The story of the Bible begins in a garden, with human beings placed in charge of everything God has made on earth. They are a small community of two people, learning about their new responsibilities to care for God’s world.
Many of us are familiar with the Genesis story, but the Bible tells us more about that moment in other places. Psalm 8 says:
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
God had placed human beings on earth to serve as keepers, as overseers. They were to be the rulers of the earth, representing God to all the animals, taking care of the gardens, and enjoying the beauty of God's world. They were placed a little lower than the angels, a significant honor for beings who in many ways are so similar to animals. God gave humanity a place of honor and an important job to do.
But things fell apart when human beings tried to redefine God’s way for themselves, and took the side of Satan in a fight against God. We lost that peaceful life in the garden, and the world became a war zone.
In Romans 8, Paul gives us insight into the struggle of the created world.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
What Paul describes here is an interesting combination of phenomena: Human beings in this world are suffering, and it is almost as if the world itself is suffering alongside us. The world that was entrusted to human being at first has been "subjected to frustration" because of the choices of human beings. However, there is a new group of human beings around - the children of God, filled with the Spirit of God - who are working towards a new beginning. They still feel the pain of this world, but they are straining through, looking forward to a day when the physical world, including their own bodies, will be redeemed, made into something new, free from the pain of death.
Then in the book of Hebrews, chapter 2, we see this interesting comment about Jesus, and his relationship to all of humanity:
5 It is not to angels that he [God] has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
7 You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
8 and put everything under their feet.”
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Where humanity failed in their role as the rulers of this world, Jesus has stepped in as a member of the human race, and finished the job we couldn't. He has entered the human story and taken up the human responsibility to rule this world - and he has done it in a new form of humanity - the resurrected humanity that is free from the power of death. Jesus has done everything on behalf of the whole human race - taking death for us and becoming a promise about what the new Earth is going to be like.
The story of the Bible ends once again in a garden, but this time it is on a much grander scale. There are more than two people - in fact there are countless people, a “multitude without number” (Revelation 7:9) who have been saved from the war. They are given a new world out of the ashes of the old world. They are given a giant city, a community of many people keeping gardens, to call their home. This new community, this new garden, is so big and so beautiful that even God himself ends up moving into it (Rev 21:3-4).
The book of Revelation describes the new world in beautiful language: God will live in the New Jerusalem, the heart of this great worldwide garden. From God’s presence, there is a river of life-giving water that flows out into the whole world, and this river even gives water to the Tree of Life, the good tree that Adam and Eve lost in the first story of the Bible. (Rev 22:1-5) God has promised that he will restore everything that humanity has lost in it’s ages and eons of suffering, but in bigger and more astounding ways than ever before.
This beautiful ending to the story has only been foreseen and promised - it has not arrived yet. We are still looking forward to that new world, and the day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev 21:4). But we do have one thing now that will be there in the New World that God will create - Jesus. Jesus, the Lamb of God, will be there with us in the new world. In fact, Jesus is the first part of that new world to appear in our world. His body that was resurrected from the dead points forward to the day when we will also be resurrected into new, stronger bodies that can live in God’s new world, near God’s presence, and live there forever.
Jesus, with all of his love, compassion, kindness, creativity, joy, and peace, is a sneak peak at what God’s new world is going to be like. When we look at Jesus, we are looking at God’s promise about how he wants his world to be. Wherever Jesus is present, God’s Kingdom is already present, even though it is not yet fully seen. This means that the Kingdom of God that will one day be complete in that garden city is already breaking into the world when Jesus lives in people’s hearts today. Anyone who loves and follows Jesus is showing the world the way of life that we will have in the future, in the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught us to hope for that day every time we pray.