"And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev. 21:5).
God made everything, and he made it “good,” as he says in the first chapter of Genesis. But we also know that sin quickly entered through the lying serpent and captured us. We are now born in sin, as David said, “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). From that time on, Creation has not become evil as a substance, but lacks faith. With no faith, a creature becomes “old.” Creation ends. It dies by the Creator’s own hand.
What now? We are true creatures of God’s own making, yet we lack faith in him, and cannot give it to ourselves. To live eternally, we must be made new. That is what Christ on his throne wanted to have written down in John’s revelation: “Behold, I am making all things new.” Don’t forget it! Don’t tell me about how well you were created in the beginning. The problem is not your flesh or body or mind or cells – but you don’t believe me. Indeed, that is deep trouble: we creatures are not just dirty and in need of cleaning, nor are we yet infants and need only maturity. We need to be brand new – created out of nothing.
Yet, we don’t like it when Jesus says: “new creation.” In fact, we don’t believe him, since we seek our power elsewhere. Look at the lawyers who tried to prove that Jesus could not heal the blind man in John 9. That would mean Jesus forgave his sin! Healing is one thing (creature), forgiving is another (Creating), so the lawyers pressed the man, and when he testified that Jesus healed him (he knew not how or why), he was condemned twice over: “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out” (John 9:34). Maybe Jesus could heal, but not forgive original sin! Being God is bad enough, but if Jesus also went ahead and created new – without sin – that was a step too far.
We poor creatures spend most of our lives trying to establish our “good creation” credentials before Christ: “God doesn’t make junk”; “I was made good”; “I’m improving, don’t stop me now”; “I sobered up and am now on the wagon.” In fact, every few centuries there are whole religious or spiritual movements trying to prove that God “saw that it was good” (Genesis 1) despite their obvious sin. We call these Pelagian impulses (the power of my free will), or even what Luther calls “swilling Epicurus” (my goodness is what gives my created body pleasure).
The hardest thing to believe is not merely that old creation is going nowhere, it is that old creation is not entirely destroyed before the new creation begins. Why does God create new, while still creating the old? Why would God do both, simultaneously? God tells us he is creating new, yet the old keeps multiplying (continuously). Why this strange overlap of the old and new creation?
The answer is impossible to believe, until Christ is incarnate. Even then it is impossible until we are personally made new. The Word of God, who was with God and was God, became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is not just plopped down in the manger as a perfect example of original creation like no one has seen since Adam and Eve. Jesus’s body is not just evidence that God’s creation is still good. It tells you that Christ was born into old creation. Why? Not to prove the goodness of old creation; it was in order to make all things new. Christ was born sinless, pure and holy. He had faith in his Creator! But even this is not what makes him our messiah. His faith is not what our faith is in –though we surely proclaim his holiness, purity, and sinlessness trust by the Virgin Mary.
Lutherans have tripped over this matter for years, most famously in the great fight that elicited the first article of the Formula of Concord. One of the great Lutherans, Matthias Flacius, was caught in a spider’s web of Aristotle’s making. Was original sin a “substance” or an “accident”? Since both of those are legal categories, whichever you pick is wrong. Such categories can’t account for the gospel or new creation. But Flacius blundered in declaring that sin was our creaturely substance. Ever since, Lutherans have been suspected of saying that old creation is bad. Lutherans must be “Manichaeans” who think some things are made good and some evil.
There was a church in Marburg Germany that used a liturgy to scorn Flacius for this by having the acolyte prostrate himself before the altar at the sound of the Creed’s words, “and became flesh.” Denial of the goodness of creation was thus the denial of Christ’s incarnation!’ But the incarnation is not the new creation. It is not the beginning of the change from old to new—since creation by God is not a process. It is as Paul puts it: “Born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Born with feet and hands, suckling at the breast—that is true of Jesus. It is also true that he was born of a Virgin, sinless and clean—God’s original creation still works fine! But Jesus was not so born to remind us of the goodness of creation, nor to start a process of improving, correcting or re-generating it. He was so born, “under the law.” Why? To prove that God can still create without sin? To prove that he was pure and holy and can make old creation holy again? No, he wanted it written: for new creation.
Christ, who is without sin, became sin. How did he do that? He had an incarnate body, which he did not spare.
In Christ’s own flesh and blood, God undertook both the old creation and the new. Christ, who is without sin, became sin. How did he do that? He had an incarnate body, which he did not spare. Christ is the lamb (incarnate) upon whom the sins of the world are laid. Laid on what? On his incarnate, old creature – born of a woman. What happens then? He takes the sin on and in his body to the cross and nails them there. There is no greater old creation than that. But, on the third day, the Father raised him. We have not only the written page saying: “Behold I make all things new!” We have the actual thing made—a creature who trusts his creator! Christ is the first fruits of this new creation: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:17-20).
The incarnation does not save, and specifically it does not save the old creation. It is the thing God bestows in order to make old creation old: to put it to death. But then the incarnation is new creation! The son’s incarnate body was born under the law so that law itself would be brought to an end. But even that was not enough for our Creator. The resurrected Christ in his new incarnate body was raised so that he alone would be our new life, that is, new creation on account of Christ alone: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too shall walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). Incarnation is not for old creation; it is your new creation.