“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” – Mark 16:15
The long-ending of the Gospel of Mark includes a command from Jesus to preach the gospel to the whole creation. We’re used to the Great Commission in Matthew, and its command to make disciples of people, but where does this language of the “whole creation” come from and why does it matter? I think the answers lies in the fact that this is the resurrected Jesus making this command.
1) Resurrection and Creation: The biblical picture of resurrection is much bigger than the resurrection of Jesus. Other parts of the Bible (Daniel 12; Matthew 22:23f; Luke 14:13, 20:36; John 5:29, 11:17f; Acts 4:2. 23:6; 24:15; Romans 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15; Rev. 20:4-5) portray a resurrection of all people at the end of time. The earth-shattering (literally) news of Jesus’ resurrection was that it had happened before the general resurrection. The Jewish worldview (at least of the Pharisees and their predecessors) at the time of Jesus, anticipated this general resurrection and pictured it in connection to the arrival of the Messiah. Two months ago, I posted on this, with reference to Jon Levenson’s book Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel (New Haven: Yale 2006). In Chapter 13, Levenson writes about the figure of the “Divine Warrior”, a Messianic figure who judges the world in wrath but then brings forth new vitality in the natural world. When the general resurrection at the end of time comes, it is a part of this larger Messianic judgment and restoration that “revitalizes nature, bringing life-giving moisture to desiccated land and fertility to dwindling flocks and herds” (p. 214). He continues, “The flourishing of nature (including human vitality) is the normal state of affairs when the people Israel are faithful to the Lord’s covenant with them” (p. 214).
A Christians, who see this fulfilled in Jesus, it is then only logical that in a post-Jesus’-resurrection world part of our calling as those united by faith with the resurrected Messiah is to seek the flourishing of nature and the revitalization of the earth. I think we fail to make this connection today because the notion of general resurrection is absent in the minds of typical Christians, and thus many people adhere to a more Platonic view of a heaven with no physical, corporeal reality. (Yes, there are biblical texts to support the later, but as I’ll explain next week, they aren’t always taken in context.) N. T. Wright, in his book Simply Christian‘s section on resurrection, writes of the surprise that many Christians respond with when told of the general resurrection. It’s missing from our worldview, a gap in our education. But if we go back to scripture and to a study of the early church, we see that a more tangible, physical view of general resurrection was common (Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 [New York: Columbia 1995] p. 11). Interestingly, this concern for a material resurrection of humanity often resulted in Christians practicing greater degrees of asceticism. The rationale was that in the resurrection, there will be no more physical change, so people prepared their physical bodies for changelessness by training themselves to avoid eating, sex, and other bodily appetites that led to physical change (Bynum, p. 112-113). Our rationale for practice of spritual disciplines may be different today, but the overall effect is the same: consumption is decreased and the natural world protected.
2) Jesus and Creation: The Greek word used for creation in Mark 16:15 is ktisis. In Mark 13:19 and Romans 8:20, it’s used with reference to all of the created world, the whole universe. In Romans 1:25, it’s used to refer to a particular part of the created world (in this case, animals, v.23). It’s also used in Colossians 1:15-20:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation [ktisews]; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created [ektisthe], things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created [ektistai] through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Jesus is the firstborn of creation, the one in, through, and for whom all things were created. Not only that, but as verse 20 says, “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” have been reconciled to God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus came to redeem all the world, not just humanity, but all of the created world, and as the “firstborn from the dead”, he initiated the process of turning death into life for all of creation. Those who recognize the new life he’s given them, thus are called to participate in that redemption of the whole creation, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God to all the earth in word and deed. St. Francis of Assisi was known for literally preaching to the animals (which can’t hurt) but today that proclamation of the gospel to the physical creation takes place in other ways: recycling, planting trees and gardens, cleaning up polluted waterways, reducing our impact upon the earth, etc. The best part is, when other people who care about the earth ask why we as Christians want to do this, we can say in all truthfulness, “Because of the resurrection of Jesus.”