Have you ever thought about the fact that the Bible begins and ends with creation? It’s most obvious in Genesis 1, when God speaks forth His Word and creates everything, with His Spirit hovering over the surface of the waters, ordering the new creation according to the Father’s will. Then, in Revelation 21 we see, through the vision given to the apostle John, the new heaven and new earth. God is doing something to creation in Revelation. But, we don’t really think about these things much do we? How often is the content of our hope simply that Jesus died for our sins so that we may go to heaven. That’s a faithful hope, yet it is not as full as it could be, because God has promised us so much more, things that are “very good.”
Now, in the beginning God created everything “very good.” But, Adam and Eve, His creatures, disobeyed His will and brought decay and death and evil into God’s good creation. Their sin marred God’s work; creation was no longer “very good.” So, God gathered together a people for Himself, a people centered around a promise that God made. This promise was of a savior, and the people that God gathered around this promise were the Old Testament Church, looking forward to the coming of this savior.
But, what would this savior do? Was the savior simply to come to make God’s people of the promise enter into heaven and become as angels on the clouds? No! The savior was going to come to crush the head of Satan, defeat evil, and remove sin, decay, and death from God’s creation so that it would again be “very good.”
Then, in the fullness of time, this savior came. Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, died, was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again. He ascended into heaven. Now we wait for his return. We are the people of the New Testament Church, the people of the promise who are living in these last days while we await Christ’s return to finish what he started with his death, resurrection, and ascension.
If Genesis begins with creation and Revelation ends with a new creation, doesn’t that say something about God’s plans for us? And, since all the scriptures testify to Jesus Christ, who exactly is he and what is his role in all of this?
In the opening verses of John’s Gospel, John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him not any thing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3). This Word that John speaks of is Jesus Christ. He was there in the beginning with God, because he is God.
Jesus Christ was there in the first chapter of Genesis, as the Word through whom God spoke His creation into existence. Jesus Christ is the creative Word of God who does things and acts. God acts through His Word, creating all things. When Adam and Eve fell into sin and brought decay, death, and evil in the world, God promised a savior. This savior who was promised is Jesus Christ, and that is John’s point in his Gospel. He says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The eternal Word of God came in the flesh; Jesus Christ was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the promised savior come to save God’s creation.
That’s what Jesus came to do. He didn’t come just so that we can go to heaven. He didn’t come just to give us an example to follow. He didn’t come just to provide us with some nice teachings. No, the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” in order to restore his fallen creation. He came to undo the effects of Adam and Eve’s fall by defeating sin, death, and the devil. He came in the flesh to spread the light of God’s grace and begin the restoration of all creation. He did this by dying on the cross and rising from the tomb. He died for our sins, and rose victorious over death. Sin, death, and the devil are defeated through Christ’s own death and resurrection.
St. Paul speaks similarly in his letter to the Colossians. He says of Jesus Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15-20).
Do you hear him echoing what St. John said in his Gospel? Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, he reveals God to us. He is literally the embodiment of God; we know God through no one else except through Jesus Christ. He is also the firstborn of all creation, because he is preeminent over all things, since by him all things were created. Again, he is the Word of God through whom everything was spoken into existence and through whom everything is held together. He is also the firstborn from the dead; he rose from his grave, the beginning of the resurrection that we also will experience. His death and resurrection reconciles us and all creation to God, because he has made peace by his blood. We were once enemies of God due to sin, and creation was once separated from God due to the decay and death that our sin brings, but Christ has made peace among us all.
So, Paul’s main points are that Jesus Christ is the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from the dead. He created all things and he came to die and rise for his fallen creation. He did this in order that his creation may not remain in bondage to sin and to death and to the devil, because he desired to bring creation, including us, back to God. This is the reconciliation he brings: he reconciles us sinful humanity and his fallen creation to the holy Lord God.
Do you then see why it is missing the point just to say that Jesus came so that we might go to heaven, or to give us a good role model, or to give us some nice teachings? There are elements of truth to these ways of speaking about Jesus, but they’re not the whole truth. The whole truth is that the God who created everything came to restore everything to him. The Creator came in the flesh to save His creation by restoring it. We live in the age of the Church, with Christ as our head, looking forward to his return when this restoration will be complete. He began it at his death and resurrection, he continues it through his Church, and he will complete it when he returns.
In fact, this completion is what St. John sees in the vision he recorded in Revelation. Remember that the first verse of the book of Revelation reads, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1). This revelation, this vision, then, was given by Jesus Christ to John in order to show us what must soon take place.
And what does John see in Revelation 21? This chapter is the culmination of all that John sees previously. The book of Revelation covers the entire span from Christ’s ascension to his return in a series of three seven-fold visions. In this revelation we see that the Church will be battered and persecuted and attacked. And yet, at the end we see that the Church will triumph with Christ, because he has already triumphed.
