The Old Creation Was About To Be “Set Free“
Note what Paul said was “about to (mello)” happen to the whole creation:
• Creation would no longer be subjected to futility, so that it finally fulfills its purpose and destiny, which was to serve and benefit the human creation (who would have dominion over it), rather than be a curse and frustration to mankind (by not serving him fully) (v. 20) (cf. Rev. 5:13)
• The creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (to finally be all that it was designed to be) (v. 21)
• The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now – implying that the old creation is going to give birth to something new (v. 22)
This would happen in connection with (or at the same time as):
- “the glory that is about to be revealed to us” (v. 18) [Also see: 2 Thess. 1:7-10]
- “the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19)
- “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21)
- “our adoption as sons” (v. 23)
- “the redemption of our body” (v. 23)
The New Creation Was About to be “Revealed:”
I (Ed Stevens) read over a dozen commentaries on this section of Romans (8:18-25), and almost every one of them took the position that the creation referred to here is the non-human or sub-human creation, both animate and inanimate, but does not include the human or angelic creation. They note that Paul is personifying the creation here, and giving it personal characteristics, just like we see in several Old Testament texts, particularly the Psalms, where the subhuman creation is personified.
However, even though they rightly identified what this creation is, they all failed to connect the release from its subjection to futility and its liberation from its slavery to corruption with the arrival of the New Creation in Christ. Their futurist hermeneutic simply blinded them to the typological connections here. But the following texts show what Romans 8:18-25 is alluding to. The old creation was the type for the new creation (antitype/fulfillment).
There is a typology involved here, which was prophesied in Isaiah especially, as well as in Hebrews, 2 Peter 3, and the book of Revelation. But notice how the old creation is restored, regenerated, refreshed, rebuilt, transformed, renewed, and reformed into a New Creation and New Heavens and Earth:
Matt. 17:11 And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things;
[cf. Isa. 40:3-5; Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6; Matt. 3:1-12; Luke 1:16-17; 3:2-9]
Matt. 19:28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
[Isa. 56:3; 65:17; 66:22; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21; 5:10]
- Definition: “regeneration” (Greek = palingenesia) – literally = begin again, restart, start over, new beginning, or recreate. This is talking about the new creation after the Parousia. This appears as a strong allusion to the restart of the church on earth after the pre-70 saints were taken to heaven. It is something which happens after the Parousia when the twelve apostles had been received into their prepared dwelling places (John 14:3).
Mark 9:12 And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
Acts 3:19 “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;
Acts 3:20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you,
Acts 3:21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.
Acts 15:16 ‘after these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it’
Rom. 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [i.e., righteousness].
2 Cor. 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. [Eph. 2:10-15; 3:13-16; 4:23-24]
Gal. 6:15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Eph. 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works [i.e., the righteousness of the new creation], which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Eph. 2:11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands —
Eph. 2:12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Eph. 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Eph. 2:14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.
Eph. 2:15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might create the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.
Eph. 3:9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.
Eph. 4:23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
Eph. 4:24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Col. 3:10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him —
Col. 3:11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
Heb. 9:10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.
Heb. 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come [or to be born/created], He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;
James 1:18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
2 Pet. 3:13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
[Isa. 1:26; 51:16; 54:1-14; 65:17; 66:22; Dan. 12:3; Mal. 3:3-4; Matt. 5:18-19;]
Rev. 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. [Isa. 51:16; 65:17; 66:22; Rev. 20:11; 1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:17; 2 Pet. 3:10-13;]
Rev. 21:5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
The books of Hebrews and Revelation provide a lot of support for this Old and New Creation typology, as do the OT prophets like Isaiah. The old creation was redeemed from its Fall, and renewed-recreated spiritually, and had a new beginning or fresh start. It is a new heavens and earth, not just a new earth or a new heaven. There is both a heavenly aspect of the New Creation, as well as an earthly aspect of it (i.e., the visible and invisible church or Kingdom).
What I wanted to do here is to delve deeper into the understanding of this passage from the perspective of the “earthly seen realm.”
I believe where a lot of the confusion comes from for many people, when trying to understand this Romans 8 passage, stems from not understanding the “full scope” of what “THE CREATION” is that Paul is speaking about, and thus what it means by “THE WHOLE CREATION GROANS AND LABORS.” It needs to be remembered that in Genesis 1:1 that God created BOTH the heavens (unseen realm) and the earth (seen realm). When Adam and Eve sinned it affected “ALL OF CREATION” –> both the spiritual heavenly unseen realm AND the earthly seen realm. The original purpose and function of both were altered.
Included in Christ’s redemptive work would be to “restore and reunite” the heavenly unseen realm with the earthly seen realm of His ONE eternal Kingdom (Eph. 1:10).
