The Priesthood of the Apocalypse (Genesis 1:26-31)

Two months after the people of Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt, they came to a mountain in Arabia, a mountain called Sinai. There God met them. He married them. And then he gave them plans for a special structure, a tabernacle, which was a tent designed to serve as a temple.

And as the people began to assemble their tabernacle, Moses told them about how God had assembled the universe for the same purpose. Their little tabernacle is just a tiny model of the cosmic temple, which was designed to draw all of creation inward and upward to meet the One who created them.

What God wants from his creation is: worship. Relationship. Intimacy.

This is what we learned last week, as Moses revealed to us the events of creation Days 4 to 6: God created creatures that were all designed to worship God each in their own way.

But that left us with a question at the end. We were wondering, as we closed, if that is really all God wants from us, as human beings. Are we really no different from sparrows and rats? They worship in their way, we worship in our way, but really it’s all the same?

Well, as a beginning of an answer to that question, we can ask another question: are sparrows and rats able to have a real relationship with God?

We learned last week that animals have some small knowledge of God — that’s what the Book of Job told us, for instance: “Ask the birds, ask the fish, they know that God did all this!” And I think we all know that some animals can have emotional relationships with each other and with us. But we also know that their emotional capacity is limited. Their relational capacity is limited. And so we find that a relationship with an animal is nice but it’s not quite as fulfilling as a relationship with a child, for instance.

And if that is true of human relationships with animals, then how much more true must it be for God’s relationship with animals? Animals were made to worship, to know God, but in a very very limited capacity.

Basically, animals need help to worship. Animals need worship leaders. They need a higher life form that is able to guide them, lead them, draw them inward, draw them upward, develop them so that their lives can look less like chaos and more like the orderly source of all life.

So…[26] Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

God is about to do something different. Something special. So, for the first time in Moses’ creation story, he speaks to someone and discusses what he wants to do.

Now, God has spoken before. In fact, if we pay attention, we’ll see that his speech has been developing. At first it was, “Let there be this, let there be that.” Then he began speaking to things: “Let the stars do this, let the land do that, let the animals do this.”

But now God speaks to someone. And apparently this someone is a pretty powerful someone, someone who resembles God in some way. And this has freaked out a lot of people for a long time. Because hasn’t Moses been telling us that this God is One God? Who he is talking to now?

It’s like being in a dark room with your friend and then suddenly your friend talks to someone behind you that you didn’t know was there.

But even from the beginning, Moses has been suggesting that God is not completely alone. In the very first verse we learned that God created the spiritual heavens and the physical earth. The physical world was formless and empty, but that does not mean the spiritual world was formless and empty.

In fact, Moses’ people already knew that there is other spiritual life in the universe. They understood that God’s spiritual cosmic temple is filled with angels that worship him in the same way that God’s physical cosmic temple is filled with animals that worship him. And they understood very well that the angels were created before mankind. For instance, just today in our Call to Worship we read Psalm 8, which tells us that mankind was created just “a little lower than the angels.” Also, the Book of Job says that when God set the foundations of the earth “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.”

So when God speaks up and says, “Let us make mankind in our image,” the ancient Israelites could have thought, “Oh!…God is talking to his angels! God is a spirit, angels are spirits, we have spirits, that is why he says ‘make mankind in our image.’ And: the angels are designed to worship God; we are designed to worship God — so link up there as well.”

But then…this idea went bad. Some Israelites became obsessed with learning about the angels. They thought, “Okay, the animals are supposed to learn how to worship by watching us, so we are supposed to learn how to worship by watching the angels!” So they became obsessed with having visions of God’s spiritual temple and learning directly from the angels, and some of the early Christians got sucked into this thinking also. Their focus got turned away from God and onto the question of how to worship God “properly”. The problem got so bad Paul had to write a warning in his letter to the Colossian church. He says, “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has actually lost connection with Christ!”

So that is a warning for us not to become obsessed with visions and esoteric spiritual knowledge. We are not called to worship as the angels do. We are not called to raise ourselves up to the level of the spiritual beings who were created above us.

But, back to our question: if God is not talking to angels here, who is he talking to?

