“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1, 2)
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1)
“For in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him.” (Col. 1:16)
“All things were made through Him; and without Him was not anything made that hath been made.” (John 1:3)
“God … hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through Whom also he made the worlds.” (Heb. 1:2)
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the word of life (and the life was manifest, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” (1 John 1:1, 2)
“And He is the head of the body, the church: Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence.” (Col. 1:18)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:8)
“And he said unto me … I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Rev. 21:6)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev. 22:13)
You will have noticed that in all those passages one word is repeated. It is the word ‘beginning’ and all the passages are divided into five different connections; that is, the beginning is connected with five different things. Perhaps it ought to be put in another way. The beginning is seen to relate in every case to Christ; He is said to have been in the beginning and to have been the beginning. Then He is said to be the beginning in five different connections. It is on those five different connections that we shall dwell for a little while, seeing Christ as the beginning.
The word beginning is itself an interesting word. It not only means first as to order, that is, in sequence, but it means first as to pre-eminence. The Greek is ‘arche’ and we know quite well the meaning of that. We speak of an archbishop. The archbishop is not just one in a row, he is above all the rest and all the rest take from him their position and their character. We speak of an architect, one from whom the whole building takes its form, its character and nature, who stands over it all, it all comes under him. And so this word arche, beginning, in relation to the Lord Jesus puts Him not only as first in time and first in sequence, but pre-eminent. The word is used as we have seen it, in the thought and intention of God—supreme. If you keep that thought in mind as you read all these passages, you will see that it gives a richness to them and a fullness and an explanation. You understand at once why the book of the Revelation opens with Him and closes with Him Who is the beginning, the arche, the supreme, pre-eminent One. Well, that is by the way. We have something in mind as we are speaking of this which will come out as we go on.
The beginning in eternity
1. Let us first of all hurriedly survey these five different connections in which Christ is said to be the beginning, or in the beginning. The one that takes us furthest back is not the one with which the Bible begins, but which comes much later so far as the actual Scriptures are concerned. It is John 1:1. That comes before Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” And you have noticed and you know quite well that Word there is written with a capital W, not only because it is relating to the divine person, but because it is a peculiar word. There are different Greek words translated into our one English word. This one is unique. There is the word ‘rhéma’, which simply means the spoken utterance, just the thing you say; it is the word used of the particle of speech. But the word here is ‘logos’, from which we get our word logic, or the Greek loges—knowledge, wisdom. Here it is the personification of divine wisdom; divine wisdom personified, gathered up in fullness into a person. It is a very wonderful thing when you look at what Paul has to say about this in his letter to the Corinthians, first letter, chapter 2. He is there speaking about the wisdom of the world and how God made it foolishness. Then he goes on like this: “We speak wisdom, however, among them that are full-grown: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought: but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory.” In the first chapter of that letter he uses the very word also used in John 1:1, logos. Unfortunately it is mistranslated. In our version, the apostle says: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” That very word ‘preaching’ is this word logos, and I suppose the translators found it difficult to translate that in this way. They would probably have had to use a sentence for instance like this: “The personification of the wisdom of God in the cross is to them that perish foolishness.” That is what the apostle was saying; he was saying that in the cross of the Lord Jesus there is the eternal logos, the very embodiment of divine wisdom in the cross of the Lord Jesus. The very embodiment of divine wisdom from all eternity is in that cross and that to them that perish is foolishness, but to us who are saved it is the power of God. “Christ crucified … the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1: 23, 24). Can you see something in this tremendous thing? This wisdom, this wisdom in a person, this embodiment of wisdom, this person who is the consummate wisdom of God from all eternity, Jesus Christ, was hidden from the ages, but was foreordained unto our glory; a tremendous statement.
The point is that we are swung right back, both by what John says in chapter 1:1 and by what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, we are swung right back into eternity past and shown Christ as the beginning of divine wisdom, the embodiment of divine wisdom in personal form, foreordained unto our glory. What glory is that which is for us foreordained in Christ as the wisdom of God? That gets us at once with our feet on the road, on the way, to understanding this first reference to Christ as the beginning. It takes us out of time, it cuts us absolutely clear of all time and plants us right into what is timeless, what is eternal.
And is that not the first, the basic fact and reality about a true child of God? That the child of God has been lifted completely out of time and made something eternal, joined on with the Eternal? Now that, of course, is where our mental difficulty arises. We cannot understand an order of being, an order of creation, not in any way governed by time. It is very difficult for us to get outside of our time order and nature. Something might go on for hours, but it is as nothing. It is amazing what can happen in the shortest time when you are unconscious. What an immense amount of ground you can cover in a few, seconds of unconsciousness. If you have been under chloroform for less than a minute, in that minute you have been half round the world; it is all over in less than sixty seconds. What ground you can cover in unconsciousness: time does not exist at all.
