(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 5/4/03 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let's read Romans 8, verses 14 through 25:
Romans 8: (14) For as many as are led by [the] Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (15) For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again to fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption by which we cry, Abba! Father! (16) The Spirit Himself witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God. (17) And if children, also heirs; truly heirs of God, and joint-heirs of Christ, if indeed we suffer together, that we may also be glorified together. (18) For I calculate that the sufferings of the present time [are] not worthy [to compare to] the coming glory to be revealed in us. (19) For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. (20) For the creation was not willingly subjected to vanity, but through Him subjecting [it], on hope; (21) that also the creation will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (22) For we know that all the creation groans together and travails together until now. (23) And not only [so], but also we ourselves having the firstfruit of the Spirit, also we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly expecting adoption, the redemption of our body; (24) for we were saved by hope, but hope being seen is not hope; for what anyone sees, why does he also hope? (25) But if we hope for what we do not see, through patience we wait eagerly.
Two weeks ago, we went backwards and covered some verses we had already gone over in light of an issue that had recently come up, which was assurance. In the sermon before that one, we went over the phrases "if indeed we suffer together" and "the sufferings of the present time" in verse 17 and 18. Our focus was on the suffering that all Christians go through. And in the sermon before that one, we went over our glorification with Christ in heaven. We are one with Christ in suffering, and we will be one with Christ in glorification. In verse 18, Paul says that this suffering that we all go through on the earth, the hatred and persecution that comes from the world, especially the self-righteous religious world, is NOTHING compared to our coming glorification. Our present suffering, although it may be intense at times, can't even BEGIN to be compared to our glorification. So, even though we are one with Christ in both suffering and glorification, our future GLORIFICATION with Christ FAR SURPASSES our present suffering with Christ. In our suffering, we LOOK FORWARD to the time of our glorification. Our suffering isn't an end in itself. Even though we rejoice in suffering, it won't even COME CLOSE to comparing to our rejoicing in heaven with Jesus Christ. We CAN'T EVEN IMAGINE the intensity and degree and extent of the joy of heaven. In heaven, there will be SINLESS joy! Just think about that. What a day that will be, when we SINLESSLY worship the Lamb of God. On that day, "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death shall be no longer, nor mourning, nor outcry, nor will there be pain any more," according to Revelation 21:4. No sin, no suffering, no crying, no sadness, no pain. Just pure, unending joy in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our present suffering is quite tiny compared to that, isn't it? We have such a blessed hope. We have so much to look forward to.
Now we come to verses 19 through 21, which continues the theme of the expectation of final glory. This passage has a lot of different interpretations, mainly because of the different interpretations of the Greek word for "creation." The King James Version translates it "creature." Some say this means every single created thing, both animate and inanimate. Some say it means all of non-human creation. Some say it means the angels. Some say it means the Jews. Some say it means the Gentiles. Some say it means the Christians. Some say it means all of creation except for Christians. It's all over the place. I'll give you what I think it means in the context. I think the most plausible interpretation is that this is talking about the totality of non-human creation, both animate and inanimate, and I hope to show you the reasoning behind this as we go phrase-by-phrase through this passage.
Let's first go into the phrase "For the earnest expectation." The Greek word for "earnest expectation" is only found twice in the New Testament, and it's a mouthful. It's a-pok-a-ra-dok-EE-ah. It's a combination of a-PO, which means "away from," KA-ra, which means "head," and do-KEH-oh, which means "to watch." It denotes a looking for something with the head stretched forward, away from the body. It is a very strong and intense looking forward. So we hook this up to the next phrase, which is "of the creation," which I've already said is, in my view, the non-human creation. The next phrase is "eagerly awaits." This adds even more emphasis to the intensity and strength of this waiting and expecting. The Greek word is another mouthful. It's ah-pek-DEK-om-ahee, which is a combination of a-PO, which means "away from," and ek-DEK-om-ahee, which means "to look for." It is another strong, intense, looking forward, this time as a verb. It can't be overemphasized how strong and intense this longing for what is to come is put forth here. The EARNEST EXPECTATION of the creation EAGERLY AWAITS. Are you getting the sense of the intensity and urgency that's being pictured here? So what is it that the creation is earnestly expecting and eagerly awaiting? It is looking for the revelation of the sons of God. In the context, this is talking about the coming glory, when all the elect will be finally glorified in heaven with Christ. In verse 18, it talks about "the coming glory to be revealed in us." The non-human creation is intensely looking forward to the time at the end of the age when all of God's people are gathered in heaven for all eternity. Now we know that when a Christian dies, he is glorified in heaven. But this is talking about the final time when there are no more un-glorified saints. It is talking about the time after the second coming and judgment when all of God's people are glorified with Christ in heaven.
Why would the creation be looking forward to this particular time? Well, let's look at verse 20:
Romans 8: (20) For the creation was not willingly subjected to vanity, but through Him subjecting [it], on hope;
Let's first look at the phrase, "the creation was not willingly subjected to vanity." First, we need to answer the question: in what way was creation subjected to vanity? The Greek word for "vanity" means "emptiness" or "uselessness." How was creation subjected to this state? Well, let's first turn to Genesis 1:31:
Genesis 1: (31) And God saw everything that He had made and behold, it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning the sixth day.
