The idea that creation will be redeemed and restored, or returned to its original state (cf. 1 K. 13:6; 2 Chr. 24:13; Isa. 58:12), is based on the Augustinian notion that creation was originally perfect. In support of this it is tenaciously held by Augustinian traditionalists that following the sin of Adam creation underwent a universal curse and hence requires restoration. Genesis 3:17-19, however, point rather to the fact that only Adam and his immediate environment, that is, Eden, which was subsequently uninhabited, were affected. This view of the matter is supported by Genesis 4:12 where the same sort of ‘curse’ affects Cain when he murders his brother Abel. The suggestion is that when men fail to obey the law, their dominion over the earth, including their own fleshly bodies which are a part of it, is or may be affected. To take a later example, the field and vineyard of the sluggard in Proverbs 24:30-34 are overgrown with weeds, and so in the case of all sluggards (cf. 6:6-11; 12:11; 15:19; 28:19; Ps. 128:2, etc.). On the other hand, what do believers in a universal curse make of verses like Genesis 13:10 (cf. Num. 11:5; 16:13)? And even more to the point, what conclusions do they draw from the fact that the wicked but nature-worshipping Canaanites were cast out of what was notably a good land flowing with milk and honey (cf. Eden)? In the event, it proved to be a delectable legacy (Lev. 20:24) which the incoming Israelites were pleased to appropriate (cf. Dt. 6:10f.). Inferences drawn from Exodus 23:29 and Deuteronomy 7:22 make it crystal clear that despite defiling the land, the Canaanites exercised a significant degree of dominion. The same is true of unbelieving people today. Many atheistic scientists, for example, contribute to man’s successful dominion of the earth. They serve God’s purposes willy-nilly.
It is here that James helps us to appreciate what is involved. He indicates that it is possible to tame nature to some extent even when one is morally and spiritually compromised (Jas. 3:1ff.). In the Bible God and man work together (cf. Ps. 85:10-12), but if man fails to honour his obligation to exercise dominion, his sphere of influence may well be diminished and both he and his habitat suffer the consequences as at Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Zeph. 1:18; 2:9; 3:8). On the other hand, when the land is totally uninhabited and hence not at all under human dominion, it becomes a desolation (Isa. 6:11, etc.). In light of this, we need to constantly remind ourselves that the law promises both blessing and curse transgenerationally throughout history: blessing if it is kept, curse if it is broken (Lev. 26:1ff.; Dt. 11:26f.; 28:1ff.; 30:15-20; Isa. 1:19f.; Jer. 21:8, etc.). If creation was universally, permanently and irretrievably cursed as a consequence of one man’s (Adam’s) sin, then there could be no blessing even when there was repentance. (This problem is highlighted of course by original sin. If Adam’s sin is imputed to us apart from faith, then repentance on our part is impossible as well as inappropriate. B.B.Warfield was a fine theologian, but his attempt to deal with repentance for original sin was a notable failure, see Shorter Selected Writings, 1, pp.278ff.)
According to the Bible, however, where there is repentance, blessings are renewed or restored (e.g. Dt. 30:1-10; Ps. 107:33-38; Isa. 30:23ff.). A prime example is provided by the return of the Israelites to the Promised Land after exile. Then, the people re-inhabit the land, till it and render it fruitful again (e.g. Ezek. 36:33-36). In this sense it is restored, at least, temporarily. The same notion applies throughout the OT where restoration is at a premium. Another patent example is Solomon’s temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians. It was eventually rebuilt and restored under Ezra and Nehemiah (cf. e.g. 2 Chron. 24:13; Ezr. 6:5, the hand of Jeroboam, 1 K 13:6, cf. 2 K. 5:14, fortunes, Jer. 29:14, etc.). However, it should be carefully noted that the earthly temple that was manufactured or “made by hand” is in the NT finally destroyed, not restored, and is replaced by Christ himself (Mark 14:58, cf. John 2:19-22; Rev. 21:22) and his people (1 Pet. 2:4-9). And the same can be said with regard to the fleshly body (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. 1 Cor. 6:13; 15:35ff.).
