The Saviour responded quickly to his stricken disciple. First, with his right hand, he touched John. This was the hand in which John had seen the seven angels of the churches. It was the hand that symbolised the royal power of Jesus. In touching John, Jesus assured him that divine power was there to help him. And if God be for us, who or what can be against us?
John points out that the divine action of touching him was accompanied by words from Jesus about himself. The Saviour was aware of John’s fear and the remedy for the fear was to focus on truth about Jesus. What did Jesus say about himself? First, he says who he is and then he points out what he has done. He is the eternal God (the first and the last) and the source of life (the living one). And he defeated death and is the sovereign over it.
What does Jesus mean when he says that he is the first and the last? First, it is a claim to deity because this is a title used of God in Isaiah. Second, it is a claim to certain activities that only God can do. As the first, he brought the universe into existence – he originated it; as the last, he will bring the current cosmos to an end.
Jesus also says that he as the Living One has the keys of death and Hades. He is describing the state of those who die. Death is the door into Hades and no one goes there except by the permission and activity of Jesus. No one gets out of it either without his permission and activity. John knows that his exile in Patmos might end in his death. After all, Jesus did not tell John to deliver the letters himself. If it does end in death, the same hand holds the keys as touched him shortly before. Jesus is calling John to have confidence in him.
Having given John comfort and confidence, Jesus reaffirms his commission to John to write what he will include in his book. And he tells John the three types of things that he will include: things that he has already seen (the vision of Jesus), the things that are (the state of the churches, the throne room in heaven, the judgements on the earth), and the things yet to come (the resurrection, the return of Jesus, the renewal of the cosmos). The order of comfort from Jesus followed by a commission from Jesus makes the assigned task easier to accept because we know that he will help us fulfil it.