IN THE BEGINNING
Part 1: Understanding Genesis 1:1-5
The book of Genesis is perfectly accurate in all that it states about the origin of the physical universe. But its intent is to bring a spiritual message. God commands us to search in the Bible, including Genesis, for what it can tell us about Jesus and His gospel (Luke 24:27, John 5:39). Let us explore the opening five verses of the Bible with that in mind.
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning”
We can think of this phrase as meaning “first.” It is not the “first” (echad) of Genesis 1:5 or 2:11, as in the first entry of a list. Instead, it is the “first” (reshith) of Exodus 23:19, as in the start of a sequence of events with other events to follow. It especially means first of a series of events that lead to a specific goal or objective. In short we could think of this phrase as saying “step one.”
In the physical sense, this phrase refers to the point at which the physical universe came to be. Before, there was no physical universe. The physical universe did not have an eternal past. But it did have a “beginning.” To that we can add that the physical universe will not have an eternal future (Psalm 102:25,26, II Peter 3:10). It is true that this universe has been given a hope of a share in God’s redemption plan (Rom. 8:19-23). But according to I Corinthians 15:44-50, II Peter 3:12,13, and Revelation 21:1, this present physical universe will be replaced by a greater spiritual one, a reality which we cannot and need not imagine or describe now. God is from everlasting to everlasting. After they are created, His people live forever (Psalm 102:27,28). Even people who are not saved have an eternal existence (Matthew 25:46). But the physical universe has both a beginning and an end.
The real message of this phrase is found when we compare it to the New Testament book of John. From John 1:1 we learn that “In the beginning was the Word.” That Word was Jesus Christ, who came into the world to bring grace and truth as a Savior (John 1:14).
Does Genesis 1:1 declare the beginning of the Word, Jesus? No. John 1:1 does not say “In the beginning of the word.” Jesus is eternal God (Titus 1:3 and 2:13, also Heb. 1:8). Jesus was there in the beginning because He is the great I AM, the eternal One. In fact, according to John 1:3,10, Jesus is the Creator.
Does Genesis 1 describe the beginning of the gospel of “grace and truth?” No. The gospel was prepared before the beginning (Eph. 1:4, II Tim. 1:9, Titus 1:2).
Of what, then, does Genesis 1:1 announce the beginning? We find the answer to that question if we recall that God sent His Son into the world to be the Savior (John 3:16,17, I Tim. 1:15). He could not do that if there were no world in which to enter. Therefore, the first step in the fulfillment of the gospel was to create “the heaven and the earth,” because the physical universe is the arena in which the drama of salvation takes place. With that understanding, we can say that Genesis 1:1 refers to the beginning of the fulfillment of the promised gospel. God had a job in mind and Genesis 1:1 describes step one in a series of steps that lead to the fulfillment of His specific purpose (Isaiah 45:18, II Tim. 1:9, Titus 1:2). The plan of God was set in motion “in the beginning” and would not stop until it was completed, at which point the physical universe will have served its purpose and its existence will end.
The word “God” is a plural word. That does not mean there is more than one God, for the word “created” is singular to show that the subject of the sentence is singular. There is only one God (Deut. 6:4, Rom 3:30, Eph 4:6, I Tim 2:5). Instead, the plural form of the word “God” highlights the fact that the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit are all God, and all three were involved in the creation of the world (Father: Mal 2:10, Son: Eph. 3:9, Holy Spirit: Psalm 104:30). The preparation for the fulfillment of the gospel was that important because the gospel is that important.
Notice that “in the beginning” of creation there was God but there was no one else. All by Himself, God took the first step in the fulfillment of the gospel (Isa. 44:24). To put it another way, “in the beginning” there was God without man (Job 38:1-18).
From the point of view of the gospel, the reason that God was alone at the beginning, besides the obvious fact that man was created by God on the sixth day, is that only God is competent to prepare the gospel and fulfill it in the arena of the created universe. The absence of man highlights the fact that God did everything, independently, without the counsel or assistance of man. Salvation is not a partnership. Humans did not participate in the design of the gospel and they do not cooperate in the fulfillment of it, even in their own lives. In the beginning and always the gospel of salvation is without the deeds of men (Rom. 3:28, Eph. 2:9, II Tim. 1:9, Titus 3:5). The God who creates is the only Savior (Isaiah 45:12,21).
