Genesis 1:28 “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God created a permanent order of creation. But he also intended a development in which man would play a central role. Because Adam failed and fell into sin, Christ came as the last Adam to achieve dominion (see 1 Cor. 15:22, 45–49; Eph. 1:21–22). (ESV Study Bible, p. 2635).
Where does eschatology begin? Or better, when does it begin?
Typically, when we think of eschatology, our minds race towards Revelation with a stop in Daniel, Zechariah, and Matthew 24-25 along the way. Often, eschatology, “the study of last things,” is understood narrowly, as those events which will transpire at the end of the age. Hence, eschatology is about the second coming of Christ, the rapture, the millenium, and the order of these things—sometimes with prophecy charts included.
It is true, there is a kind of narrow eschatology that focuses on what will happen at the end, but there is another variety of eschatology—a more biblical kind (I would argue)—that begins in the beginning. In fact, this eschatology can be seen in Genesis 1, even before the fall.
Eschatology in Creation
Consider God’s words to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28. After making the heavens and the earth on days 1-6, God turns to the pinnacle of creation. In Genesis 1:26-27, he says,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Made in the image of God, humanity was called to rule over the land, the seas, and the air. Moreover, they were assigned to rule the animals found therein. In Genesis 2, this takes on the twin functions of (1) cultivating and guarding the garden (v. 15) and (2) naming the animals (v. 18). The first function relates to the man’s relationship with the earth; the second relates to his interaction with the animals.
Along the way, God tells Adam that he is incapable of performing these functions by himself. “It is not good that man is alone” is not simply the theological reason for Christian Mingle; it is an admission that Adam cannot cultivate the earth, guard the garden, or name the animals without the aid of helper and the fruit of their marriage. Indeed, as Christopher Ash has convincingly argued, the mandate to be fruitful and multiply (and the call to enjoy the pleasures of marriage) is for the cosmic purpose of cultivating the earth, ruling the animals, and bringing order of created chaos.
This is all eschatological.
In truth, Genesis 1-2 does not say that God created a chaotic world. But neither does it say that he created a complete world. The focus of Genesis 1-2 is a small, hillside garden at the foot of God’s holy mountain. Eden is the place that the covenant Lord (YHWH in Genesis 2) put the man (v. 8), a bucolic oasis rich with food (v. 9), water (vv. 10-11), and precious metals (v. 12). Yet, as the earth’s total population stands still at 1, the rest of God’s created world needs of attention—cultivation, organization, and so forth.
God has deposited minerals, planted trees, and scattered animals in the wild, but without help from Adam’s race, creation remains incomplete. Very good but very unfinished. This is why God gave Adam the command in Genesis 2:15 to “work” and “keep” the garden. The order of this place, with the tree of life in center (2:9) was to be replicated throughout the world. In a sense, Adam was to establish on the earth what God had established in heaven—the garden of God. He was, in the words of Greg Beale, to expand the borders of the garden and bring to order the rest of creation.
Indeed, in front of Adam lay a created world of endless potential and possibility. God gave him a commission, a companion, and a commitment that as long as he ate of the tree of life and avoided the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would have the Lord’s assistance to finish the task. Under the Lord’s rule and by the Lord’s wisdom (see Isa 28), the man made in God’s image would would further beautify the God’s majestic world.
In this way, the purpose of Adam’s life was eschatological.
Eschatology After the Fall
From the beginning God had in mind a planet populated by children made in his image, a world cultivated and kept by his vice-regents, communities of faith which tilled the soil, engaged in commerce, mined the ground, invented machines, and labored together to ‘make the world a better place.’ This was the work that God gave mankind.
Simultaneously, he gave him the promise of rest. In Genesis 3:8, we find God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Apparently, when the labor of the day was done, it was the man’s privilege to enjoy communion with God. Thus, the rhythms of life in the garden would have consisted of daily work and nightly worship. Without the stain of sin, the energies and affections of this kind of life would have been glorious.
Yet, this was not to be.
