“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
In the physical sense, this phrase refers to the point at which the physical universe came to be. Before, there was no physical universe. The physical universe did not have an eternal past. But it did have a “beginning.” To that we can add that the physical universe will not have an eternal future. It is true that this universe has been given a “share of hope” in God’s redemption plan as we read in Romans 8:19-23. But according to I Corinthians 15:44-50, II Peter 3:12,13 and Revelation 21:1, this present physical universe will be replaced by a greater spiritual one, a reality which we cannot and need not imagine or describe now. God is from everlasting to everlasting. After they are created, His people live forever. Even people who are not saved have an eternal existence (Matthew 25:46). But the physical universe has both a beginning and an end.
The real message of this phrase is found when we compare it to the New Testament book of John. From John 1:1 we learn that “In the beginning was the Word.” That Word was Jesus Christ, who came into the World to bring grace and truth as a Savior (John 1:14).
Does Genesis 1:1 declare the beginning of the Word, Jesus? No. John 1:1 does not say “In the beginning of the word.” Jesus is eternal God. Jesus was there in the beginning because He is the great I AM, the eternal One. In fact, according to John 1:3,10, Jesus is the Creator.
Does Genesis 1 describe the beginning of the gospel of “grace and truth?” No. The gospel was prepared before the beginning (Ephesians 1:4, II Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2)
Of what, then does Genesis 1:1 announce the beginning? We find the answer to that question if we recall that God sent His Son into the world to be the Savior (John 3:16,17, I Timothy 1:15). He could not do that if there were no world in which to enter. Therefore, the first step in the fulfillment of the gospel was to create “the heaven and the earth,” because the physical universe is the arena in which the drama of salvation takes place. With that understanding, we can say that Genesis 1:1 refers to the beginning of the fulfillment of the promised gospel. God had a job in mind and Genesis 1:1 describes step one in a series of steps that lead to the fulfillment of His specific purpose. The plan of God was set in motion “in the beginning”: and would not stop until it was completed, at which point the physical universe will have served its purpose and its existence will end.