At a time when the thoughts of men are directed towards the exploration of the realms of Space, despite all the insoluble problems that face them upon earth, it is no doubt appropriate that those who believe God should accept what His Word declares about this earth, which He created for man, about which we really know so little.
The earth on which we live is a fascinating mystery only properly explained by reference to Scripture, and a distinction should be drawn between what Scripture teaches about the earth, the planet on which we live, and the world, which in the language of inspiration speaks of the system of human life, the world-order. The differences are important, especially since the term "world" is frequently a mistranslation in the popular versions for the word "eon" or age.
The basic teaching of Scripture devolves upon the antithesis between two men; the first man, Adam, created by God, and the Second Man, the Last Adam, the only begotten Son of God. Adam and Christ are the two men of destiny, the first bringing death to all humanity while the Second eventually brings life to all, for to quote the precious and familiar words of the first Corinthian letter, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive".
One of the peculiarities of religious thinking is the notion that humanity exists in the middle layer of a kind of three-layer cake, with a fiery pit underneath us popularly (or unpopularly) known as Hell, and a spirit world somewhere above Us known as Heaven, to which we may go when we die (if we are good) where we may play harps and walk on golden streets, without hands to play with or feet to walk with; indeed, without bodies at all, just something known as "souls".
Scripture knows nothing about all this. Peter tells us that the planet earth is stored with fire, and many times we are told that heaven (the celestials) ie the abode of God, and our Lord told the Jews that no man had ascended into heaven.
It is wonderfully true that the Apostle Paul was Given the revelation that those who comprise the church which is the body of Christ have a celestial destiny, compared with the earthly destiny of Israel, the chosen people, to whom the promises of a future earthly kingdom were made. He tells us that when the trumpet sounds we shall be changed, as we would have to be were we to live in the celestials, and that then we shall ever be with the Lord, but apart from the Pauline revelation ALL THE REST OF SCRIPTURE DEALS WITH THIS EARTH, with mankind and the creatures who live upon it. Even the remarkable book of Revelation, with its visions of heaven, relates all these to earthly happenings.
The title of this paper may appear to be melodramatic, but it is not intended to be. There always has been far too much melodrama connected with the exposition of Scripture, both written and verbal, but the true drama of the Word is so great as to have no need of man's histrionics. It is sober truth that man and his earth are under the doom of a curse, and equally sober truth that a glorious destiny awaits them both. The Apostle Paul in a passage which seems strangely neglected (Romans 8: 19-22) sets the position out quite plainly:
"For the earnest expectation of the Creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, hut by reason of him that hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creation itself shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now ..."
Paul is not here discussing the future of the human race; in other passages, notably his closely reasoned argument which takes up the whole of Romans 5, he has shown beyond dispute that through the death of Christ it will eventuate that the free gift "came upon all men for justification of life". What Paul is telling his readers in the passage quoted here is the tremendous effect that the Manifestation of the sons of God will have upon the whole of God's creation.
One of our readers, writing as a layman observer, acknowledges "with gratitude that God has given us groups of gifted people who were not and will not be found only within a certain denomination or a certain school of theology, and that God is still giving evangelists, pastors and teachers unto the end that we should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realisation of the sons of God, to a mature man".
One such gifted person was the late G. L. Rogers, whose studies in Romans were of a quality that seldom has been equalled, and he was by no means neglectful of the passage we have quoted. Acknowledgements are due to him for many of the thoughts put forward in the present article.
Man, being man, is naturally selfish, while God, being God, is mindful of all the creatures of His hand. What Paul is saying in Romans 8 is an explanation of the permanent relationship that always has existed between man and the rest of God's creation. It is the relationship between man and his lost estate, for it was through Adam's sin that the whole earth came under a curse. And it is part of Paul's evangel that the victory of our Lord at Calvary brings to man not only personal salvation, but the salvation of man's lost estate also.
We also groan, says the Apostle, and one of the reasons for our distress is that we live in a creation subject to "vanity and bondage". Knowing as we do that God is love, we must be often puzzled by the terrible things that happen on earth, but we should remember that in the presence of Christ in coming days things rill be very different. He is the true Heir, for Scripture tells us that this universe was created FOR HIM, so His creation groans and travails until He shall return and lift the curse which oppresses it. The work of God's hands is beloved, and He will deliver it—all of it—just as all mankind comes eventually within the scope of His jurisdiction.