If temporal restoration, repetition and reproduction are prime features of the OT (e.g. 1 K. 13:6; 17:17-24; 2 Chr. 24:13), they also occur in the NT (e.g. Luke 6:10; 8:41-56) since they overlap. It should be noted, however, that Jesus points up the strict limitations of earthly restoration by contrasting it with “life” (Mt. 18:9) and warns that it is better for us to lose one of our limbs than to be cast into hell (Mt. 5:29). In other words, restoration is characteristic of this world or this age and the old covenant, while removal (2 Pet. 1:14) and replacement (Heb. 10:9; Rev. 21:1) are hallmarks of the new covenant leading to the “remaining” age to come (Heb. 1:11; 12:27). Thus, in John 11, Lazarus’ body was temporarily restored only to submit to corruption at a later date. Like the temple (Mark 14:58), it was ‘hand-made’ (Job 10:8; Ps. 119:73) and so, being essentially corruptible, it required replacement with a heavenly body (2 Cor. 5:1,4f.).
Jesus’ fleshly body was also restored (cf. John 10:17f.), but in contrast to Lazarus’ body it never saw corruption since he did not personally sin and die again (Rom. 6:9). When he ascended, that is, finally escaped from corruption (Rev. 12:5) never to return (Acts 13:34), his body was clearly changed into a body of glory (cf. Phil. 3:21) since (a) like all flesh, like the earth from which it derives (Heb. 1:11; Rom. 8:18-25), it was corruptible (cf. John 8:57; 1 Pet. 3:18), and (b) flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. John 3:1-7; 8:35; Gal. 4:30).
I have already made a fleeting reference to the restoration of Israel (or its return to the Promised Land after the exile). Restoration is referred to in the NT especially in Matthew 21:43 which sums up the parable of the wicked tenants (21:33-43; Mark 12:1-9; Lu. 20:9-19). There, Jesus clearly teaches the nation of Israel’s permanent loss of the kingdom of God (cf. 23:38), though his disciples continued to misunderstand his point (Acts 1:6). This is underscored of course by Peter who in 2:9 uses words strongly reflecting Exodus 19:6 to indicate that Jewish rejection and replacement (1*) implies the establishment of the true Israel (cf. John 15:1ff.; Rom. 2:29; Phil. 3:3; Heb. 10:9, etc.) made up exclusively of believers, the true children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29) including Jewish ones. This now becomes the organ of the kingdom in the new covenant (cf. Mt. 5:13-16, etc.). In light of this, the notion still entertained by the early church of a Jewish restoration (Acts 1:6) is definitively undermined. And the fact that elements in the modern church in the third millennium still major on the restoration of Israel, and even the temple, highlights their failure to understand biblical covenant theology, particularly the difference between the materialistic old and spiritual new covenants. They do not recognise that under the new covenant the inherently obsolescent old has in principle passed away and the eternal new (to us), which by definition has always existed, has dawned (2 Cor. 3:11; 5:17; Gal. 6:15). As Acts 3:21 (see further below) and Revelation 10:7 would seem to indicate, God’s purpose announced by the prophets of both dispensations to save believers from all races will eventually be completed (1 John 2:2; Rev. 7:9).
If what has been said so far is correct, it surely renders gravely suspect, even gives the lie to, the idea of the universal restoration of the physical creation, which is the source of the corruptible fleshly body or creation in miniature. However, it is deemed to receive support from what are really OT intimations of heaven (Isa. 11:6-9, cf. Heb. 11:8-16) on the one hand and, in the NT, from the highly dubious interpretation of references like Acts 3:21, Romans 8:18-25 and Colossians 1:20. The problem here is that the very first words of the Bible point to the temporal character of all created things. Even in the OT the eternal God stands in sharp contrast with the transitoriness of all he has made (Gen. 8:22; Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; 51:6,8 ; 54:10, etc.). If creation has a beginning, then logically it must have an end (cf. Heb. 7:3,16, etc.). And if it was always intended, like the law (Mt. 5:18), to have an end, both a terminus and a goal, it will never be restored. In any case, its restoration would only lead to the same process being repeated with presumably the same result. (Cf. being born again by re-entering the womb, John 3:4) The fact is that when the present age gives way to the age to come (cf. e.g. Mt. 12:32; 28:18; Eph. 1:21), it will have reached its use-by date, mission accomplished, as numerous passages of Scripture clearly indicate (e.g. Gen. 8:22; Mt. 5:18; 6:19f.; 24:35; Mark 8:36; Luke 12:33; 1 Cor. 7:31; Heb. 1:10-12; 6:7f; 12:27; 1 Pet. 1:3f.;1 John 2:17; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1,4).
