In the Beginning: The First Apocalyptic Event

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In our previous article we noted the paradigm that is exhibited in the story of the flood (Gen 6-9). That paradigm reveals what a basic apocalyptic scenario looks like (you may wish to review its main points). We also suggested that this is the way God typically interacts with the world and how he deals with sin.

However, the flood was not the first apocalyptic event in the Bible. The first one was the first event recorded in the Bible, the creation of the universe.

You might be wondering how the creation could be such an event when there were no people alive yet, and no sin for God to judge. It is true that there were no people until God created Adam and Eve on the sixth day. But from the way the story is told in the Bible, it is clear that the creation was a demonstration of God’s power over lawlessness, and that lies at the heart of an apocalyptic event.

Think about it. Gen 1.2 says that the earth was formless and void, and darkness pervaded everywhere. Now I ask you, why did God create this situation as he was creating the world? Why start by making a world that was formless, and void of life and light? Could God have skipped this step and simply begun with a more orderly method? Yes, he could have, but it is clear that God deliberately made a world that was, at first, what we can accurately call chaotic and order-less. Everything was mixed together. There was no division between land and sea. Perhaps it was something like a big ball of mud (?). Nothing lived in it, and it was pitch dark. Why?

water creation illustration

God made a messed-up situation in order to display his power over his creation. He began by sending light into the world (don’t ask me what it was; the Bible does not explain it). With light came the possibility of life. Then God took what was jumbled and chaotic, lacking in order, and imparted order and regularity to it, and he established “laws” to keep it that way (cf. Jer 31.35). He put the sea in its place and separated the water out of the sky (2nd day) and from the land (3rd day). Then he put “lights” in the sky (4th day), and then made living creatures appropriate for each of these three realms: birds in the sky and fish in the sea (5th day), and living creatures on the land (6th day).

This story would probably have been more impactful in some ways for people in the ancient world in which Moses lived than it is to the modern mind. To the ancients (and it seems especially to the Hebrews), the sea was something to be feared. It is large and powerful. A person could lose their life in the sea easily. Besides, the sea is always churning (with its waves), and sometimes it is downright violent (as in a storm). The sea was, to them, a wild and untamable thing, fierce, powerful, and life-threatening.

In the creation, God shows his mastery over the sea. He makes it go to an appointed place and stay there. God “stretches out the heavens and tramples down the waves of the sea” (Job 9.8). “He quieted the sea with his power” (Job 26.12). “You rule the swelling of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (Psa 89.9). God “set for the sea its boundary so that the water would not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth” (Prov 8.29). By pushing the sea aside to form both the sky and dry land, God was demonstrating his superior power to defeat hostile forces and to make life.

The Genesis account also presents God as acting swiftly over his creation. Remember, one of the hallmarks of an apocalyptic event is that it is a sudden, drastic, and catastrophic action on God’s part that eliminates lawlessness and creates a situation of goodness. That is exactly what we see in Genesis 1. In a period of six days (a relatively short time) God took the chaos and made it ordered, full of light, and full of life. True to his usual mode of operation, God acted abruptly and decisively against the situation that prevailed.

sunlight clouds waterIn this way, then, the creation was the original apocalyptic scenario. There was a situation that was “lawless,” as it were. Matter was all jumbled together, nothing was ordered or organized. How long the earth stayed that way I do not know, but the important thing to see is that God “defeated” and “conquered” this lawless, chaotic situation. At each step of his quick work, God was overcoming the initial chaotic condition of the world, and what was left was something that could be called “good” (seven times in Gen 1). In a very important sense, the creation account displays God as acting in judgment against darkness and chaos (or lawlessness). This corresponds to the situation we noted in Genesis 6-9, where God removed the lawless people from this world and left in its place a world that was good, and inhabited by only good people (Noah and his clan).

It is also vitally important to remember that God accomplished the creation by his word. God’s powerful, active word (Isa 55.10f; Heb 4.12) is what defeats darkness and lawlessness and creates goodness (or, righteousness) and life.

The creation account in Genesis 1 is more than just a record of the origin of the universe. It also serves as the original and controlling apocalyptic pattern for how God interacts with the world. One of the most important things we can do as good Bible students is to try to appreciate that the creation story is, in a sense, the story of the Bible. It would not be an exaggeration to say that when we see God acting in the Bible, there is always, somewhere, in that action an echo of the creation account in Genesis 1.

David McClister


Here is a famous reading of part of Genesis 1 — by the Apollo 8 astronauts: