I have long argued that the physical creation or the present age is a purely temporary phenomenon by nature, that is by divine decree, and, unlike us who are made in the image of God, not subject to redemption (1* See my Will Creation Be Redeemed?, Thoughts on the Redemption of Creation, etc.) . With this in mind, I want to examine here the relevance of both the person and the teaching of Jesus.,
The Person of Christ
My first assumption is that if Jesus was truly human, flesh, born of woman, the son of Mary (Mt. 1-2; Luke 1-2) and hence the son of Adam (Luke 3:38) who stemmed from the ground (Gen. 2:7), he was, in contrast with his heavenly Father (1 Tim. 6:16), intrinsically mortal (destructible). (2* See my Creation Corruptible By Nature.) This is proved conclusively by the mere fact that he died for our sins (1 Pet. 3:18). Had he been immortal by nature he could not possibly have destroyed the power of the devil through death (Heb. 2:14). (3* This reminds us of John Owen’s famous work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.) In any case both Herod and Joseph assumed Jesus’ mortality, for while the former sought to kill him, the latter, prompted by a dream inspired by an angel of the Lord himself (Mt. 2:13-15), took evasive action by whisking him away along with his mother to Egypt. In this way, of course, he recapitulated the physical pattern of life experienced by his ancestors. In any case, since he was the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), he had to begin at the beginning and go over the same ground as the first Adam. But whereas the first Adam proved a spiritual failure and earned death as wages, Jesus was a success and so eventually gained life or new covenant status by keeping the commandments (Lev. 18:5). As a consequence of this, after laying down his life for his fellows, he rose from the grave and was corporeally transformed at his ascension. In other words, just as Jesus initially shared the mortal nature of Adam as a product of the temporal creation under the old covenant, so by spiritual rebirth intrinsic to the new covenant which he inaugurated he finally changed his corporeal nature and became a life-giving spirit, the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
Second, again in contrast with his Father (Rom. 1:23, Gk), but nonetheless as the son of Adam through his mother (Luke 3:38), Jesus was corruptible like the earth from which man originally emanated (Ps. 102:25-27; Heb. 1:10-12). Otherwise expressed, on the assumption that he derived as flesh from the intrinsically obsolescent creation, he was necessarily subject to ageing. After all, water cannot rise above its source. In light of this it is not in the least surprising that his age is from time to time referred to quite categorically (Luke 2:42; 3:23, cf. John 8:57). Like creation itself he had a physical beginning (Mt. 24:21) and an end (Mt. 24:3; 28:20), and even for him, since he lived under heaven, there was a time to be born and a time to die (Eccl. 3:2). As the author of Hebrews, who refers to the days of his flesh (Heb. 5:7), states, Jesus was incarnate only for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9, ESV). Having overcome death by resurrection, he gained incorruption by transformation at his ascension (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-53).
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:18 that what is seen is temporary. Thus the visible creation, though testifying to the power of God (Rom. 1:20, cf. Heb. 11:3), is by divine appointment destined to eventual destruction (Heb. 12:27, cf. Luke 17:26-30; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). As physically part of creation Jesus, the truly human son of Mary, was clearly visible. After his resurrection from the dead he was seen even by Doubting Thomas (John 20:26-28). He was also tangible and audible, physically OT in character (cf. Heb. 12:18-21, cf. 1 John 1:1). (4* I refer deliberately to the Old Testament and not to the old covenant, which strictly speaking refers to the Mosaic law, for the simple reason that the latter is somewhat misleading. Initially, creation was commanded not covenanted. The first covenant was with Noah, not Adam. However, like the legal covenant with Moses, 2 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 8:13, etc., it was temporary, that is, it endured only while the earth remained, Gen. 8:22. See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?. ) Since flesh and blood which are organically related to creation cannot enter heaven (1 Cor. 15:50), this can only mean that Jesus had to be transformed and assume God’s generically incorruptible nature at his ascension like all the rest of his fellows, even those who never die and experience resurrection here on earth (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
This of course raises questions in the minds of those brought up on traditional thinking. For them Jesus was immortal since he was neither prey to original sin nor did he sin on his own account and so could not inherit the wages of sin in death (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). It must be pointed out therefore that the Augustinian dogma of original sin, which is rejected by both the Jews and the Orthodox, is not and cannot be taught in the Bible, that is, unless it contradicts itself. According to Scripture where there is no law (or commandment) there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15; 7:8). So since babies are born like Adam and Eve ignorant of (the) law and knowing neither good not evil (Dt. 1:39, etc.), like Paul himself (Rom. 7:9f.) they cannot be sinful. This is certainly true of Jesus who, if we are prepared to accept the testimony of Isaiah, was also born ignorant of (the) law (Isa. 7:15f.) and was hence innocent. Yet innocent babies sometimes die. Why? The obvious answer is that death can occur irrespective of sin: it may be the result of disease, disaster or natural corruptibility, for example. In this situation babies, like animals, are no more guilty than the congenitally blind man (and his parents) was of his blindness, as Jesus plainly intimated in John 9:3.