The notion of the restoration of all things referred to in Acts 3:21 (cf. Mt. 19:28), for example, may refer to the completion of God’s plan of salvation (cf. Rev. 10:7), the restoration of the embryonic fellowship we all have when we are created in the womb (Job 31:15, etc., pace those who believe in original sin!) and which is pictured or symbolised in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This, however, is far from implying a return to a literal restored Eden (cf. Ezek. 36:35f.). Rather it reflects its spiritual enhancement and completion in the presence of God in heaven itself (Rev. 21,22, cf. Heb. 9:11,24). (It should be noted that in Scripture beginnings lead to ends, finishes, completions and/or goals. See e.g. Gen. 2:2; 2 Cor. 8:6,11; Phil. 1:6; Rev. 21:1-5.)
Regarding the physical creation, the truth of the matter is that while it was ‘good’, that is, useful and serving a purpose (Gen. 2:9; 3:6; Eccl. 3:11), it was, since it was “made by hand” (Isa. 45:12; Heb. 1:10-12) and subject to man’s dominion, by definition intrinsically imperfect. If it had been perfect, it could never, like God himself, be subject to change, repair, restoration or repetition; it could have been neither improved nor cursed. While man in general may have failed to exercise his proper dominion, Jesus as man’s representative did not fail. Rather, as the author of Hebrews indicates, not only did he not sin (Heb. 4:15), but he also subjected all within his sphere of operation to his control, especially his own flesh, and was crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9; Rev. 5:12f.). In his own words, he conquered (John 16:33, cf. Rev. 3:21; 5:5, etc.). As his temptations indicated, he triumphed over the world, the flesh and the devil (cf. Gen. 1-3). Certainly, as the author of Hebrews again notes, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (2:8) but that will happen in due course (Col. 1:20; Phil. 2:10f.). Since he is now reigning on David’s throne in the heavenly world (2:5), he is in the process of subjecting all things to himself (Mt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Eph. 1:22). And the time is coming when the full number of his people will be complete (Rom. 11:25; Rev. 6:11). When this occurs, both “those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:10, cf. Ps. 17:14; Luke 16:25) and their habitat will be destroyed (1 Pet. 3:7, 10-12) as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (Gen 19:24f.; Luke 17:29, cf. Lev. 26:30f.; 2 K. 22:19; Zeph. 1:18; 2:9; 3:8). When heaven and the presence of God are attained, earth will have outlived its usefulness (Heb. 6:7f.) and be dispensed with (Rev. 16:20; 20:11; 21:1, etc.). Physical restoration will be redundant. With the arrival of the perfect, the imperfect will pass away (1 Cor. 13:10) like the moon disappearing before the sun (cf. Heb. 10:9b). Instead of restoration, there will be removal (2 Pet. 1:14), which suggests the total subjection and pacification of creation in destruction (cf. Col. 1:15-20). The temporal will have given way to the eternal, the shaken to the unshakable remaining (Heb. 1:11f.; 12:27).
(Note: Restoration in the form of organ transplantation is a feature of the 21st century life. While it can extend earthly life, no one in his right senses believes it has the power to grant eternal life. Even the donor’s organ is subject to the deterioration (or entropy) which affects all creation. The same can be said with regard to medicines, tonics, health foods and the like. Man, like the animals, simply cannot live on bread alone. Life remains the gift of the Creator, and eternal life is lived in his presence, John 12:26; 14:2f.,19; 1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14, etc., but certainly not in the flesh, 1 Cor. 15:50.)
Again it is worth stressing that the notion of earthly restoration is undermined in the very first verse of the Bible, for if creation has a beginning, it must also have an end (cf. Heb. 7:3). It is in direct contrast with its Creator (Heb. 1:10-12).