It is not just that men’s contribution is unnecessary for the design and fulfillment of the gospel. It is that men are the source of the problem for which the gospel is the solution. One important message of Genesis is the failure of men, or more accurately, the failure of men when they act independently from God. Adam was created in God’s image. Adam was originally perfect in a perfect environment. However, he was also created to be dependent upon God. Adam and his descendants were, and always have been, dependent upon God (Prov. 16:9, Jer. 10:23, Acts 17:28). When Adam was offered the forbidden fruit by Eve, he should have cried out to God for strength to remain obedient. Adam, at that moment, should have called upon God for wisdom and courage to help his poor wife. But Adam chose death! The book of Genesis reveals that a perfect man, acting on his own, will choose death. Adam’s perfection did not mean he was independently strong. It did not mean he was independently wise. It meant he was right with God. But he needed God’s help to continue to be right with Him. The book of Genesis demonstrates the fact that when men turn to a reliance upon themselves apart from God they will fail (Genesis 3:1-6). Wonderfully, God, who alone is wise and able, designed and fulfilled the gospel plan that rescues men from condemnation and the corruption of sin (Isaiah 45:22). Genesis 1:1-5 is both a description of what God alone can do in salvation and of what men cannot do to save themselves (Exodus 14:13, II Cron. 20:17, Titus 3:5).
This leads to two important conclusions. First, for all that God has done, He alone gets the glory (Rev. 4:11). He does not share any glory with men (Isaiah 48:11). There is no basis for any man to boast (I Cor. 1:29). Genesis 1:1 removes any basis for the pride of self -achievement of men. Men want credit and honor for what they are and what they have done. But the record of history shows that they are to be blamed for all the misery in this world. Men want control of their present life and future destiny. But the record of history shows that whatever men do is temporary and full of mistakes at best. Often what men do is destructive to themselves and others. The relief and joy is that “in the beginning” God is there preparing the gospel, and men are not there to mess it up.
Secondly, because God does all the work in Creation, when He calls people by means of the gospel, they must completely trust Him. God knows His plans for His people and knows what to do to fulfill them (Jer 29:11, II Peter 2:9). People must not trust their own inventions to save themselves but seek the salvation prepared by the wise and mighty Creator (Prov. 3:5,6, Isa. 43:15).
“created the heaven and the earth.”
The word “created” (bara) means to make something new that did not exist before (c.f. Numbers 16:30: “the LORD make, bara, a new thing”; or Isaiah 65:17: “I create, bara, a new heavens, and a new earth”). For example, it is used to describe the creation of life in Genesis 1:21,27 (Psalm 104:30). The Bible sometimes uses other words to refer to the works of God. The word “formed” (yatzer) in Genesis 2:7 refers to making something out of material that is already there. The word “made” (asah) can mean to create, as in Genesis 2:4, or to form, as in Genesis 2:18. There are other words, such as the word nathan that is sometimes translated “make,” but is more often rendered “give.” However, the word “created” in Genesis 1:1 means that God created the universe out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3).
In light of the gospel, we can say that it takes the Creator to be the Savior. First of all, only the Creator can create new life, that is, life where no life exists. For example, He gives life to His own body in the resurrection in order to complete the work of the atonement (John 10:17,18). In another example, He gives life to sinners whose souls are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Secondly, only the Creator can create a new heart that beats with a love that it did not have before. That is, He creates a heart that has a new motivation and a new affection. For example, He gives to people, who were slaves of sin and in personal rebellion against God, the heart to love Him and the desire to humbly obey Him (Psalm 51:10,17). Having saved sinners, He gives them the power and wisdom to fulfill their new heart’s desire. God’s people are trophies of their Savior who is a Creator (Isaiah 65:18, II Cor. 5:17).
The word “heaven” really means “heavens.” It is not clear to what the plural refers. Perhaps physically it means the heaven close to the Earth, the atmosphere that we call the sky (Gen. 1:20) together with the heaven far from the Earth, the expanse we call outer space (Gen. 1:17). One thing we can conclude is that the words “heaven and earth” list the total physical inventory of the universe. As we read in John 1:3, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
The word “heaven” could also refer to the dwelling place of God (I Kings 8:27). However, we must be careful how we think about this. What can the fact that God “created the heaven” mean? Are we to understand that the dwelling place of God was also created? Perhaps it refers to the inhabitants of Heaven, such as all the angels that worship and serve Him. However, if we include in the word “heaven” the place where God is, then the phrase “created the heaven” is beyond our ability and experience to explain.
One emphasis of the words “created the heaven and the earth” is that all things belong to God (Deut. 10:14). The physical universe in which we dwell and all of its contents belong to God (Psalm 24:1). The spiritual part of the universe is His as well, especially the souls of all people (Ezek. 18:4). God is the absolute sovereign in the universe because all things are His. He made it all and He does what He wants with it (Jer. 27:5, Rom. 9:18-23).
Another emphasis of the words “created the heaven and the earth” is that God is bigger than and therefore distinct from His creation. God is not a part of the physical creation but beyond it. Therefore, nothing in creation can or should be used to represent Him (Ex. 20:4, Acts 17:24,25). Our affection and concern must be in heavenly things, not in earthly things (Col. 3:1,2).