God created the universe and all it contains in six days. And He declared His creation to be very good. There was certainly no vanity here. This was perfect creation. But then came the sin of Adam and Eve. After their sin was exposed by God, here's what God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17-18:
Genesis 3: (17) And He said to the man, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat [from] it, the ground [shall be] cursed because of you; you shall eat of it in sorrow all the days of your life. (18) And it shall bring forth thorns and thistles for you, and you shall eat the plant of the field.
God cursed the ground because of Adam. And in verse 21, there is the first death in creation. Creation had become subject to death and decay and thorns and thistles. This is how it was subjected to vanity. We now live on an earth in which there are natural disasters, in which there are weeds that get in the way of nutritious plants, in which there are poisonous plants and animals and other things that are harmful. There is death and disaster and danger. This is certainly not paradise. But did the non-rational creation bring this upon itself? No - it couldn't have. It does not have the capacity to sin. Thus, it was not WILLINGLY subjected to this vanity; instead, MAN, in his sin, brought this on creation. We can see how God connected the state and actions of MAN to the state of creation. When man fell morally, creation fell into a state of vanity. And the state of creation remains connected to the state of man and will be connected to the state of man at the end of the age, as we will see in verse 21, the Lord willing.
So creation was not willingly subjected to the state it is presently in. It is man's fault. Now we get to the second half of Romans 8:20, which says, "but through Him subjecting it, on hope." Now this is a hard phrase to understand. The KJV translates it, "by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope." I don't know how helpful that is, either. Young's Literal Translation says, "but because of Him who did subject it - in hope." The whole verse in Young's says, "for to vanity was the creation made subject--not of its will, but because of Him who did subject it -- in hope." I think this is the clearest of the translations. God subjected creation to vanity as a punishment for man's sin, but this subjection was not to be forever. There is a certain expectation that there will come a day when creation will be free from its subjection to vanity.
And that brings us right to verse 21:
Romans 8: (21) that also the creation will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
We see the phrase "the slavery of corruption" to describe creation in its present state. Creation is currently a slave to corruption. But there will come a day when creation will be freed from its present state of slavery to corruption. And it is again tied to the state of man. When all the children of God are freed from their sin and glorified forever in heaven, then creation will also be freed from the state to which it was subjected. There will be a new heavens and a new earth, as it says in Revelation 21:1 -- once again a perfect creation - a paradise for the people of God.
So thus far we have seen that creation earnestly expects and eagerly awaits the day when all the children of God are glorified, so that it will be free from the corruption to which it was subjected because of man's sin. And in verse 22, creation is said to groan and travail as it is intensely looking forward to the day when it will be free from bondage to corruption. The Greek word for "groan together" is soos-ten-AD-so, which means to sigh or to moan jointly. The Greek word for "travail together" is soon-o-DEE-no, which means to have birth pains jointly. Here we can get a sense of the intense and collective groaning in pain, like a million mothers about to give birth, intensely wanting this pain to be over and for the birth to happen. It's quite a picture, isn't it? The Bible here gives animate, even human qualities to all of creation to show us the intensity of the expectation of what is to come. Even the animals and the rocks and the plants and the planets and the stars are in the pain of slavery to corruption and await the time when they will no longer be in this state. How much more do we, as the children of God, await that day, as we see in verse 23, which we will go into next time, the Lord willing.
To end today's sermon, I'd like for us to read several passages on the end of the current corrupted heavens and earth and the beginning of the new heavens and earth that are free from corruption and vanity when the Lord returns.
Psalm 102: (25) Before [time] You founded the earth, and the heavens [are] the work of Your hands. (26) They shall perish, but You shall endure; yea, all of them shall wear out like a garment; You shall change them like clothing, and they shall be changed.
Isaiah 51: (6) Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look to the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, and the earth shall wear out like a garment; and those living in it shall die in the same way, but My salvation shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not be broken.
Isaiah 65: (17) For, behold, I create new heavens and new earth. And the former things shall not be recalled, and [they] shall not go up on the heart. (18) However, be glad and rejoice forever [in] what I create. For, behold, I create in Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. (19) And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people. And the voice of weeping and the voice of crying shall no longer be heard in her. (20) There shall not still be an infant of days, or an old man that has not filled his days. For the youth shall die the son of a hundred years, but the sinner the son of a hundred years shall be accursed. (21) And they shall build houses and live [in them]; and they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. (22) They shall not build, and another live [in them]; they shall not plant, and another eat. For like the days of the tree [are] the days of My people; and My elect shall grow old to the work of their hands. (23) They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth for terror. For they [are] the seed of the beloved ones of Jehovah, and their offspring with them. (24) And it will be, before they call, I will answer. While they are speaking, then I will hear. (25) The wolf and the lamb shall feed as one; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And dust [is] the food of the snake. They shall not do evil nor destroy in all My holy mountain, says Jehovah.