Part of the “full scope” I wanted to add to this topic study was to include some further understanding into the “earthly literal” aspect of both what the original earth creation was supposed to do in its service to God, and how once it was “delivered from the bondage” (in Christ), it was again able to accomplish what it was made to do –> bring glory to God.
An aspect of “the whole creation” to remember is the condition of “the whole creation” before Adam fell. Heaven and Earth were united. The Heavenly realm, God, could walk with Adam and Eve in the Garden. There wasn’t any sin – there wasn’t any separation from the Tree of Life. Creation was all around Adam and Eve, and everything reflected God to them. Everything was just about innocence, peace, purity and knowing God in intimacy. Adam named all of the animals in the Garden, so every time He saw an animal, it reminded him of God. Every time he heard a bird sing, it reminded him about God. Every time he would smell the perfume of a flower, it would remind him about the majesty and glory of God. The stars and moon at night would speak of the glory of God, and the Sun in the day would touch the soul as the warmth touched the skin. Nothing was hindering the full language of creation from “speaking the language” it was meant to, as everything pointed to something glorious and incredible about the Creator who created it. The creation story in Genesis chapter 1 is full of imagery of how creation speaks of the creator and His majesty and glory.
So, in the beginning before sin entered the world, everything of creation was working in harmony to draw man’s awe and give glory to God. Adam and Eve couldn’t go through their day without walking by a babbling brook, or seeing a squirrel collecting nuts, and not be reminded of how God is taking care of the flowers, and the bees, and everything, and His creation was doing what it was created to do which was to draw man in awe to His Creator, to worship Him in glory, to give Him the glory that He deserves. That is why we were created –> to be in fellowship and relationship with God, and to give Him glory.
But once sin came, it turned all “self-centered,” and everything was “all about us now.” Adam and Eve immediately started blaming each other, or blaming the serpent. Later, Cain kills Abel. And there is greed, and there is lust, and everything is shifted and altered in the world, and the whole purpose of creation for what it was created to do, “to draw man to constantly reflect” on God, and His goodness, and give Him glory, was ruptured and corrupted.
Recall how in Romans chapter 1 how Paul says in verse 18 that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Truth, which is supposed to draw them to God. Truth is supposed to be expressed in everything around them in creation. Creation is supposed to reflect God to them, and draw them to Him. But they’re suppressing it. It isn’t that creation is not reflecting the truth and glory of God, but they’re suppressing it “in unrighteousness,” “because what may be known of God is Manifest in them,” (v. 19). They have a conscience, and they have an intellect, and they have the call from God to “come let us reason together” to know that He is the Creator of all that they see around them (Isa. 1:18), and that they did not evolve, and that they are “without excuse.” Since creation, God’s eternal attributes are said to be clearly known by man, including the eternal power and the Godhead, but they “suppress the truth.”
A child is not born in this complete hardened state, but rather, as the passage states –> they “become” futile in their thoughts. That is where the battle is –> in the mind. They become hardened through a process in their lives by the things they see, and hear, and the filth that they allow into their minds. They become futile in their thoughts and their foolish Hearts are darkened. It is a process, because the thoughts become bad –> therefore the hearts become hardened –> the conscience becomes dull –> therefore it leads them into further and further darkness.
So, reflecting on the “earthly” aspect of the whole creation, Paul is explaining that since the Fall, creation was subjected to futility, and it is metaphorically “groaning” because man has grown hard in sin and futile in their thoughts and creation has not been able to do what it was created to do –> draw man to reflect upon God’s goodness and to draw us to have awe and give Him glory.
So, metaphorically, the purpose of creation was subject to futility and had lost the ability for what it was created for. And when we come to Romans 8 Paul says that creation is groaning, it is in sorrow, it is in agony, and the time has come right to the verge of giving birth –> a new creation. No matter how much someone may understand about all of this, Paul clearly states that this was on the verge of consummating right there in the 1st century. Very helpful for us to remember is that there is a “seen and unseen realm” to all of this (earthly/seen and heavenly/unseen), and much was to take place in the spiritual unseen realm.
For the earthly realm we are focusing on, as a “born-again” believer, a Christian is a “new creation” (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17). A born-again Christian has “new life.” They have God dwelling in them. They have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). The unbeliever’s mind has become darkened and futile in their thoughts, but the believer’s mind has been transformed and renewed (Rom. 12:2).
The believer’s mind has been transformed – they have a new mind. They have whole new thought patterns. Romans chapter 8 gives us a simple and clear description of this. In Romans 8:5 it says, “for those who live according to the flesh (that is unregenerate people; non-Christian people) set their MINDS on the things of the flesh (To put it simply: unsaved people have an unsaved mindset. Fleshly people think about fleshly things), but those who live according to the Spirit (those born-again), the things of the Spirit.”
A believer has a NEW MIND: Rom. 8:6 “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is LIFE and PEACE.” They have a whole new mind – this is incredible! The Greek word here “Froneema” means “mindset.” A whole NEW way of THINKING is what it means. Not a new brain, but a new way of thinking. As Christians they now have the Holy Spirit and think on the Spiritual level and not the fleshly level.
