In recent sermon, William Taylor discussed the significance and implications of the early chapters of Genesis. Back in those opening pages are all the core ideas of plan, purpose, rebellion, judgment, and restoration. Particularly of interest was the question about design and purpose - because when we know our purpose it has far reaching implications for all that we do and give ourselves to.
Purpose doesn’t determine what I can or can’t do, but it will tell me what I ought to be doing. For instance, a scalpel can have very great or terrible uses depending on whether it is acting in line with its purpose. Similarly, an athlete can forgo all kinds of luxuries, not because they are ‘wrong’ but because they do not fit with their purpose.
So then when it comes to the actions and plans of humanity, discerning the ‘purpose statement’ is of infinite importance. That great swathe of life that we are, brimming with potential and continually expending gallons of energy; what ought this cacophony of sentience be doing?
When we look to ‘the end of things’ we see that our trajectory is a pure and joyful eternal worship of Jesus Christ. Stretched out in technicolour metaphors in the book of Revelation, God is directing all things towards a city like gemstones, with myriad purified, unified citizens effusing loud songs of joyful praise.
But where are we coming from? The account of the creation of Man in Genesis shows the seeds of ‘Kingdom Creators’ even when we were just one man standing in a garden. God’s mandate to Adam, as representative of humanity, was both to rule and keep the creation. Rule as God’s vice-regent on earth (Genesis 1:28), and keep watch over creation, protecting and preserving its purity (Genesis 2:15). And maybe that’s all we need to know. Maybe we are just plotting a course from that point to the future ahead - gradually working the Kingdom into the fabric of the planet until Jesus returns and things can take that weighty step of finality into the Heavenly City.
If that is the purpose we’ve been given, and the trajectory we’ve received then all manner of actions of redemption must be appropriate. We must be creative in how we enact our vice-regency here and now, how we rule and keep this creation to bring it into subjugation of the King.
And yet the creation mandate is not God’s final word to Man about how he should move within this created space. Very soon after God’s blessing and commission comes a severe word of curse. Man has done far less than fulfil his mandate from God, he has instead corrupted the whole system. The plan for humanity as king and keeper has quickly fallen - the ruler God put over creation instead submits to creation and rejects God’s will and ways.
The impact this has on our self-identity as Kingdom creating, culture redeemers is immense.
In Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung’s book What Is The Mission Of The Church? they helpfully identify, like Taylor in his 'Preaching Matters', that the mandate from God to man in fact happens more than once. In Genesis 9 another ‘adam’ (אָדָם) stands on a near-barren world and receives a commission from the Maker of Heaven and Earth. It is a very different world from Genesis 2 - one now filled with sin and curse and the receding waters of a cataclysmic judgment. So too, the mandate he receives is proportionately different also.
While this man is still told to multiply and have dominion, the call for subjugation is “conspicuously absent… [because] unlike the Adamic mandate, this Noahic version is not a matter of progression to paradise, but rather of preservation in a fallen world” (p212).
We may trace our way back to Adam as our prototypical head, but we are inheritors of a different ‘way of being’. Not the optimistic commission from within a peaceful garden, but we are survivors of rightful judgment; renegade recipients of mercy, instructed on how to survive a now fallen world. Our exact plot on the path towards the Heavenly City is therefore not one that fits on a straight line between Eden and Zion, making gradual progress on this world until it shines. But one which must be recalibrated to see ourselves rightly, as participants of sin and curse. It is Jesus who fulfils God’s design for humanity (Psalm 8, Hebrews 2). So then it is only through our union with Him that we are brought into God’s purposes for us.
As Christians, therefore, we do not understand ourselves to be perfecters of Adam’s mission, but rather we follow Jesus - the Son of God who came as a man of the dust to rule and keep the world in a way we were never able. And while Jesus can trace a straight line from God’s commission to perfect obedience and the Heavenly City, we on the other hand follow Noah as beneficiaries of mercy, who share in the new world only as those who have been graciously given a safe place to hide in the judgment of the world.
This is the why of all our ‘kingdom building’ activity. This is the direction of all our efforts and energies. We are second-mandate, flood-escaping, fallen-world, heaven-bound, participants in the kingdom that has been won by Jesus.
All of these ideas Paul holds together in his letter to the Philippians. Summarising their identity and participation in Christ, he writes:
“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
Paul is clear that we are citizens of heaven, but this is only because of the work of a saviour - the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can subdue the earth and accomplish Adam’s mandate. And so our pilgrimage to that Heavenly City is not marked by the gradual redemption of our world, but by our submission to Jesus, our union with Him, and making Him known to men and women who face a cataclysmic judgement.