The physical heaven and Earth as well as all they contain amaze, delight and attract us. However, as wonderful as God’s physical works are (Psalm 40:5), this created universe is no more than a stage on which the issues of salvation are played out to their conclusion (Rev. 12), and is afterward removed (Rev. 6:13,14).
We should mention that this Earth is the only stage. According to Psalm 115:16, only the Earth is inhabited. That is, there are no other planets upon which different beings exist, beings who do not share in the Fall of men or their redemption. Many unsaved people hope that beings will be found on other planets because it would mean this planet is not unique. That would support their belief that the elements of the universe spontaneously develop life. But that is not so. Romans 8:20 states that the whole universe was cursed for the sake of the gospel plan that is being fulfilled on the Earth. God is perfectly just and holy. He would never curse any remote beings for an event that happened on one planet in this galaxy. To that we can add the fact that when Jesus returns to this Earth, the entire universe will be destroyed (Psalm 102:25,26, Matt. 24:29, Heb. 12:26,27, Rev. 6:13,14, 21:1). God would be unjust if He destroyed beings on a far away planet at the completion of His work on this Earth.
Sometimes unbelievers will complain, with a false display of humility, saying, “It takes an enormous pride to insist that this tiny insignificant planet in a remote corner of the universe is the only place where life exists. How could anyone think that little humans, wandering around on a little planet like ants, could be so important?” For one thing, true humility is displayed by submitting to the revealed will of God. Promoting ideas that come from our own interests and imagination is a display of pride. For another thing, any person who makes such a statement is totally focused upon this physical universe and has no understanding of the far more important spiritual realities. The fact is that the value of a soul is not measured by the size of the planet upon which it is found or the body in which it is housed. The value of a soul is measured by the great sacrifice that the Almighty Creator made by coming to Earth in order to redeem it.
In creation we just begin to catch a faint glimpse of who God is. In creation we begin to understand His majesty, power and wisdom. And as we continue in Genesis, we begin to understand His love (I John 4:8). Think of it. There is only one eternal God. Forever there is God, a loving Father. Without end there is God, a loving Son. For eternity past and future, there is God, a loving Holy Spirit. He alone deserves to be loved and He alone has the capacity to love. Therein is the one great message: God loves Himself. The Father loves the Son with a great love. The Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit honors the Father and the Son. They are a perfect society, complete, needing no one else. One perfect God. And yet ..... and yet ..... we read, “God created.” Needing nothing and no one, God still had His creation at heart. We exist not because God was lonely or bored, not because He is a show-off, but because God wanted us to exist. He greatly cared for and continues to care for our souls. That love takes our breath away. Can we really grasp such love?
“And the earth was without form, and void; And darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
There is no physical counterpart we know of to which we can compare the image these words describe. This point in creation is beyond our experience and any physical explanation of these words is pointless speculation. Nevertheless, there is one fact about the physical universe we should mention that these words bring to mind. Whatever shapeless form or indescribable appearance the universe originally may have had, we know that the universe existed then and the universe with which we are presently familiar continues to exist today because Jesus holds it together by His will, partially expressed through His natural laws (Col. 2:17, Heb. 1: 3).
The spiritual intent of the words “without form and void” are best understood by comparing them to Jeremiah 4:23. In Jeremiah the words describe the foolish nation of Israel that had no understanding to do good, but were wise to do evil. However, more than being a picture of their apostate spiritual character, the words also describe God’s reaction to their sin. According to Jeremiah 4:26, which is part of the context of verse 23, the words “without form and void” are part of a description of the results of God’s “fierce anger.” The word “darkness” is understood by comparing it to verses such as Joel 2:1,2, Zephaniah 1:14,15 and Jude 13. Clearly, the words “without form and void” and the word “darkness” point to God’s judgment, to His wrath, and ultimately to Hell.
We do not mean to imply that judgment existed at this point in the history of the physical universe. After all, sin and its effects as well as its penalty did not become an issue until after humans were created. It is just that God describes the physical creation of the universe by means of the words “without form and void” and the word “darkness” in order to highlight His wrath, as He begins to draw a picture of the gospel message. Inasmuch as wrath comes because of sin, we see that Genesis 1:2 describes the reason for the gospel of salvation. The gospel is not designed and fulfilled to make people feel better or be more successful in this physical world. The gospel is intended to meet a far greater need, namely, to escape the wrath and judgment of God.