Well, in the very first verse of scripture we learned that God created the spiritual world and the physical world. But in the very second verse we learned that the Spirit of God was hovering in the darkness over the cosmic ocean. And when we studied that verse we realized that the Spirit of God was the Breath of God, the foreshadowing of the Speech of God, And this was confirmed in the very third verse when God spoke and his spoken revelation created light.

…and there was actually a philosophical riddle in those verses that we did not discuss then because I knew we would have to pause and discuss it now.

So here goes; this is the riddle: is the Speech of God, God himself? or is the Speech of God distinct from God?

The reason we ask this is because, when we speak, our speech is an expression of who we are. But once it leaves our mouths it separates from us and ceases to be living speech. It only lasts about as long our breath does. Once the vibration stops it’s gone! Human speech is a living expression of who we are right up until the moment we speak it. Then it becomes distinct from us, and it dies.

But God’s Speech must be different, right? God’s Speech is an expression of who he is, just like ours. But, God is eternal. Therefore his Speech must be eternal. He speaks it out and it becomes distinct from him, just like our speech — but then it does not die because his Breath does not die. His Speech continues to be living Speech, living Words.

And that is actually a philosophical problem for everyone who believes in One God. Because: if God’s spoken words are a living expression of him, and yet they are distinct from him, then that means that when God spoke he created a living copy of himself. A 2nd God?

But that is against the rules of monotheism! Monotheism is belief in One God, not two or more gods.

Therefore, every monotheistic religion in history has had to offer a solution to this riddle: do we have One God whose Word dies after it leave his mouth? Or do we have One God who spoke his eternal Word into existence and therefore created a 2nd god?

You see the contradiction, right?

Well, every monotheistic religion in history has offered a solution. Three of those religions still exist. Ancient Israel was the first to offer a solution, since they were the first to wrestle with the concept of One God. Christianity offered a second solution. And then Islam came along last; though to be fair, Muslims claim that their solution is the final solution and the best one.

We’ll look at them in order:

Moses answered this riddle first. And he did it right at the beginning in verse 3: when God spoke, his living Breath — his living Spirit — carried his living Speech out into the darkness and provided light and revelation for the universe.

But then we say, “Ah ah ah, Moses! That means God created a copy of himself and that’s against the rules of monotheism!”

But then Moses says, “Not so fast! What makes you think that verse 3 is the first time in all of eternity that God spoke?” Verse 3 only tells us is that this is the first time God spoke in this universe. Verse 2 tells us that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. God’s Spirit, God’s Breath, God’s Speech has actually always existed. There was never a time when God was not speaking, therefore his living Word has always existed and been a part of who he is.

And later on in the Jewish scriptures, they doubled down on this concept. In Proverbs, Chapter 8, Wisdom speaks, and says this: “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began! When God marked out the foundations of the earth, I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”

So the Jewish answer to this riddle is: “Yes! God’s Word is God, and God’s Word is distinct from God. But, God’s Word is not a 2nd God, because a). it has always existed in God’s living Breath, and b). it always will exist in God’s living Breath. And God’s Word has a name: Wisdom, the living Spirit who was and is the living and eternal Word.”

The Christian answer to this riddle is simply a development of the Jewish answer. We say that, yes, God’s Word is God, and that God’s Word is distinct from God, that God’s Word has always existed and always will exist. We would just add that God’s Word has a name, and that name is: Jesus, the living man who was and is the living and eternal Word.

But then Islam came along and said, “No, your Jewish and Christian answers are corrupted. We have the final solution: God’s Word is not God, it is distinct from God, but it is also eternal. No, wait…my bad: it is not eternal. No…yes, it is eternal?” — because there’s actually a difference of opinion within Islam about whether God’s Word is eternal or not. But Muslims do all agree that God’s Word has a name: they call it the Qu’ran.

Unfortunately for Islam, their disagreement about the eternality of God’s Word doesn’t actually matter. Because if Muslims all agreed that the Qu’ran is eternal, then they are insisting that something distinct from God is also eternal, means that the Qu’ran is a 2nd god. But if Muslims all agreed that the Qu’ran is not eternal then…not only is God’s Word not eternal but it is also dead, just like human speech, because it is contained in a book that by definition cannot contain the Breath or the Spirit of God…

And that is…really too bad. Because the older answers were better answers. The Judeo-Christian answers preserve both the Oneness of God and the Living Holiness of God’s Word. The Islamic answers preserve either One God (with a dead Word) or a Living Word that is also a 2nd god, and neither of those answers actually resolve this puzzle.

