“We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it at first.” ~St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
From the very beginning of man’s existence, God gave man a special work to do, namely, to have dominion, or rule, over all the creation. Man was originally created for this task, as can be seen in the fact that man was created in the image and likeness of God. In Genesis 1:26-28, after God says, “Let Us make man in Our image after Our likeness” God immediately describes the way in which man is to be like God, and what this image and likeness of God looks like fleshed out in creation, that is, dominion over the whole created order. Psalm 8:6 reiterates this theme when it says, “You have given him (man) dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” Man, as God’s image bearer, was to carry on the same work as God, by virtue of his created position as king.
But the purpose of kingly rule as was originally intended was not domination, but glorification. We can see in Genesis 2:15 that man was to “cultivate” and “keep” the Garden of Eden. “Cultivate” means “to serve”, and “keep” means “to guard or preserve.” So man, in his position of kingly ruler over the Garden was given dominion over the Garden, which was to be a rule of serving and preserving, glorifying, not destroying. As we will see later, this serving role carries with it priestly duties. Thus man, in the garden, was to rule over it as king, but also serve as priest. Adam’s serving God as priest was manifested in his serving the creation. This concept of king/priest has interesting implications when Scripture introduces Melchizedek, a Priest of God Most High, and King of Salem (Gen. 14:18), who is typological of Jesus Christ.
Along with his Dominion mandate, man was also to subdue the creation. The word “subdue” in Hebrew carries with it the idea that the one being subdued is hostile and fighting against the one attempting to subdue it. According to Harris’ Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, “‘[S]ubdue’ in Gen 1:28 implies that creation will not do man’s bidding gladly or easily and that man must now bring creation into submission by main strength. It is not to rule man. However, there is a twistedness in humanity which causes us to perform such a task with fierce and destructive delight. Try as we might, we cannot subdue this.”
But just as soon as man began his dominion rule, he lost it when Adam, the first man, representative of all mankind after him, disobeyed God, and fell in to sin. He then lost his ability to bring the created world into subjection because the creation was now not only working against him and fighting against him as before, but now the whole created order was cursed, particularly the ground. The ground signified the realm of man’s work, the place that was given over to him for subduing and dominion (Gen. 3:17,18). Man was now subjected to death, and he would be placed back into the ground when he died, the place from which he was originally created. The ground was not only cursed as a result of man’s sin, but the ground, now symbolic of the place of man’s death, now even takes over man’s role of dominion, whereby it now subdues and has dominion over man in man’s death. Thus, when man dies he is put into the ground, and the ground then, or the grave, the place of death, now rules over man.
According to many theologians, Genesis 1-4 is the foundation to the whole Biblical story. Everything that happens in the Biblical story is an outworking of Genesis 1-4. The major themes are repeated over and over again, but are flushed out more and more as redemptive history keeps moving forward through time. I mention this because I want you to see that along with the mandate given to man to have dominion, there is always a place given to man to work out this dominion. At first it was given to man in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8).
But after man was kicked out of the Garden, man became broken up in to two groups of people, the Godly line of Seth, and the wicked line of Cain. The Godly line of Seth, the line from which humanity was to be redeemed, came about after the first death was recorded. The wicked line of Cain was the descendants that came after the one responsible for the first death. We can see in this, the foreshadowing of Christ’s death and resurrection which would redeem humanity. Christ the righteous (Abel) was killed by the wicked (Cain), only to have redemption carry on through a new birth, or a “resurrection” (Seth).
We see that as Genesis 4 comes to a close, the blessed man went from a living in a Garden to being cursed and living in a city (Gen. 4:17). This is important because we see throughout Scripture God is always bringing man back into the Garden, restoring his position of dominion. At the same time we see that God’s people are constantly being opposed by those who build cities, (Cain’s city, Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt, Babylon, etc.) I mention this strange idea that seemingly has nothing to do with dominion because as we see God bringing his people into cities, and into lands, God’s people transform those cities and lands, and gradually man’s dominion mandate is being restored, and it is often referred to in a manner that is similar to a return to Eden.
Joseph (the man whom God brought into the pagan city, over which he became ruler over all the land [Gen. 41:43]), in order to protect his family from the famine, provides his family the best land in all of Egypt, the land of Goshen (Genesis 45:18; 47:5-6,11,26). We are told that Egypt is even similar to the “garden of the Lord” in Gen. 13:10. Thus we can see God bringing his people to “rule” over the place that is “like the garden of the Lord.” Nonetheless, they are even brought into the very best part of the land, reminiscent of Eden, a mini dominion restoration story.
