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10 Things You Should Know about Chaos and Cosmos in God’s Creation

This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.

1. Genesis 1 uses seven words to describe the good chaos with which God began his creation.

Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” that is, the cosmos: “The world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system” (Webster). Genesis 1:2 backs up to the earliest stage in God’s creation of the earth: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” These five italicized words describe the primeval chaos. Genesis 1 adds two more words that refer to chaos: “seas” (v 10) and “great sea creatures/monsters” (v 21). These words will be used in later Scriptures either individually or in combination to refer to some form of chaos. This original chaos was not evil; God created it. In fact, God called the “seas” and even the “great sea monsters” “good” (Gen 1:10, 21).

2. Chaos becomes evil with human rebellion against God.

Living in Paradise (cosmos) our ancestors were tempted by the serpent to disobey God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent will later be identified as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9). Our ancestors fell for Satan’s temptation to disobey God and the effects of the fall into sin were felt immediately in the loss of innocence and the breakdown of harmonious relationships. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. . . And the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself’.” God asked, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man then had the nerve to blame both God and the woman. He said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” The LORD God then turned to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And she blamed the serpent: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen 3:7-13). The harmony of Paradise was broken: fear of God, blaming God and the woman, and blaming the serpent. Chaos invaded God’s good creation.

3. God’s judgment results in more chaos in his creation.

“The LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field” (Gen 3:14). The fact that the serpent is cursed “above all livestock and above all beasts of the field” suggests that the animal world is now also living under God’s curse. The lamb has good reason to fear the wolf. The calf has good reason to fear the lion. With the fall into sin, chaos invaded also the animal kingdom.

The LORD continued addressing the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’” (Gen 3:15). Ultimate victory is held out for the offspring of the woman: “he shall bruise your head”–a fatal wound. Meanwhile, enmity between Satan and its offspring and the woman and her offspring will lead to much hardship in human history.

To the woman God said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” And to Adam he said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:16–19).

But through chaos God sought to restore cosmos.

Then God drove them out of Paradise; they were to live East of Eden (Gen 3:24). Life had turned into a painful existence in a hostile, cursed world. The blessed cosmos of Paradise had turned into chaos, not the original chaos of Genesis 1:2 but now an evil chaotic world: struggles between animals and animals (Gen 3:14, cf. Isa 11:6), between animals and humans (Gen 3:15), between husband and wife (Gen 3:12, 16), between nature and humans (Gen 3:17-19), and between humans and God (Gen 3:8-10, 12, 22-24). And it all ends in death–an ultimate form of chaos.

4. The flood: the chaos of water to restore cosmos

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them’” (Gen 6:5–7). Human wickedness had spoiled God’s good creation so thoroughly that God decided to allow a chaotic flood to clean up his creation, killing all but a remnant in the ark with the righteous Noah. The sovereign God removed his restraining hand and allowed his corrupted cosmos to return to chaos.

But through chaos, God sought to restore cosmos. When Noah with his offering dedicated this cleansed earth to God, “the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen 8:21-22). In his grace, the LORD promised to maintain the regularity of his creation–a form of cosmos.

5. Babel: the chaos of languages to restore cosmos

Humankind soon rebelled against God again. Originally, God had given them the mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). After the flood, God repeated this mandate to Noah and his family: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Gen 9:1). But people thought they knew a better way to survive in a hostile environment. They would seek their security not in God but in their own strength and glorious city. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4).

How would God respond to this new rebellion? The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city” (Gen 11:6-8). With humanity dispersed over all the earth, God could again make a new start with one obedient person and his family: Abram, then Isaac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel.

6. The LORD saves Israel from the chaos of slavery and the sea.

In time, Israel was trapped in the chaos of slavery in Egypt. After ten plagues, Pharaoh finally agreed to let Israel go free. But when he thought they were lost in the wilderness, he tried to recapture his slaves. Pharaoh’s armies were behind and the sea in front. Would the waters defeat Israel on its march to the Promised Land? The LORD told Moses what to do. “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. . . Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the LORD threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained” (Ex 14:21–23, 26-28). As with the flood, the sovereign LORD used the chaotic waters to save his people Israel from the chaos of slavery in Egypt and to defeat their enemy. The cosmos of the Promised Land lay before them.

7. Jesus, the light of the world, shines in the darkness.

In the fullness of time Jesus, the victorious Seed of the woman, was born. The New Testament uses some of the same words for chaos as does the Old Testament, but it focuses especially on the contrast between darkness (skotos) and light (phos) and various synonyms. Moreover, it centers the chaos - cosmos theme primarily in the battle between Satan, the Prince of Darkness, and Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5).

With his resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand, Jesus showed that he is sovereign even over the chaos of death and rules from his heavenly throne to restore cosmos to God’s creation.

In the beginning, God created light to drive back the darkness of chaos (Gen 1:3–4). The New Testament pictures Jesus as the light that drives back the darkness of chaos at the microcosmic level, healing the sick and demon-possessed. Describing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:2, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” The parallelism indicates that darkness and death are synonyms, each referring to chaos. Matthew continues, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt 4:16–17). Matthew links the dawning of the light with the kingdom of heaven (cosmos) being at hand.

John writes, “In him [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9). Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness [chaos], but will have the light of life [cosmos]” (John 8:12).

