It would be really cool — nice and symmetrical — if the creation were to be redeemed much as God redeems his people. After all, our becoming new creations means that the old passes away, but not that there’s no continuity.
Jesus, when resurrected, was given a new body with all sorts of new properties. He could walk through walls and ascend into heaven — but he still cooked, ate, walked, and had scars. There was a continuity between the old and the new. The new creation is the old transformed, not the old destroyed and replaced.
(Rom 8:16-17) The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
“Glory” refers to the presence of God, the Shekinah. To share in Christ’s glory is to be in God’s immediate presence.
(Rom 8:18) I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
And that presence is already “in us.” It is, of course, the Spirit of God, through whom he dwells in us. At the End, this presence will be fully revealed. It’s not obvious now. It will be.
(Rom 8:19) The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
The creation itself is expectantly waiting for the End, too.
(Rom 8:20-21) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Ponder this one. In Paul’s theology, the creation isn’t destroyed. It’s freed. It will enjoy the same freedom we Christians will enjoy. Indeed, the word translated “liberated” — eletheroo — is used elsewhere in the New Testament only to refer to the freedom that Jesus gives Christians.
(Rom 8:22-23) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
And the creation and the Christians both groan awaiting redemption. Paul says God’s children we enjoy “the redemption of our bodies.” Our bodies will be fixed, made better, transformed, even returned to the perfection of Eden. But so will the Creation.
In Romans 8, there’s not a hint that the creation will be burned up and replaced. Rather, the thought is plainly that the creation will be given the same freedom that Christians enjoy — freedom from the curse on all creation. It will be transformedn, not annihilated.