Well, conceive of an order of being which is always like that, where time does not exist at all because you have a changed constitution that is not subject to the effect of time; time, decay, change, getting old, wearing out, getting tired, all those things which have to do with time, they are not there. You go
on and at the end of millenniums you are as fresh as when you started, you have not got tired; a changed order. That is an eternal order of being. The Lord Jesus is not one minute older to-day than He was when He went to heaven nearly two thousand years ago. Eternal life is something different. John says, “In the beginning,” “That which was from the beginning … and … the life … was manifested.” It is this question of eternal life in Christ.
The first basic reality of true children of God by new birth, is that they have a timeless life. By that timeless life they are linked on with Christ outside of time altogether. “Our outward man perishes.” True, but, “The inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Christ then in this first connection as the beginning going right back into eternity past, the first, the ‘arche’ under Whom all things are to come, in new creation gives His character to His new creation. The very first thing is the timeless life, eternal life, linking His children on with Himself as a part of an eternal order. “Life and incorruption are brought to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). That is the basic and perhaps the greatest reality about us as born again children of God? It is that we have been taken right out of time and linked with Christ in eternity past and in eternity to be and made children of eternity. It is a tremendous thing, the eternal reality of what is born of God.
When that is true, you can come right into all that is of God, which is eternal. You cannot understand an eternal purpose, you cannot be in an eternal purpose and have any sense of an eternal purpose and vocation until you have relatedness with the eternal by possessing eternal life. And directly you receive the gift of eternal life, what is your consciousness? Your very first consciousness is, “Now I have a sense of why I have a being at all a sense of the meaning of being in existence at all; up to now I have thought that it was just to have a good time, to get through this life as best I could, to make the best of it, that this life was the beginning and end of everything. There might be something afterward, but I know nothing about it. But now I have a sense of a higher, lasting, permanent purpose in life, of having a being at all. The sense of the eternal comes in and makes life an altogether new thing. I have something to live for and it is something more than this life.
“In the beginning was the Word.” That is right back in eternity, God had Christ as the ‘arche’, the beginning of an eternal order of creation. The first thing about the Lord Jesus is that He is the first, the beginning and the all-inclusive One of an order of creation which is not going to pass away or know corruption, but is going to pass on in eternal glory. “Foreordained unto our glory.”
The difference is glory and its opposite. What is the opposite of glory? Well, it is shame, it is dishonour, it is desolation, barrenness. There is no glory in a wilderness, no glory in a desert. It is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” “Unto our glory.” What is the key to glory, the secret of glory? It Is a life which can know no corruption but which is immortal, incorruptible, undefiable. That life is the basis of glory and Christ was that life, says John. That was in the beginning. It is very wonderful to see that before the world was, God had the beginning of something which was to be ultimately all glorious in an eternity which would never have any effect to make it fade, decay, pass away, and that is Christ. “In the beginning was the Word.” There is infinite wisdom in that infinite ingenuity; the wisdom of God in having One in Whom was the very embodiment of all that glorified creation which God intended. And by His giving of the life that is in that One, distributing it, would realise that glorious creation; the infinite ingenuity, wisdom of God which God foreordained unto our glory. That is the beginning. The eternal order is foreshadowed, prophesied and represented in Christ as the ‘arche’, the beginning; not only the first, but the supreme, the all-inclusive from Whom everything takes its character; the architect of this great divine super-structure, the archbishop of this great faith, the arch-type of this humanity, the beginning in creation.
Let us go on to the second connection and that brings us to Genesis.
The beginning of creation
2. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In Col. 1:16 says, “For in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him.” Then John 1:3: “All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.” In the beginning God created; all things were created by him, Jesus Christ, so that they are the same. That only needs to be said. But here with this and the other passage in Hebrews (“… Through Whom he made the ages”) brings us to the creation; out of eternity now into time; the creation of all things by, through, unto Jesus Christ. The beginning of creation. I think all we need to say in this particular connection (for there will be much that relates to it as we go on) is that the creation is God’s practical step in connection with the representation. We have in eternity Christ the beginning as the embodiment of the divine thought, foreordained unto our glory, the model of it all. And now the One Who is the beginning so far as the wisdom of God is concerned, the thought of God, becomes the beginning in the execution of that thought and realising it in a model way, so that when the Lord Jesus comes out of eternity and takes up the work of creation, it is quite certain that His creative activities are in line with and according to what He was in eternity, to make the creation conformed to Himself as the eternal One.
We know that all decay and ruin, all corruption, all death, all change, is not the thought of God. It is something that has come in as another thought, an interference. God’s thought is that the creation should be of such an order and nature that it can, without any mischief whatsoever, be perpetuated through endless ages, be carried on without cessation. That is God’s thought in Christ to have an eternal order which need never be interrupted with judgment and destruction because it has gone wrong. That is the creation in Christ Jesus. Think of a creation from which there has been eliminated all lawlessness, therefore all disorder, anarchy and poison and resultant harm, mischief. Take the creation around us alone. Our gardens, what a glorious thing it would be to have a garden where you never have to deal with lawless elements, weeds, thorns, poisonous things, and all that sort of thing, the whole disorderly, lawless, anarchical elements in nature, the poisonous elements in nature, to have that all removed, so that nature can go on developing in its glory without anything wrong or harmful, injurious and disorderly in it. That is God’s thought and when the Lord Jesus reigns and righteousness covers the earth as the waters cover the sea, that is what the creation will be like, not only in nature but in man, the whole universe. That is the thought in creation through Jesus Christ. You say, “That is very beautiful, Utopian, a grand idea; the Lord hasten that day!”
We are a new creation in Christ Jesus. What is the Lord doing? What are we letting Him do? What about the poisonous things, the disorderly things, the wild, lawless things? Are they being put under His feat, subjected to Him? What does the pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus mean? “All things have been created through Him, and unto Him, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence”. What does that mean in a practical way?
Simply this, that in the new creation in Christ Jesus, the poisonous elements have to be got rid of, the disruptive, lawless elements have to be subdued. Is that not what the Lord is doing? Why did He wear a crown of thorns in the day of His cross? Because He took the very symbol of the curse, thorns and briars, and suffered under the curse and bore its consequences to get rid of the curse from the creation, to remove it in judgment that there should be no more thorns. We are very thorny people and the work of the cross for the new creation means that our thorniness, our prickliness, has got to be dealt with. What prickly people we are, how easily offended! What a delicate thing it is to deal with people’s lives, difficulties in people’s lives; you hardly dare mention anything wrong to those people because you find them prickly. That is old creation.
“Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Col. 2:9, 10). Created in Christ Jesus. God’s thought for the new creation is a creation in which all those elements have no place at aIl.
That is why He is dealing with us. May the Lord find us pliant, responsive to the work of His Spirit by the instrumentality of the cross to get rid of our thorniness, prickliness, lawlessness, our self-will, our running riot, our disorderliness. In the house of God, in the body of Christ according to the new creation, these things can have no place. No disorder, no lawlessness, no poison, no running riot; not here in the new creation. He is the beginning of the creation and it is what He is that gives the character to the creation.
The whole purpose of our Christian life is to reproduce and react Christ, that all our reactions to things and people should be growingly the reaction of Christ, the impress of Christ, the influence of Christ. The contacts, the knowledge of one another, should carry a sweet savour of Christ. Our visits to one another should leave something of the fragrance of Christ. The effect of our staying in one another’s homes should be not that those people are very glad when we have gone. That is very searching for me as much as, and more than, any of you. The Lord is going to fill all things with Christ and the Lord is working at that now in the new creation.
The other creation is working out its own doom. Look at it to-day in this world; the course of that other creation under the curse. It is working out its own destruction. That is not glory. But there is the new creation to work out glory. Christ is the beginning of that, the beginning of a new creation.
The beginning of a new creation
3. “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes … the eternal life … was manifested” (1 John 1:1). And, going back to the gospel by John: “The Word became flesh and ‘tabernacled’ amongst us.” In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh, and the life was manifested. Here we have the beginning in relation to the incarnation of the eternal Word, marking a new stage, a further stage, in the way of God; the manifestation of
the beginning as the life. What is this? What is the particular, peculiar value of this? The incarnation, that is the coming into this world in the flesh of the eternal Word, the eternal Son, God manifest in the flesh, is God’s new beginning as to a world order and a human kind. God begins all over again with Christ in incarnation. He is the first of a new human order, of a new creation. I wonder if we have really felt the strength and the force of that, that God when sending His Son into this world, thereby declares that the other order no longer exists before Him. That that is the end of that order and all that goes to make it up, and now God begins another order. This is the first of that order; He begins all over again with Christ. The force of that is that we who belong to that old order have got to be reconstituted according to this new order that Christ is.
It is not just that we have to believe certain things declared as facts of doctrine. And, having believed and accepted them—and in some outward way conformed to what they represent of demands, commands and requirements—we now take up Christian interests and from henceforth we are in the Christian system of things, outwardly active, interested, zealous. Very largely that is what Christianity has resolved itself into. It is objective, something outside that you go into, you take up, you become part of as a system. Christianity is very largely a system now. How few Christians there are who really, in any full way, know the Lord.