Now, I realize that I’ve just spent the last seven minutes answering a philosophical question that some of you have never even thought about asking, and you’ve been wondering what the point is. That’s okay. Not everyone is designed by God to find these puzzles interesting. But it was important for us to discuss this here because there are some among us who do wrestle with these questions — there are some among us who are regularly asked these questions, especially by their Muslim friends — and so we for your sake we needed to go through this process and discover that the Judeo-Christian solution to this puzzle is actually the only viable solution.

So…now we unpause and go back to our question:

If God is not talking to angels here, who is he talking to?

Moses would say that God is talking to himself.

But Moses understood that the concept of God’s “himself” is a lot more nuanced and complex than the “One God” concept seems at first. Moses, guided by the direct revelation of God, was a pretty sophisticated guy. He knew that God and his Spoken Word must be One, and yet must also be distinct. He knew that God must contain within himself perfect Unity and perfect Diversity.

So Moses understood that it is no contradiction at all for the One God to say to and through his Eternally Living Word, “Let us make mankind in our image.”

And that is exactly what happens, verse 27: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

And this leads us to another huge question that has freaked out a lot of people — and a lot of angels — for a long time: what does it mean to be made in the image of God?

Well, here is the good news: our discussion just now about how God is both Unity and Diversity is going to help us here. The God who is both One and Distinct has just created a creature that is both One and Distinct: male and female he created them. We are One species that is sexually distinct.

In other words, the personal relationship of human male to human female is designed to reflect God’s own personal relationship within himself. We are in God’s image because we, too, are One and yet Distinct.

But there is more:

[28] God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number.

So…the One God, working with and through his Eternal Word, created a creature in his own image: male and female. And now the human male, working with and through the human female, is going to create more creatures in their own image.

In other words, the creative partnership between male and female is designed to reflect God’s own creative partnership within himself. We are in God’s image because we, too, have the ability to create creatures in our own image.

But there is more:

God goes on: “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

The One God, working with and through his Eternal Word, brought structure to the universe and then filled it with life. Now the human male, working with and through the human female, is going to fill the earth with human life, and by doing this they will bring increasing order and structure to the earth, and to the animal kingdom.

In other words, the creative partnership between male and female is designed to bring order and structure and beauty to the whole world. God brought order out of the ultimate chaos of the cosmic ocean. We are not that powerful. But we are in God’s image because we have the authority to bring order out of the partial chaos of the earth and the animal kingdoms.

But God recognizes that mankind is not even powerful enough to bring order to the earth yet. That is why he did bless them and say, “Be fruitful and increase in number.” That is not just a command, it is a promise that they will fill the earth and bring order to it.

And that is why God gives them this second blessing: [29] Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. [30] And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Mankind is not beginning from zero. The earth itself is designed to produce life, it is eager to produce life. Some of that life is more chaotic, like the birds and fish; some of that life is closer to the center of order, like the land animals. This is also true of plant life. Some plant life grows wild and is not very good for food; some plant life is easier to cultivate and is good for food.

So God is saying, “You know what, it’s going to be hard work bringing order to the earth and the animals. So I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna make sure the earth produces the right kind of food for you and the animals. That way you’ll all survive long enough to catch the rhythm and start making this system work for you!”

[31] God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

So, a brief recap:

First we saw God bring order out of the cosmic ocean. He created a structure, a cosmic temple, with the earth as his footstool at the most orderly life-giving centre of it.

Then we saw him fill that temple with worshipers and gave each one of them a job, a role.

The outermost worshipers are out there at the barriers between order and chaos: the stars fixed to the sky-dome, the sun and moon and planets flying just below. Their job is to structure Time and to stand as guardians, helping to protect the earth from darkness and chaos.

The next level of worshipers live in the transition zones between order and chaos: the fish in the sea, the birds in the air. Their job is to fill those transition zones and glorify God by forcing the currents of chaos to serve them — but still, their lives are more unstable, more chaotic. That is why God blessed them directly and promised they would fill their environments.