There is a sense in which the land can be redeemed as the book of Ruth (ch.4) makes plain. But the idea of the whole of creation being redeemed seems to depend almost entirely on Augustinian theology and its concomitant worldview. It is because of the latter that Romans 8:18-25 is made to teach what, given the context of the whole Bible, it cannot teach. Admittedly, the passage is difficult to exegete, but unless Paul is contradicting himself, it is simply impossible to claim the redemption of the entire universe. If the latter is by nature, that is, by creation and apart from sin, temporal and corruptible (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18), it does not need and was never intended for redemption. After all, like the tabernacle/temple, it is but a reflection of the true. There is not the slightest suggestion in Scripture that Christ died to redeem inanimate matter (which by definition is amoral) from a curse (2*). Throughout the Bible flesh (dust) is distinguished from spirit (cf. e.g. Isa. 31:3, cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-49), and Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God and that the impermanent (corruptible) cannot inherit the permanent (incorruptible). All Christ redeemed was sinful humanity who alone was created in the image of God. In order to do this he had to substitute for his people, triumph in their place and bear their curse (Gal. 3:13; 4:5; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). Are we to assume that he was substituting for the temporal creation as well when the author of Hebrews talks in terms of an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12)? Rather we are forced to the conclusion that the inherently corruptible or impermanent cannot inherit incorruptibility (1 Cor. 15:50).
If it is interjected at this point that Paul refers to the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23), we must recognise that he is not suggesting the redemption of the flesh, which, being earthly, is doomed as part of the physical creation to eventual destruction (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. Gal. 4:29f.). As we have seen above, Christ did not even ‘redeem’ his own body of flesh which in accordance with the plan of salvation was destined from the start for transformation (replacement) and glorification (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 8:5; 2 Cor. 5:1-5; Heb. 2:9, cf. Phil. 3:21). The redemption of the flesh, like that of the physical creation in general, would have been diametrically contrary to the purpose of God which was always to glorify man in his own presence (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5; 4:14; 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6, etc.) and make us his spiritual children in Christ (John 1:12; Rom. 8:21; Eph. 1:4f.; Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 4:6; 1 John 3:1). If this involved Jesus’ temporary (“a little while”) incarnation or transformation into flesh (Heb. 2:6-9), it was followed by his permanent retransformation into the glory he shared with his Father before the world began (John 17:5,24, cf. 6:62; 13:3; 16:28, etc.). As Irenaeus long ago put it: “He became what we are, in order that we might become what he is” (Against Heresies, 5, preface).
What the Bible teaches then is that as believers we shall be redeemed from the earth just as we are from the rest of humanity (Rev. 14:3f.). It is the fruit of the earth that is reaped, not the earth itself (Rev. 14:14-17).
I would make a final point. I personally hope that this earth will not be redeemed for if it is, my heavenly inheritance will be impaired (cf. Ruth 4:6).
Judging by the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the flesh cannot be regenerated without re-entering the womb, ultimately the earth (cf. Ps. 139:15). And even if this could occur, the flesh would still be flesh. If this is true of our own physical nature which derives from the earth, then it must be equally true of the earth itself. To be regenerated it too must go back to the beginning of creation. God must come out of his rest and begin his work of creation again. Clearly the notion is misguided. The earth was created for a purpose – primarily to be inhabited by human beings, subjected to their dominion with a view to bringing many sons to glory (Gen. 1:26-31; 8:22; Isa. 45:12,18; Heb. 2:6-10). (According to Calvin the earth was meant to be the theatre of God’s glory or as Beale would say a worldwide temple.) Once the divine purpose of nurturing the children of God, has been fulfilled (Rom. 8:18-25), the material creation has no further use and will pass away (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1,4, etc.). Again, once it begins preponderantly to bring forth thorns and thistles (cf. 2 Sam. 23:6f., etc.), far from being regenerated, it will be dispensed with (Heb. 6:7f.). In heaven, the eternal world, it is unnecessary. The land and city the children of Abraham are looking for in response to their call (Phil. 3:14) are heavenly (Heb. 11:8-16; 13:14; Rev. 22). They are well rid of this (evil) age (Gal. 1:4) from which Christ has delivered them as the OT people were delivered from Egypt! And those who hanker after it (cf. Ps. 17:14; Luke 16:25; 2 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 12:16; 1 John 2:15-17) are classified as sinners every bit as much as those who wished to return to Egypt (Acts 7:39, etc.).
There are at least five basic reasons why the regeneration of the cosmos is so widely entertained in theology. The first arises from the erroneous notion of the (universal) curse intrinsic to Augustinian theology. The second stems from a false covenant theology. The third depends on dubious exegesis driven by a false worldview (see espec. Rom. 8:21). The fourth arises from an illegitimate transfer of epithet or confusion of category. Regeneration or being born from above relates to the spiritual not to the physical (John 3:3-13). And the fifth is the result of an implicit assumption that the physical can be spiritualised and eternalised as opposed to replaced. Jesus (Mt. 6:19f.; Lu. 12:33), Paul (Col. 2:22), Peter (1:1:3f.), James (1:10f.), John (1:2:17) and the author of Hebrews (1:10-12; 10:9) all reject the notion absolutely, and it should be permanently and definitively exorcised from all “Christian” thinking!
