Every story has a beginning and an ending. It is no different with the Bible. The Bible is God's story. He begins it with creation and he ends it with new creation. This is by design. It demonstrates the continuity of the story. It helps our understanding of all the details that are present in the story between its beginning and its ending.
The story begins with the account of the first creation: Genesis 1-2. The story ends with the account of the new creation: Revelation 21-22. This is not a coincidence. It is a deliberate design arranged by God himself.
In the account of the first creation, God's work reaches its climactic point in the creation of man and woman. The man is identified as Adam. The woman is identified as Eve. They are created "in the likeness and the image of God." They are created to complement each other in their appointed work of overseeing the first creation, tending the garden in which they lived, and having children who are also in the likeness and image of God. They are to multiply and fill the earth with God's image-bearers.
Created in the likeness of God does not mean that human beings are in the same category of being as God. God is the Creator. Human beings are creatures. God is uncreated. He is self-existent. He is eternally God. He depends on nothing but himself for his existence. Human beings, on the other hand, are entirely dependent upon God for their existence.
To keep the distinction between God and human beings very clear, God put a specific tree in the garden, identified by God as "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:9; 2:16-17). Adam and Eve were to eat of every tree in the garden except this tree. God will retain to himself exclusive authority to define what is good and what is evil.
What happened next answers the question of why there should be the creation of a new heaven and a new earth at the far end of the Bible's story (Revelation 21-22).
In the third chapter of Genesis we are given the account of Adam's "fall." God has an enemy. The Bible identifies this enemy as a created angelic being, the highest created being so far as the Bible informs us. His name is Satan. For reasons known only unto God (and amid much human speculation), Satan was permitted to enter the garden and have dialog with Adam and Eve. It was Satan's opportune moment. His own objective is autonomy: to rule his own existence and define his own purpose independent of God. His strategy against Adam and Eve was as brilliant as it was deadly: convince them that a superior position in creation awaited them if they threw off being subservient to their Creator and took their destiny into their own hands. Satan's strategy worked perfectly. What God prohibited (eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), they did. They ate. And at that fateful moment a form of death occurred that is far worse than the termination of physical life.
A state of alienation from God came into being. Satan (and now Adam and Eve) accused God of lying. This led to Adam and Eve's refusal to submit to God's lordship over all of creation, including them. But it wasn't just Adam and Eve who were now alienated from God. Adam's sin also effected a great change in the rest of creation. Worse, his sin would now spread from his own evil heart to the rest of humanity that would come over the long ages of world history. Adam sinned against God, against his wife, against his children, against the entire created realm. His sin brought the curse of God upon the entire world and all of its inhabitants.
Yet the story continues. A new creation is yet coming. But much must be accomplished in this present creation first.
The first movement in the Bible's storyline is creation. The second movement is the fall of humanity into sin and alienation from God. As this element of the story unfolds, it becomes painfully clear that there is nothing we can do to stop the spread of sin. No amount of human effort can reverse the effects of sin. Adam could not "teach" sin out of the lives of his first children. One of his sons, Cain by name, rose up against his brother Abel. The first murder is committed. There will be murders beyond counting yet to come. Sin cannot be controlled. Much of the rest of the Bible is at pains to make this truth abundantly clear to us. No human effort can ever cancel out sin. Our evil is both a permanent condition and an ever-worsening reality.
The story continues. Like most stories that reflect the realities of life, there comes a climactic point in the Bible's story. What humanity cannot possibly do, God does. His solution is to send a "second Adam." God himself enters his creation as a human person--human in every way with a singular exception: the second Adam uses his will to do all the will of God, to obey with joy and spontaneity, to honor God without faltering in the least of God's commandments. His name is Jesus. He is uniquely the Son of God. He is God himself in the form of human flesh and blood. His humanity is real. He is born in the same way every infant comes into this world. He grew through childhood into adulthood. Though difficult for us to imagine, in all those years he never sinned even once. The second Adam fulfills what the first Adam refused to do.
Jesus, who is called the Christ, lived his life in every way God intended for all of humanity to live. Contrary to Adam, although Jesus is "the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped" (New Testament letter of Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5-11). Jesus was obedient in every way that Adam was disobedient. It has to be so if he is to be our Savior. A sinner cannot save a sinner. A sinner cannot save himself. A sinner cannot remove sin, cannot undo the damage, cannot nullify the curse, cannot return to a state of righteousness.