True Christianity is a reconstituting of us, that we are being changed in our very constitution and nature. That is what Christ as the beginning means. And that reconstituting that changing of our constitution is a terrific business. It takes time; perhaps it takes a whole lifetime, and then we want something mighty on top of that as we pass through a mighty transforming at the end. But our very constitution is being changed, our mental constitution; our ideas, conceptions, ways of looking at things, and judging and calculating. Our very emotions, feelings, desires, affections, are being changed in their constitution. Our ways just change. The mark of our Christian life is that as we meet one another from time to time, we see the change going on, we know there is a change in one another. So and so is not the same person as he or she was so long ago. You can see the change. You know that there is spiritual development, growth in Christlikeness there. There is less of what we once met when they were concerned of themselves. It is not the same old person that we knew. There is something more of Christ, something different. It is a change of the very basis of their constitution. Certain things will always be true about them as belonging to this life. Their voice and their physical features may not undergo a tremendous transformation. They may change a bit, Christ may even come out there; but there is the spiritual man who is growing and over-growing the old man.
That is God’s new beginning, and it is a new beginning. Let us recognize this. We are going to have bad times when the old comes into conflict with the new, and most of our bad times are because of that. There is the conflict between the old and the new, the new and the old. Somewhere there has got to be some letting go, some giving up, saying: “Well, evidently my bad time is because I am holding on; is the Lord wanting to get some larger place? I must let go.” This reconstituting is a tremendous business, and people who ignore that and just go on with a lot of outward mechanical Christian activities do not grow spiritually. In the long run they have nothing to gain.
There are two sides to this. John particularly dwells upon the personal side of Christ, beginning with the incarnation. Paul particularly dwells upon the corporate side of Christ as the new beginning. John keeps it to the person of the Lord Jesus mainly, but Paul says, now Christ is re-embodied from Pentecost onward, not in a physical individual person here, but in a corporate spiritual body, the church. And the church becomes the new creation. The church is Christ incarnated. Therefore the church is what Christ is as a new order entirely. Coming into the church is different from joining a church, having your name put down on earth. Coming into the church is coming into a new constitution, a new spiritual kind, a new spiritual order. That is what Paul is saying about the church. The church is Christ re-embodied. What a different thing from all the conceptions of the church which are common and current.
The beginning in resurrection
4. “He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things, he might have the pre-eminence” (Col. 1:18). We mentioned Christ the beginning in eternity, Christ the beginning in creation, Christ the beginning in incarnation which is new creation. Now Christ the beginning in resurrection, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. It is in His resurrection that the real spiritual beginning takes place. In His incarnation the representation is present; He is in incarnation, here amongst men, the representative of a new creation individually. But that representation passes into spiritual realisation with the resurrection. Peter says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5).
Christ in resurrection is the spiritual power of the realization of this new creation. His disciples associated with Him and saw Him as the representative and were doubtless troubled, oppressed from time to time with the difference between Him and themselves. And how they failed and how His very presence was a reproach to them and an accentuation of what they were in themselves. They could not imitate Him, change themselves. You may be sure they had many a try to be like Him, but to the end what a mess they made of it. What an awful breakdown with Peter at the end; good-intentioned, well-meaning men, but it cannot be done.
But you notice after the resurrection they are full of hope, full of joy. The old depression has gone, and you cannot fail to recognise that Christ has come in and has done a wonderful thing on the inside with this people. Still they have some way to go, a change has to be made, but a basic change has taken place. These people are new creation since the Holy Spirit has entered in, and it is Christ in resurrection Who becomes the first born of the dead, the beginning of the creation, the First-born. It is not an historic Jesus but the risen living Christ within us who constitutes the new creation. He is the beginning, when as the risen One He comes in by His Spirit. All the hope of this glorious creation is bound up with the risen Lord having residence inside and nothing can happen until that takes place. But when it takes place, everything has its beginning.
So far we have indicated the immense place the Lord Jesus occupies from eternity to eternity as the pattern of God’s eternal thought for the creation and what it is the Lord is seeking to realize in us and hiddenly in this creation. We do not know how it is, but Paul by the Spirit intimates that this is the thing that is going on inside of this creation, this other creation, and causing all the groanings in it. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” and, “The earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:22,19). All that is going on is somehow in a mysterious way the effect of what God is doing in the heart of things. The convulsions outside are because of some tremendous formation inside. We do not understand that, but it is stated to
be so, and the day will come when the outward will burst and the sons will be manifested and the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption. The Lord keep our eyes fixed upon the heart, centre and basis of Christ Himself.