So far as we human beings are concerned, regeneration is necessary precisely because we derive from the earth and are therefore material, impermanent and corruptible flesh (John 3:6), and it is precisely in that condition that we cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50)! By failing to keep the commandments we have forfeited our means of escape (cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). If this is true, then the very idea of the regeneration of the physical universe is an absurdity. Creation is by nature temporal (2 Cor. 4:18). Everything under heaven has its season or allotted time (Eccl. 3:1-8). Having had a beginning, it will therefore have an end like everything else under the sun (contrast Heb. 7:3). Even while it is still ‘good’ (1 Tim. 4:3f.), it is by nature impermanent as Genesis 1:1 implies.
Repristination / Rejuvenation
There are those who argue that creation will return to its original goodness or perfection despite the fact that perfection (completion) is the end, not the beginning, of the process. We have already seen, however, this would mean God’s repeating what he has already done, and this in itself implies that the original creation was defective (cf. the argument of Hebrews)! But he will not start again. He has no need to since the present creation, which has been conquered by Christ, has under him achieved its purpose of bringing many sons to glory (Rom. 8:21,23; Heb. 2). The very idea of going back to the beginning (or even of starting again, cf. Num. 14:12ff.) suggests failure, inadequacy, even sin. As the OT itself makes clear, “going back to Egypt” (Ex. 16:3; Num. 11:5,20; Acts 7:39) or entering again into one’s mother’s womb (John 3:4, cf. Job 16:22) is out of the question. All else apart, this is contrary to the will of God which is characteristically purposeful and goal-oriented (Dt. 1:8,21). Further, it suggests failure to understand that creation is still ‘good’ as Paul was at pains to indicate (1 Tim. 4:3f.; 1 Cor. 10:26,30f.). The fact that it is sometimes misused by men who fail to exercise their proper dominion does not reflect on the creation itself. It serves its purpose nonetheless. There is clearly no point in repristination. The very idea simply points to the failure of many to understand the issue.
Renewal and Rebirth
The word palingenesia (rebirth) is used in Matthew 19:28 (cf. Titus 3:5 where it is linked with human spiritual renewal) and might well lead the unwary to the conclusion that the present creation will be renewed or restored. Apart from teaching clearly opposing such a notion, it is probably true to say with Vine (Expository Dictionary) that Jesus uses the word to signify “the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old” (Heb. 10:9, cf. 1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15-17). This clearly fits in with the rest of the verse that indicates that “the new world” (RSV,ESV) is heaven, which, though eternal (or remaining, Heb. 12:27), is new to all those who have previously been earth-bound (cf. Rev. 21:1-4).
(In a devotional booklet my wife and I are using we came across the following: “So when Christ establishes the renewed earth, with renewed men and women, is it a stretch to imagine that He’ll surround us with renewed animals? Eden was perfect – but without animals Eden wouldn’t be Eden. And the new earth is the new Eden – paradise regained.” I leave the reader to draw his or her own conclusions in reaction to this. Clearly the writer has not understood 1 Corinthians 15:50 to go no further.)
Yet another idea that has been traditionally touted is that of the purgation or purification by fire of creation after which it will rise again (repetition!) Phoenix-like in its original purity (cf. 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). Does not the Bible itself recommend the purging of sin and sinful people from society (Dt. 13:5; 22:21-24, etc. and note Jos. 7:25)? It does indeed, but this is an entirely different kettle of fish from purging creation of sin which it does not and cannot have. Only people who have the law in some sense are capable of sin (Dt. 20:19; Hab. 3:8, cf. Rom. 4:15, etc.). Certainly it is said in 2 Chronicles 34:5,8, for example, that the land can be purged of idols and the like, but while it may be polluted and defiled (Num. 35:33f.; Dt. 21: 23) creation itself is morally unaffected since it is inanimate. (Remember the land of milk and honey inherited from the wicked Canaanites referred to above!) The fact that I use a knife for wrong purposes does not reflect on the knife, though admittedly I may blunt its edge (cf. Col. 2:22). Again it must be urged that creation is naturally corruptible even when dominion is properly exercised (3*) and is not subject to renewal by purgation (cf. Hendriksen, p.269, who refers to 2 Pet. 3 which does not speak of purgation but of destruction). While evil (Jud. 20:13), people (Ezek. 20:38) and filth can be purged by surgery, so to speak, even certain acts of purification relating to people (Heb. 9:10; Luke 2:22, etc.) have little ultimate value. On the other hand, it is necessary for consciences to undergo a spiritual purification or perfection (Heb. 9:9,14, cf. 1:3) or for people to undergo spiritual circumcision (Col. 2:11) so that they can enter God’s presence and serve him appropriately. As for creation, it is intrinsically imperfect and the imperfect cannot inherit the perfect (Heb. 9:11, cf. 1 Cor. 13:10). While Job commented that the moon and the stars were not pure in God’s eyes (25:5), Paul stressed the lowly nature of the physical body (Phil. 3:21) which even Jesus had while he was incarnate.