God then sends Moses to redeem the children of Israel from their bondage to Egypt, and He promises to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey, another Edenic type land (Joel 2:3). On their journey, God provides them with the Tabernacle. Something interesting to note here is that the Tabernacle entrance was on the east side (Ex. 27:13-16). When man was cast out of the Garden of Eden, he was cast out of the garden from the east, and the cherubim were placed there with flaming swords to guard the tree of life (Gen. 3:24), which is the place where man met with God in communion and fellowship. Now, in the tabernacle, only one man, the high priest, who “served” the Lord in his “priestly” duties once a year, entered into the Holy of Holies, from the east, meeting God at the Ark of the Covenant, which was “protected” by two cherubim (Ex. 25:17-21), signifying a return to the Garden of Eden, the place where man has fellowship and communion with God, the place where God meets his people (Ex. 25:22).
Jesus Christ is now serving in the true tabernacle / temple in Heaven (Heb. 8:1-2) as the Melchizedekian priest (Psalm 110:4; Heb.7), making intercession on behalf of all those who can now draw near to God through Christ as a result of his death and resurrection (Heb. 7:25).
It was through the tabernacle and the giving of the divine law by which the Israelites were to be a kingdom of priests and a light to all the nations. This was to make them a distinct people, but not to be a reason for separatism. God redeemed them and gave them the law so that they might continue the dominion work, the expansion of God’s kingdom, on earth. Dominion was lost in the Garden because God’s Law was broken, therefore the restoration of dominion will carry with it obedience to God’s law, as is promised in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31; Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:25-27).
This return to Eden and the restoration of man’s dominion was amplified even more so when the children of Israel were in the land of promise, the place of dominion, observing the holy festivals that God gave them. For example, during the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths the Children of Israel were told to, on the first day of the week of the celebration “take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days” (Lev. 23:40). This was to remind them that God was bringing them back into the garden.
Once the Tabernacle was replaced with the Temple, even more Edenic imagery occurs in the construction of the Temple. In 1 Kings 6:29-36 we are told that Solomon, the King, has built a Temple for the Lord. And inside the Temple is was full of Edenic imagery: “Then he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved engravings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, inner and outer sanctuaries.” Solomon, the Wise King, whose reign was peaceful and full of rest (1 Kings 5:4), symbolizes what a return to the Garden will be like, peace and rest, while David, his kingdom reign was characteristic of war and violence. He fought against the enemies of God, the wicked line of Cain, in order to bring peace to the land, and to establish the Godly kingdom. David fought to bring about peace by killing off the enemies of God and God’s people. And Solomon, once peace was ushered in, brought the people into the presence of God, via the Temple with all of its “back to Eden” imagery.
Even when the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Babylonians, Daniel, who was a Joseph type character who had dreams and interpreted them for the foreign ruler in whose land he was in, brought about restoration even to pagan Babylon. Daniel and his three friends were exalted to ruling positions over Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:46-49). But even more importantly, God was exalted among the pagan Babylonians (Dan. 3:29). As a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams which Daniel interpreted, as well as his humiliation, Nebuchadnezzar was converted and was shown “How great are His signs, And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion is from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:3, 34). Babylon, which at that time was considered to be the kingdom of kingdoms on the earth, was shown that another kingdom was to come, and this kingdom, with all of its dominion restoration and ever increasing rule was coming with it.
In Daniel 2 and 7, two visions are given. In chapter 2, Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzar in which he interprets a huge statue as symbolic of four kingdoms (2:31-45). The statue is destroyed by a “stone cut from a mountain without hands.” It was symbolic of another kingdom, that would never be destroyed. “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44-45).
A similar vision is given in chapter 7, except this time the four kingdoms are represented by four beasts. The four kingdoms are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.“As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time. 13 “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:12-14). Here we see that not only is a new kingdom coming, but a new king, who is referred to as the “Son of Man.” This king is given, by God, the Ancient of Days, dominion, everlasting dominion in which all peoples, nations, and languages would serve him. And his kingdom will never pass away.
I pause here to collect our thoughts about all that we have seen thus far. The concept of dominion in intrinsically connected with the garden, and a return to Eden, i.e. New Creation. Also God’s kingdom and priestly serving is all intertwined. I have not said all that could have been said, but I feel that I have sufficiently provided thus far the foreshadowing and typology that Scripture lays out for us, which is, as Our Lord Jesus spoke to those two men on the road to Emmaus, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). And so, I shall at this time do the same.
