The Heart of Biblical Cosmology
” . . . that all should honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.”
Cosmology is the study of the origin, structure, purpose, and destiny of our universe. Now that’s a topic to wrap your head around!
I’m guessing that most folks today doubt we can ever be sure about such lofty and complex matters. But here’s a thought to consider: Doesn’t the very fact that we’re able to ponder these questions imply that our minds were actually created to find the answers? Cosmological skeptics may moan and groan, but surely it is not without significance that nearly all of us remain incurably curious about cosmology!
Could it be, then, that we we were meant to behold and enjoy the one true cosmology—and that any religion or philosophy that hopes to win the allegiance of thoughtful people must offer us one?
No doubt. But if that cosmology is to prevail in the war of the worldviews, it will have to be a good one: clear, comprehensive, logical, well-supported by good evidence, and full of hope for a suffering humanity that knows there’s a Supreme Being, but is having difficulty discovering his truth about the world he created.
Having studied naturalistic, pantheistic, and theistic cosmologies for many years, I have concluded that biblical cosmology meets all these criteria, and that it does so far better than any other contestant in the ring. Indeed, I’m convinced that here we reach the spiritual and philosophical home our hearts were made for.
Yes, its teachings run hard against the grain of the cosmological “wisdom” of modern man. And yes, because of this, many Christians are reluctant to study, formulate, embrace, and defend a deeply biblical cosmology.
However, such cosmological conflict should not surprise or demoralize intellectually hungry believers. Has not God said that the wisdom of this world is foolishness to him, and that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men? In such a world, does it make sense for the lovers of truth to let the majority rule?!
If, then, Christians would only dig a little deeper into these matters, and let the Spirit of Truth perform His wonderful work of illumination, I believe they would find, to their amazement and joy, that in his Word God really has graciously granted us the full spectrum of cosmological truth for which we, by our very nature as creatures in his image an likeness, are ever hungering!
In this post I’d like to tackle first things first by looking at the heart of Biblical Cosmology: the One who dwells in the heart of God the Father, and whom the Father has placed at the heart of all things: the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christ-centered Cosmology of the New Testament
In order to understand the full-blown apostolic cosmology—which caps and completes biblical cosmology as a whole—we must begin at the beginning: the glory of God.
As we know from many passages in Scripture, one of God’s great purposes in creation was that the universe should be a theater for the display and enhancement of his glory. Even a cursory look at the apostles writings reveals that they fully understood, embraced, and proclaimed this sublime truth.
Thus, in a doxology that appears in his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul writes, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36)!
Clearly, the expression “all things” is comprehensive, taking in the universe as a whole, and viewed from every conceivable angle: its framework, furniture, inhabitants, and entire history. By divine decree, all are meant to redound to the glory of God (Eph. 3:21, Phil. 4:20, 1 Peter 4:11, 2 Peter 3:18, Jude 25, Rev. 5:13, 7:12).
While this theme does indeed pervade the Old Testament (see Ex. 14:4, Psalms 19:1f, Isaiah 24:15-16, 66:18f), the New Testament takes it to an entirely new level, opening it up like a flower in full bloom.
With Jesus leading the way, his apostles henceforth spoke of the glory of God in terms of the tri-unity of God. In particular, they revealed that it belongs essentially to the very nature and activity of the triune God that each of the three Persons should seek the glory and honor of the other.
Scriptural evidence for this amazing tendency abounds. Jesus said that the Father loves the Son, and has bestowed upon him any number of divine prerogatives “…so that all should honor the Son, just as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).
Similarly, concerning his own life and ministry, he said, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of the One who sent him is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (John 7:18, 17:1).
As for the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus taught that, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14; Matt. 12:32).
These few citations supply but a tiny glimpse into a pervasive NT motif: In all their work before men and angels in the great theater of the cosmos, each Person of the Holy Trinity seeks the pleasure, glory, and honor of the others (Matt. 12:32, John 5:19-23, 8:29, 14:31, 16:13-15, Phil. 2:1-11). Through the active, mutual, other-oriented love of each member of “the Holy Family,” God is ever seeking the glory of God!
