On Easter, Jesus finally finished writing Genesis 1-2. He stepped out of the tomb, took pen in hand, and wrote on the Torah scroll, “And there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” He began the eighth day, after which there is no other.
A baby’s first words—they’re adorable, they’re cute, they make moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas beam with pleasure. Maybe it’s “momma,” maybe it’s “dada.” Whatever it is, it’s what the baby has been hearing. And it’s an amazing confession. He doesn’t even know it, but in forming that word, the infant is making a profound statement about his place in the world. He is a son, or she is a daughter. There’s an identity affirmed, a relationship confessed. I am your child; you are my parent. First words may be simple, but they affirm a deep, abiding truth. Our God’s first words—they too are short and simple. In uttering them, He too is making a profound statement about His place in this world. And while He is affirming His identity, more importantly, He is confessing our identity. We learn who God is, and who we are, in the very first words He speaks. Even more, as these words echo down the hallways of the great house of Scripture, we hear in that distant echo the clear sound of grace. God’s first words may be “Let there be light,” but He had just as well said, “Let there be Gospel.” Here’s what I mean.
God Speaks into Darkness. Before God spoke those first words, “the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep,” (Gen 1:2). Years ago, I took my children to Carlsbad Caverns. Deep within that cave, our guide sat us down and told us he was going to turn off the lights for one minute. When he did, the darkness that flooded us was complete. We could squint, stare, blink all we wanted, but we could see nothing. Total, crippling, crushing darkness. So was our world before God spoke. And so were we before God spoke the light of His grace into our hearts. Paul says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Cor 4:4). But what did our good and gracious Creator do? “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Cor 4:6). Read that verse again, savoring each word this time. Did you taste the sweetness in God’s first words? Here is the grace-bestowing, gift-giving, life-bestowing Lord. Our Father who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who continues to let light shine out of darkness. That darkness is our blindness, our sinful, lost condition in this world. That light is the Gospel; it is the light of knowing that the glory of God shines from the face of Jesus.
God Does All the Doing. If God had not said, “Let there be light,” our world would still be bathed in night. It would be formless and void. The dawn would not somehow evolve into being from the stuff of midnight. The world would not wake up and decide it would create the sun, moon, and stars. If God had not acted, if God had not spoken, there would be no light. He had to do all the doing. And because He did all the doing, it is not only good but perfect. It is no different when God speaks, “Let there be light,” into the midnight realm of our hearts. “Our foolish hearts were darkened,” Paul says (Rom 1:21). We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). Dead people don’t resurrect themselves. Darkened souls don’t create light within them. But God does. Our Father has shone into our hearts. The light of His Spirit has beamed the rays of grace within us, dispelling the night. Off the face of Jesus shines the light that creates faith within us, the knowledge that we are God’s children in His Son. He does all the doing. And because He does all the doing, it’s perfect. We don’t decide to believe, we don’t wander about in the darkness of unbelief until one day we find a match and light the candle of faith within us. While we’re dead, darkened, lost, God says, “Let there be light.” And there is. By His word, by His Son, we are enlightened to life.
God Creates Light for You. There is a reason that our Father does everything He does in Genesis 1. He creates light, separates the waters, forms the animals, puts the sun and moon and stars in their place—all for you. The culmination of creation is on the sixth day, when the Lord says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” (1:26). Everything that our Lord had done up to that point was in preparation for this day. He was like a rich groom getting everything ready for His bride. He builds the mansion of the universe for her, decorates it with the beautiful things of creation, hangs the sun and moon from the ceiling to give it splendor, then finally He brings His bride to the home He has constructed for her. We are that bride. All creation exists not for God but for you. He didn’t need it. God created you to have someone upon whom to bestow His blessings, a bride upon whom to lavish gifts. And there is a reason that our Father speaks light and life into our dead and darkened hearts: because He loves us. He lavishes upon us the gifts of hope and absolution and rest because we mean more to Him than anything else. Christ remakes us into His image, into His likeness. And He presents to us all His saving work. He gives us the cross, He gives us the resurrection, He gives us Himself. He makes us bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. And He does so because He is love, and that loves spills over from Him into our world, onto us.
“Let There Be Gospel”
The deep, abiding truth in God’s first words are that He is a God who gives. He gives through His word. He gives in His Son. And He gives it all to us. “Let there light” means “Let there be saving light in my Son for a world darkened by sin.” It means, “Let the light of Christ shine in their hearts so they might see my glory in the face of my Son.”
In the third verse of the Bible, as those words echo down the hallways of Scripture, “Let there be light” resounds as “Let there be Gospel.”
I suppose everything needs a birthday, including the world. From the womb of nothingness, the baby heavens and the infant earth were born. Like Aslan sang creation into existence in The Magician’s Nephew, so God’s song has verses like “let there be light” and “let the waters swarm.” Whatever rolls off His tongue, rolls from not-being to being. It all starts, quite fittingly, “in the beginning.” In those three words, however, I detect more than “this is how all this stuff began.” I do hear that, to be sure, but also something bigger and better. When I put my ear really close to the page, I hear the whisper of something else, and someone else, in the Bible’s opening words. And after reading this, I hope you do the same.
What we hear in English as three words is compressed into only one word in Hebrew. “In the beginning” is bereshit (pronounced as buh-ray-SHEET). The be- means “in” and –reshit means “the beginning.” Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, but this all sounds pretty straightforward to me. A beginning is a beginning. It’s a start. When God kicked off creation, He did so ‘in the beginning.’ How else would he do it?”
