Aiming for the New Creation

It has been rightly observed by many that there is an eschatology—a goal of higher, escalated life that the creation is to move toward—already in Genesis 1–2. While everything was “very good,” it had not yet been brought to its perfection in consummate glory as it will one day be in the new creation. Geerhardus Vos taps into this vein of thinking in reflection on the apostle Paul’s understanding of the Genesis account:

The tree of life and the other tree and the primeval paradise and the fall and death and the expulsion from the garden on account of the sin committed, all these are present in the scriptural narrative, and a single glance at Rom. v is sufficient to convince of the fact, that in the most fundamental manner they support (qua history) the entire eschatology of Paul. . . . The only reasonable interpretation of the Genesis-account (e mente Pauli) is this, that provision was made and probation was instituted for a still higher state, both ethico-religiously and physically complexioned, than was at that time in the possession of man. In other words the eschatological complex and prospect were there in the purpose of God from the beginning.[1]

The eschatological goal embedded in the creation from the beginning included at least three components: a people in a place under a potentate. In Genesis 1–2 you have Adam with the task to multiply (a people) in the limited locale of the Garden that was to be expanded (a place) under God’s rule (a potentate). While that was very good, the eschatological picture of the perfected creation is found in Revelation 21–22. There you have the bride of Christ ransomed from every nation (a people) in the cosmic expanse of the new heaven and new earth (a place) under God’s uncontested rule (a potentate). This final picture was God’s intended goal from the beginning. With that in mind, it’s interesting to reflect on how the Lord achieves that goal through his work in redemptive-history, especially as he aims for this universal consummation through a particular people (Abraham), place (Canaan) and potentate (David).

The eschatological goal for the land (or place) is universal—the whole earth is to be a fit dwelling place for God. However, as we come to the patriarchal epoch beginning with Abraham we will begin to see God aiming for the universal through the particular. The universal land-promise is going to be particularized in Canaan without losing its ultimate trajectory toward the universal. The arrow that God fires at his universal target must first pierce the particular.

The same is true of his other promises of a people and a potentate. The people of God are going to be particularized in Abraham and his descendants even though the Lord is desirous of blessing all the nations (Gen. 22:17–18). And even later we will see God’s universal reign particularized in David’s throne over a limited locale on earth even though the Lord’s ultimate intention is to bring the entire cosmos under the dominion of the king he will appoint (Ps. 2).[2]

We recognize then that God’s plan of redemption has a universal direction and goal. In the Old Testament the particular and universal are not mutually exclusive or contradictory. The movement of God’s purpose always starts with the particular on its way to the universal.

The question then is how does the particular promise reach its universal goal? How is the particular universalized? Answer: the Christ! Take note of this insight from Richard Bauckham,

God’s purposes could not in fact move directly from those he singled out in Old Testament times to the universal goal of his purposes. They had to be focused definitively in one more particular act of singling out an individual: Jesus the Jew from Nazareth. Jesus, in a sense, repeats the particularity of each of the three chosen ones we have studied [Abraham, Israel and David]. He is the descendant of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed. He assumes for himself his nation Israel’s own destiny to be a light to all the nations (Luke 2:31–32). He is the new, the ideal, David, the only one truly able to be the human embodiment of God’s rule over all. But when we see Jesus’ particularity in these ways, in the categories established by the Old Testament, then we at once see also his universality… The whole of New Testament thought is unified around the universal relevance of precisely the particular human being Jesus.[3]

God aims for the universal through the particular. The particular was never meant to be an end in itself, but through it God will realize his universal, eschatological purposes. God calls out a single man, Abraham, in order to bless all the nations; he sends him to a single strip of land, Canaan, in order to possess the whole earth (Rom. 4:13)!

[1] Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), 304.

[2] For a very helpful discussion of this idea of God aiming for the universal through the particular see Richard Bauckham, “From the One to the Many,” in Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 27–54.

[3] Bauckham, Bible and Mission, 48.

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