Christ, the Firstborn Over All
Keeping these ideas in mind, let us turn now to the theme at hand: the Christ-centered cosmology of the NT. We will begin by looking at two passages of great cosmological importance.
The first is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Seeking to clarify for them the nature and work of Christ, he writes:
He is the image of the invisible God, the ﬁrst-born over all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:15-17).
Clearly, the primary thrust of this rich text is to exalt the deity of Christ, which Paul accomplishes simply by enumerating some of his divine prerogatives. To this end he identifies Christ as “the image of the invisible God,”the one in whom we finite humans can best behold the glorious face of the infinite and invisible Father (John 14:9, 2 Cor. 4:6).
Similarly, he identifies Christ, along with the Father, as the eternal Creator, through whom not only the heavens and the Earth, but also the angelic hosts, were made (John 1:1-3, 1 Cor. 8:6).
Finally, he identifies Christ as the cosmic Sustainer; the one who holds all things together in their appointed form and structure, and the one who also guides them to their appointed ends (Heb. 1:1f, Rev. 6:1f).
We must, however, take special note of a subtle yet central aspect of Paul’s teaching here. Almost as if in passing, he states that God not only created the universe through Christ, but also for Christ. What might this cryptic remark mean?
In part, Paul has already supplied the answer, having identified God’s Son as “the first-born over (literally, “of”) all creation.” As commentators have often pointed out, this expression cannot mean that the pre-incarnate Son was the Father’s first creation, for the context itself (along with many other NT passages) declares that the Son existed before all things, and that all things were created through him. Such things would include, of course, the angels, with whom some of the Colossians were apparently confusing Christ.
So then, Paul is saying something else entirely, and something quite unexpected: He is saying that from all eternity it has been the Father’s pleasure, purpose, and plan to put his Son in authority and control over the entire universe. In other words, just as earthly fathers in biblical times delighted to set their first-born sons over (much of) their estates, so God has ever planned to see his one and only Son ruling over the cosmos!
Why? Because he knows it will redound to his (Christ’s) glory. For as we just saw, the Father loves the Son, and desires all to honor the (sovereign) Son, even as they honor the (sovereign) Father.
Christ, the Head Over All
This brings us to our second text, which again comes from the pen of Paul. Writing to the Ephesian Christians about God’s eternal purpose in Christ, he says:
In him (Christ) we have received redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of God’s grace that he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and understanding, having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ, that in an administration of the fullness of the times he might bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Ephesians 1:7-10).
Once again Paul’s theme is God’s eternal pleasure, purpose, and plan for the universe. The “us” of whom he writes is Christ’s holy apostles and prophets, to whom God has been pleased to reveal these things, so that they in turn may reveal them to the world.
And what exactly is God’s plan? What exactly is the Father’s over-arching purpose, or goal, in his Son’s redemptive work? In a word, it is the heading up (literally: the re-heading up) of all things in Christ. Or, to use the language of the Colossian letter, it is God making his Son to be the “first-born over all creation,” giving him supreme authority and power over a whole new universe, with the assured result that manifold and precious blessings will fall upon all of the redeemed who have come to live beneath his (the Son’s) benevolent reign.
Even now, says Paul, the long-awaited plan is being implemented. Having guided cosmic history to “the fullness of time” (i.e., the time when his Messianic promises are being fulfilled), God is actively placing a chosen people under Christ’s headship, and will continue to do so until he (Christ) comes again to consummate his great redemptive work—to perfect his new universe—at the end of the age (Gal. 4:4-7).
Christ, the Heart of All
These two texts enable us now to survey—in the broadest possible terms—the Christ-centered cosmology of the NT and of the Bible as a whole.