The innermost level of worshipers live on the dry ground at the center of everything: the land animals. Some are wild, living further away from the centre of order, and their lives are more chaotic; some are livestock, domisticated, animals that live closer to the center, protected from predators, protected from chaos. And their job is to be ruled and blessed by mankind.


Well, because even though animals have a relationship with God, their relationship is incomplete. Some are closer to the centre of order and revelation; some are further away. But none have the capacity to know God the way God should be known. They need to be developed, and led closer to the ideal. They need to be ruled.

So God created mankind to know him, and then to pass that knowledge on to the rest of creation. We were created to rule God’s living creatures, to develop them so that their lives can look less like chaos and more like the orderly source of all life.

And in order for us to know God in the first place, we had to be created as one of his “kind”. That is why Moses is careful to point out that all the other animals were created according to their kinds — but man was not. Because man was created according to God’s kind. In order to know God we had to be created with his DNA, as his children.

And just like with our children, mankind’s job was to take God’s DNA and grow, becoming even more like God by imitating him. And since God is the one who brought order and revelation into the universe, so mankind also was to imitate that image by bringing forth order and revelation upon the earth.

So our calling, our purpose, our job, our role is to fill the earth with the living image of God. And as we fill the earth with the image of God, those images of God are called to do what is in their DNA to do: to bring order to the animals, to the plants, to the soil, so that the revelation of God might shine through creation even more clearly.

So we are called to stand as guardians over the animals, to breed them and train them and guide them, generation by generation, closer to structure and safety. We are called to take the plants that God gave us, and develop them — we are called to help provide food and life for all the living creatures. We are called to help structure our environment: every plant and animal in its proper place. The land animals we have more direct rule over; the birds and the fish we have less direct rule over. But everything we do affects them, and we have been called to take them into account.

By faithfully acting out the image of God that is within us, we become more and more like God. By reproducing ourselves we fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. By bringing order to our world we lead our planet ever closer to the heart of true worship, a fitting centerpiece for the cosmic temple of God.

And the good new is: we are doing these things. We have been.

Biologists tells us that the fruits and vegetables and grains that we eat today are all the product of human intervention. Over tens of thousands of years, our ancestors took plants that were low in nutrition and almost inedible, and through careful selective breeding we have created superfoods that literally did not exist before we came along. For instance, 10,000 years ago wheat was just a grass. 9,000 years ago an ear of corn was 2 cm long and only contained 5 kernels. 7,000 years ago the banana was full of seeds and extremely bitter. 5,000 years ago the watermelon was the size of a grape and had to be opened with a hammer. 4,000 years ago rice was just a grass. 1000 years ago the carrot was just a thin white root. 500 years ago there were only 25 varieties of chili pepper, and they were only found in South America; today there are almost 3,000 global varieties.

And these superfoods that we created have become more and more productive and rich with every crop cycle. We are at a point in history where we are experiencing an exponential explosion in crop yields. Two hundred years ago most of the world’s population was involved in farming, and people still starved to death. Today, only 13% of the world’s population is involved in farming, but that 13% is producing more food than the rest of the world can eat. Mass starvation is literally a thing of the past; scientists tell us that the only reason populations starve today is when governments turn corrupt and deliberately cut their food supplies.

We have taken a planet that was already designed to produce plant life, and we have turned that production up to 11!

We’ve done the same for the animal world as well. Our supercrops have been our blessing upon the wild animals: we have helped them fill the earth and subdue it. Not only that, but over the millenia we have domesticated one wild species after another. They have served us — providing food, clothing, transportation, protection, companionship — but we have served them also: domesticated animals live longer, happier, more disease-free lives than wild animals. And it is an established fact that animals don’t even have to be domesticated by us to benefit from us, they just have to live nearby. For instance, the jungle rat does not live as long or grow as strong as the mamak rat.

Friends, our species has been good for this planet! We have changed things for the better. There are species of plant and animal that are thriving today because of us.

But…we know that there are also species of plant and animal that are extinct today because of us. And this looms large in our late-modern minds and cultures. The more we learn about our planet, the more we realize just how and where we have screwed up.

But, ironically, this sense of failure is actually evidence that what Moses writes here is true. Many loud voices today deny the existence of God; they deny that mankind has any real meaning or purpose. But if that is true — if there is no God, and if we have no real purpose — then why do we feel so bad about what we have done wrong? If really we are no different from the animals, then really we should not care, just like the animals don’t care.