In this passage from Romans 8 Paul personifies creation (or as much of it as was placed under man's authority) and ascribes to it an experience similar to a human one. In the beginning we are told that God described His creation as "very good", and it was therefore entirely suited to the sinless character of Adam, its first lord. He was given authority to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over all other creatures, and this authority constituted Adam as its Head, the earth being his inheritance, his estate, to which he was bound by unbreakable links. Adam was "of the earth", he was part of it, and it shared his gain or loss, his fortunes and his destiny. To quote G. L. Rogers, "Man is a microcosm, a little world in himself. He has the breath of God in his nostrils; he has a soul which links him with all other animals; and he originates from the soil on which he walks and to which his body eventually returns". Man is composed of earth's chemical elements, and his components are estimated at current chemical values as being worth a little more than three dollars.
Christ, the Last Adam, is also the head of creation, which is His inheritance. He is described in Hebrews as the One Who laid the foundation of the earth, and Who has been appointed "Heir of all things" He is bound to His inheritance in the same way as Adam was, and as it shared in Adam's tragedy, so will it share in Christ's triumph. We are told that some of the early fathers called Christ the DESMOS, the bond or tie, for He is the life of all that lives, the Sustainer of all things.
We are well aware also that the fate of all humanity rested upon Adam's obedience or disobedience in Eden, for he held it in his hands. We are not so clear as to the fact that he held the fate of creation as well, but if he who was lord of creation should suffer and die the inheritance to which he was indissolubly linked would inevitably share his fate. Equally, if the first Adam and his descendants are doomed to disappear and give place to the Second Man and the new humanity of which He speaks, then the old creation, linked to Adam its head, must pass away and give place to a new creation, linked to Christ its Head.
We who live as to the flesh in the old creation, enjoy many blessings, and the whole earth will enjoy much more when Christ returns to it. These spring from the grace of God, and are in fulfilment of the covenants He has made with man, but over all these the ultimate goal of God is a new creation, though all of its members will recognise their former state in the present old creation.
Paul explains why creation is now so far below its original state when it was said to be "very good"—namely, because when the death sentence was passed upon Adam, creation was "subjected to vanity", whereto he himself had been subjected. "Vanity" in this context is a translation of MATAIOTES which does not bear the current meaning of vanity but rather resultlessness, failure, frustration. The fact is that the creation does not result in the beauty and good for which God designed in everything is disappointing, nothing produces perfect results. It is, of course, an entirely suitable environment for man in his sinful state. Nothing is allowed to become permanent, for God will not accept permanent imperfection. All our flowers wither; winter ruins promises of spring before summer can fulfil them; youth's beauty fades—and if we can feel satisfied with this we cannot have any idea of the ideal creation which God intends.
The book of Ecclesiastes uses this word "vanity" over and over again and, in effect, so do men of today when they query whether life is worth living. Some may say that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds", but God does not; He says to man and to creation that they are vanity, resultless, and that all their actions and experience relentlessly proclaim the fact of sin and its universal presence. This underlines the further fact that this universe is governed by moral law, and the violation of God's law inevitably brings cosmic disaster. God makes man and nature constantly declare their unsatisfactory nature, and consequently, their impermanence.
Paul says that creation was Subjected to vanity "not voluntarily". That is to say, this vanity is contrary to natural law, which is self-renovating. This is clear when we remember that God said to Adam "Cursed be the ground"; in other words, Adam's sin bears the blame, so the works of God describe the words of God, and sin is shown for the destructive force it is. God makes creation to constantly declare its impermanence because He is not satisfied with things as they are.
Is there then no relationship between catastrophe and judgement? An earlier superior creation has vanished, and what we witness is not a very satisfactory "evolutlonary progress" but degeneration.
The first man was placed in a world which was in every way suited to his innooent humanity, and when this man brought evil on himself he brought it upon his entire environment also, although his lordship remained and he still dominated the creation that he marred, "and has carried out the command to fill the earth and subdue it to a very considerable extent. He has explored it almost entirely, and has navigated both sea and air; in fact creation regards man as its master and responds to his masterful touch. The soil responds to his cultivation; plant life has been developed into new and better forms; wild fruits have been developed into appetising foods. Man's engineering has invented machinery which harnesses the powers of nature; he builds dams and converts deserts into fruitful land. Yst everywhere he finds his limita¬tions and none of his ambitious schemes are able to overcome the vanity to which he and creation are doomed.
