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06 October 2019

The Beginning of the Creation of God

From Unsplash.com
From Unsplash.com
Jesus is called the “beginning of the creation of God” in Revelation 3:14. Some take this to refer to his status as the creator of the universe; others, that Christ was the first created being. Both views miss the point and deviate from the subject of the passage and its larger context. Jesus, in his Death and Resurrection, is the inaugurator of the promised New Creation.
The verse is part of the message to the church at Laodicea recorded in Revelation 3:14-22, the seventh and last of the letters to the churches of Asia, a Roman province in the western coastal region of Asia Minor.
(Revelation 3:14) – “And, unto the messenger of the assembly, in Laodicea, write:—These things, saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: I know thy works;—that neither cold art thou, nor hot: I would that, cold thou hadst been, or hot.
(Revelation 1:5-6) – “And from—Jesus Christ,—The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn of the Dead, and The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us out of our sins with his blood,—  and he hath made us [to be] a kingdom—priests unto his God and Father, Unto him, be the glory, and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen.
Jesus is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” “Amen” is a transliteration into Greek of the Hebrew word, ‘amén. Its root signified strength. The term came to denote “faithfulness, firmness, fidelity, truthfulness.” In liturgical usage, it had the sense “truly” and affirmed the veracity of what was said.
The Amen” stresses his faithful and true witness; his testimony is reliable in the absolute, in contrast to the fickleness and the ineffective testimony of the church at Laodicea.
The one “like a Son of Man” is the “faithful and true witness.” He was called the “faithful witness” in the book’s prologue (Revelation 1:5), an allusion to Psalm 89:37:
Like the moon, shall it be established unto times age-abiding, And, a witness, in the skies, hath been made sure.
Another Old Testament passage alluded to is Isaiah 65:16-17, which uses “amen” and the “creation of God” together. The “faithful” God of Israel had announced the future new creation in which “faithfulness” translates the Hebrew word ‘amén:
(Isaiah 65:16-17) - “He who blesses himself in the earth will bless himself in the God of faithfulness (‘amén), and he who swears in the earth will swear by the God of faithfulness (‘amén), because the former troubles have been forgotten, and because they are hid from my eyes. For, behold me, creating new heavens and a new earth.”
The resurrection of Christ was the beginning of the New Creation and he bears faithful witness to it.  This understanding is borne out by the previous declaration that Jesus is “the Faithful Witness, the firstborn of the dead” (Revelation 1:5).
The New Testament elsewhere links Christ’s resurrection to the New Creation (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 2 Corinthians 5:15-17); because God raised him from the dead, Jesus became “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). “Firstborn” refers not to chronological sequence but to preeminence; position (Note well: Colossians 1:18 - “that in all things he might have the preeminence”]). The Risen Jesus is the sovereign over and the heir par excellence of the New Creation.
(Revelation 3:15-19) – “I know thy works;—that neither, cold, art thou, nor hot: I would that, cold, thou hadst been, or hot. Thus, because, lukewarm, thou art, and neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth.  Because thou sayest, Rich, am I, and have become enriched, and, of nothing, have I need, and knowest not that, thou, art the wretched one, and pitiable, and destitute, and blind, and naked,  I counsel thee to buy of me, gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich,—and white raiment, that thou mayest array thyself, and, the shame of thy nakedness, may not be made manifest,—and eye-salve, to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. I, as many as I tenderly love, I convict and put under discipline: be zealous, therefore, and repent.
The church at Laodicea presumed its outward prosperity reflected its spiritual strength.  Its claim to be “rich” alludes to Hosea 12:8: “so Ephraim said, ‘Surely I have gotten me riches, I have found wealth for myself, in all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity that were sin.”
Hosea portrayed Israel as a merchant who prospered by oppression and attributed his prosperity to idolatry (Hosea 2:5, 2:8). The insinuation of Christ’s words is that the Laodiceans acquired material wealth by compromising with the city’s idolatrous society. It would have been difficult to participate in the local economic life without cooperating with trade guilds and other idolatrous institutions.
Their claim to be “rich and need nothing” echoes the boast of the Great Whore, Babylon: “I am not a widow, and I will never mourn” (Revelation 18:7). Despite her self-confidence, “in one day shall her plagues come, death and mourning and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire.”
Babylon had infiltrated this church and placed it at risk of partaking in God’s plagues upon her (“come out of Babylon lest you partake of her sins and receive of her plagues” (18:4). This church was spiritually “poor, blind and naked.” To buy “gold refined by fire, white raiment and eye-salve,” was the way to correct these deficiencies.
Gold refined by fire” points to testing by persecution (Revelation 2:9, 1 Peter 1:7). “White garments” suggest purity achieved by faithful endurance (cp. Revelation 3:4-5, 6:11, 7:9-14). “Eye-salve” is to heal spiritual blindness so the Laodiceans may see the true conditions of their situation, external and internal.
The exhortation to buy white raiment is echoed in Revelation 16:15: “I come as a thief! Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, lest he be walking naked and they see his shame.” This warning occurs in the middle of the last three “bowl” judgments against the Beast, the kings of the earth and Babylon, respectively. This verbal link demonstrates who and what was behind the idolatrous institutions with which the Laodiceans were compromising (Revelation 16:10-19).
Several words and concepts from the letter to Laodicea appear again in John’s vision of the New Creation in which he saw the “new heaven and new earth…the holy city, new Jerusalem, descending from heaven.” The one sitting on the Throne at the center of the creation declared, “Behold, I make all things new. And he saith—Write! because these words are faithful and true…I am the Beginning and the End: I, unto him that is thirsting, will give of the fountain of the water of life, freely: He that overcometh shall inherit these things(Revelation 21:1-6).
The book of Revelation looks forward to final victory in the New Creation that was inaugurated by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. This process will culminate when the “new heavens and the new earth” replace the old created order and the holy city, “New Jerusalem,” descends from God to the earth (Revelation 20:11). All this is the result of the faithfulness of Jesus unto death and his subsequent resurrection. He is, therefore, the “Beginning of the Creation of God.”

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