A brief summary of the section. One paragraph should do it.
Beginnings and endings are terribly important, especially where books are concerned. A novel that doesn’t start well may very probably become an unread novel. And if the ending is weak, people will leave with an empty feeling and a sense of disappointment. Instead, they want to feel that things have been resolved, that loose or perplexing threads have been tied up – and perhaps they also want to leave with a sense of optimism, hope and opportunity.
The beginning and ending of the Bible is highly significant, and worthy of note as a means of graspng the entire arc of the Bible narrative and the way that it presents God’s purpose in the world. We shall first take a look at the start and the stop of the Bible in their own right. Then we shall attempt the fascinating task of tying the two together to see the connections between them.
In the Beginning…
The first three chapters of the Bible tell many of the essential facts about God and man. There is no mistaking Who God is: the all-powerful Creator Who nevertheless stoops to be involved with the world He has made. He creates mankind with unique capacities far above the animals, and He creates a wonderful home and habitat for the man and woman to dwell in (the Garden of Eden). He not only makes them, therefore, He also lovingly and thoughtfully provides for them. He talks to them; He has a relationship with them.
But there are conditions which are key to that relationship. The man and the woman have freewill, and though God instructs them how to behave for their own good, they have the option of doing otherwise. God is hands-on in one sense in that He is actively involved with His creation, but He is also prepared to be hands-off to let the choices of man run their course. Though God will advise and instruct (as any loving father would), man has to make his choices.
And thus we learn about ourselves. There is so much potential – potential for close fellowship with God, for instance – but so often a far more selfish course is chosen. And hence sin and death; hence work and suffering; hence alienation from God and the need to actively choose to return to Him again. All this is captured powerfully in the scene of Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden and the angels standing to guard the way back to the tree of life. Man had enjoyed the home God had created for Him, but now a barrier had been erected. Man would no longer be ‘at home’ with God as he was before.
But could there be a way back? The very same image of the angel barring the way could be viewed another way. Perhaps the angel was preserving the way so that one day men and women could return, as it were, to be close to their Maker once again. Perhaps the very sacrifice of an animal that was made in Genesis 3 (so that the man and the woman could cover their newly discovered nakedness) pointed the way forward to another sacrifice that could cover sins on a more permanent basis? Pointed forwards, in other words, to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for sins.
Let’s jump forward to the end of the Bible. The final two chapters, Revelation 21 and 22 depict the wonderful time when God sets up His rule upon the earth with His son Jesus as king. Pain and suffering become things of the past; the world is re-configured and re-shaped to put right all the things that man has done wrong over the past millennia. The relationship between God and man is restored, and they are close once more, as it had been in the beginning. Sin, death, suffering, disease and deceit are cast into the symbolic ‘lake of fire’ as God heals His creation. Metaphor and simile are beggared to describe the amazing scene and its significance. This, on the Bible’s view, is the wonderful future to which our planet is headed once the appointed time arrives for Jesus to return.
This wonderful picture of bliss contrasts markedly with much of what has been contained earlier in the book of Revelation. It has depicted many instances of suffering that followers of Christ might encounter; it has chartered tribulations that the world must face. But this is reversed in the wonderful imagery of the final two chapters. The book of Revelation presents of picture of suffering-followed-by-blessing.
In fact, the sequence of suffering-then-blessing is completely opposite to that which is found in Genesis. Genesis 1-3 begins with a picture of bliss (creation, Adam and Eve at peace with God in the garden) which turns sour (the Fall and the introduction of sin, alienation, suffering and death). Revelation begins with the suffering, but ends with that anguish turned to perfect joy. Putting the two together, we have:
Joy > suffering > <rest of Bible> < suffering < joy
We’re thus seeing in Revelation a reversal of the process that took place in Genesis. The joy-that-was-turned-to-sorrow in Genesis (by man’s freewill) is inverted in Revelation as sorrow is turned to joy by God’s grace and all tears are wiped away. The whole arc of the Bible narrative is ultimately to undo what went wrong in Genesis and accomplish God’s purposes in spite of (and without compromising) man’s free will.
It’s when we connect together the pictures we’ve seen at the beginning of Genesis and the end of Revelation in detail that things become really interesting. Just think about the following contrasts:
Suffering No more suffering
Death, pain No more death, healing
Sorrow No more tears
Garden for two created on earth City (for the nations) comes down
to earth from heaven
Then there are points of similarity (sometimes with intriguing twists):
Tree of life Many trees of life
A river River of water of life
Adam and his bride Christ and his bride (new Jerusalem)
God ‘walks’ and speaks in the garden God is near His people again
We could carry on a list like this for some time – the real fascination of the exercise comes when you get out pen and paper for yourself and carefully read through Revelation 21 and 22 to note down all the similarities and contrasts that exist with the early chapters of Genesis! It makes the point far more powerfully than anyone else pointing out the links.
What’s the Point?
What’s the message from this huge parallel and contrast between the beginning and ending of the Bible? The Bible begins in a certain place, and it ends in a certain place which appears very similar – a place where mankind has a close relationship with God, a place where there is peace, fulfillment, security, truth and happiness. This is the purpose that God is striving for. The harmony was broken by the Fall (hence the contrasts between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21 and 22), but God’s entire plan through the rest of the Bible is about restoring or reconciling man to Himself so that paradise can be restored.
All along, then, through every page of the Bible, there is an end in view – the goal of restoring that relationship between God and man so that man can glorify and fellowship with his Maker as he was created to do. If we keep in mind the beginning (what it teaches about God, man, and how things began) and the ending, it will help enormously in giving context to everything else that we read. God did not muddle through and make things up as He went along, so to speak. All along there was an end in view – an end that looks remarkably like the beginning!
And yet it is not the same. At the end of the Bible, it is not a mere two people who enjoy the paradise God has made – the whole world is now the scope of God’s plan. Now the nations come to worship and give honour to God, and they do it gladly, because God has orchestrated the whole of human history towards that incredible goal. Now the one tree of life has multiplied, as it were, and brought forth fruit – a whole set of life-giving trees. Now all the negative effects of the curse and the sorrow which it brought have been taken away. Without compromising man’s freewill God has brought about a world inhabited by men and women who want to serve Him, who do so freely, and thus share the wonderful blessings of life and fellowship that He promises.