Scripture teaches that creation is inherently temporal. It has a beginning (Gen. 1:1) and therefore an inevitable end (Mt. 24:35; 28:20; Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4). This implies that in contrast with its eternal Creator it is naturally corruptible (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12) and that when it has served its purpose of testing fleshly human beings made in the image of God, it will be destroyed (Heb. 6:7f.; 12:27). 2 Peter 3:7,10-12 (cf. Zeph. 1:2,3,18; 3:8) in particular graphically highlight its demise.
The traditional (Augustinian) view is somewhat different. It teaches that creation was originally perfect, and Adam and Eve holy, righteous and even immortal! When Adam as the deputed lord of creation mysteriously “fell” into sin, he dragged creation down with him. Thus, many, if not all, modern theologians still refer to a “fallen” creation which in the nature of the case requires redemption and restoration. But Scripture will have none of this.
While it is true that the material creation suffers from the fact that Adam and his posterity all failed to subject it fully to their dominion (cf. Prov. 24:30-34, etc.), Christ, the second Adam as the representative of his people succeeded (John 16:33; Heb. 2:9f.; Rev. 5:5). Having escaped from corruption by ascension and change (Rev. 12:5, cf. 1 Cor. 15:51ff.), he presently exercises his power at the right hand of God (Mt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:24-28). Having triumphed himself he is now as their representative in a position to rescue all those who trust in him (cf. Rom. 8:31-39; 2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Cor. 6:14, etc.). And while it is true that as those who have capitulated to moral corruption, they have undergone physical death (Rom. 8:10) and corruption, they will nonetheless be raised spiritually and given spiritual or heavenly bodies (1 Cor. 15:44ff.; 2 Cor. 5:1; 1 Pet. 4:6).
In reaction to this, it might be objected that the Bible itself clearly refers to a new material creation and attention directed to Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22. It needs to be appreciated, however, that Isaiah, though a true prophet of God, was limited in his understanding of the future (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12). After all, restoration, as opposed to the change or replacement that characterizes the new covenant, is a major theme of the OT and, though they were aware that heaven was the throne of God and earth his footstool (Isa. 66:1, cf. 57:15), OT writers tended to think of God as dwelling with them on a reconstituted earth as he did in the Promised Land, in Jerusalem and especially in the temple. It may further be claimed that Isaiah’s new creation re-appears in the NT, that is, in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1, demanding a transformed material universe. But this is hardly the case. While Peter refers to a new heaven and earth in which righteousness dwells, it is necessary to infer from Matthew 6:10 that what he has in mind is the eternal heaven which already exists and is not subject to re-creation (cf. Heb. 9:11,24). And the same conclusion must be drawn with regard to Revelation 21:1,4 where the first (temporal/material) creation has passed away (cf. 20:11) leaving only the permanent remaining or eternal world which has always existed and to which Jesus himself returned (Heb. 1:6, cf. v.3; 2:5; John 17:5,24). This conclusion is further supported by recognition of the fact that the new creation is no more new than the new Jerusalem (Isa. 65:18f.) which also already exists since it is our mother (Gal. 4:26, cf. Heb. 12:22f.). And despite the earthly associations of the new heavens and new earth referred to in Isaiah 66:22, the fact that they ‘remain’ like God (‘your name’) suggests their identification with the unshakable in Hebrews 1:11 and 12:27. So, given the re-interpretation of the OT by the NT (cf. Heb. 11:16), we are forced to the conclusion that the temporal material is replaced by the eternal spiritual (cf. 1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:17). In simple terms, with the destruction of the old the temporal earth finally gives way to, or is replaced by, the eternal heaven (cf. Heb. 10:9). Or again, the present age gives way to the age to come.
This inference receives ample support from a study of the human body. It is basic to biblical teaching that our fleshly bodies derive from the temporal earth. This being so, it is necessary to conclude that the flesh, being both earthly and earthy, is itself temporal and corruptible. This is why according to Jesus it is a paramount necessity for us to be born again (John 3:1-7). And, needless to say, we learn that our bodies are destroyed like the earth. Paul says this explicitly in 2 Corinthians 5:1 (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13) and implies it in other passages like 1 Corinthians 15:35ff. Indeed, he goes further and asserts that far from restoring our bodies like the body of Lazarus when Jesus raised him from the dead, God will replace them with a heavenly body. This is surely the implication of Romans 8:23 which refers to the redemption of the body as opposed to the flesh. Because of sin we lose our fleshly bodies in death and decay (Rom. 8:10; Acts 2:29) and are left naked (2 Cor. 5:2-4). But, in accordance with the divine purpose (2 Cor. 5:5), they are finally replaced with spiritual bodies of glory like that of Christ (Phil. 3:21, cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-50).