Think back for a moment to “the good beginning”: creation in six days, resulting a “very good” world. Beneath the NT light we have just received we now can see that when God created the universe, life, and man, he had one supreme purpose in mind: to bless and honor his Son. How did he intend to accomplish this purpose? By making him head over all things; by placing all things directly under his authority and power; by making him personally responsible for the unfolding of his (the Father’s) plan for cosmic history.
All that was necessary for the great project to begin was that Adam should pass the test set before him in the Garden of Eden; that he should eat, not of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but of the Tree of Life. For (as the NT finally reveals) the fruit of that tree represented none other than the Son of God himself, so that when Adam ate of it he would have understood the great trinitarian mystery, received the Son as his rightful Head and Lord, and thereby received for himself (and all his posterity) the same spiritual life that Christ offers to all people today: eternal life—the life ever lived and enjoyed by the triune God, and that life lived forever (John 1:12, 3:16, 6:54, 17:1-2, Rev. 2:7, 22:2, 14).
To judge from NT teaching, such obedience on Adam’s part would have meant fabulous blessings for the universe, life, and man. With all creativity, fruitfulness, and joy, the Sovereign Son, pursuant to his Father’s will, would have shepherded both man and nature down the long corridor of universal history (John 10:1-30), brought them to their appointed ends, lifted them up into a state of eternal glory (Rom. 8:18-25, 1 Cor. 15:50-58), and then—in a cosmic grand finale—handed them all back over to the Father, so that God might be all in all (1 Cor. 15:20-28).
We know, however, that this particular journey was not to be. Adam did not pass his test, but instead sinned, polluted his entire being, fell under condemnation, and forfeited his access to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24). As a result, he, his family, and his beautiful abode were subjected to a terrible curse, with all the pain, struggle, and futility that this entailed. Worst of all, it now appeared that Satan and the rebellious Adam had thwarted God’s eternal purpose and plan for the glory of his Son and the good of his world.
But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more (Rom. 5:20). Yes, God might justly have destroyed the entire universe because of Adam’s sin. But he did not. On the contrary, in love, mercy, and grace he launched his plan of redemption; a plan that was itself settled upon even “before the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34, Eph. 1:4, 1 Peter 1:20); a plan according to which his Son might still become “the first-born over all creation;” a plan by which the glorious attributes of God and Christ might be more fully displayed; and therefore a plan by which they both might be more fervently worshiped and glorified (Eph. 1:6, 12. Rev. 5, 7).
As we saw earlier, the rest of the Bible—from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22—is simply a history of the progressive administration of this great plan. The divine/human Redeemer—Jesus Christ—stands at its very heart. In OT times, God prefigures, predicts, and prepares for his coming, prophetically casting him in the roles of a Messianic (i.e., Spirit-anointed) Prophet, Priest, and King.
In NT times he appears at last. Born of a virgin (and therefore without the stain of sin), he is true God and true man, the Last Adam and a better Adam. Through his righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection on the third day, he accomplishes the redemption of his Father’s chosen people. Having done so at such great cost, the Father rewards him by highly exalting him, lifting him up into heaven, seating him at his own right hand, and bestowing upon him all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 11:27, 28:18ff, Acts 5:31, Eph. 1:15ff, Phil. 2:1-11, Col. 3:1-4, Heb. 1:3, Rev. 5).
Thus, through an ineffable transfer of divine authority and power, God the Father makes Christ the King of the cosmos, placing the very reins of providence in his hands so that he (Christ) may administer and complete the redemption that he accomplished on Earth. In all of this the Father has therefore laid the foundation and set the stage for the fulfillment of his purpose: the heading up of all (redeemed) things in his beloved Son; the creation of a whole new humanity and a whole new cosmos in Christ Jesus the Lord.
The Two Phases of Christ’s Cosmic Rule
The NT teaches that the “heading up” of all things in Christ—the creation of a new world in Christ—occurs in two distinct phases.