Matthew 24: (29) And immediately after the affliction of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (30) And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens. And then all the tribes of the land will wail. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory. (31) And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of [the] heavens to their ends. (32) But learn the parable of the fig tree: When its branch becomes tender and it puts out leaves, you know that the summer [is] near; (33) so also you, when you see all these things, know that it is near at [the] doors. (34) Truly I say to you, In no way will this generation pass away until all these things have occurred. (35) The heaven and the earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away, never! (36) But as to that day and that hour, no one knows, neither the angels of Heaven, except My Father only. (37) But as the days of Noah, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man. (38) For as they were in the days before the flood: eating, and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, until [the] day [when] Noah went into the ark. (39) And they did not know until the flood came and took all away. So also will be the coming of the Son of Man. (40) At that time two will be out in the field; the one is taken away, and the one is left; (41) two grinding at the mill; one is taken away, and one is left. (42) Watch, then, for you do not know in what hour your Lord comes. (43) But know this, that if the housemaster had known in what watch the thief comes, he would have watched and not have allowed his house to be dug through. (44) Because of this, you also be ready, for in that hour you think not, the Son of Man comes.
Hebrews 1: (10) And, "You, Lord, at [the] beginning founded the earth, and the heavens are works of Your hands. (11) They will vanish away, but You will continue; and [they] will all become old, like a garment, (12) and You shall fold them up like a covering, and [they] shall be changed. But You are the same, and Your years shall not fail."
2 Peter 3:10-13:
2 Peter 3: (10) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in [the] night, in which the heavens will pass away with rushing sound, and having burned [the] elements will be dissolved, and earth and the works in it will be burned up. (11) Then all these being [about] to be dissolved, [of] what sort ought you to be in holy behavior and godliness, (12) looking for and hastening the coming of the Day of God, through which [the] heavens having been set afire will be dissolved; and burning, [the] elements will melt? (13) But according to His promise, we look for "new heavens and a new earth," in which righteousness dwells.
Revelation 20: (11) And I saw a Great White Throne, and the [One] sitting on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled; and a place was not found for them. (12) And I saw the dead, the small and the great, standing before God. And books were opened. And another Book was opened, [which is] the [Book] of Life. And the dead were judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works. (13) And the sea gave up the dead in it. And death and hell gave up the dead in them. And they were each judged according to their works. (14) And death and hell were thrown into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. (15) And if anyone was not found having been written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire. (21:1) And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and the sea no longer is. (2) And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, having been prepared as a bride, having been adorned for her Husband. (3) And I heard a great voice out of Heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God with men! And He will tabernacle with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. (4) And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death shall be no longer, nor mourning, nor outcry, nor will [there] be pain [any] more; for the first things passed away. (5) And the [One] sitting on the throne said, Behold! I make all things new. And He says to me, Write, because these Words are faithful and true. (6) And He said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending. To the one thirsting, I will freely give of the fountain of the Water of Life. (7) The one overcoming will inherit all things, and I will be God to him, and he will be the son to Me. (8) But for the cowardly and unbelieving, and those having become foul, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all the lying ones, their part will be in the Lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (9) And one of the seven angels came to me, he having the seven bowls being filled with the seven last plagues, and spoke with me, saying, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. (10) And he carried me in spirit onto a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, holy Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, (11) having the glory of God. And its light [was] like a very precious stone, as a jasper stone, being clear as crystal, (12) and having a great and high wall, having twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates and names having been inscribed, which are of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. (13) From the east, three gates; from the north, three gates; from the south, three gates; and from the west, three gates. (14) And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (15) And he speaking with me had a golden reed, that he may measure the city, and its gates, and its wall. (16) And the city lies four cornered, even its length as much as the width also. And he measured the city with the reed at twelve thousand stadia; its length and width and height are equal. (17) And he measured its wall, a hundred [and] forty four cubits, a measure of a man, which is of an angel. (18) And the structure of its wall was jasper; and the city [was] pure gold, like pure glass. (19) And the foundation of the wall of the city having been adorned with every precious stone: The first foundation, jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; (20) the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprasus; the eleventh, hyacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. (21) And the twelve gates [were] twelve pearls; respectively each one of the gates was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, as transparent glass. (22) And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty is its temple, even the Lamb. (23) And the city had no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they might shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it, even its lamp [is] the Lamb. (24) And the nations of the ones saved will walk in its light; and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. (25) And its gates may not at all be shut by day, for no night will be there. (26) And they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. (27) And all profaning may not at all enter into it, or any making an abomination or a lie; but only the ones having been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb. (22:1) And he showed me a pure river of water of life, bright as crystal, coming forth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. (2) In the midst of its street and of the river, from here and from there, [was] a tree of life producing twelve fruits: according to one month each yielding its fruit. And the leaves of the tree were for healing of the nations. (3) And every curse will no longer be. And the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it; and His slaves will serve Him. (4) And they will see His face; and His name [will be] on their foreheads. (5) And night will not be there; and they have no need of a lamp or a light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them. And they shall reign to the ages of the ages.