N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.
(Rom. 8:18 ESV) 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
The translations differ as to whether Paul means revealed “in” (KJV, NKJV, NIV) us or “to” (ESV, NET, NASB, NRSV) us. The Greek preposition is eis, usually translated “into,” “unto,” or “toward.” Wright says that the preposition is —
implying not merely that we are to be shown a vision of glory (as the NRSV implies), nor simply that a glory will appear within us (as the NIV implies), but that the future revelation will bestow glory upon us, from above, as a gift.
N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 595.
That is, not only will we see glorious things, and not only will glorious things take place, but we’ll participate in the glories of the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE) (which Paul will get to shortly).
(Rom. 8:19 ESV) 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
“Sons of God” [JFG]
Really? The glory that is already in us by virtue of the Spirit’s indwelling (like God’s Glory, the Shekinah, in the midst of the tabernacle or Temple) is hidden from most. When Jesus returns, the curtain will be torn and our true, renewed, Spirit-empowered natures will be visible and on full display — revealing us to be “the sons of God” — the true Israel and (are you ready?) kings and queens of the universe.
Now, as we earlier covered, “sons of God” is taken from Deuteronomy, where it refers to the Israelites (male and female, but “sons” makes clear that we all inherit, even women). But “son of God” has a second meaning in the OT —
(Ps. 2:7-9 ESV) 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
“Son of God” was the title of the King of the Jews — from David to Jesus. And Paul is now shifting gears and hence metaphors. We’re not just the new Israel by faith in Jesus. We are also restored to the dominion over the Creation that God gave humankind, male and female, in Gen 1:26-28.
(By the way, “begotten” would be translated “born” if Paul were speaking of a mother rather than a father. It’s the same word used by Jesus in John 3:5 to speak of Christians being “born again,” but since Jesus is thinking of God the Father, I think the better translation is “begotten again,” which ties Jesus’s words to Psalm 2, which would make a lot of sense and be very consistent with the Greek usage throughout the rest of the NT. And, of course, to be re-begotten fits well with what Paul just said about God adopting us. He begets us again. We are re-Fathered.)
“The creation waits with eager longing” [JFG]
To the modern, Western mind, it makes no sense to speak of the Creation — largely inanimate matter — “longing” for anything. How can the Creation have feelings? Is this real? Or is Paul just being poetic? Well, I think the answer is somewhere in between. That is, the renewal of Creation by God will be quite real. And the OT often speaks in terms of human sin impacting the Creation beyond humanity. In fact, the OT prophets often speak of the “land” or other non-human parts of the Creation yearning for redemption.
What does Paul mean by these images? Well, whatever the prophets meant by their similar language. It means at least that the heavens and the earth are affected by human sin. In fact, many of these passages can be most easily found by reading Creation Care literature, arguing for Christians to see God’s mission as including care for the Creation. It’s not all going to burn. Some parts will be redeemed.
James D. G. Dunn explains that “creation” includes more than just humanity —
This is implied by the clear allusion to the narratives of creation and of man’s/Adam’s fall (Gen 1–3, particularly in the next sentence [v 20])—creation understood in distinction from humankind (and from the creator), as also in 1:25. As (the rest of) creation in the beginning had its role in relation to man, the crown and steward of creation (Gen 1:26–30; 2:19), so creation’s rediscovery of its role depends on the restoration of man to his intended glory as the image of God.
James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, Word BC 38A; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 487.
2. Isaiah 65 and 66, Rev 21 and 22, and all the other NHNE passages speak of the entire Creation being redeemed or transformed. I mean, Gen 1 says that God created “the heavens and the earth,” being the very definition of “Creation.” If we’re going to have a NEW or RENEWED heavens and earth, then the entire Creation is to be redeemed/renewed. God says, “Behold, I’m making all things new” (Rev 21:5). (“New” translates kainos rather than neos. Especially when speaking of the afterlife, the NT writers used kainos to mean made new again or refreshed, whereas neos was used of something newly made. Hence, “made new,” “New Heavens and New Earth,” “new creation,” and “new covenant” all use kainos.)
3. If the entire Creation is to be renewed and freed from futility, as Paul is about to explain, then the entire Creation must have been subjected to futility and bondage.