Look at 1 Cor. 1:30 “But of him who are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God…” Look at this – all of a sudden it says Christians have the wisdom of God! And the Psalmist says in Psa. 92:5, “…thy thoughts are very deep.” Now, all of a sudden a Christian (born-again “new creation”) can plunge the deep thoughts of eternal God. They think in ways they never though before. They are able to think receiving God’s thoughts.
- 1 Cor. 2:11-12, “11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”
- So a Christian has the wisdom of Christ, and they have the knowledge of God granted to them by the Holy Spirit.
- Look at vs. 15 – “15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” –> We have the MIND of Christ!
- A Christian is NOT like the natural man in vs. 14 – it is all foolishness to him.
- A Christian now has the mind of Christ – they now understand the wisdom of God – the Spirit of God brings them wisdom about God that they would otherwise never ever have –> a Christian is someone who is “born-again” –> a NEW CREATION.
Since the beginning when God had finished creation on the sixth day nothing new had been created –> and now, in the 1st century, you have “born-again” man called a new creation. A “new creation” which had the wisdom and mind of Christ –> indwelt by God Himself, now with the ability to understand creation from the way it was created, and for what purpose it was created for –> to create awe in man and bring glory to God.
The visible realm of the Kingdom on earth (in the Church), was about to be reunited with the heavenly realm by Christ at His imminent Parousia in AD 66-70. The New Heavens and Earth would be consummated and it would grow forevermore saving souls from every nation, tribe and tongue (Isa. 9:7; Eph. 3:21). The “leaves of the Tree of Life” (the gospel) would bring healing to people from all nations (Rev. 22:2; Ezek. 47:12). The power of the gospel would change hardened sinners into “new creations,” as children in meekness.
The creation around us comes alive in power and majesty to the born-again believer. When, before being saved one could go through life and take no knowledge or thought of a full moon, a flower blooming, the cycle of the seasons, or the song of a bird in the morning, whereas, upon new “born-again” life, all of creation becomes as “new” in its life and purpose –> no longer “subjected to futility,” but now in “new meaning and life” able to bring us in awe to God where we give Him glory for His majestic creation we enjoy all around us.
The “born-again” believer’s mind is now thinking with the wisdom from God because we are a NEW CREATION, with a new heart, new spirit, and the “mind of Christ.” Recall all of those verses above which tell us what happens to someone when they’re regenerated and have the Spirit of God living within them. Creation is now able to accomplish what it had been groaning for since the Fall –> draw a regenerated heart in awe to God to bring Him glory.
God had created everything around us to bring us in awe to Him. To draw us to Him in awe of seeing how all of these creatures work together in an amazing echo system. Designed by the Great Designer. Now a born-again believer can be in awe at a sunrise, the changing seasons, the birth-death cycle of so many things, such as a seed sprouting on the forest floor that had laid dormant for years waiting for the death of other growth around it allowing for space to clear for its new life to begin, and countless things each day, month and year that we will now see “anew” in creation around us that we wonder how we did not see before.
Paul was saying they were living on the cusp of a new birth. The “new creation” would not be a “literal” recreating of better bugs and snakes, but was metaphorical, typological and spiritual, and would have both an earthly and heavenly aspect. Man himself was literally, spiritually a “NEW CREATION” upon being born again. Physical creation would have its purpose restored, regenerated, refreshed, rebuilt, transformed, and renewed in its ability to bring the “born-again” believer in awe to give glory to its Creator. And at Christ’s imminent Parousia all of those remaining living believers would be raptured into their own individual, new, perfect, immortal, spiritual bodies and enter the New Heavens to live with God forevermore.
At the Parousia in AD 66-70 the New Heavens and Earth eternal Kingdom was fully consummated. From then on, every believer who physically dies leaves this earthly realm (in the Church) of the Kingdom, and steps right into the unseen heavenly realm of the Kingdom. There is no longer the waiting place of Hades/Sheol, the final resurrection took place at the Parousia. The born-again believer enters into the heavenly realm where there is no more tears, no more sorrow, no more dying.
For a born-again believer, they have the wisdom of God and mind of Christ and the Spirit of God indwelling them to enable their “new man” to understand the earthly physical aspects of the NEW CREATION and NEW HEAVENS AND EARTH, as well as the Heavenly aspects of Christ returning with His Kingdom in the heavenly realm at the Parousia, which had been cleaned out and barred access of Satan, the demonic beings, and anything unclean.
Will we understand it all while living life in the earthly realm of the Kingdom, no, but once we leave this world and go to heaven we will have all of eternity to be in awe as we grow in understanding of the great depths and riches of the majesty and holiness of YHWY and His glorious redemptive history.
See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:
Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 13 Walking Worthy Before/After end of OC and in NC”]