Notice that the verse does not say that “the heaven and the earth was without form and void.” Verse 1 states that “the heaven” was created with the earth. But verse 2 excludes “the heaven” from its awful description. Perhaps the omission of “the heaven” from verse 2 is a picture of what we read in Ecclesiastes 5:2, “God is in heaven and thou upon the earth.” From Genesis 1:2 we learn that the tragedy and horror described by the words “without form and void” and the word “darkness” is found in the Earth and not in Heaven. Perhaps the idea in Genesis 1:2 is that the problem is Earth’s problem and not Heaven’s problem. We mean by this that all the blame for the mess is to be found on the Earth and not in Heaven. God gets the credit for sending His curse into the world as a just response to sin. However, man who dwells on Earth must be blamed for the curse upon the universe and the judgment upon his soul. It is all man’s fault. The blame cannot be charged to God of Heaven. Men try to blame God (Rom. 3:1-8). But it won’t work. God is in Heaven and the sin is found on Earth. God is not limited to a place called Heaven, but in Genesis 1:2 the emphasis is that God is in Heaven in the sense that He cannot be accused of being an accomplice to Adam’s sin, which he did on Earth.
The absolutely amazing aspect of the gospel is that, in grace, God decided to make Earth’s problem His own problem, too. It does not have to be His problem, but in love He not only entered into this sinful world in the person of Jesus and took upon Himself the burdens of His people (Matthew 8:16,17), He also took upon Himself the penalty that His people’s sin deserved (I Peter 2:22-25). However, we are getting ahead of the story. Let us leave this wonder for the following verses.
In Isaiah 45:7 we read, “I (God) ..... create darkness.” One implication of this statement is that darkness did not exist until God made it, but it did exist after He created it. It is as if darkness had some substance of its own. From a physical point of view, we do not have an idea of what it means that God created darkness. There is no physical counterpart to this statement that we can imagine. By our common observation we have learned that darkness is the absence of light and does not have a physical nature of its own. Therefore, this statement must be understood spiritually. In support of that point of view, the context Isaiah 45 links the word “darkness” to the “evil” of God’s wrath upon sinners. The message of Isaiah 45 is that God is God, totally in control at all times, including times of destruction. In other words, sinners do not punish themselves, in a kind of penance in order to merit restoration with God. Rather, judgment comes from the God of Heaven (Rom. 1:18). God has determined what is the just payment for sin and He alone sees to it that the payment is made.
Notice that verse 2 does not say darkness was “upon the deep.” Instead it says “upon the face of the deep.” A face identifies someone as a unique person, an individual distinct from all other people. Even God speaks of Himself as having a face (Exodus 33:20). The idea seems to be that the judgment of God is not on sin as a concept, but on specific people who sin. Sin by itself is not an independent force or an alien being that must be judged. Rather sin is a person’s deliberate disobedience to God (I John 3:4). Therefore, it is the soul that sins which must die (Ezek. 18:4). The frightening truth is that Hell is full of faces, full of real individual people who endure the wrath of God because they personally hate God and rebel against Him.
These words “without form and void” as well as the word “darkness” can also be thought of as a description of the wicked earthly life of sinners who are in need of the gospel of grace (Prov. 4:19). First of all, they are “without form,” or full of “vanity” as the words are translated in Isaiah 40:17,23. This means unsaved sinners are vain; that is, they are full of pride and their own selfish desires. Secondly, they are “void,” or “emptiness,” as the word is used in Isaiah 34:11. This means unsaved sinners have empty minds, that is, they have no wisdom or purpose (Rom. 1:22, James 1:6). This also means unsaved sinners have empty souls; that is, they have no goodness or righteousness (Rom. 3:12). Thirdly, they live in “darkness” (Prov. 4:19, Eccl. 2:14, Eph 5:11, I John 2:9-11). This means unsaved sinners hate the truth and all that is good. They rebel against any control and hope that the darkness will hide them from the searching eye of their Creator. And they eagerly seek to draw others into their dark, evil ways (Rom. 1:30-32). Men live in “darkness” not only because that is where they belong, but also because that is where they want to be (John 3:19). Men do not want to hear or see the words that tell them about their sin and warn them of the judgment they deserve (John 3:20). Sadly, the words “without form and void” as well as the word “darkness” describe unsaved sinners brief and wasted lives (Deut. 28:29, Eccl. 1:14, 2:22,23, I Tim. 6:4,5, James 4:14).
We should briefly mention that some people have insisted the words “without form and void,” as well as the word “darkness,” refer to an actual physical destruction of the world. It is their opinion that God’s wrath was displayed some time before the description of His curse in Genesis 3. Based upon that notion, they say that there is a big time gap between Genesis 1:1, which describes a perfect universe and Genesis 1:2, which they insist describes its physical ruin. Their objective is to maintain the Bible’s prominent place in their lives and at the same time fit within that gap the millions of years required by the theory of evolution. But that line of thinking is wrong. As we shall see in the second part of this booklet, it is not possible to make any accommodation for the theory of evolution and at the same time preserve the authority of the Bible. Genesis 1:2 is not a description of physical destruction. It is not clear to what it refers physically. But it is clear that it is a picture, and only a picture, of the spiritual destruction which accompanies sin. In addition to that, Genesis 1:31 states that God was pleased with the physical universe described in chapter 1. Therefore, Genesis 1:2 refers to a time when the physical universe had not yet experienced God’s wrath.