But God does not doom man hopelessly or needlessly, for Paul says that the creation has been subjected to vanity "in expectation". All mankind has an instinctive presentiment of a "golden age" to come, and when we think of this we groan, as the whole of creation groans, in protest against its unwilling bondage. And when we read the Scripture further we find that "the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God". Nothing could be clearer; here is a statement that not only mankind but creation itself also is bound up with the Second Adam's future glory as it is now bound up with the first Adam's past sin.
A letter from a reader has raised a query regarding the poem published in our first Instalment, which speaks of our Lord among the animals, and wonders if it is true that all soulish creatures are included with Adam. Undoubtedly they are, as this present Scripture explains, and it is manls shame and sorrow that human sin has also spread its corruption into both the animal and vegetable worlds. Cancerous growths are found on trees, and weeds are probably degenerate plants. The universal degeneracy is seen in the pernicious forms of anigal and vegetable life constantly at war against other forms, while we are afflicted with destructive germs and poisonous insects which doubtless were once of a harmless and friendly nature.
Animals not only suffer at the hands of men but they also prey upon one another and terrorise one another on earth, in the sea and in the air, while man has to defend himself against them as though they sought vengeance upon their sinful master. Are we not often puzzled as to why the spirit of hatred and destruction is as manifest among the beasts as it is among men, although man is more beastly than aqy beast?
Consider the slaughter of animals in the divine offerings of Israel's temple worship, ordained by the God Who does not delight in the blood of bulls or goats. No innocent animal suffers pain or death without the awareness of God; all their sinless suffering speaks of the agony of God in the presence of His creatures' sin. If we see in God's requirement of sacrifices only a disregard of animal life, we are missing the point entirely. What we should see is the unity of mankind with creation, pointing to the Second Man and His sacrifice. All life is precious to God, and the death of one of His creatures is His sacrifice as well as man's, for He has more than a Creator's rights toward them—He has the rights of love.
We should not be amazed at earthly calamities, for earth is under a curse. This is why hurricanes and cyolones, earthquakes and tidal waves bring wreckage and death upon land and sea; why its deserts scorch man to death and bury him in sandstorms and kill him with thirst. All these things have been instanced as evidences that the earth has been badly made, but this is not so, for creation is now as abnormal as man in vanity.
Irrespective of all present vanity or resultlessness, we should also see an order and a system which denotes a power great enough to rectify all the disorder and turn the uselessness into usefulness. This power is present even now and brings blessings to man. As Paul says in Acts 14 and Romans 1, this is the work of the living God, Who gives to men food and gladness. No, creation at present is by no means perfect, but on the other hand, it is perfectly suited to God's present dealings with man.
Science agrees that there is an essential unity in all creation, for it was not only made subject to vanity when Adam fell but it suffers in man's other crises also. Man was destroyed by the flood but, as we are told,. "all flesh ceased to breathe that moved on the earth; of birds, of tame beasts and of wild beasts, and all the sysming things that swarm upon the earth".
It is to be remembered that the plagues of Egypt affected life in the waters and in the animal world as well as men; and the land of Israel, we read, was blest or despoiled according as the Israelites were obedient or disobedient. Indeed, at the greatest crisis in human history—the murder of the Son of God—the earth itself shuddered with horror, even as Matthew declares:
"And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent and when the centurion and those that were with him saw the earthquake and the things that were done they feared greatly, saying, Truly, this was the Son off God".
Turning to the Revelation, we read that future judgements will fall upon land and sea, the rivers and the sun; and as the progress of the man of sin is recorded, it is marked by increasing severity in the many plagues, the climax being a great earthquake that will shake not only the earth but hegven also until, finally, from the presence of Him Who sits on the great white throne earth and heaven will flee; this sin-infested creation will pass away; purging fire will transform it; and from the ashes will emerge a new, perfect, permanent creation. This is figured now in those of us who believe, for in spirit we become a new creation in Christ Jesus, our old humanity disoarded and forgotten.
And what are those words John was told to write as "faithful and true"? make all things new!
That is why we look, ultimately, for a new earth any a new heaven in which righteousness will dwell, just as we anticipate the realisation of a new humanity, for the ties which bind the first Adam and the Last Adam to that estate over which God made them lords are unbreakable.
Paul says that creation itself shall enter into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God, but this ultimate goal will be reached only after ages of time, for all God's prophecies regarding the restoration of Israel, the resurrection of the patriarchs and the reign of David must be fulfilled first, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Creation tasted the powers of the future when it recognised the Lordship of the Son of Man, and responded to His will in signs and miracles. Even the winds and the sea obeyed Him! These were samples of His power to release creation from vanity and bring it into freedom. Miracles were simply the restoration of the abnormal to what is normal.