The truth is that the church has traditionally misunderstood the biblical position. Though disobedience undeniably leads to death (Rom. 5:12; 6:23; Eph. 2:1-3; 5:6), obedience promises life (Gen. 2:16f., cf. Rom. 6:16). Jesus kept the (spiritual, Rom. 7:14) law and so gained life (Lev. 18:5). This being the case he was also enabled to transcend the corruption which characterized the material creation. (5* It would seem to be a matter of logic that if Jesus who as the Word was spirit could become incarnate, he could also regain his former glory, John 17:24.) He not only evaded permanent death by his obedience but also overcame permanent corruption (subjection to decay) by gaining glory and honour when he was transformed at his ascension (Heb. 2:9). And it is surely with this in mind that Paul claims that Jesus abolished death and brought incorruption (Gk) to light (2 Tim. 1:10, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-53).
The Teaching of Jesus
In general Jesus does not have much to say about creation, though he reminds his disciples of aspects of its temporary beauty displayed by the lilies of the field (Mt. 6:28,30, cf. 1 Pet. 3:4) and the natural limitations of water (John 4) and food (John 6, cf. Ex. 16:20; Mt. 4:4). He also points out its natural corruption (decay, aging) when referring not merely to sin but to moth and rust in Matthew 6:19-21 and more specifically in Luke 12:33f. (cf. 13:1-5). Again in Matthew 6 he points up the natural aging (decaying) process when he tells his listeners that they can no more add to their span of life (v.27) than they can prevent their hair from turning white (Mt. 5:36). While in verse 26 he highlights God’s providential care of animal and bird life, in Matthew 10:28-31 he clearly regards human physical death as on a par with that of sinless sparrows but draws attention to the importance and greater value of human (spiritual) life (cf. Mt. 12:12). In Matthew 12:13 in demonstration of doing good he restores the withered hand of a man indicating that temporary restoration or physical healing is a feature of this present age. This is made all the more clear in Mark 14:58 (cf. John 2:19-21) where instead of suggesting an Old Testament-style restoration of the temple, he predicts its eventual destruction (or removal, cf. Heb. 12:27) and replacement (Rev. 21:22). Thus when in 2 Corinthians 5:1 Paul uses almost exactly the same terminology with regard to the fleshly body, the implication is that in heaven restoration is unnecessary, for the transformed body, like the temple, is eternal (Luke 20:34-36, cf. 16:9). It is different in kind.