As we entitled Genesis 1:1 “God without man,” so we could entitle this half of Genesis 1:2 as “man without God.” It is not that men who live on the Earth could ever be without God, for this is God’s universe and He is everywhere present. Rather, it is in the sense of Ephesians 2:12, which explains that unbelievers, people who live under the curse of God and under the threat of Judgment and eternal wrath in Hell, are “without God” in this world, that is, without God as their Savior.
“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
The word “face” is the same as in the previous phrase, again referring to persons. The word “waters” can refer to several different things. Sometimes the word “water” can refer to judgment (Genesis 6:17). Sometimes the word “water” can refer to blessing (Genesis 24:17). But since it is in context with the word “face,” it can be understood in Genesis 1:2 to refer to the people of the world, as it is used in Revelation 17:15.
The word translated “moved” occurs only here and in two other places. In Jeremiah 23:9 the word is translated as “shake.” There it refers to Jeremiah’s alarm and sorrow because of the sin of Judah and Israel. We learn from this comparison that there is no joy in the heart of God in the fact that sinners must be punished (Ezek. 33:11). In Deuteronomy 32:11 the word is translated as “fluttereth.” There it refers to the loving concern a mother eagle has for her children. We learn from this comparison that God cares for sinners who are in need as a father lovingly cares for specific people whom He knows, that is, for His own dear children (Matt. 10:29-31).
Of the three persons of God, the Spirit of God is highlighted in Genesis 1:2. Though the Father and the Son share the concern for God’s people, the reference to the Holy Spirit is used because God applies the blessings of the gospel to His people through the Spirit (John 3:5, Rom 8:9-16, I Cor. 6:11).
The amazing thing is that, after describing His wrath which ought to justly come upon all people, we immediately read about His gracious response to the sin of men. It is as if God, because of His great love for His people, can’t wait to get started in rescuing them. The “beginning” came as soon as possible. That is more than anyone could imagine or hope for. We could entitle this half of verse 2 as “God cares for man.”
The next three verses could be entitled “God with man,” in the sense that they describe the work of God in restoring men to Himself.
“And God said,”
When we open the Bible, suddenly God is there, all by Himself. In the beginning we start with a mystery: God and His gospel (I Cor. 2:7). How can we comprehend Him or His holy and wise plans? His eternity, uniqueness, majesty and infinite creative power are beyond us. We can try to understand how people think and act. But God’s ways are incomprehensible to us (Isaiah 55:8,9, Rom. 11:33). And yet ... and yet ... we read in verse 3 that “God said.” These words mean, among other things, that we were created to hear the voice of God, not as a curiosity, but in loving response to His message of love. Whatever we know about God and His ways is a revelation to us. It has to be because we cannot invent or deduce what God has in mind (I Cor. 2:9-14). Therefore, “God said” in Genesis that He began to fulfill His gospel plan in the universe He created for that purpose. “God said” in the Bible all He needed to say about creation and salvation so that we can be saved and love Him in return (I John 4:10,19).
The words “And God said” focus upon the important place that God’s Word has in the economy of the gospel. For one thing, in God’s Word we meet His power. God’s Word is powerful enough to create (Psalm 33:6, 148:5) and to save (Rom. 1:16).
Secondly, the words “And God said” reveal His authority. The justification of sinners rests upon the decree of the Judge. He must declare them just if they are to be acquitted of their crimes against God’s law. God has the authority to declare that. But the declaration of God is not like the pardon given by an earthly judge or ruler, which may be based upon a personal whim of kindness, or an indulgence. What God says must be right. The reason is that He is just and Holy. What “God said” in the gospel about the salvation of sinners is true because God is also the Judge who satisfied the demands of His law. In order for God to be just and at the same time justify sinners, He had to put the condemnation of His peoples’ sins upon His Son Jesus. Based upon that work, God has the authority to declare sinners just (Rom. 3:25,26).
Thirdly, the words “And God said” display the unique place of His word, the Bible, in His plan of salvation. It is God’s plan that salvation comes only through His Word (Rom 10:17, I Peter 1:23). It is only when a sinner hears and believes what “God said,” not just with his ears but with his heart and soul, that he is saved. It is only when a sinner hears and believes what “God said” in the Bible alone that He is saved (Rev. 22:18).
“Let there be light.”