There are other problems associated with the purgation of creation. For example, assuming that it occurs, both creation and its inhabitants are still corruptible; they were made that way. Clearly, a temporal universe which is simply purged by fire remains fundamentally unfitted to support eternal life, yet that is what the Bible promises us as believers (John 3:16, etc.). Again, it should be noted, as was implied above, that sin is not a transmissible physical substance that can be purged by fire. It is a negative spiritual condition that can only be dealt with spiritually (cf. Heb. 1:3; 9:14,22; 10:1,12,14). The traditional notion of purgatory is false to Scripture and inevitably undermines the work of Christ.
Some writers would have us believe that since the old creation has had to be purged or destroyed by fire, a brand new creation is needed. It is true that this idea arose out of the felt need of the OT saints who lacked the revelation that became ours through Christ (Isa. 65:17; 66:22, 4*). Not surprisingly, they had a limited conception of the heaven and the eternal world that appears in the NT, though even they on occasion realised that God inhabited eternity (Isa. 57:15) and that heaven was his throne and earth his footstool (Isa. 66:1). The truth is, however, that God has done with, or rested from, material creation. He has something better in store for us, that is, his own house which Jesus has re-entered to prepare a place for us (John 14:2f.) and for which we shall be duly fitted corporeally (Phil. 3:21; Luke 20:34-36; 1 John 3:2; I Cor. 15:35ff.; 2 Cor. 5:1-5). As was implied above, the belief that we shall be flesh, which is by its very nature corruptible, and live on a new but sinless material earth is based on a complete misunderstanding of the plan of salvation which was always to glorify us spiritually and corporeally (1 Cor. 15:42ff.; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2), not physically (John 3:6), in God’s presence (Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6; Heb. 9:24, etc.). New wine requires new wineskins (Mark 2:22).
Once we assume a new creation in a physical/material as opposed to a spiritual (2 Cor. 5:17) sense, we unavoidably testify to the fact that the first was not perfect (pace Augustinians). And this is precisely the point made in Scripture regarding the old covenant which was intrinsically inadequate and provisional (Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7,13, cf. 2 Cor. 3:11). But the point to note is that it was replaced (Heb. 10:9b) not simply by a new but a better (Heb. 7:22; 8:6), indeed an eternal covenant (Heb. 13:20) which provided an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12) and an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15). The same holds good with regard to creation. Like the law, it belongs to the present age which is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:8,17). It will be replaced not by a rejuvenated, repristinated, purged, regenerated, redeemed, renovated or even a newly made creation but by the age to come or the eternal world which already exists and abides forever (Heb. 1:11f.). It can no more be shaken than God himself (Heb. 12:27).
Finally, to lay stress on the point implicitly made above, a new or re-creation which has a beginning is not and cannot be eternal (cf. Heb. 7:3). But the future dwelling place, which is basic to our salvation, is not temporal and manufactured (“made by hand”) but eternal and spiritual (“not made by hand”, acheiropoietos, Heb. 9:11, cf. 2 Cor. 4:18-5:1).
It is quite clear that all the above-mentioned ideas founder for the same reason: they are based on the view that the problems and shortcomings of this world/age all stem from sin. They do not. The transience, imperfection and corruptibility of all material things arise out of the plan of God (Gen. 2:17; Ps. 8:5f.; Rom. 2:7,10; 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 3:7, etc.). The reason why sin is such a problem is that we who, like Adam are born mortal (Rom. 1:23), are all unable to keep the commandments that promise us eternal life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Dt. 30:20, etc.). We have all to the very last man and woman come short of the glory of God and have no grounds for boasting (Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29). Since we fail to justify ourselves by keeping the law (Gal. 2:16), we have no personal means of gaining eternal life – precisely as God intended (Rom. 11:32; Gal. 3:22). This being indisputably so, we all need a Saviour. Thank God that he has provided us with one in Christ who, even though he was in the flesh himself (Rom. 8:3), put everything beneath his feet and conquered (Ps. 8:5f.; Heb. 2:9). As the one who always pleased God (John 8:29; Mt. 3:17, etc.), it was he who brought life and incorruption (Gk.) to light for the first time (2 Tim. 1:10). Prior to his coming everything throughout the whole creation was subject to corruption and futility (Rom. 8:19ff.). Without him we, as sinners, are lost. Unless he rose again from the dead, even our faith is futile (1 Cor. 15:17). But rise again he did (1 Cor. 15:20), and, since this is so, he alone can give us eternal life (1 Pet. 1:3).
1* I am well aware that more needs to be said on this subject (cf. Rom. 11) but replacement seems to be the appropriate word despite premillennialist opposition to it.
2* Sin and curse are constantly read into references to the destruction of the universe. Thus, in comment on Isaiah 13, J.A.Motyer (The Prophecy of Isaiah, Leicester, 1993) tells us that the whole creation is caught up in human sinfulness and since it is corrupted by sin it bears the consequences (p.138). He adds on page 139 that all that was achieved by creation will be undone in judgement. While in one sense this is true, the judgement in question is not on inanimate creation but on sinful men and women who at bottom worship the creature (creation) rather than the Creator. The ultimate destruction of creation was foreordained before man and sin appeared. Jesus himself appeared in the flesh only for a little while (Heb. 2:7)!
3* Even Jesus grew older (John 8:57) like the earth from which he was taken through his mother (Heb. 1:11). Though he conquered the world, the flesh and the devil, he did not reverse the earth’s God-ordained temporality and corruptibility (Rom. 8:18-15; Heb. 1:10-12)!
4* Isaiah 66:22 is interesting in that it refers to the ‘remaining’ so noticeably emphasised by the author of Hebrews with respect to the unshakable eternal world (1:10-12; 12:27, cf. 10:34; 11:10,16; 12:22; 13:14). While the reference to the making of the new earth may at first appear somewhat disconcerting, we must remember the limitations of OT revelation (Mt. 13:27; Eph. 3:9; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). At times, however, Isaiah, and indeed the OT writers in general, did appear to have some perception of a different world though, not surprisingly, they tended to see it very much in terms of the present one (see e.g. Isa. 24:23; 30:23-27; Dan. 7:13f., etc.). Sad to say, many Christians, who have not yet learned to appreciate the cataclysmic difference between the old and new covenants, entertain similar ideas. They stress continuity rather than discontinuity, physicality rather than spirituality and focus exclusively on sin. At the end of the day, however, the fundamental difference is that between flesh and spirit (Spirit, John 3:6), earth and heaven (cf. e.g. Heb. 12:18-24). If it is complained at this point that our physicality is basic to our humanity, it is enough to reply that while the body of flesh which derives from the temporal earth is destroyed (2 Cor. 5:1), the new spiritual body which will replace it will endure for eternity like that of Christ (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:35ff.; 2 Cor. 4:7-5:10; 1 Pet. 4:6, etc.). Dunn succinctly sums up the situation when he comments that while soma can cross the boundary of the ages, sarx belongs firmly to this present age (Romans, p.391). It perhaps needs to be added here that Isaiah’s new creation also involves Jerusalem (Isa. 65:17ff.) which, according to NT writers, is a present if unseen reality since it is our mother (Gal. 4:26, cf. Heb. 12:22). And if we are looking for the creation of new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, we need to remember that according to Jesus it also already exists (Mt. 6:10)!
See further my Additional Note with reference to Hughes on restoration in Hebrews.
Note P.E.Hughes on 2 Corinthians, pp.80,167, 203f.,209 and Hebrews, pp. 381f
W.Hendriksen, Romans, Edinburgh, 1980.
P.E.Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, London, 1961.
P.E.Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Grand Rapids, 1977.
G.K.Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Leicester, 2004.