Before the first child was born, before the first post-Edenic civilization was plotted, Adam and Eve conspired to overthrow their loving Creator, by rejecting his word at the invitation of the Serpent. Project Eden was destroyed. Creation, which was intended to be enhanced by Adam’s hands, was now inflicted with the curse. Adam’s sin brought death into the world, ruining creation and ensuring the death of every child born in his likeness.
In the beginning, Eden ecstasy ended, but eschatology continued.
Even with sin’s effects coursing through creation, God still intended to bring creation to completion. In fact, the Bible is a story not simply of salvation by restoration; it is a true tale of God’s plan to make all things new. New creation is the goal. Just as it was from the beginning, God’s goal is not a return to Eden; God’s goal is the new heavens and new earth that will be filled not with men and women made in the image of Adam and Eve. Rather, the new creation will be established by Christ (the last Adam) and filled with Christ’s image-bearers (those sons Adam and daughters of Eve who have been made new by the power of God in the gospel).
Indeed, without going any further than Genesis 1, we see that God’s intention from the beginning was “the end.” God did not create the world with Genesis 3 in mind. He created the world with Revelation 21-22 in mind. From the beginning, Zion has been the goal, not Eden.
Even before sin entered the world, the goal of the universe was the kingdom of Christ. In making Adam in the image of his Son, he was laying the groundwork for his Son to come. In creating Eden on a hillside at the foot of his residence, God was imprinting on creation the patterns necessary to bring about new creation. Even before Adam ate the fruit that brought misery to millions (actually, billions), God made him with flesh and blood so that his offspring could come and shed blood for his multi-national bride.
From the beginning, eschatology was at the center of creation, and after the fall, God through another man was going to bring about a new creation.
Theological and Vocational Implications
This understanding of Genesis 1-3 should reshape the way we think about the (1) Bible, (2) theology, and (3) the world.
First, when we come to the Bible, we should see that everything is happening as God intends. He is the One who sits in heaven doing as he pleases on the earth (Ps 115:3). For him, there is no contingency plan. Christ was the goal of creation, and creation will not rest until all things are under his feet. This was true after the fall, but it was also true before the fall. Creation was made for Christ.
Second, we should move the theological loci of eschatology from the back of the systematic theology textbook to the front. Or, at least, there should be room made in the prolegomena to describe the God’s eschatological intentions with creation, the fall, redemption, and new creation. While salvation is often described in terms of recovery; it is better to think of the final goal of creation (i.e., Revelation 21-22) as the original design of all that he did. The means to the end (e.g., creation) are dictated by the end (new creation), not the reverse. Therefore, in theology there needs to be—and has been—the inclusion of protology (the study of first things) as a theological loci that complements eschatology (the study of last things).
Third, when we consider our place in the world, we should remember that our calling as image bearers is to order the chaos. As it fits our abilities, passions, and providential location, we must use our vocation to cultivate and keep the earth. While Christians are called to announce the good news of the gospel, we are not to abandon the calling to organize, create, build, bake, sew, grow, and improve the world around us.
In this calling, we will naturally find ourselves running into all sorts of frustrations. These frustrations should not cause us to pull back from the cultural mandate. They should remind us that in our vocations, we cannot work our way to a better world. We need a better Adam, who alone can bring to fruition the new heavens and new earth. Even as we steward well the world God has given to us, we must pray and preach and painstakingly wait for the new creation to come.
There is an end to all that we see. There is no such thing as pointless suffering or meaningless work. While sin subjects creation to futility, Christ as a perfect Adam, is raising to life dead things. He is making all things new, and as we entrust our labors and lives to him, he redeems us from the curse of our sin, and gives us access to lay up treasures in heaven—in his heavenly temple—where in the age to come we will be able to enjoy creation the way it was meant to be.
As it was in the beginning, it will be in the end—only better. And this is the way it was always meant to be. God created the world with eschatology on his mind. As new creatures in Christ, created to do good works, may we will live with the same vision before us.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss