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The Chaos-Cosmos Theme and the Gospel Narratives

In my forthcoming book, From Chaos to Cosmos: Creation to New Creation,[1] I trace the chaos – cosmos theme from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Genesis 1:1 reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” that is the cosmos: “The world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system” (Webster). Genesis 1:2 backs up to the earliest stage in God’s creation of the earth, “The earth was without form[2] and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” These five italicized words describe the primeval chaos. These words will be used in later Scriptures either individually or in combination to refer to some form of chaos. Genesis 1 adds two more words that refer to chaos: verse 10, “seas” and verse 21, “great sea creatures/monsters.” A few more words and synonyms will be added later in Scripture to allude to conditions of chaos.

This original chaos was not evil; God created it. In fact, God called the “Seas” and even the “great sea monsters” “good” (Gen 1:10, 21). But after the fall into sin and God’s curse on creation, “chaos” took on evil connotations. God banished our ancestors from Paradise (cosmos) and sent them “east of Eden” where they would have to cope with many forms of chaos: enmity with Satan and his demons, pain, thorns and thistles, and finally death (Gen 3:14–19).

The New Testament uses some of these same words for chaos but it focuses especially on the contrast between darkness and light and centers the chaos – cosmos theme primarily in the battle between Satan, the Prince of Darkness,[3] and Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). In tracing the chaos-cosmos theme through the Scriptures, I was amazed at how it provided a deeper understanding of familiar Gospel narratives. In tracing the chaos-cosmos theme through the Scriptures, I was amazed at how it provided a deeper understanding of familiar Gospel narratives. Click To Tweet

Jesus Rebuked Unclean Spirits and Cast Them Out

For example, according to Mark, Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). To demonstrate how near the kingdom of God, cosmos, had come with the coming of Jesus, Mark relates what happened when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit [chaos]. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked[4] him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit [chaos], convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him [cosmos]. And they were all amazed…” (Mark 1:23–27).

Later a father brought his son so that Jesus could heal him from an unclean spirit that “often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him [chaos]…. And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead [chaos].’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose [cosmos]” (Mark 9:22, 25–27).

Jesus Rebuked the Wind and Calmed the Sea

One evening Jesus and his disciples were crossing Lake Galilee in a small boat. Suddenly a great storm arose, whipping up the waters. The mighty waves crashed into the boat and filled it with water. The disciples, who were experienced fishermen, were terrified. They woke Jesus, who was asleep in the stern, and shouted at him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing [chaos]?” Jesus “awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace!  Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm [cosmos]. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'” (Mark 4:38–41).

Jesus “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace!  Be still.’” The word rebuke is also used in Psalm 104:7 of God in the beginning rebuking the chaotic waters: “At your rebuke they [the waters] fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.” Who then is Jesus? Jesus is the one who, like God in the beginning, can turn chaos into orderly cosmos. The word rebuke is also used in Psalm 106:9, “He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert.” Who then is Jesus? He is the one who can rebuke the sea and save his people from chaotic waters.

Jesus Walked on the Sea

Three Gospels report that Jesus walked on the sea.[5] The disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee but made little headway because the wind was against them. During the fourth watch of the night (3:00–6:00 am) Jesus “came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased [cosmos]. And they were utterly astounded…” (Mark 6:48–51). Jesus identified himself with “it is I,” the same words God used to identify himself in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am,” before saving Israel through the sea. Jesus walking on the sea is a clear sign that he is sovereign over the sea and can save his followers from troubled waters.

Jesus Raised People from Death

On another occasion, the daughter of Jairus was dying. Jairus begged Jesus to come to his house to heal her. But before they could get to the house, someone came and said to Jairus, “‘Your daughter is dead [chaos]; do not trouble the Teacher any more.’ But Jesus on hearing this answered him, ‘Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well [cosmos].’  And when he came to the house,… all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, ‘Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, ‘Child, arise.’ And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat” (Luke 8:49–55). Her life was normal again – an orderly cosmos. For human beings death is an ultimate form of chaos. But by raising Jairus’s daughter, Jesus demonstrated his power to turn even this ultimate form of chaos into orderly cosmos.

Jesus Himself Rose from Death

All four Gospels proclaim the climax when Jesus himself rose from the dead [chaos]. In fact, Jesus’ resurrection is the very reason why all four Gospels were written. When the scribes and Pharisees had asked Jesus for a sign, he answered, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:39–40). Jesus interpreted Jonah’s experience as a type which prefigured his upcoming experience. As Jonah descended into the chaotic sea for three days and three nights, so Jesus would descend into the chaos of death for three days and three nights. But also, just as Jonah escaped from the chaotic sea, so Jesus would escape from the chaos of death. Jesus added, however, “Behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:41). Jonah would live but later die again; Jesus would live and live forevermore, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Paul writes, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22–23). Jesus will turn the curse of death (Gen 3:19) into the cosmos of resurrection and eternal life.


[1] Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2018.

[2] I quote the ESV and italicize words and phrases especially important for our topic.

[3] “The prince of the power of the air,” Eph 2:2.  Cf. Eph 6:12.  See also 1 John 3:8, “The devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

[4] In the OT, God “rebukes” several forms of chaos: the sea (Ps 18:15; Isa 50:2), the sea and Rahab (Job 26:11–12), the waters (Ps 104:7; 106:9), and Satan (Zech 3:2).

[5] Matt 14:22–33; Mark 6:45–52; John 6:16–21.

Sidney Greidanus

Sidney Greidanus (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam) has taught at Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, and The King’s College. Since his retirement from full-time teaching in 2004, he has devoted his time to writing commentaries specifically for preachers. He is the author of many books, including Sola Scriptura; Preaching Christ from the Old Testament; and The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text.

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