I like an illustration given by a teacher in the church centuries ago named Origen. He compared the Bible to a large house full of locked rooms, in which the keys to all the rooms are scattered throughout the house. The task—the joyful task!—of the interpreter is to go around the house, trying various keys in various doors, until they are all opened. This is one way to picture our reading of the Bible. Like a man trying keys in all the locks, we try this verse to that verse, this OT story to that NT parable, in an attempt to open up the full meaning of the Scriptures. Ultimately, however, there is one key that opens all the rooms. It is the key of Christ Himself. As He opened the minds of His disciples to see that Moses and all the prophets wrote about the Messiah (Luke 24:27,45), so He opens our minds to see the same.
So if we insert various verse-keys into the opening word of the Bible, especially the key shaped like Jesus, what will we find when we crack open the door?
Let’s first try a key from Proverbs (probably not the first place you’d think to look!). What does Proverbs have to do with Genesis? Proverbs 8 focuses on the place of wisdom in creation—only this wisdom is spelled Wisdom, for it is not a thing but a person. Wisdom says, “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before [God] had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there,” (8:25-27a). And a few verses later, Wisdom continues, “I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the children of man,” (8:30-31). Who is this Wisdom? None other than the one “whom God has made our wisdom” (1 Cor 1:30), the one through whom “all things were made” and without whom there “was not any thing made that was made,” (John 1:3). The Wisdom who speaks in Proverbs 8 is the Son of God.
But what does Christ as divine Wisdom have to do with Genesis 1:1’s “in the beginning”? Earlier in Proverbs 8, Christ as Wisdom says this, “The LORD possessed me—the beginning of His way—before His works of old.” This is my own literal translation from the Hebrew. Wisdom is saying, “Before anything was made, I belonged to the Father. I am the beginning of His way, the beginning of how the Father works. The Hebrew for “beginning” is reshit, the same word that we find in Genesis 1:1. Thus, the Wisdom of God, the Son of the Father, is the reshit of the Creator. Jesus is the Beginning.
Interestingly, even early Jewish translators and interpreters looked at Genesis 1:1 not merely as the temporal beginning. One early paraphrase or translation, known as a targum, rendered Genesis 1:1 this way, “In Wisdom, God created the heavens and the earth.” And the early Jewish commentary on Genesis, known as Bereshit Rabbah, says that the “beginning” in Gen 1:1 refers to the Torah, for it understands the Torah as the “beginning of God’s way” in Proverbs 8.
Now let’s use some NT keys to see if we can unlock “in the beginning” even more. John begins his Gospel with words that are, in Greek, a direct link to Genesis 1:1. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In Greek, the phrase “in the beginning” is en arche (pronounced “in arkay”). This word, arche, occurs a few other places in the NT in reference to Christ. Paul writes that Jesus “is the beginning [arche], the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent,” (Col 1:18). Twice in Revelation, John calls Christ “the beginning [arche] and the end,” (21:6 and 22:13). But best of all, in Rev 3:14, Jesus himself says, “To the angel of the church of Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning [arche] of the creation of God.’” Did you hear that? Jesus identifies Himself as the “beginning of the creation of God.” He is the Beginning, the arche, who is directly linked to God’s creative work.
If we mold all these verses together into a sort of biblical stethoscope, and place it onto opening words of Scripture, what do we hear beating within the heart of this verse? We hear that this “beginning” is not simply the start of time. This beginning is a personal Beginning. “In the beginning” means “in Wisdom, in the Word, in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, God created the heavens and the earth.” He is indeed the “beginning of the creation of God,” (Rev 3:14). “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,” (Col 1:15-16).
I promised that you’d never hear the opening words of the Bible the same again. And I hope that holds true. In the very first word of the Scriptures, we hear of Christ. And appropriately so. For He is Himself the Word. He is the fullness of the Scriptures. Jesus Himself testified that Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46). Indeed, Moses did. The very first word He penned onto the scroll of the Torah was bereshit, that is, “in Christ.”
Me: When you walked with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, you began with Moses, and proceeded through all the prophets, to explain to them the things concerning yourself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). But where are you in the opening chapter of Moses? Where are you in the story of creation?
Jesus: I am not only before the beginning, in the beginning, and after the beginning; I am the Beginning. The Father appointed me, Wisdom, as the Beginning of His way (Proverbs 8:22). I am the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Beginning of the creation of God (Revelation 3:14). I am the head of the body, the church; and I am the Beginning, as well as the Firstborn from the dead, so that I myself might come to have first place in everything (Colossians 1:18). In the beginning I was the Word, and I as Word was the Beginning. By me all things were created, both in the heavens and in the earth, visible and invisible. All things have been created by me and for me (Colossians 1:16). Therefore, already in the opening word of the Hebrew Bible, Bereshith, I am.
Me: What about the rest of the chapter? Does the remainder of the creation account speak of you?
Jesus: All things came into being by me, and apart from me nothing came into being that has come into being (John 1:3). The heavens testify of me, for by me the Father made light. I am light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made. My life is the light of men, the light that shines in the darkness. By me the Father made the sun, for I am the sun of righteousness, who arises with healing in my wings (Malachi 4:2). The animals testify of me, for I am the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). I am the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who overcomes so as to open the scroll and its seven seals (Revelation 5:5). The trees testify of me, for I am the Tree of Life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding fruit every month, and my leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). Even the smallest animals testify of me, for I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men, and despised by the people (Psalm 22:6). And man testifies of me, he who was created in the image and likeness of God, for I am the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15), the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His nature (Hebrews 1:3).
Me: So shall I read Genesis 1 as the story of your work of creation or recreation?
Jesus: The story of creation is the story of recreation, and the story of recreation is the story of creation. These are not two stories but one. Behold, I make all things, and I make all things new. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13). If any man is in me, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world on the altar of the cross, but I am also the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Therefore, in Genesis 1, read of me and my work, for in creation is told the story of redemption, and in the story of redemption is told the story of creation.