Sin's relentless dominion over every human life became most apparent when humanity collectively nailed Jesus Christ to a wooden cross. His was the death that every sinful human being rightly deserved. Our guilt before God is real. It is serious. The penalty for sin was spelled out to Adam and Eve as clearly as it needed to be. Knowingly and deliberately we, collectively and individually, demanded separation from God, alienation, even war against him. We demanded autonomy even though we knew it meant death. Sin's power is far greater than any power we possess in our humanity. But in the life of obedience that Jesus lived, sin had no power other than to put him to death by crucifixion. Even here, however, the appearance of his death made it seem that Jesus's life was taken from him. The truth is, Jesus gave his life voluntarily. He was not a victim.
He entered into this world and the path he choose led to the cross. He came to give is life to make it possible for his heavenly Father to cancel our sin and put an end to the alienation.
So, even in his death the Lord Jesus Christ triumphs. Death could not contain him. The power of his righteousness is infinitely greater than the power of our sin. Jesus arose from the dead. The grave could not hold him in its iron teeth and hardened chains. Death itself is put to death in the death of Christ!
What does this mean for us? It means that there is hope. There is the possibility of a real reconciliation to God. It means that there can be forever the complete removal of our guilt. It means that God holds out to you and me his welcome into the present and future reality of the new creation, the new heaven and the new earth. It is a qualified welcome.
There is no place for sin in the new creation. And there is no removal of sin for anyone who remains like the first Adam in sin. You and I, if we are to be admitted to the kingdom of God, must be united to Jesus Christ in his life of obedience, in his death on the cross, in his resurrection to new life, in his ascension to the Father, and in his return in power and glory at the end of this age and the beginning of life forever in the new creation. How is this union to be made real and made to be ours?
The answer is, by repentance and faith in Christ alone. Repentance follows the recognition of one's sin and guilt before God. When the word of God is at work in us, the evil of our sin storms into every conscious thought and feeling. We cannot do otherwise than the fall in helpless humility before God, crying out, "God, be merciful to me, and sinner!" (see Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, verses 10-18). And God will be merciful. He will save. He loves to save sinners. From the sin of Adam where it all started, to the new creation where it all comes to its completion, God the Father is devoted to what he loves to do: to save us, to reconcile us to himself, to put the righteousness of his Son upon us and remove from us forever the sin that estranges us from him.
There is no "easy" in any of this. If you want easy, you do not want what God gives. God's lordship over his creation is as contrary to our autonomy as it is absolute in its claim. It was not "easy" for God to do what he did to overcome what we did. His beloved Son died in our place because that is what divine justice requires. Jesus did die because of our sin. He bore the penalty for crimes we committed. There is nothing easy in anything he did. When sinners come to Christ, they come on his non-negotiable terms. To come to Christ is to come and die in his death in order to be raised in him to new life. This is no shallow change. Where once sinners were dead in transgressions and sin, they are made alive in Christ and adopted as children in God's family, given a new identity and a new hope: a forever dwelling place in the new creation.
Yet even now, in this present age, the follower of Jesus Christ has a new identity. The Christian life is about being conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ. By the working of the word of God (the Bible), believers in Jesus are becoming less and less like they were, and more and more like Christ.
It does not surprise committed followers of Jesus Christ that this new identity is antithetical to those who remain in alienation from God. The same kind of hostility that characterized Adam still characterizes those who are not reconciled to God by the death of Jesus on the cross. People who become united to Christ in salvation also share in his suffering. Men and women hated him without a cause when he walked this earth. Men and women still hate him without a cause today. Their hostility continues. The target is still Jesus. Only now, because we (who are genuine Christians) are identified with Christ, we become the target of hostility.
The Christian faith is not a journey to be taken lightly. It is not easy. Charlatans will try to make it easy. Their livelihood depends on selling their goods. Not many will "buy" something that brings on afflictions of various kinds and different intensities. So the charlatans sell a form of Christianity after they have surreptitiously morphed it into something easy, something much more palatable.
Still, the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ is sounded: Be reconciled to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn away from sin. Trust only in Jesus. Receive from him what you can never have apart from him: adoption into God's family; the forgiveness of all your sin; an everlasting inheritance with Christ in the new creation.