The first begins when Christ pours out the Holy Spirit upon his nascent Church on the Day of Pentecost, and ends when he returns to the Earth in power and glory at the end of the age to consummate his redemptive mission. During this period (now some 2000 years long), the heavenly King sends his Church to all nations to preach the gospel, the good news of God’s gracious gift of salvation (Matt. 28:18f, Luke 24:49, John 20:19-23, Acts 1:8, 2:1).
In so doing, he puts all who hear to the test: Will they love the truth about God, the universe, life, and man enough to consider the gospel, and to obey it if they find it is true? In this process, Christ grants repentance, faith, and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit to God’s chosen people (Luke 24:45, John 10:16, 14:16-18).
Thus does Christ enter Satan’s house, bind the strong man, plunder his goods, and make them his own (Mt. 12:29, John 12:30-32, Titus 2:14). Thus does he rescue God’s people from the domain of darkness, and transfer them into his own kingdom of light and love (Acts 26:18, Col. 1:13, 1 Peter 2:9-10). Thus does he extend his distinctly spiritual reign over all the Earth. Thus does he create a new, invisible world in Christ (Matt. 13, Mark 4:1-34).
The second phase of the cosmic “heading up” occurs at the close of “this present evil age,” when Christ descends from heaven bodily, visibly, and in great power and glory (Mt. 24, Acts 1, 1 Thess. 4, 2 Thess. 1). His primary purpose in that day is to consummate God’s redemptive plan by extending his spiritual reign to the physical side of creation, to all of nature (Matt. 13:36-43, Gal. 1:4, Rom. 8:18-25). To this end he will raise the dead (John 5, 11, 1 Cor. 15), judge the world in righteousness (Matt. 25, Acts 17:31, Rom. 2:1f, Rev. 20:11f), destroy the present universe by fire (Matt. 24:35, 2 Pet.3), and create new heavens and a new Earth, the everlasting home of the redeemed (2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21:1).
Having done so—having perfectly headed up all spiritual and physical things in himself—the omnipotent Son will then triumphantly hand over to the Father all that the Father so lovingly handed over to him. The grand finale has indeed come to pass, and God is all in all (Matt. 11:27, John 6:37, 17:6, 1 Cor. 15:20-28)
Here then is something of the rich, Christ-centered cosmology of the Bible. And why Christ-centered? Because the Father has the Son in his heart, and because he has therefore chosen to place the Son at the heart of his plan for the entire universe. In other words, biblical cosmology is really a love story, a story of God diligently seeking to exalt his dear Son by making him the glorious and beloved creator, sustainer, redeemer, ruler, judge, and re-creator of all things.
Moreover, it is a love story that he now invites all to behold, and in which he desires all to participate. If, then, the Bible is true, the poet was right when he said, “All the world’s a stage.” But if all the world’s a stage, then surely it is the solemn joy, privilege, and responsibility of every human being to discern the meaning of the great drama now unfolding upon it, and to decide what part he or she would like to play.
For further discussion on other aspects of this fascinating subject, please consult the relevant links on my website, or the book I wrote on biblical and comparative cosmology: In Search of the Beginning: A Seeker’s Journey to the Origin of the Universe, Life, and Man (Redemption Press, 2018)
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What do you mean by saying the birth of Christ by the Virgin removes the “stain of sin”?
Hi Cindy, thanks for writing. I wrote, “Born of a virgin (and therefore without the stain of sin) . . . ” A bit cryptic, I confess. What I meant to say was that Christ’s conception and birth were supernatural. He was not conceived through ordinary intercourse between Joseph and Mary, something that was impossible, since then the sin nature of the two parents would have been transmitted to their offspring. It is not that birth through a virgin removed the stain of sin (for Jesus had no such stain), but rather that because of his supernatural birth through a virgin (and apart from union with Joseph), he was born without the stain of sin. Happily, his mission in life, death, resurrection, and heavenly kingship is to remove that very stain from us!