In confirmation of what has just been said, we need to recognize that even the OT regards the flesh pejoratively (see e.g. Job 10:8f.; Ps. 118:8; Isa. 31:3; Jer. 17:5). In the NT we read that it is weak, corruptible, unprofitable (John 6:63), incapable of producing good (Rom. 7:18, cf. 8:8), hostile to God (Rom. 8:7) and at war with the spirit/Spirit (Gal. 5:17; 1 Pet. 2:11). Paul tells his readers that in anticipation of the end it should (metaphorically) be put to death (Col. 3:1-5, cf. Gal. 5:24) along with the world (Gal. 6:14). John implies the same in his first letter (2:15-17, cf. 2 Tim. 4:10). Jesus himself urges us to hate life (Gk. psyche) in this world in order to find eternal life (Gk. zoe, John 12:25, cf. James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17). Failure to do this and to seek holiness (Heb. 12:14) means that those who foster the flesh reap what they sow, that is, the inevitable death and corruption that characterizes the present creation (1 Cor. 6:9f.; Gal. 6:8; Eph. 5:5, etc.). (It perhaps needs to be added here that the unwarrantable tendency of the NIV to translate sarx as ‘sinful nature’ especially in Romans 8:13 and Galatians 6:8 obscures this.)
It might be objected here that Jesus’ fleshly body, though naturally corruptible, was not destroyed like that of the rest of us who die before his return (cf. David in Acts 2:25ff.). This is true enough, but Paul leaves us in no doubt whatever that Jesus did not take his flesh into heaven (1 Cor. 15:50). Rather he implies that like the saints at the second advent Jesus was changed at his ascension (1 Cor. 15:51f.) and not as is widely taught at his resurrection (cf. Luke 24:39, etc.). How otherwise could he recover the glory that he shared with his Father before the world began (John 17:5,24)? So, while fleshly destruction may imply physical annihilation, it by no means implies corporeal (somatic) negation.
This comment reminds us of the temple. If we compare Mark 14:58 with 2 Corinthians 5:1, we become aware of a remarkable similarity. The inference we draw from it is that just as the material temple is destroyed, so is the physical body. In the OT the temple was restored; in the NT it is destroyed – totally. And even if it were to be rebuilt today, as some seem to think it will, it would still face permanent destruction at the end of the age when creation itself is destroyed. Again, however, it should be noticed that the temple is not negated. Rather it reappears in spiritual form as examination of the following references makes indisputably clear: 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 8:2 and Revelation 21:22 (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-8).
Judging by the references used in my first paragraph above, physical or material corruption is a fundamental characteristic of the temporal material creation as Genesis 1:1 implies. It was “made by hand” (Isa. 45:12; 48:13, etc.) and hence in basic contrast with what is “not made by hand” (Heb. 9:11,24, cf. 1:10-12, etc.). The tragedy is that theology in the West has been radically distorted by the views of Augustine of Hippo. He was misled by the references to the goodness of creation in Genesis 1 and consequently taught its original perfection and “fall” along with Adam and Eve who epitomized the beginnings of fleshly humanity. Assuming the truth of this many Christians contend that even though creation will be destroyed, it will be re-created! But the Bible as a whole consistently upholds the distinction between a temporal creation and the eternal Creator (Isa. 51:6,8; Mt. 24:35, etc.). Perhaps the best argument in favour of this is Jesus himself. Whereas as man (flesh) he is clearly mortal and corruptible (John 8:57, cf. 2 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 1:11; 8:13), as God he is eternal and incorruptible (Heb. 7:16,25,28, cf. Rom. 1:23; 2 Tim. 1:10). Admittedly, though after his death he did not see corruption since he kept the commandment(s), his fleshly body was clearly replaced by a body of glory (Phil. 3:21, cf. John 17:5,24) at his ascension, like those of the saints at the end of the age (1 Cor. 15:51ff.).
My conclusion is then that the early chapters of Genesis promised man made in the image of God escape from the divinely intended destruction of the material universe (cf. 2 Pet. 3:7) on condition of the proper exercise of dominion (Gen. 1:26,28) and law keeping (Gen. 2:17, cf. Lev. 18:5; Dt. 30:15-20, etc.). Failure to meet that condition means that the promise is fulfilled only through faith in the all-conquering Christ who guarantees us embodied spiritual life with him in the presence of God in heaven (John 14:2f.; 17:24; 1 Cor. 15:44,46; Heb. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:18, cf. v.22; 4:6; Rev. 3:21, etc.).
Additional Note on Aging
I have read a number of times even since the turn of the century that aging, decay and corruption are the result of sin (1* See, for example, Heaven by Randy Alcorn, Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, p.118. Alcorn’s massive misunderstanding of the biblical position is patent and pervasive. In true Augustinian fashion, he attributes everything to sin and the curse on the one hand and their denial to what he calls Christoplatonism on the other. His book which is based on a literal hermeneutic, a false theology and avowed use of the imagination makes for painful reading.) If this is so, then we are compelled to conclude that the incarnate Jesus was a sinner, for he certainly grew older. As a fleshly product of the earth, he is clearly depicted as having a (human) beginning in the womb of his mother, of undergoing development and attaining to manhood (Luke 2:40-52) and even of showing signs of aging in his early thirties (John 8:57). The inference is then that while the aging process may be accelerated or exacerbated by sin, it is in itself purely natural. It was written into creation in hope from the start (Rom. 8:20, cf. 24f.), inherent in the plan of salvation.