These words are quoted in II Corinthians 4:6 as part of an explanation of God’s work of grace in the hearts of His people. The connection of Genesis 1:3 to II Corinthians 4:6 is important because it shows that our attempt to explain Genesis 1:1-5 from a gospel point of view is not our own private method of interpretation. It is what the Bible itself does. God testifies in II Corinthians that the factual history we find in Genesis 1 is a picture of the gospel.
Physically, these words announce the beginning of electromagnetic radiation of all frequencies, visible and invisible. This form of energy is part of the physical universe in which the drama of salvation is fulfilled. God uses this form of physical energy to fulfill His gospel program. For example, sinners need the visible part of this “light” energy to help them see so that they can read the Bible and believe. In another example, missionaries use the invisible part of this “light” in the frequency of radio waves in order to send the sound of the gospel “into all the earth” and God’s words “unto the ends of the world” (Rom.10:18).
Spiritually, these words announce the presence of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5). Notice that Genesis 1:3 does not say the light was “made” or “created,” as all other things were (Gen. 1:7,16,21,25,27). Certainly the physical light was created. No part of the physical universe existed before God created it. But Genesis 1:3 does not describe the appearance of light as a created act of God. This is important because the physical light is a picture of Jesus, who is the eternal Light. And He was not created. We cannot tell from this verse when the physical light was created. Maybe it was the moment God spoke in verse 3. However, in order to make a true spiritual picture, this verse does not focus upon the idea that there was no light before God spoke in verse 3. Instead, the emphasis of the verse can be expressed as, “Let Light that already exists shine into the darkness. Let the eternal Light come to the universe that needs it” (Eph. 5:14).
“And there was light.”
The words “and there was light” emphasize the historical reality of the gospel. There really was Light in the world, as there is today (Matt. 4:12-16). The gospel is not a philosophy or a fairy tale. It is real, as real as the sin of men and the threat of judgment upon that sin. If anything, the Light is more real than this physical universe inasmuch as it will abide forever, even though this world will some day end.
The words “and there was light” also highlight the obedience of Jesus to the gospel command. As light was commanded to shine, so the Light, Jesus, did shine. In other words, as Jesus was commanded to do God’s will in order to fulfill the gospel plan (Luke 2:49, Heb. 10:7). He obeyed (John 17:4), even to the cross (Phil. 2:8, John 19:30). Based upon Jesus’ obedience, light could then shine in the hearts of His people (II Cor. 4:6).
These words of Genesis 1:3 announce the love of God. The words declare that there is hope for people who live in darkness (Isaiah 9:2, 49:8,9, Micah 7:8, John 1:4,9). Wonderfully, “in the beginning” God’s immediate response to sin was to command “light” to shine. This is a testimony to the fact that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). Sadly, when the light of the gospel shines in the darkness it is misunderstood, unwanted and feared by men, as well as opposed and hated by the powers of darkness (John 1:5, 3:19,20). Joyfully, God commands the light of His gospel to shine in the hearts of His people, and God’s word is stronger than Hell’s opposition (Matt. 16:18) and a sinner’s resistance to it (John 6:37, e.g. Acts 9:3-5).
“And God saw the light, that it was good:”
Light makes things sparkle and paints the universe with the beauty of colors that are a delight to our eyes. A sunny day is usually welcome. It warms us and replaces depression with cheer. Truly, even from a physical point of view, light is good.
However, God sees much more deeply. These words can be compared to Matthew 3:17 and Matthew 19:17. With these two verses in mind we can see that the light God saw was Jesus. God looked upon Jesus and saw a righteous sacrifice who is worthy of praise. Jesus is good because He is a pure and holy redeemer. Jesus is also good because He is good for others. That is, Jesus is the Savior who is beneficial for sinners. They sit in the shadow or threat of death, and He came to bring them light and lead them into His kingdom (Matt. 4:12-16, Col. 1:13).
“and God divided the light from the darkness.”
Physically, there is value in both a time of light and a time of darkness. In the time of light, we can do work. In the time of darkness, we can rest. But in an eternal spiritual sense, while there is great value in the time of light, there is none in the time of darkness. As we have seen, light represents what is good and darkness represents what is wicked.
There are several important spiritual messages in these words. One message is that light is separate and distinct from darkness. Light and darkness are never mixed. There is never a kind of gray half-light. This means that the good, enlightening truths of the Bible cannot be mixed with the evil, dark inventions of men. For example, the account of creation in the Bible cannot be mixed with the theory of evolution. Or, for example, the truth that salvation is by grace alone cannot be mixed with the notion that salvation is also partly dependent upon the efforts of men (Rom. 11:6). God divided the light from the darkness.