Jesus Christ is the Second or Last Adam. He is the true image of God (Col. 1:15), the true Man. Just as man was given dominion and kingship over the creation, Colossians tells us that Christ was the one who not only created all other dominions, and thrones, and rulers, but that he created them for himself. I quoted Ps. 8:6 earlier to show that man was given dominion and that all things were put under his feet. This idea of “having all things put under feet,” is extremely kingly, as can be seen by the fact that it is directly related to Christ’s reign as King in 1 Cor. 15:27. In this verse Paul quotes Psalm 8:6 (and alludes to Psalm 110:1 earlier in verse 25), and reinterprets it/them to show that by nature of Christ’s resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, all things are now put in subjection under his feet. Jesus Christ is the true King over all creation and has restored humanity back to his original position as kings, hence we are told that we will “reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:10).
Man was created to be a king/priest to serve God, but as a result of the fall and death, he forfeited that role. Jesus Christ, as a result of his resurrection and defeat of death, now occupies that very same position that we lost. The upshot of his resurrection and ascension, Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father, reigning as the Davidic King over all his enemies (Acts 2:22-36; 1 Cor. 15:22-26), who, like his father David, destroyed, except he did this via his death and resurrection (John 12:31; Col. 2:15).
In the garden we saw that man not only ruled as king, but served as priest. Hebrews 7 tells us that Psalm 110 is to be interpreted Christologically, and therefore when Ps. 110:4 says, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,” we are being told that as a result of Christ living forever, via his resurrection and ascension, he is now occupying the position of the Eternal King / High priest. But he has also “made [us] to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and [we] will reign upon the earth.” Our position of serving God and the creation is restored in Christ, and we are to, as before, glorify and not destroy the creation. Our attitude toward the creation shows our attitude toward God, for he gave us dominion over the creation as a means of serving Him. If we, in our duty to subdue the creation “perform such a task with fierce and destructive delight,” and end up destroying it and polluting it, and exhausting its resources, and if we lack the wisdom and the know how to worship God by means of our dominion mandate, then we are returning back to our position of post fall man, and render the work of Christ meaningless, and we inevitably are spurning the work of God by not recognizing our “newness.”
We are told in Romans 8:19-23 that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Some people think that because the earth is going to be burned up in the end before the New Heavens and New Earth are ushered in, that caring for the environment is pointless and futile. But I believe that since we have been restored to our original position as kings and priests over the creation, even though the fullness thereof will be fulfilled in the New Heavens New Earth, I believe we will be doing the same thing there, so we should also be doing the same thing here not only as preparation, but to symbolize that we are redeemed people of a new creation restored back to our dominion mandate. I feel that by caring for the environment and by glorifying our surroundings we are glorifying God and acting like Him, and are living out our being created as the image of God, i.e. dominion over the creation as king priests.
Where the first Adam fell and brought death, the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, like that of the story of Cain and Abel and Seth, brought life and restoration and redemption (Rom. 5:17). By virtue of Christ’s resurrection in particular, we can see that, just as death and the grave had dominion over man, Jesus Christ now has dominion over death and the grave, for Rom. 6:9 says, “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” And since we are now in Christ, death no longer has dominion over us. Yeah, we still die physically, but there will be a day when Christ will raise us up into glorified bodies, so that we can live and reign forever with Him in / as the “garden city” of the Heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10; 22:5).
In summary, we can see that man’s original created purpose was to glorify God by serving the creation and glorifying the creation. In effect, man was to turn the whole world into Eden. Man’s role of dominion over the creation was lost when Adam sinned, and the ground, the place of man’s work then had dominion over man in man’s death. God promised to redeem man, and throughout the Bible gave mini-redemption stories and used a lot of imagery which carried a lot of Edenic imagery, representing God was restoring man back to his original state. Jesus Christ came, defeated death, restored the image of God in man, reversed the curse of the fall by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). He resurrected from the dead, taking dominion away from the grave. He ascended to the right hand of God where he now reign as the Davidic King, and serves as High Priest to God for His people. He has everlasting Dominion as the Son of Man and his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. His people therefore, through Christ, are now restored back to their position as king/priests on the earth and are to serve God via dominion over all creation since Christ made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and Father. In short, Christ is bringing in the New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and therefore we, as new creations, are to live accordingly, and are to reign and serve as kings and priests to our God and Father by virtue of our union with Christ, the Second Adam.
Chilton, David. Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion. Horn Lake, MS: Dominion Press, 2007.
Jordan, James B. Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World.Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Pub, 1988.