctification, adoption, and glorification of his people; and in the church, above and below

Barnes and the Pulpit commentary arrive at the same conclusion. Further, according to V5, 6 the title also encloses God's omnipotence and omniscience and His claim to be the "I AM" (LXX).

Isa 44:6

“This is what the LORD says, He who is the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of armies: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.

Again from Gill (and others similarly) we see here an expression of God's working throughout eternity but His existence is well beyond and unchanging - He is always God.

I am the first, and I am the last; the first cause and last end, of all things in nature, and providence, and grace; all things are of him, through him, and from him; all things were made by him in creation, and for his pleasure they are and were created; and all things are disposed of in his providence for his own glory; and he is the first in reconciliation, justification, and salvation, and all are to the glory of his grace: or this is a periphrasis of his eternity, who is from everlasting to everlasting, without beginning or end, the Alpha and Omega; the same is said of Christ, Revelation 1:8, and all the other characters before mentioned agree with him:

According to V7 & * the title is also connected to God being "the Rock" and thus, inique.

Isa 48:12

“Listen to Me, Jacob, Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.

Ellicott says this:

(12) Hearken unto me, O Jacob.—The prophet is drawing near to the end of the first great section of his book, and his conclusion takes the form of a condensed epitome of the great argument of Isaiah 40-47, asserting the oneness, the eternity, the omnipotence, the omniscience of Jehovah.

Gill also reaches a similar conclusion:

I am he, I am the first, and I also am the last; the everlasting I AM, the immutable Jehovah, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first cause and last end of all things; phrases expressive of the self-existence, supremacy, eternity, and immutability of Christ, Revelation 1:8, and what is it that such a sovereign, eternal and unchangeable Being cannot do?

This idea is also connected to God's supreme creativity according to V13

CONCLUSION

Thus, God's self-proclaimed title, "First and Last" expresses His (a) eternity, (b) the fact that God is before all things and will exist long after the last of things, (c) the only (unique) God, the Great "I AM" (d) His immutability, as well as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, etc.

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As with the English expression 'From A to Z' (which is similar to what 'first and last' is paired with in Revelation, i.e., 'I am Alpha and Omega'), it is a vague phrase.

In Isaiah, it is related to time and in particular first generation to last (41:4), being the only real God (44:6), and God's relationship with Israel (48:12).

It is an incomplete phrase in 44:6 and 48:12 - first and last at what? While in 41:4 the first and last are clear - generations. 44:6 perhaps means first and last as in having an exclusive claim to being God, or an exclusivity in worship.

So, as with the expression 'From A to Z', it is probably an error to try to explicate a specific meaning from this phrase beyond stating it is associated with expanse, encompassment, or exclusivity re God.

Revelation then applies the phrase 'first and last' as coming from Jesus, and there it is a further question of what is meant. So we are taking a phrase that is vague to begin with, shifting it into a different context, and then using it in another vague way.

So the obvious answer is 'no', this phrase needn't always be about generations as far as we can tell in the texts, but it is tied to the idea of generations in some important sense - definitely in terms of expanse of time, and perhaps in terms of those generations' worship of God (the One True God).

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