But we do care. And the fact that we do care is evidence that we were created in the image of God — and that we know it. We know that we were put here to make things better, not worse. We know that we were designed to bring order out of chaos, to bring beauty out of emptiness. We know that we have been called to unite every living creature on earth in worship.

Moses is simply giving words here to what we already know.

So, practically speaking then, how are we supposed to apply this to our lives?

Well, on the one hand it is helpful to have our purpose spelled out so clearly: we are the priesthood of God’s physical cosmic temple. Our only job is to lead our world into ever more perfect order and worship.

On the other hand it is not so helpful. Because it is pretty obvious to us at this point that despite the good we have managed to do the bad is always right there mixed in with it. And what good is it for us to finally discover what we were made for! — and then discover that we can never fulfill that purpose no matter how hard we try?

So here we are again, as a human race, in a Catch-22, damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t kind of situation.

Because on the one hand, we can try to deny our calling. We can refuse to do our job. We can suppress the image of God within us, deliberately lowering ourselves to the level of the animals — but that, in the end, just increases our misery, because it sucks all the meaning out of our lives.

On the other hand, we can try to embrace our calling. We can force everyone to do their ecological job. We can try to suppress the creatureliness within us, and demand that humanity raise itself up to the spiritual perfection of the angels — but that also, in the end, just increases our misery, because we can never actually get ourselves there. Something always goes wrong.

So what is our application, then: keep trying, but don’t hope for too much? Do the best you can with what you’ve got? God helps those who help themselves?

No! That kind of thinking will just lead us directly back to the despair we are trying to escape.

Instead, let’s start by fixing our minds on three undeniable truths, and see if they might help us figure out what to do as a species:

First: human beings are the children of God, even now. We are his “kind”: we have his DNA. Which means that it doesn’t matter what kind of human being you are — whether you are Chinese, Indian, Malay, light, dark, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, rich, poor, genius or mentally handicapped — you are the living revelation of who God is.

So in that case, do this: keep living. Keep loving yourself.

Second: we were created male and female to reflect God in his unity, diversity, and creativity. Which means that it doesn’t matter what kind of human being you are: every time you engage in relationship, every time you have children or create something new — or even speak out loud! — you are filling the earth with the image and the knowledge of God.

So: keep doing those things. Keep creating; keep loving other people.

Third: we were designed to rule over the animals, over the plants, and over the soil. Which means that it doesn’t matter what kind of human being you are, every time you bring order to a situation you are helping to create conditions where life can flourish.

So: keep doing that! Keep bringing order. Keep loving God’s creation.

And these three undeniable truths about us are also universal truths about us. Which means that it does not actually matter what religious or racial or cultural background we come from, if we live according to these values we will actually live happier and more meaningful lives. If we don’t try to lower ourselves to the animals; if we don’t try to raise ourselves to the angels; if we accept our role as priests over God’s creation, our societies will be happier societies. If we accept individuals as God’s children, if we accept our species as creative male and creative female, if we accept our responsibilities for the creation around us — then our world will be a happier world.

But…there is a fourth undeniable and universal truth, and that is this: no matter how hard we try to value our priestly identities, our priestly duties, we will continue to fail to fulfill them.

And what are we supposed to do about that?

Well, once again, Moses was the first to offer the beginnings of a solution, and Christianity came along later to complete it.

Moses promised in his writings that one day the human race would finally produce one perfect priest, a human being who would finally do what we have all failed to do. And the Jewish prophets who followed Moses doubled down on this idea: they said that this priest would be a man who would also somehow embody the Eternal Living Spoken Wisdom of God. He would be the one to lead all creation inward to worship at the very source of life.

Then Christianity came along and supplied the name of this man: Jesus of Nazareth, the perfect priest who is God and is also God’s distinct eternal living Word.

So if you are here today and you are aware of how you have failed to lead the world around you into life-giving order; if you find that chaos keeps creeping up on you, your relationships, your marriage, your family, your career, your future — then do this: look to the source of life, the source of all worship, the source of all speech. Let’s let him lead us. Let’s let him show us what real worship looks like. Let’s let him show us what real rest looks like —

— oh. But…oops. Real rest is what next week’s passage is about.

So make sure to come back for that, yeah?

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