For those who have decided to go back to Genesis at the beginning of 2018 as you restart your Bible reading plan, here are a few theological themes that emerge when we meditate on the opening two chapters of the Bible in light of the fullness of biblical revelation:
A Theology of Creation and New Creation
“The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” These are some of the very first words in Scripture. With each creative word, the Holy Spirit was animating what the Father had ordained and the Son had spoken into existence. The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is the life-producing agent of the Godhead. The Psalmist says, “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30). The importance of the Spirit’s role in creation is understood as we consider His role in the work of the new creation.
When God destroyed the world with floodwaters, He covered the world with the waters that He had once separated when He created the world. This was covenant reversal. Instead of blessings coming from the divided waters, there was curse with the overflowing waters. Judgment and curse came from the same waters from which life and blessing had once emerged. When God had mercy on Noah and those with him in the Ark, He sent a strong wind to blow across the face of the waters. The Hebrew word for “wind” and ” Spirit” are one and the same–or, at least, have the same root. There is an intentional relation of the wind and the Spirit by our Lord Jesus in His regeneration discourse with Nicodemus in John 3.
The next typical act of re-creation (or new creation) in Scripture is the Exodus. When God brings Israel through the waters of the Red Sea, this great typical act of redemption in the OT is linked to the creation account. God caused the waters to blow back by a strong wind. In the same way as the waters were parted at creation, so they were parted at the Exodus. Then, dry land appeared. The Holy Spirit was effecting this typical new creation. Israel coming through the Red Sea–their enemies being destroyed in the waters (as God’s enemies had been destroyed in the flood water)–was a picture of death and resurrection. There were to come through the waters and be a new people to the Lord God.
In the fulness of time, the Angel Gabriel came to the virgin Mary and told her, “the Holy Spirit…will overshadow you.” As He hovered over the waters at creation, the flood, the exodus, so now He would come over the womb of the virgin and begin the work of bringing about the new creation through the incarnate Christ. As Sinclair Ferguson explained, “God brings light out of darkness. He brings His Son into the dark womb of a virgin.”
The Spirit who was present and active at Christ’s conception as the head of the new creation, by whom He was anointed at baptism (John 1:32-34), who directed Him throughout His temptations (Matthew 4:1), empowered Him in His miracles (Luke 11:20), energized Him in His sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14), and vindicated Him in His resurrection (1 Timothy 3:16; Romans 1:4), now indwells disciples in this specific identity.
Once Christ had finished the work of redemption–the securing of the new creation–through His death and resurrection, He ascended to heaven in order to pour out His Spirit on His people. The Apostle Paul draws together this most important truth when he writes, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father” (Gal. 4:4-6)! The Son of God purchased the Holy Spirit, and His regenerating work, for all those for whom He died. The Spirit now comes and fills the hearts of believers. He forms the Son of God in our hearts, even as He formed the human nature of the Son of God in the womb of the virgin. The end result is that we too become sons and heirs of God. We have new life breathed into us. As Paul so boldly explains, “If anyone is in Christ he is new creation, old has passed away, behold the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:14).
A Theology of Time and Space
The first thing that God created was time and space: “In the beginning (time), God created the heavens and the earth (space).” God created cum tempore. He then filled the space with His diverse creation, making it a dwelling place for His Spirit to abide with man. Then, He set apart one day in seven for man to rest from his labors and enter into the joy of worship, fellowship and communion with God.
Time and space were created through and for Jesus Christ (Col. 1:16). Jesus came “in the fulness of time” in order to redeem those who were under the wrath and curse of God (Gal. 4:3-4). Jesus is also our Sabbath rest, having rested from His labors in the tomb on the Old Covenant Sabbath. He is the Redeemer who cried out “It is finished” (John 19:21) so that we would be assured that He is the one who can give us “rest for our souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). He rose on the first day of the week–ushering in the New Covenant Sabbath, the foretaste of the eternal Sabbath rest with have by faith in Him. Jonathan Edwards summed up the rest-providing nature of Christ’s redemptive work when he wrote:
“Christ’s resting from the work of redemption is expressly spoken of as being parallel with God’s resting from the work of creation. Heb. 4:10, “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his…”
Again, Edward noted,
“Now Christ rested from his works when he rose from the dead, on the first day of the week. When he rose from the dead, then he finished his work of redemption. His humiliation was then at an end: he then rested and was refreshed. — When it is said, “There remains a rest to the people of God;” in the original, it is, a Sabbatism, or the keeping of a Sabbath: and this reason is given for it, “For he that entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”
Jesus is also the true and heavenly Gardener who redeems sacred space, turning His people into the Garden-Temple of God. The Garden of Eden was the protological temple–the sacred space in which God dwelt with His people. Since Adam was banished from the Garden, we needed a last Adam to regain the paradise temple for us. The Bible is really the unfolding story of how God regains paradise lost by a series of typological dwelling places, until He comes and fulfills all things in the true Temple, Jesus Christ. Speaking of His body (in which the fulness of the Godhead dwelt), Jesus said, destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it” (John 2:19). It is fitting then that Jesus began and ended His sufferings in Gardens. Isaac Ambrose notes, that since “a garden was the place wherein we fell…therefore Christ made choice of a garden to begin there the greatest work of our redemption.” The Bible ends with a focus on the Bride of the Lamb in the Garden paradise of God. Jesus has secured the new creation Garden-Temple paradise in which He will forever dwell with those He has redeemed.
A Theology of Separation
The God who divided the light from darkness, evening from the morning, the waters under the heavens from those above, the dry land from the sea, different kinds of fish, birds and animals from one another and the animals from man at creation is the God who separated the Jews from the Gentiles in the typical new creation of Old Testament redemptive history. All of this, in turns, serves to emphasize God’s work of separating a people out of every nation from the world for Himself to be a new creation in Christ. The meta-narrative of Scripture is the record of God’s redeeming work of separating a people for Himself out of the world. Genesis 1 and 2 were originally given to the Old Covenant church to help them understand who God was, what He had done for them and what they were to be as a people separate from all the nations on earth. This is, of course, fulfilled in Christ in the New Covenant people of God. In short, we are meant to see in the divisions that God enacts in the creation account His purposes of redeeming a people for Himself out of the world to be separate in holiness.
A Theology of Sanctification
Intimately related to the theology of separation in Genesis 1 is the theology of sanctification taught in it. Why God didn’t create everything instantaneously? Surely, the infinite and almighty God could have spoken everything into existence at once. Apart from setting the six and one principle of work and rest for His people, God was teaching us that He is a God who does things progressively. Just as He took six days to create the world, ordering and dividing each of the things that He created–making a habitably world for man–so, in Christ, He is progressively re-ordering the lives of His people–making us a new creation dwelling place for His Spirit.