With Christ’s first coming the light began to penetrate the darkness but there still remains much darkness (chaos) in this world. In terms of the light, this is the time of the “already” and the “not yet.” It’s like the dawn of a cloudless day: still somewhat dark but with the certain promise of full sunlight. Only at his second coming will the light (cosmos) completely displace the darkness.

8. Jesus restores cosmos by binding Satan, casting out demons, healing the sick, rebuking the wind, calming the sea, and raising the dead.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Satan tempted Jesus to terminate his road of suffering and to seek his own good instead, but Jesus rejected the temptations with words of God (Matt 4:1-11). By withstanding Satan’s temptations, Jesus bound Satan, that is, he made Satan vulnerable to losing his followers. As Jesus explained in a short parable, “No one can enter a strong man’s [Satan’s] house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Mark 3:27). Jesus plundered Satan’s house by casting out demons, thus freeing people from Satan’s dominion.

Mark relates several instances of Jesus casting out demons (see Mark 1:23-27; 9:22-27). Matthew reports, “A demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him so that the man spoke and saw. . .But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.’ Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?. . . But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons [chaos], then the kingdom of God [cosmos] has come upon you” (Matt 12:22–28).

Later Jesus would send out seventy-two followers to “heal the sick. . . and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Luke reports, “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’” (Luke 10:9,17–18). Jesus likens the healing of the sick and the nearness of the kingdom of God to Satan falling from heaven. With Jesus’ First Coming, Satan, the personification of chaos, is losing his grip on his evil kingdom.

Jesus also rebuked the wind and calmed the sea. One evening Jesus and his disciples were crossing Lake Galilee in a small boat. Suddenly a great storm arose, whipping up the waters. The mighty waves crashed into the boat and filled it with water. The disciples, who were experienced fishermen, were terrified. They woke Jesus who was asleep in the stern and shouted at him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Jesus "woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!' Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?' And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'" (Mark 4:38-41).

Jesus even raised people from the chaos of death. He raised from death a widow’s only son (Luke 7:11-17), the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40-56), and his friend Lazarus (John 11:38-44). By raising people from death, Jesus demonstrated his sovereignty over death and his power to turn this ultimate form of chaos into orderly cosmos.

Then Jesus himself rose from death. When the Jews asked Jesus for a sign, he said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body. People indeed destroyed Jesus' body when they crucified him, pierced his body, and buried him. With his death, Jesus paid “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). But three days later he rose from the dead. With his resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand, Jesus showed that he is sovereign even over the chaos of death and rules from his heavenly throne to restore cosmos to God’s creation.

From Chaos to Cosmos

Sidney Greidanus

Tracing the order-out-of-chaos theme from Genesis to Revelation, this volume reveals how God is restoring order from chaos through Jesus Christ once and for all. Part of the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series.

9. Satan is bound for a thousand years.

John writes in Revelation 20, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. * After that he must be released for a little while*” (Rev 20:1-3).

A thousand years is 10x10x10, the number of fullness. “A thousand years,” therefore, is a full period of world history. As we saw earlier, Jesus bound Satan when, at the beginning of his ministry, he withstood Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. This allowed Jesus and his disciples to cast out demons and undermine Satan’s dominion. From Jesus’ first coming to the present time Satan is bound in the sense that he is limited in his ability to “deceive the nations.” In fact, John uses the same Greek verb, dew, for the binding of Satan as Jesus used in his parable for binding the strong man (Mark 3:27). Satan is bound during this Gospel age. Like a lion on a chain, Satan can still hurt but is limited in his ability to deceive the nations on a worldwide scale.

Just prior to Jesus’ Second Coming, Satan will be released for a little while to deceive the nations and make war on the church – that is the “great tribulation.” John writes, “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog [Israel’s enemies, Ezek 38-39], to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur [ultimate chaos] where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:7-10). Ironically, the personifications of chaos – the beast from the sea, the false prophet from the earth, and now the devil himself – will forever suffer in hell, the ultimate form of chaos.

John continues, “Then I saw a great white throne and him [Christ] who was seated on it. . . And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne [the resurrection], and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades [= Heb. Sheol] gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:11-15).

Christ’s Second Coming and the final judgment will mark the end of every form of chaos on earth: it will mark not only the end for those who supported chaos with their actions but also for death itself and the realm of the dead (Hades, Sheol) which will be thrown into the lake of fire, the “outer darkness.”

10. God will bring a new heaven and a new earth.

John follows up this elimination from the earth of every form of chaos with a vision of a new cosmos. He writes in Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The sea, the primary symbol of chaos, the sea was no more. No more chaos, but only perfect cosmos in God’s renewed creation.

John continues, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Rev 21:2-3). God will be with his people as he was with them in Paradise.

“He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more” (Rev 21:4). In the new creation, the curse of death (Gen 3:19) is lifted. With the lifting of the curse of death, its effects on loved ones is also lifted: “Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things [chaos] have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Rev 21:4-5). The cosmos God intended in the beginning will be restored.

John continues in Revelation 22, “Then the angel showed me the river [Gen 2:10] of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life [Gen 2:9] with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed [the curse, Gen 3:17, will be lifted] , but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night [darkness, chaos] will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:1-5).

In the beginning of the book of Revelation, the risen Lord Jesus promised his followers, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7). In concluding the book, the Lord Jesus repeated, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life”–adding, “and that they may enter the city [the holy city, the new Jerusalem] by the gates” (Rev 22:14). Paradise, the garden, with its life-giving waters and the tree of life as well as the holy city will be restored in the new creation.

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