Another message is that we must never confuse light with darkness. This means that what God calls good we must never call evil and what God calls evil we must never call good (Isaiah 5:20). For example, some people bitterly oppose the teaching that a good God would send anyone, including little children, to Hell. Some people reject the doctrine that sinners are dead in their sins and have no free will to choose to be saved. Some people deny that God sovereignly elects only some people to salvation. Some people are offended by the teaching that sinners are saved by grace alone completely independent of anything they do. Some people despise the view that Jesus paid for the sins of only His people. Some people mock the idea that once a person is saved he can never lose his salvation. The Bible teaches these things. But some people say these things are not true. They say that these truths, which are the “light” of God’s gospel, are really “darkness.” In another example, some people are in love with the notion that God loves everybody and that there are many different ways to reach God. Some people promote the idea that unsaved sinners have the free will to choose to trust in God. Some people teach that salvation is accompanied by physical miracles and speaking in tongues. Some people insist that God allows divorce and remarriage. Some people believe that women can take a place of leadership in church. They call these ways wise, compassionate and good. They say that these lies, which are the “darkness” of man’s evil imagination, are really “light.” But God divided the light from the darkness.
One more message is that while light and darkness exist side by side now, they do not abide together in peace. They are not companions. People who are children of God by grace through faith have no lasting fellowship with children of darkness (Amos 3:3, II Cor. 6:14). There is no compatibility between those people who trust in God alone for their salvation and those people who trust in themselves. There can be no true or lasting friendship between people who love the Creator more than this creation and people who love this creation more than the Creator (Eph. 5:7-11, II Thess. 3:6). There is a permanent, eternal division between the light and the darkness, a division that was declared in the beginning.
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”
In the Bible, a name is more than just a label that distinguishes one thing from another. Many times a name describes the character or nature of something, as for example, Cain (Gen. 4:1), Abraham (Gen. 17:5), Nabal (I Sam 25:25) and Jesus (Matt. 1:21). As if in answer to the statement in verse 4, “and God divided the light from the darkness,” God is saying in verse 5, “When I divide the light from the darkness, I can tell the difference between them. I know more than anyone the nature of light and darkness. I do not make a mistake in labeling the light and the darkness.”
Therefore, the sentence, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night,” is a statement of God’s understanding and competency. We can trust God in all that He has done and continues to do to save some people and condemn others, because He knows what He is doing in order to fulfill His plans (II Peter 2:9). God is smart enough to create the universe and control the sweeping events of this world throughout the ages that lead to the fulfillment of His salvation plan (Isaiah 40:12, 20-23, 26-28). Can we trust Him with the salvation of our souls (Matt 19:25,26)?
The label “Day” can point to many things. One important idea is found in Psalm 118:24, in which we read, “this is the day that the Lord has made.” According to Acts 13:33, that quotes Psalm 2, the word “day” refers to Jesus’ resurrection. Why is Jesus’ resurrection highlighted in this Genesis picture of the gospel?
In John 19:30 we read that Jesus cried “It is finished.” Since Jesus endured the wrath of God, nothing else must be done to pay for the sins of God’s people (John 17:4). But in I Corinthians 15:17 we read, “if Christ be not raised (from the dead), your faith is in vain; ye are yet in your sins.” If Jesus died to pay for sins, why is His resurrection necessary? Isn’t the resurrection an extra but not vital blessing?
To understand the place of Jesus’ resurrection in the gospel of salvation, we must keep in mind that Jesus suffered eternal death under the wrath of God, the only death demanded for the payment of sin. That was the work He had to complete. Our salvation depends upon it! But, did He really do it? Yes, He did. And His resurrection shows that the full payment for sin was made. If Jesus was raised, it must be that He went all the way through the required punishment. Jesus did not take any privileged shortcuts and leave us with a liability before the law. If Jesus was raised, it must be that His sacrifice was acceptable and well pleasing to God. If Jesus was raised, it must be that He is God, the only one who could endure the wrath of God for all of His people without being destroyed. If Jesus was raised, it must be that Jesus has the power and authority to keep His word that He is the Savior. Gathering all these ideas together, we can conclude that Jesus’ resurrection verified the fulfillment of God’s work of atonement. His resurrection can be called “the last step” in a series of steps that Jesus took to fulfill His work as the Savior. The work of evangelism that follows His resurrection is the proclamation of that finished work (John 10:17,18, 17:4, Acts 2:24,30,32, 3:26). And the return of the Lord Jesus is the end of that proclamation on Earth (Matt. 24:14).
The Light came into the universe and did the work it needed to do. That is, Jesus came into the world to save His people from their sins. God saw that it was a job completed and well done. The morning of the day of resurrection showed that. In the words of Genesis 1:5, we could say that God saw that the Light was good and knew how good it was. Therefore, He gave it the name “Day” to advertise the fact that there is no greater good than the perfect completion of the Savior’s work of salvation.