The Bible teaches that just as the temporal earth in contrast with the eternal God (cf. Heb. 7:3) has a beginning (Gen.1:1) so it will have an end (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.). This view of the issue is supported by Hebrews 1:11, which tells us that creation is subject to aging like clothes or wine. Since man as flesh is a product of a naturally aging earth (Gen 2:7), he is necessarily subject to aging. So like the earth, he is naturally perishable (1 Cor. 15:50). This inference is not just a matter of logic, for Paul, like the Isaiah (e.g. 40:6-8; 51:6) insists that the outer man is wasting away (2 Cor. 4:16, cf. Ps. 49:12,20; 90:2-6; Eccl. 3:18-20; Jas. 1:10f.; 1 Pet. 1:23-25). The author of Hebrews is quite explicit when he says that what is growing old is ready to vanish away (8:13, cf. Jas. 4:14), which of course is why Jesus who by keeping the law had gained life had to ascend into heaven (John 20:17). References such as Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 12:33 and Colossians 2:22 also testify to the same truth.
In light of this, it ought to go without saying that investment in this world and the flesh is fraught with disaster. Both are inherently ephemeral and in the nature of the case cannot provide for either the eternal life (immortality) or the incorruptibility that characterize God. Ishmael remained a fleshly slave and had no inheritance (John 8:35; Gal. 4:29). Esau sought his portion in this world (Ps. 17:14) and paid the price by reaping corruption (Heb. 12:16f.; Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8). The only treasure ultimately worth having is heavenly (Mt. 6:19-21; Luke 12:33; 16:9; 2 Cor. 4:7; Heb. 10:34; 1 Pet. 1:3f.,7,23-25). And if the goal of man is a city (Heb. 11:10), it is of necessity celestial, the only one that lasts forever (Heb. 12:22; 13:14; Gal. 4:26; Rev. 21-22).
In view of widespread misunderstanding it is perhaps necessary to add here that since our inheritance, including our future body, is eternal, it cannot be physical. As Paul pointed out, the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50). In other words, materialism of any kind is by nature moribund. If Christ has not been raised and exalted transformed to heaven our faith is futile.
There is yet another point of basic importance to make: Scripture consistently distinguishes between natural aging or corruptibility and sin. Jesus alludes to both in Matthew 6:19-21 (cf. Luke 12:33), Luke 13:1-5 and especially when dealing with the end of the world. Moral evil and material corruption appear together in Luke 17:22-37 and similar passages. The problem with sin is that it prevents the fulfilment of the promise of escape from death and corruption that God promised Adam in the first two chapters of Genesis.
See further my essays Escape, The Corruptibility of Creation, Concerning Futility, Did Jesus Rise Physically From The Grave?, The End of the World, With What Kind of Body Do They Come, Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?, etc.
The following references should be noted: Gen. 1:1, cf. Mt. 24:35; Ps. 90:2; 102:25-27, cf. 103:10-19; Isa. 34:4; 54:10; Ezek. 38:20; Mt. 6:19f.; Luke 12:33; 16:9; 1 Cor. 7:31; 9:25; 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18; 1 Pet. 1:4,7,18; 3:4; 1 John 2:15-17; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1.
The inherent instability or shakability of material things is recognized in the OT, where God himself is his people’s refuge (e.g. Ps. 46:1f.; Hab. 3:17ff.), and emphasized especially in Hebrews (cf. 1:10-12; 9:15; 10:34; 11:8-16; 12:18-29; 13:8,14). Just as the law which relates to the present world is inherently obsolescent and soon to disappear (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8:13, cf. 2 Cor. 4:16) so is the world itself (Luke 12:33; Col. 2:22; 1 Pet. 1:4, cf. 1:7; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). If the world is growing old (Heb. 1:11), it is about to pass away (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1).
1. Creation has a beginning (Gen. 1:1) and therefore an end (Gen. 8:22; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). By contrast God as Creator has neither beginning nor end (Ps. 90:2; 102:12,27; Isa. 54:10; Heb. 7:3; Rev. 4:13, etc.).
2. It is visible and hence impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18). It will eventually pass away (Mt. 24:35; 1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 21:1,4, etc.).
3. It is “made by hand” like the gods of the heathen (Isa. 2:8), the temple (Mark 14:58) and the body of flesh (2 Cor. 5:1) and is hence dispensable (Ps. 102:25; Isa. 45:12; 48:13, etc.).
4. It is shakable and in strong contrast with that which remains (Heb. 12:27).
5. The things that have been made are visible (Rom. 1:20) but destructible (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, etc.).
6. It has been subjected to corruption and is purposely made perishable in hope of what is presently, that is physically, invisible (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12, cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f.).
7. Once it has been destroyed, it will be replaced by heaven and the presence of God where righteousness dwells (Mt. 6:10; 2 Pet. 3:13, cf. Rev. 20:11 and Daniel 2:34f., 44f.).