In Luke 20:34-36 (cf. Mt. 13:39; 28:20, etc.) in particular, Jesus confirms Jewish belief in two ages implying that the present one precedes the one to come by divine design. Though he comes short of using the pejorative terms of Paul in Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17, he nonetheless implies that the second as their ultimate goal is infinitely preferable and to be earnestly sought after. And on the assumption that the age to come comprises the kingdom of God, its attainment is the pearl of great price (Mt. 13:46, cf. 6:33). One thing is clear and that is that the age to come is not Plan B, the consequence on account of sin of the inadequacy of the first. In other words, the temporary nature and corruptibility characteristic of the first age was integral to the plan of God from the start irrespective of sin (pace those whose worldview is Augustinian). As a purposeful prelude, a temporary testing ground for man (cf. Luke 20:35; Acts 14:22; 2 Thes. 1:5), it was always intended to precede and eventually give way to the age to come just as the provisional old covenant was designed to give way to the permanent new (cf. 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8). In the words of the author of Hebrews, like the old covenant to which it relates, the first is abolished in order to establish the second (Heb. 10:9b, cf. 11:10,16). (6* It is worth mentioning by way of clarification at this point that while both Paul and the author of Hebrews recognize that sin reveals the soteriological inadequacy of the old covenant, the latter in particular stresses its inherently faulty nature, 7:11,18f.; 8:7. Paul, however, is less than loath to underline the greater glory of the second covenant, 2 Cor. 3:10f.,18.)
Death and Sin
In Matthew 19:17 Jesus apparently assumes that death is natural to man as the offspring of Adam who was inherently mortal like the earth from which he was taken (Gen. 2:16f.). Thus, in line with Leviticus 18:5, Jesus bluntly tells the rich young ruler that the precondition of eternal life is keeping the law (Mt. 19:17). Earlier he had stressed the need to be perfect like God (Mt. 5:48) and does the same again in Matthew 19:21. Here he significantly tells his interlocutor to follow him (Jesus, that is) who alone among men succeeds in living a life of perfect obedience and hence gains eternal life (cf. Mt. 3:13-17).
Jesus’ stress on natural human and animal corruption (decay) apart from sin thus gives the lie to the widespread Augustinian idea that creation was originally perfect but ‘fell’ when Adam sinned. The so-called universal or cosmic curse that pervades our world is the miserable misconception of our forefathers who failed to appreciate the temporary nature of all things visible (2 Cor. 4:18). For, as Paul says, our ultimate hope is invisible or spiritual (Rom. 8:20,24f.) like our transformed bodies (1 Cor. 15:44-49). Earth-derived flesh by its very nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50a, cf. Gal. 4:29f.). Old covenant obsolescence (Heb. 8:13) is written into the temporary creation which having had a beginning will inevitably have an end (Ps. 102:25-27, etc.). The inherently temporary or perishable simply cannot inherit the eternal (1 Cor. 15:50b). And just as Jesus’ goal after his incarnation was to return to the glory he had enjoyed with his Father before the world began (John 3:13; 16:28; 17:5,24), so is ours. After all, that is why he came, and it is by him that we are brought to glory (Heb. 2:10) and enabled to attain to the age to come (Luke 20:35).
The Subtlety of Jesus’ Thinking
But Jesus’ attitude to creation is more subtle than we might realize if we are used to thinking superficially along traditional lines. For instance, if we juxtapose Jesus’ references to God’s feeding of the birds (Mt. 6:26) and his knowledge of their death (Mt. 10:29, cf. John 6:49), we might well, in view of Psalm 104:21,27-29, infer animal predation. After all, the God who feeds the birds, even the vultures (Mt. 24:28), also feeds the lions and other predatory creatures (cf. Job 38:39f.). In other words, Jesus sees this as naturally characteristic of the present age, not the result of Adam’s sin and curse. The same conclusion may be drawn from the story of the congenitally blind man which as we have already seen Jesus refuses to connect with sin. Again, when we consider the story of Lazarus we might well conclude that his death simply gave Jesus the opportunity to perform a miracle. If this was all that was at stake, why did Jesus weep apparently in genuine grief? The truth is that in the case of both the blind man and of Lazarus, Jesus says that all is for the glory of God (John 9:3; 11:4). Just as the material creation in general displays the God’s glory (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:20), so do the incidents just referred to along with violent storms and other disturbances in nature (cf. Luke 21:11). In light of this it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that when Paul tells us that God himself subjected creation, including the creature, to the futility of corruption (Rom. 8:18-25) (7* See my Romans 8:18-25.), he had not got sin in mind, Jesus would agree. When the evidence is dispassionately assessed, we are led to conclude that Jesus like the apostle believed that creation remained ‘good’ (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3f.) despite its natural futility and would continue to perform its native function of sustaining fleshly life to the end (Luke 17:27f., cf. Gen 8:22). And in light of his own victory over the world (John 16:33), we are almost compelled to accept it, all the more so when we read Romans 8:31-39 (cf. 1 John 5:4f.).
