Genesis 1-2 points beyond itself to new creation and this is important for missions.
While it is obvious that new creation comes into focus after the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, there are a number of clues within the creation account that indicates new creation was the original goal. That is, there are aspects of the story that point forward to new creation as the ultimate objective.
Notice the following:
1. Beginning Implies End
First, the creation is the story of beginnings – the beginning of the world as God’s kingdom, the beginning of God’s kingdom people, and the beginning of the grand story of Scripture. Yet, beginnings by nature point beyond themselves to something yet to come. While this does not necessarily mean new creation, it is at least future-oriented, which sets the stage for later emphasis on new creation. In any case, having a beginning implies that there is a middle and end, which points forward to a goal.
2. The Impermanence of Creation
Second, it is clear that the first creation was not permanent. One of the primary ways we see this is in the possibility of corruption. After creating all things good (indeed, “very good”), God told his people that disobedience would lead to death. Thus, though very good, the first creation was not eternal since it was possible for death and corruption to enter.
3. Garden Expansion
Third, Adam and Eve were commissioned to “multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). As G.K. Beale has demonstrated, this includes the expansion of the Garden of Eden to fill the earth (see his A New Testament Biblical Theology).
The Garden was a special dwelling place for God with his people and thus is pictured like the most holy place in the tabernacle and temple. This creational most holy place was to expand, filling the earth with God’s glorious presence. Again, the point is that the Garden pointed beyond itself to a greater goal, which turns out to be new creation.
4. Sabbath Rest
Finally, the goal of creation comes into view on the seventh day – sabbath rest with God. It is well-known that the seventh day is unique in that it had no conclusion as the other six days. This establishes the sabbath as the goal – God’s unending dwelling with his people. Since the reader is very aware that this rest is yet to be achieved, the sabbath points to a future fulfillment.
What does this have to do with mission?
In short, the movement of Scripture from creation to new creation provides the goal and impetus for mission. It is not that we are able to bring about new creation through our mission efforts. Rather, the point is that in mission, we are spreading the message of King Jesus to invite people to participate in the new creation. Through faith in Jesus, people enter the kingdom of God and become covenant kingdom citizens.
Thus, the church’s mission is participation is God’s mission to fill the earth with his glory. As we proclaim Jesus as King, God is restoring his people in glory such that he is honored throughout the earth. And this is but a dim picture of new creation.
This is vastly different from “saving souls” or “getting people into heaven.” Instead, mission is about preparing people to be kingdom citizens in the new creation. This profoundly affects our evangelism and discipleship.
In addition, the hope of new creation provides the impetus for mission. We go for the honor of God’s name knowing that new creation is a future certainty. His glory will fill the earth. And, by his grace, we get to participate in this glorious work.