And so John sees in Revelation 21 “…a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
John sees the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God to inhabit a new earth with no sea. The sea represents sin and evil and death, but these things are no more in the new creation because they have passed away; they have died. What is the new Jerusalem? It’s not the city in the Middle East. Those who think that Christ is returning to reign over the current city of Jerusalem in the modern nation-state of Israel are again missing the point and placing their hopes too low and too narrow. God has so much more in store for us and for His creation!
The New Jerusalem that John sees is the Church. It is God’s people Israel of all times and places, Old Testament and New. It is the Bride of Jesus Christ. The people of the Church are joined with Christ, just as wife and husband are joined in marriage. And just as the wife receives the name and property of her husband, so too does the Church receive the name and property of Christ; the Church receives the new earth as her dwelling place and God will dwell with her. This is an eternal, perfect union of communion and peace between God and His people.
And what does Christ think of his Bride? Christ shows John a vision of his Bride. He shows John how he views her in verses 9 through 14 of Revelation 21. The Bride is seen in the guise of “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” The Church is the precious Bride of Christ, adorned by him with the glory of God and radiating like a most rare jewel. She is beautiful in her husband’s eyes, and he has clothed her with his glory.
John also sees that “it had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
The gates of the city are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The foundations of the city are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Do you see what this means? This is an image of the Church of all times and places, spanning the time from the Old Testament through the New. The tribes of Israel are part of the Church, just as are the twelve apostles and their spiritual descendants. Their prophetic proclamation of the Word of God is the entry-point and foundation of this city. They are the ones who foretold the coming of Christ and then proclaimed that he had arrived. They gave God’s promises and told of their fulfillment in Christ. The rest of the Church resides within the corridors marked out by the prophetic and apostolic teaching.
Then, John receives the measurements for this city. It is 12,000 stadia in length and width; a perfect square. It is 144 cubits high at its wall; 12 times 12. These measurements are symbolic of the fact that the Church contains all believers in Christ, all the members of his most precious and beloved Bride. She is adorned with all sorts of jewels and precious stones. And she encompasses all of the earth. The earth is God’s and she has received it in this great marriage as the Bride of Christ.
And there’s no temple in this city, because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple and they are here in person. The purpose of the temple in the Old Testament was that it was the place where God promised to place His name and dwell with His people. In the New Testament, the temple is the Church of Jesus Christ where he dwells with us through Word and Sacrament. God has always dwelt with His people, but veiled through His means of grace.
However, here in the new creation that John sees, heaven and earth are the same, because God is dwelling on the earth. If heaven is where God is and earth is where humanity is, then in this new creation we see that they have become one and the same: a new heaven and new earth. We see that God has raised up the bodies of his people and made us living again. We see that God Himself is living with us in the restored, fully reconciled earth that has been cleansed from all evil. We see that we have inherited the earth as the Bride of Christ, because our names are written in his book of life.
When two people get married they sign their names on a marriage certificate. Christ has signed his name to the marriage certificate, along with his Bride’s name. His Bride, though, is the entire Church – you, me, the prophets, the apostles, all believers in God’s promises that are fulfilled in Christ. Thus, all our names are on this marriage certificate; they’re in the Lamb’s book of life. Therefore we have been forgiven of all our sins and clothed with Christ’s righteousness.
That is why he sees us as radiant and beautiful, because through him we have conquered over sin and death. We are no longer the “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, … murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and … liars.” He has washed us clean with the water of life in Baptism and clothed us with the white wedding gown of his righteousness, and adorned us with the glory of His name. As a result, we will live with him forever in the new heaven and new earth. Creation will be fully restored. And the Lord will be the temple in the midst of it and the light for all people. Creation ends, in a sense, where it began: God dwelling in person in the midst of His people in a perfect creation.
Therefore, what we see in the Bible is the whole “arc” of God’s plan for His creation, beginning in Genesis, carried throughout the Old and New Testaments, and ending in Revelation. And who is the thread that runs throughout all the Scriptures and to whom the Scriptures continually point? It is Jesus Christ; the beginning, center, and end of our faith as well as God’s promises.
Christ is the Word through whom the Father spoke His creation into existence. He is His incarnate Word who came to reconcile His creation to Himself through his death and resurrection. So, through the incarnate Word Jesus Christ we have been reconciled to God and each other. But, not only us – all of God’s fallen creation has been reconciled to God and we to it. Christ has made peace through the blood of his cross.
And so we look longingly for Christ’s return. For when he returns we will inherit the earth, for we are the Church whom Christ loves so much that he died for us and adorns us with his glory and righteousness as his beautiful Bride. But, the world we will inherit as the Bride of Christ won’t be like this present world where there is sin, decay, evil, and death. No, on the day of Christ’s return all creation will be cleansed of these intruders, and they will pass away. Then, we will live in the new creation with Christ forever and enjoy a perfect, everlasting peace in a creation that is again “very good.” Amen.