From: Heaven on Earth
Fill the Earth and subdue it; and have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the Earth. (Genesis 1:28)
We first learn of the Kingdom of God in Genesis, the book of beginnings. There we discover the foundation for all theology, including kingdom theology.
The foundation is the most important part of any building. Without a firm and level foundation, a building will be off-kilter and weak, and it won’t stand the test of time. I live in north Texas, where the soil is known as black gumbo. It shifts, expands, and contracts depending on ground moisture. For years, builders constructed houses on highly reliable pier-and-beam foundations that were raised above ground level. In more recent times, they have switched to less expensive slab foundations that lay directly on the ground, often with disastrous results. When the earth shifts under a house, it has the same effect as a localized miniature earthquake. It may not be felt, but it causes damage. My home is built on a slab foundation, so I must water the foundation regularly to maintain soil consistency.
In similar fashion, many popular Bible teachers lack a solid foundation for their beliefs about the Kingdom of God. They build their kingdom theology on popular theories, faulty assumptions, preconceived ideas, selected New Testament texts, or the traditions of their denominations or theological circles.
We will try to avoid these pitfalls. Genesis opens with the words, “In the beginning… God created the heavens and the Earth.” Recognizing God as the Creator is the basis or starting point for understanding kingdom theology. Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen observe, “By causing the creation to come into existence by his word of power, God establishes it as his own vast kingdom. He thus establishes himself as the great king over all creation, without limits of any kind, and worthy to receive all glory, honor, and power in the worship of what he has created.”
As Creator of the universe, God is its rightful ruler. Genesis speaks occasionally about the Heavenly bodies, but its main focus is planet Earth.
In Genesis, God creates the first human out of the earth. Unlike most other things, Adam is not created ex nihilo, or out of nothing. Rather, God forms him out of something else – the dust of the ground. Adam’s newly created body lay dormant in an inanimate state until God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” and Adam “became a living being,” (Genesis 2:7). God imparts something of himself to man!
From this account we learn that Adam has both an Earthly and a Godly component. One might say he possesses a human and divine nature. Adam is created out of the earth, but he is infused with the breath of God. God then creates a woman from Adam’s side, (2:21-23). Together they live in an Earthly garden paradise. The first man and woman are not created as angels to live in Heaven, nor are they given wings to travel between Heaven and Earth. Rather, they are created entirely out of the earth and for the Earth. This is their sole sphere of existence.
The Breath of God
Breath is essential to life. In fact, it is the animating force of life. Adam was a motionless and lifeless lump of clay until God breathed into him the “breath of life.” Everyone reading this book took a first breath (inspiration). We’ll all take a last breath (expiration). When we do, we die.
The Hebrew (Old Testament) word ru’ach can variously be translated breath, spirit, and wind. The meaning is determined by the context in which it is used, causing confusion at times. The Greek (New Testament) word pneuma can be translated in similar fashion. Both Matthew and Luke speak of Jesus giving up his spirit and dying, (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46).
The Bible also speaks of breath in relation to the Kingdom of God. Just as God breathed his breath into Adam’s nostrils, he speaks through Ezekiel the prophet of a day when he will revive dead Israel by breathing life into it, (Ezekiel 37:5). Jesus later breathes on his disciples, who are representative of Israel. Through this act, Israel is being restored to life, (John 20:22).
The Exaltation of Man
In Genesis 1:27-28, we find an overview of man’s creation. The more detailed account is in Genesis 2.
Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the Earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the Earth. So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them, (Genesis 1:26-27).
Three things stand out in this passage. First, humans are like God. Of all God’s creatures, they alone are made in his image. Humans are God’s highest form of creation.
Second, God gives them authority or dominion to rule over the Earth. The text possibly holds a clue to the meaning of being created in God’s image. “Image” and “dominion” are in proximity to each other in the text, so the image of God likely includes the capacity to rule. Having derived their authority from him, they will rule under God and for God, representing him to the human race as it grows numerically and expands geographically beyond the cradle of civilization. They will serve on God’s behalf as his vice-regents on the Earth. As such, they are stewards of God’s assets and accountable to him for the way they govern.
Third, Adam and Eve are given equal responsibility to rule because both are made in God’s image. The text gives no indication that God intended women to be subservient to men.
Eden as God’s Temple
Genesis reveals that God is actively involved with his creation. He walks with Adam and Eve in the garden and communicates with them. Later in the Old Testament we will see that God takes up residence on Earth in the tabernacle and then in the temple. In a real sense, then, the Garden of Eden serves as God’s first temple. Here he dwells with his people in Earth.
God blesses the first couple and calls on them to reproduce: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the Earth and subdue it; and have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the Earth,” (Genesis 1:28). As procreators, Adam and Eve become creators themselves. All subsequent human life will come directly or indirectly from their loins. Thus, creation is not a single event only, but an ongoing one; it includes a human as well as a divine dimension. Obviously, fulfilling the mandate to replenish the entire Earth will require multiple generations and take them far beyond the garden. As God’s vice-regents, Adam and Eve will govern a territory that will eventually spread throughout the Earth.
That God assigns such awesome responsibility to this fledgling couple reveals that his kingdom plan involves trust and risk. This tells us something about God. The establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth is a joint effort between the Creator and humankind. God is willing to risk success and failure so that humans might learn to rule responsibly.
Next, we read that God provides for the couple’s physical needs. “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the Earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food,” (Genesis 1:29). This food will sustain them in their mission.
Let’s summarize what we have learned so far. God creates humans out of the earth, for the Earth, to fill the Earth, to rule over the Earth, and to be sustained by the Earth.
Where did we get the idea that we are meant for Heaven? Or that salvation is an escape from Earth? We certainly don’t get it from Genesis, the foundational book for all theology.