I was listening to a podcast yesterday and heard someone say we often focus on the parts of the Bible between Genesis three and Revelation 20 and forget the bookends that go on either side. That’s a big deal – without the beginning and the end of the story, how can we really understand all the parts in the middle?
A few weeks ago I read through the first three chapters of Genesis and described that section – and the whole Bible – as a story written by a father for his children to help them understand the world. In this story the one true God creates absolutely everything out of nothing. He makes it precisely and wholly good. This is the wonderful news about those first couple chapters of the Bible – the story starts with God creating a world where all is good, and where the relationship between him and man is untarnished, uncomplicated, and full of joy!
Of course all of that becomes complicated in the third chapter of Genesis, when the snake deceives Adam and Eve and they disobey God’s one rule. Their one act of disobedience cannot be hidden and it completely shatters that perfection they knew.
If you remember, there is a glimmer of hope within that Genesis three story when God promises that a man will come to fully defeat that snake (Gen. 3: 15). But for a long time after that promise it seems like getting back to God is a one step forward, two steps back kind of dance. While you’re in that middle dancing section it can be hard to remember that glimmer of hope. It can also be hard to remember that the Bible is one big story and it all links together. This week I reread the last two chapters of the Bible to be reminded again how this story ends, and how linked the end is to the beginning.
The book of Revelation is in itself a bit confusing. Before we really get started, remember that this book is highly symbolic and uses lots of metaphors to allude to different nations and/or events to come. That already might let you breathe a sigh of relief. If you don’t understand everything in the book right away, don’t freak out. Pray for the Spirit to reveal things to you, study faithfully, and understanding will come.
For now, we’re going to skip past most of that confusing stuff and focus on the closing bookend of our story. Revelation 21 and 22 describe a new heaven and a new earth, a new Kingdom of God, and a restoring of that broken relationship between God and man. We read about a city whose gates are built from precious stones and encompass what the original readers would’ve known to be the whole world. Reading it today it’s easy to think, “Ok, that’s one specific place,” but those first readers would’ve thought, “The whole world will be the city of God!” There’s also a river of life and the tree of life in the middle of the city, much like the river and tree situated similarly in Eden (Gen. 2:8-14). Most importantly, in this new heaven and earth “God’s dwelling place is now among the people and he will dwell with them,” (Rev. 21:3)!
The big takeaway from these chapters is that what we had originally in Eden will be spread throughout the whole world. Adam and Eve were supposed to lead the charge in cultivating the world to be one big Eden. They messed it up, but the original plan will still be carried out!
A surprising question popped up while I was reading these chapters and planning out how to write about them. From Genesis three, we’ve been promised a victory over the serpent, the creature that helped Adam and Eve bring sin into the world. At the very beginning when all seems lost, God makes us the most important promise – sin is not the end. In a sense, he tells us the ending right away. (No need for a spoiler alert – the Israelites [and you and me] will forget this ending over and over again.) But the question I had was when does God promise to make everything new again?
It’s not in Genesis three, from what I can tell. But throughout the Biblical narrative, God drops hints for us, slowly revealing more and more of his plan for the world.
First God singles out the group of people that will exist through the unlikely line of Abraham – unlikely because Abraham and his wife had no children until they were in their 100s (Genesis 12:1-3, 12:7, 17:1-10). These would be the people God used to reinstate his kingdom. With Moses, God gave a set of rules for his people to abide by, rules that would be impossible for humans sick with sin (i.e. all of us) to perfectly obey (Ex. 20). He then gets even more specific about the family line and tells us there will be a forever-reigning king that will come from David’s family (2 Sam. 7).
Isaiah is a prophetic book near the center of the Bible that is chock-full of hints about coming judgment and the need for a savior. It highlights characteristics of that saving man to come (Is. 50, 52). It also tells of the restoration of Israel! The first 40 or so chapters of Isaiah are pretty blunt about the judgment that will come on Israel and other nations. But the second half of the book is hope-filled!
In Isaiah 60, God starts telling of a renewed and welcoming city of Israel. He tells of the city walls being built and the good things of other nations being used to make this city majestic (vs 10-17). No more will the sun and moon light the sky, rather “the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory,” (vs. 19-20). That sounds an awful lot like Revelation 21:23-25, which says, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never by shut by day – and there will be no night there.”
Another prophetic book, Jeremiah, tells even more about this restoration. In fact at the end of chapter 31, it specifically says, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord… It shall not be uprooted or overthrown anymore forever,” (vs. 38-40).
From these verses we can see that God is revealing bits and pieces of his plan all throughout the story he is telling his children. We know the 'what' (God will restore creation) and we know the 'why' (so God’s dwelling place can again be among his people), but we don’t quite know the 'how.' Fortunately, he has dropped hints about that as well!
Back in Isaiah again God tells us, “Behold, I am doing a new thing,” (43:19). There will be one to bear our griefs and sorrows, “wounded for our transgressions… crushed for our iniquities,” (55:4-5). But the punishment he bears will bring us peace and healing. There are all kinds of Scriptural prophecies that point to Jesus as the Savior, and Jesus also identifies himself as the Savior and God (John 4: 26, John 10). This is the climax of the story – God sends his son, Jesus, to take on the punishment deserved by mankind in order to rectify and restore the relationship between God and man.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” (Romans 5:12). With Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis three, sin and death entered the world and the relationship between God and man was broken. But God is merciful and gracious and has offered us a way back into his presence, by believing in his son as the Savior. “And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification,” (Romans 5: 16).
So often we focus on what we’ve done wrong in our lives and strive to make ourselves better. But this is really flawed logic. From the very beginning of our story we can see that even one act of disobedience is enough to make us unworthy of God’s presence. There have been temporary means of removing sin set up in the past (Leviticus), but those have been replaced and the cleansing made permanent by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). And that’s good news! The work is finished! The new creation has come!
To read and study the Bible helps us uncover the hints God has left to help us understand the world and his plan for it. It’s so easy to get stuck in the middle dance. I wrote this to remind us all that there is a happy ending to this story! It’s more than getting new bodies and the world being made right again, though those are certainly good things. The greatest news to this bookend of our story is that believers in Christ have been welcomed back into God’s presence and we will one day get to live with him as man originally did in Eden! Believers in Christ, be encouraged by this news – the Bible does not start in Genesis three, and does not end in Revelation 20. There was perfection and wholeness at the beginning - perfection, wholeness, and reunion with God are store for you at the end!