Monday, August 2, 2010

The beginning and the end of time

Genesis and Revelation are the book ends of the library of the Bible. They can also be the most problematic in interpretation. Yet they can be used to understand each other. Several years ago I gave a sermon at church on Genesis 2 and I found it helpful to connect it to Revelation.

It is interesting to read Karl Barth's exegesis of Genesis 1:16-19:

16And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

It is not about astronomy or photons or twenty-four hour days or atomic clocks. Rather it is about the theological significance of time, history, and judgement. After discussing Job cursing the day of his birth, Barth concludes:

Job's wish that the day of his birth might never have been is equivalent to the wish that the light of the heavenly bodies might never have shone upon it. It is when there is no light of the heavenly bodies that there is no day, time or history. This then is the actual content of the threat of judgment but also of the corresponding promise of Is. 60 and Rev. 20-21. The wisdom and patience of God which has founded human history has a definite goal, and the finite time granted to man in relation to this history has actually an end.
As the death of Jesus is the goal of that history, it is also the end of time. As all prophecies point to Him, they necessarily speak of the last time this side of His resurrection and return, of the end of time this side of the dawn of the new creation. And they do so by uttering their terrifying warnings but also their friendly promises, not about the end and dissolution of the constellations, but about the end and dissolution of their shining and therefore of their ministry. This ministry of theirs reaches its boundary with the personal entry of God on behalf of His creation, with His own shining as the eternal light, with the resurrection and return of Jesus. Thus the meaning of the work of the fourth day, the meaning of the fact that God found it good (v. 18b), emerges clearly ..... For here again, but this time subjectively, we have to do with the material point at issue- the creation of day, time and history.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.1, Doctrine of Creation, p. 167-8.

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