The Eschatological Voice of Romans 8:1-25

What is the future of this present earth? Will it be burned up and destroyed, or will it be renewed and redeemed? How does all of this fit into God’s overall plan for salvation?

These are some of the questions that Brian LePort wrestled with in a paper that he presented last month at the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “The Eschatological Voice of Romans 8:1-25.

Here’s how he sets up the discussion:

When the canonical choir sings eschatological songs we often give much attention to the passages with a higher pitch. Many books have been written on the otherworldly images of the Apocalypse. The cataclysmic vision of 2 Peter 3.10-13 results in “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as we hear of the earth being purged by flames. And what can we say when Jesus himself tells us “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24.35; Mk. 13.31; Lk. 21.33). There doesn’t seem to be much hope for this creation. It would appear that her end is devastation.

Yet in the Book of Genesis we are told that God thought his creation to be “good” (1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25) and when he added humans it became “very good” (1.31). This should cause us to pause. In spite all the passages that seem to indicate that creation is expendable we must ask if there are any passages that harmonize more directly with the creation account.

Before we claim to have heard the whole song we must give heed to the tenor of Pauline eschatology. Whereas the aforementioned passages, and others like them, seem to indicate a discontinuation between this world and the one to come, the contribution of the Apostle Paul is that he emphasizes some sort of continuation. In this paper it is my desire to draw attention specifically to the voice of Rom. 8.1-25 as we formulate a Christian eschatology. I will be asking for those who are in attendance to give a hearing to this passage because I believe that it contributes balance to the canonical witness regarding the future of this current created order. It is here in these verses that we will see an analogy between the transition which will occur during our resurrection and the “rebirthing” of all creation.

He goes on from there to argue that to understand Romans, you have to hear the “echoes” of Genesis that reverberate throughout the book. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to read Romans 8 in that context as the crescendo and climax of God’s plans for creation, which he began way back in Genesis 1.

So, he concludes.

In Rom. 8.1-25 we find that the relationship between God, humanity, and the created order will be made right in the age to come. Humans will reign and rule with the risen Lord Jesus Christ over the renovated earth being and doing for creation what Adam and Eve (and every generation since) has failed to be and do. Humans will point creation toward her Creator rather than worshiping the creation.This will be when the adopted children of God are resurrected with new bodies, overcoming death, setting creation free from the curse that came because of Adam and Eve in Eden. Creation will be set free from her suffering.

In LePort’s argument, then, Paul presents the future of this creation as one of redemption and restoration. Although there are elements of discontinuity between what we see now and the new creation to come, he sees important elements of continuity as well – continuity grounded in God’s creative purposes begun in Genesis and echoed throughout Romans.

(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on March 30, 2011, in Biblical Theology, Eschatology, New Testament and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. There’s really a whole lot more here theologically and biblically! (Rom. 1:16 ; chap. 9-11) Note, also, the OT references to the Psalms and Isaiah. But this is a good beginning!

    • Yes, there’s a lot more in the biblical theological background of Romans. Brian’s actually doing a class on Isaiah this semester partly for that very reason.

  2. I’m in agreement with Brian, in that I now ‘believe’ in a redemption and restoration of the earth.

    I’d like to add that this represents a 180 degree turnaround from my previous conviction, of everything being consumed and destroyed in a cataclysmic fire-ball.

    I also – as Brian points out – affirm that we view the NT in contect and in continuation with the more ancient writings.

    Now interestingly, this 180 degree turnaround has had some strange implications.

    When I believed in the ‘fire-ball’ end, I had no regard for ecological concerns. What did it matter if we abused the earth? Its days were numbered anyway.

    Now I’m having to – and am still in the process of – re-evaluating my eco outlook.

    However, I still am concerned with an overemphasis on eco concerns, which I have noted can tip into a kind of Gaia worship, for want of a better term.

    If you’re wondering what I’m on about, then I would ask if you have ever come across the term “eco-ecumenical theology”? Neither had I, until today:

    Towards an eco-theology

    Is this taking it a step too far.

    I don’t have the answer to that and would like to say that I’m thinking on this issue as typing and so please forgive the rambling nature of this comment.

    One final point, just before I end and this has just occurred to me, is that perhaps in a figurative sense this age will be consumed by a non-literal fire….

  3. Stuart,

    I am not an eco-theology guy myself, as I get older and can see from this vantage point at least, it all seems to be about God’s sovereignty/righteousness, and His authentic moral order. Which is just simply not fallen man’s! And here is where we encounter a theodicy. But in the end only God Himself can vindicate His own creation and moral choice!

    “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36)

    And btw, note also the text of Heb. 12:28-29!

  4. @Brian F.: Thanks!

    @Fr. Robert: Paul’s world is very much Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah in my mind. In my thesis and in this paper I am covering Genesis for the sake of manageable sanity!

    @Stuart: I have often wondered about this as well. For instance, Paul corrects the Corinthians for law suits because he is upset that their inability to judge amongst themselves now may reflect poorly on people preparing to judge angles in the age to come. So there is some sense in which we train now, and live now, with the next age in view.

    If we are going to reign with Christ over the redeemed/redeeming planet than why wouldn’t we be preparing now for this as well. Paul said we should take care of our bodies now even though the resurrection is going to occur. Why not this planet now, even though its resurrection is to occur?

  5. @Stuart – There’s definitely a lot of bad theology in the ecology movement. But, I’m glad that you’re re-evaluating, because we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can affirm that God’s creation is good, that it has lasting value, and that we should therefore treat it as something precious, without lapsing into some form of idolatrous creation-worship.

    @Fr. Robert – I think we can still affirm God’s sovereignty in all this without denying that we have a roll to play. I would certainly reject any suggestion that we’re going to usher in the new earth through our own efforts. But, that’s not the only framework within which to affirm creation care.

  6. Brian,

    As I have said before, always Deuteronomy for St. Paul! And always, Law & Gospel!

    @Marc: Our role is repentance & faith! 🙂

  7. Brian and Marc,

    Thanks for the sharing. I’m with you. 😉

  8. Nice Post,keep doing the good job

  9. I am a little worried that we are still not taking enough care of the earth and that we aren’t clearing up the mess we have made… I think we as Christians need to be clear that we have a grave responsibility to the poor of the earth not to increase their suffering by causing the climate to change…

  10. During Jesus 1000 year reign (the millennium) The Earth will be fertile again. Yet parts of it will still be uninhabitable, Egypt for about 40 years, Babylon will never be habitable and a potion of what is now Jordan will also be uninhabitable. At the end of 1000 years the Earth will be destroyed by fire and a new Earth created. It is all there in the Bible, seek and ye shall find!

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