The label “Night” also can point to many things. From the point of view of Isaiah 59:10 and John 11:10, night highlights the frustration of people who walk in their sins. This is illustrated by the Israelites, who tried to obey the law by observing outward rituals. Spiritually speaking, they stumbled and failed to find righteousness before the law which “they sought” (Rom. 9:31,32). The word “Night” describes the lives of sinners as a time of frustration, because as hard as they try, they never find the light. Sincere, hard work counts for nothing in trying to be right before the law. In fact such an effort is a liability, because it leads to God’s curse and Hell (Gal. 3:10). God saw the darkness of self-righteous rebellion and knew how evil it was. Therefore, He gave it the name “Night” to show that there is no greater evil than seeking for righteousness and not finding it, but finding condemnation instead.
The labels “Day and “Night” highlight the permanency of the natures of light and darkness. Light will always be light and darkness will always be darkness. If there was, is or ever will be any doubt about the difference between light and darkness, the labels identify them for all eternity. They are labeled once and for all because they will never change. Also, the labels “Day and “Night” highlight the permanency of the division between light and darkness. The separation between light and darkness is never-ending, permanent. The hideous and chilling fact is that those people who die in the darkness will never be part of the light. They will never have any hope. The reassuring and comforting fact is that those people who come into the light will never be part of the darkness (Rev. 22:11). Their eternal hope is Jesus Himself (I Tim. 1:1).
“And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
Many places in the Bible, the word “evening” is associated with judgment and destruction, as it is used in Psalm 90:6. Or it can refer to apostasy, as it is used in Habakkuk 1:8 or Zephaniah 3:3. Many places, the word “morning” is associated with blessings, as in Lamentations 3:23. Or it can even refer to Jesus Himself, as it is used in Revelation 22:16.
With this understanding of the words “evening” and “morning” in mind, we can see how the order presented in Genesis 1:5 is important from a gospel point of view. The idea of the sequence in this verse is that the sorrow of sin and misery ends with the joy of salvation (Psalm 30:5). It is the end of the tale that matters (Ecclesiastes 7:8). God’s people, who were in darkness, are now children of the light (Eph. 5:8). For example, Paul, who began as a wicked and hateful Pharisee, ended his life as a faithful and loving missionary. He who headed for eternal Hell ended up in Heaven!
The sequence mentioned in this verse reminds us of the rhythm we associate with the passing of time. Time is a part of this universe that was created in the beginning. We cannot fully understand the nature of time, nor grasp what it means to be outside of time, as God is. However, we do know that all things are in God’s hands and time is a tool He created to work out His gospel plan (Gal. 4:4,5). Of the many purposes time serves, one is to reveal the unique sovereignty and power of God (Isaiah 48:5,6). Two other purposes of time are important to point out. One is that time serves to highlight the shortness of physical life on Earth and the vanity of material things (Psalm 39:4-6). Another is that time serves to emphasize the urgency of calling upon God for mercy while the gospel is still available (Psalm 32:6, 39:7, II Cor. 6:2, Heb. 9:27).
The physical creation fills our thoughts and senses. We are awed by its vast extent. We are fascinated by its intricate design. We delight in its variety and beauty. But the Bible directs our attention, affection and adoration to the one Creator and only Redeemer (Psalm 90:1,13,14).
Genesis 1:1-5 honors God as the Creator. He is the supreme Sovereign of the universe because He made all things. All things, including people, were made for His glory. He alone deserves all praise and worship for His wonderful creation (Isaiah 43:7, Rev. 4:11). But Genesis 1:1-5 especially honors God as the Savior. He is the Creator who saves His people from their sins. Sadly, Genesis 1:1-5 reminds people that they deserve wrath from God for their self-centered, sinful rebellion. God made all things good. The blame for the fear and pain of this present world must be put upon sinners and not upon God. Joyfully, Genesis 1:1-5 also reveals the deliverance from judgment. It describes the salvation which God designed and graciously promises to His people.
Our only real comfort and hope is in the gospel described in the beginning, in Genesis. We must trust that God is as wise and mighty as His creation reveals Him to be. We must also trust Him to be as competent a Savior as we read in His Word. We must seek God humbly because we are creatures of the dust. We must seek God contritely because we are sinners. We must seek God promptly because the offer of salvation that came to the world in the beginning also has an end.
It is a wonder that God planned for the salvation of many and described it in the beginning. It is a wonder that God gives faith to believe the gospel described in Genesis 1:1-5. And if we do believe it, it is a wonder that God’s purpose for creation includes our own particular salvation. We have no greater joy than to know that the Almighty Creator will not forget or forsake His purpose for His work of creation. That great purpose is His work of salvation, both in the panorama of history and in our individual souls.
Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, [and] them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. I [am] the LORD: that [is] my name: and my glory will I not give to another.
© 1995 Thomas Schaff
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