The Destruction of the ‘Good’ Creation
But there is obviously more to be said. For the Jesus who refers to the material productivity of the ‘good’ creation to the end, also tells of its destruction when the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 17:26-30) implying, as Paul plainly asserts, that he himself will be instrumental in bringing about its final demise (cf. 2 Thes. 1:7-10; 2:8). This, however, immediately prompts the question of why a ‘good’ creation should be dispensed with. The answer, apart from its natural corruption, is clearly that it has ceased to produce its intended harvest of righteous men and women (cf. Mt. 3:12; 13:30,38-43). When this happened in man’s early history, the flood threatened total destruction. But the gracious purpose of God intervened, and a covenant was made with Noah, who found favour in his sight (Gen. 6:8), guaranteeing the continuation of creation to support future inhabitants and their salvation (cf. Jer. 31:35-37; 33:14-26). When fire engulfed Sodom and Gomorrah, both land and people were destroyed with the sole exception of believing Lot and his daughters who escaped (cf. Amos 4:11; Jude 23). From this I infer that Jesus did not believe in the redemption of the material creation. Rather, he endorsed the contention of the author of Hebrews who taught that when land that is blessed produces only thorns and thistles (cf. 2 Sam. 23:6f.) instead of an acceptable crop, it is worthless and hence ready for burning (Heb. 6:7f., cf. Mt. 22:7; 2 Pet. 3).
The End of Creation
As Job (8* See further my Job And Romans 8:18-25.) discovered long before the time of Jesus, pain, suffering and affliction, not to mention vanity or futility (Eccl.), in this world occur apart from sin though he did not seem to understand why as Paul apparently did when he wrote Romans 8:18-25. The plain fact is that in this present ‘evil’ age (Gal. 1:4; Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17) God displays his glory and power of deliverance (Isa. 43:5-7) in a way that guarantees that no flesh will boast before him (1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 2:9, etc.). (9* In Galatians 1:4, is Paul pointing up sin or is he graphically endorsing the contrast between the two ages he depicts in Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 2:17? It is not without significance that in Galatians 4:29f. the apostle portrays the flesh (and the world, cf. 4:25) symbolized by Ishmael as a natural persecutor of the spirit. As he strongly stresses in 5:16f., flesh and spirit (Spirit) are at war with each other, cf. Rom. 7:23; 1 Pet. 2:11; James 4:1-4, and both the flesh and the world must be crucified, Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24; 6:14, as it was in Jesus’ case, cf. Rom. 12:1.) For he saves through Christ and him alone (Acts 4:12, cf. Isa. 45:22; Phil. 2:9-11). But since this is so, it is no wonder that Jesus could state categorically that heaven and earth like the law would pass away (Mt. 5:18) but that his words would not pass away (Mt. 24:35).
In heaven or the age to come when we like Jesus are glorified (Phil. 3:21), grief, pain, suffering and affliction along with all created things (Heb. 12:27) have disappeared. As Isaiah predicted and John echoed, these former things associated with a world divinely subjected to futility shall not be remembered (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:4). Sin, which prevented our escape from this age (cf. Gal. 1:4), was never more than a part of the problem.
The Person of Christ Again
Jesus’ own teaching apart, the Bible leads us to believe that Jesus at his ascension left earth to return to heaven, his Father’s house, permanently. Though he will return like Moses to Egypt, his purpose will not be to reign on earth (10* See my A Summary of Reasons Against the Return of Christ to Earth.) but to gather his people from the four corners of the globe (Mt. 24:31; John 14:2-4; 1 Thes. 4:17.) and take them to glory (cf. Heb. 2:10). There is no real suggestion in the NT that either Jesus or we will ever inhabit a redeemed creation. It is as redundant as original sin that inspires it. (11* See my The Redundancy Of Original Sin.)
See also my Not Only But Also.