A brief summary of the section. One paragraph should do it.
The Bible begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1), and it ends with the appearance of a new heavens and earth – an act of re-creation – described in Revelation 21-22, the last chapters of the Bible. In this way, the whole Bible is spanned by the theme of creation. (For more on the connections between the start and end of the Bible see Start-Stop).
The book of Isaiah is a kind of microcosm of the Bible as a whole, and it too illustrates the importance of the creation theme. Isaiah has 66 chapters, just as the Bible as a whole has 66 books. Isaiah has a clear dividing line at the end of chapter 39 (chapters 40-66 are quite different in theme and mood), and in the same way the Bible has a clear dividing line between the Old Testament (of 39 books) and the New Testament (books 40-66). Why mention this? Because chapter 1 of Isaiah, like chapter 1 of Genesis mentions the ‘heavens and the earth’. It appeals to heaven and earth to witness how all is not right in the world (we might think of this as the first heavens and earth, spoiled by human sin). The last two chapters of Isaiah speak of a new heavens and earth which God will ultimately create – and the book of Revelation borrows this language of the new heavens and earth in its final two chapters.
Back to basics
Things don’t get much more fundamental than the concept of creation. First, you don’t have a world; then you do. God is fundamentally a God Who creates things – creativity is defining of Him (as it is defining to a much lesser degree of human beings also, who are made in His image). Without Him there would be no world. God’s purpose and work throughout history is characterized by His power to create.
The natural world has a pretty powerful message about God. It speaks His power, His greatness, His beauty – in short, His creativity. This is picked up, for instance, in Psalm 19:
“The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world……” (Psalm 19:1-4) (ESV)
Psalm 19 then goes on to explain that the message the created world sends out about God, though powerful, isn’t sufficient in itself – it has to be supplemented with God’s spoken or written word (now recorded in the Bible) so that His full moral and spiritual attributes are properly understood.
The creation was quickly spoiled by human sinfulness, and we are still reaping the consequences of that today in our attempts to grapple with climate change, poverty and the like. Paul speaks tellingly about the impact of man’s sin on the creation when he wrote his letter to the Romans:
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:20,22) (ESV)
The Bible explains that there has to be a new round of creation, a new beginning, a re-creation. This is exactly what the books of Revelation and Isaiah were talking about when they spoke of a ‘new heavens and new earth’. They didn’t mean life on another planet, or an other-worldly, phantom-like existence. They were talking about life on earth when God rejuvenates it, and cleanses it from its problems in His kingdom.
Change begins at home
God can create physical things – that’s a pretty clear message of the Bible. But He can create moral things too. He can forgive sins, wiping the slate clean to allow us to begin again.
David, the great king of Israel, understood this. He had committed a terrible sin by murdering one of his top warriors so that he could marry his wife (with whom he had committed adultery). Having done so, he felt absolutely wretched. He knew that the only one who could save him from this and forgive him was God, and he uses the language of creation to describe what he needs God to do:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) (ESV)
So God’s creative work encompasses the moral and spiritual as well as the physical. God’s power to forgive is, in a way, a work of creation – creating a new beginning for us, just as He created a beginning for the world.
Even though we may not have committed murder or adultery like David, the Bible teaches that every one of us needs God’s forgiving power. And God is indeed prepared to forgive us, if we approach Him in the right way. He does this on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ, and by our associating with Jesus death and resurrection in baptism to become ‘in Christ’ (as the Bible often puts it). Now there are a lot of concepts in there which each certainly deserve unpacking, but for now let’s just take the idea of being associated with Christ (‘in Christ’), to see what the implications are. Paul explains:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinithians 5:17) (AV)
This is a wonderful passage, for it expresses the essence of Bible hope for sinful human beings. God will allow us to begin again. He will wipe the slate clean if we come back to Him in the way He asks. And if we do, ‘all things become new’ for us. There is nothing like a new start – but this new start must be different from our old way. It must be the beginning of a life dedicated to God and not ourselves. And if we commit to this, He will forgive us whenever we fail, if we seek Him.
The New Creation
The Bible explains that after his death, God raised Jesus from the dead and he became the ‘firstborn of a new creation’. So there is an old creation (the original one, from Genesis), and a new one which begins with Christ. Our hope of life is by associating ourselves with Christ and becoming part of God’s new family. Christ is the firstborn of that family, but we can join it too and thus have hope of life after death, just as Jesus was raised from the dead.
Here is a passage which explains Christ’s unique status:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15) (ESV)
“But each in his own order. Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Corinithians 15:23) (ESV)
And another which explains how believers today can join this new family that Jesus has begun:
“ Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2) (AV)
Of course even though we may join God’s family now through baptism, we will still ultimately die (assuming Jesus hasn’t returned first). However, Bible hope is that when Jesus comes back we will be raised from the dead, just as he was.
So there are two phases to God’s new creative work:
- Phase 1: We can join God’s family now and become part of the ‘new creation’ that Jesus has begun. We will still be subject to human limitations like sin and suffering, but we have hope of being a part of God’s great plan for…
- Phase 2: God will re-create the whole earth when He sends Jesus back to the earth. Those who have sought God now will have a part in that wonderful time or regenerating the earth. This is the time the book of Revelation was talking about when it spoke of a ‘new heavens and earth’ when there would be no more tears, suffering or death.
Let’s wrap up with a couple of other passages which draw together some of these themes. In the Psalms, David talked about an age when people would worship God unalloyed by distraction and sin:
“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:” (Psalm 102:18) (ESV)
You could read that passage as if God were to create a bunch of robots from scratch, as it were, who would perfectly praise Him where we have failed. But the rest of the Bible explains that this is not at all what David has in mind here. God will create that people by renewing the hearts and minds of ordinary men and women through mercy and forgiveness – in fact, that work of creation is still going on even today! Even the most stubborn sinners will be able to experience this renewal if only they look to God for help.
This is what God says about His own people, for instance:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) (ESV)
And finally, a passage about God’s creative plan for Jerusalem and the land of Israel:
“…O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.” (Isaiah 62:6,7) (ESV)
This is particularly powerful because this is exactly what Jerusalem is not right now. Ironically, Jerusalem means ‘city of peace’ – but if there were ever any city that is not peaceful today then it would be Jerusalem. The centre of massive political and religious controversy, it stands almost as a monument to the failure of international negotiation and diplomacy. But God can and will solve even this problem too. He will make Jerusalem a city of peace again, a glory and a praise in the earth. It will all be part of the natural outworking of His creative abilities, yet another aspect of His great creative plan for the world.