The first man made creation the slave of corruption but the second Man will subject all to Himself, that all may be subject to God, and this final subjection will bring to creation its highest blessing. Corruption must go for death can have no permanent place in this universe; in fact, we are told that it is the last enemy to destroyed. Then the process of dying will have ceased, but death itself will be destroyed and will no longer hold anything within its grasp. This will result in a perfected humanity in a perfected creation, in which God Himself will dwell with mankind. This is the ultimate reconcillation secured by the Blood of the Cross.
Creation cannot be liberated by evangelism, nor can the heralding of the Word remove the curse from the earth. Our holiness will not preserve us from pain and death, nor will our personal devotion heal the watere of the Dead Sea, nor will our spirituality tame wild beasts. Prayer will not cast Satan into the abyss, nor will peace conferences prevent birds and beasts from killing one another. But all these things quite literally will take place under the new heaven and on the new earth.
The Last Adam is humanity's Kinsman, and He will do for all creatlon what the kinsman-redeemer did in Israel; buy back not only the kinsman but also his estate.
Paul says that we who are saved now in grace are groaning also as we await the advent of glory. "We are aware", he says, "that the entire creation is groaning and travailing together until now". Who then are the "we"? Only those who believe God's Word, which the majority do not believe. All creation's cries and sounds are in the minor key; the voices of animals, the winds and the sea have an undertone of lament. But remember that travail is the prelude to birth, and creation's many pains are labor pains; upon delivery the pains will be forgotten because of joy.
Do you, the reader, regard this interpretation as foolishly literal? Do you suppose God would ever yield to lose any part of His precious creation, or let sin leave some permanent stain thereon? All creation is the handiwork of God, and Christ is the Tie that bonds this; creation together as one indissoluble unit. We are told that "all is for Him", so any loss would be His own, for He is the Heir of all things; Lord of all creation which He has redeemed and will yet exalt to a future estate excelling its former pristine glory.
Failing to recognise all this, ome would have to boldly ignore these immortal words of the Apostle Paul from Colossians One, the most sublime of all tributes to God's dear Son:
"In Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together . For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell. And having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven".
In surveying this complete and universal triumph of the Cross, Paul includes the earth as well as the heavens, the entire groaning creation to be freed from the slavery of corruption and share the glorious freedom of the children of God when Christ "makes all things new". As Head of a new humanity He is also called "the Son of Man" most appropriate to His intimate earthly kinship, and subject of these words in Psalm 8:
"Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet"
The prophets never lost sight of this truth. Abraham and Isaac looked forward to a new creation upon this earth, a city whose builder and maker is God. The new Jerusalem is not a heavenly place as we are often mistakenly—told; rather it "descends out of heaven" TO THE EARTH as the earth becomes heavenly in character under the rule of the Second Man, Who is out of heaven. This redeemed earth as their future home is God's inviolate promise to saints of old when they will be resurrected and glorified, for they died not having received that promise.
The heavenly destiny of the church as the body of Christ had been a secret quite exceptional, first revealed only to Paul. The "Last Adam" must be both the Lord of heaven and Lord of earth. Under the Headship of Christ, the members of His body are destined to participate in that future administration whereby all in the heavens also are put under His feet. Our POLITEUMA or "citizenship", according to Paul, "is in heaven". The word really means "homeland", out of which we await our Saviour Who comes from our homeland to call us home. Are we, like the Corinthians, unmindful of this? "Do you not know", Paul reminds them, "that we are to judge angels" (messengers)? It seems that they, like many yet today, were strangely unaware of this.
Beyond that expectation of the church, God has many other promises He will yet fulfil. A vast area of land was promised to Abraham which he has not yet received. After Daniel foresaw a remote future time when the God of heaven will set up an age-abiding kingdom, he was told simply to rest, not knowing how long, but he was promised also to stand in his lot at the and of those days whereof he had prophesied. There still remains God's promise to David that One out of his loins shall sit upon his throne, a promise David's greater Son will most assuredly enjoy.
For all who died in faith, and ultimately all humanity, the whole groaning creation, the day will come when the promises of God in Christ Jesus are found to be "Yea" and "Amen". The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Then when the sons of God are revealed, all creation will enjoy deliverance from bondage to present corruption, entering the glorious liberty of the children of God. Then the kingdom of heaven will have come, when the will Of God be done on earth as it is in heaven!
Cecil J Blay (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Three, December 1971)