While I remain convinced of the essential correctness of what is written in the first article The End of the World, before suggesting a reason for what for us is Paul’s somewhat cryptic and easily misunderstood mode of expression in Romans 8:21, I would draw attention to the fact that Jesus himself frequently alludes to both nature and sin as being equally hurdles to be overcome as the following references indicate: Mt.6:19f.; 24:7f; Mark 13:8; Luke 12:33; 13:1-5; 21:10f.; John 4:13f.; 6:27ff., passim, etc. So, just as the temporal body of flesh (earth) must be destroyed (Mt.10:28; Luke 12:4f; 2 Cor. 5:1) and transformed into or replaced by a spiritual body to fit it for heaven (1 Cor. 15:35ff.), so must the ephemeral material world in which we live be destroyed and exchanged for God’s eternal spiritual kingdom (= heaven, cf. Mt.18:3f. etc., Heb.1:11; 12:27f.; cf. 1 Cor. 15:50) where Jesus in his perfected state, separated from sinners (Heb.7:26), is at the moment (Heb. 4:14; 5:9; 7:28, cf. John 14:2f.; 17:5,24). The fundamental imperfection or inadequacy, unrelated to sin, of the created world is basic to the Bible and to the gospel as it was first propounded, and Jesus’ stress on the need for naturally mortal creatures of flesh and blood to be born again spiritually (John 1:12f.; 3:3-6) in order to enter heaven was clearly necessary not least for the earth-bound Jews who, until the coming of Jesus, lived very much in the present age unaffected by the powers of the age to come (cf. Heb. 6:5).
This brings us back to the reason for the apparently enigmatic language Paul uses in Romans 8:21. In his day his readers were not governed by the faulty worldview emanating from Augustinian dogma and would not have been liable to misunderstand his point. For them in pre-Augustinian times, there was no original sin and no cosmic curse to mislead them. Only Augustinians, or those conditioned by their sin-obsessed thought, would ever dream of the physical creation (as opposed to the creature, i.e. man) ‘obtaining’ (see RSV, ESV, ad loc.) the freedom of the glory of the sons of God and attributing to Paul ideas that he expressly denied in 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 4 and 5. For Paul, as for Jesus, the physical heavens and earth were transient (Mt. 5:18; 24:35) but “good” in that they served an eternal purpose (e.g. Mt. 25:34; Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:3-14; Heb. 2:10, cf. 2 Cor. 5:4f., etc. Cf. Marshall, Saviour, p. 303).
It follows from this that our physical, fleshly bodies, like the earth from which they derive, form a barrier or veil between us and God (cf. Rom. 8:35-39; 2 Cor. 5:6,8). (It is worth bearing in mind too the recurring idea throughout Scripture that seeing God brings death, Gen. 16:13, etc. Furthermore, spiritual things are spiritually, not physically, discerned, 1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:24f.) This is surely what Isaiah is intimating in 25:7f. and is implicit as far back as the first two chapters of Genesis. The veil, which in effect becomes a shroud as a result of the old covenant’s ministry of death (2 Cor. 3:14f.), must be destroyed (cf. 2 Cor. 3:16-18) in order to prevent death from having its way. As Paul indicates, once the veil is removed through acceptance of Christ the glory of the Lord becomes visible – or, at least, as reflected in a mirror (3:18 NRSV, cf., 1 Cor.13:12), for we still live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor.5:7). The body of flesh remains subject to death (see John 11:25; Rom.8:10; 2 Cor. 5:1), which has not yet been swallowed up (Isa. 25:7; 1 Cor. 15:54), but once it has, the glory of God will be fully manifest (John 17:24; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4).
It may be asked at this point, What about sin which leads to death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23)? Sin, or transgression of the law which promises life, prevents us from attaining to life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). In other words, while man, who is made in the image of God, is born into a naturally temporal, mortal and corruptible world of which he is a part, he is promised eternal life if he achieves the likeness of God, that is, keeps the law (cf. Rom. 2:7). Since he does not and cannot, he needs a Saviour who can and does (cf. Rom. 8:29; Heb. 1:3, etc.). Thus Paul tells us that it is Jesus, who, though manifested in mortal flesh, abolished death and brought life and immortality (or incorruptibility) to light through the gospel (2 Tim.1:10; cf. Rom. 8:3). Prior to that time, as the author of Hebrews was well aware (12:27), all created things including man, being transient as Genesis 1:1 (cf. Heb. 7:3) implies, were doomed to eventual death and corruption. As Paul says, if Christ is not raised, everything is futile and meaningless (1 Cor. 15:17).
The notion of a barrier or curtain of flesh intervening between man and God appears in Hebrews 10:19f., but it is disputed whether the words “that is, his flesh” qualify “the curtain” or “the new and living way”. It is a crux interpretum according to Lane (p.275) and will repay brief but, I trust, careful study.
Bruce, followed for example by Hughes, takes the view that the curtain or veil is to be equated with Jesus’ flesh and endorses Davidson’s comment that “as the veil stood locally before the holiest in the Mosaic Tabernacle, the way into which lay through it, so Christ’s life in the flesh stood between Him and His entrance before God, and His flesh had to be rent ere He could enter … and for us also the way lies through His flesh” (p.248). Bruce (cf. Hughes, p.408) then deals with ’the way of his flesh’ interpretation, adopted by the NEB but whose protagonist was B.F.Westcott. The latter regarded the equation of ‘veil’ with ‘flesh’ as unsatisfactory because it treated Jesus’ flesh as an obstacle to the vision of God in a place where his humanity is stressed and because it failed to preserve the complete parallelism between the approach of Christ to God and the approach of the believer to God. Bruce rejects this as not appearing to carry much weight and prefers to take the line more naturally suggested by the word-order that the veil symbolised Christ’s human life (p. 249).
In contrast, Lane argues, convincingly according to de Silva (p.335), that the writer of Hebrews is concerned not with the composition of the ‘veil’, that is, the flesh of Jesus, but with the way the believer gains entrance to the holy place as he is in 6:19f., which is regarded as an obvious parallel. Lane further holds that 10:19 and 20 are analogous in structure. While this is certainly arguable, it hardly solves our problem. Indeed it raises the question of why the author, who, as well as in 10:19, is elsewhere happy to refer to blood alone in accordance with OT precedent as the means of gaining access to the Holy of Holies (9:7ff.; cf. 10:29; 12:24; 13:11f.,20), should suddenly find it necessary to draw attention to Jesus’ flesh unless he had something else in mind. (Lane alludes to 10:10, but the context suggests that the reference to Jesus’ body embraces his entire life, cf. Romans 12:1). In light of this, it is much more natural, if not exactly compelling, to assume his flesh is in apposition to and hence qualifies “the curtain”.
Lane then makes the point that the value of Westcott’s view is that it preserves the local and literal sense of “through the curtain” and denies that a metaphor is intended in 10:20. But surely the curtain is essentially a metaphor being but a shadow of the true even in 6:19, which Lane claims is decisive (p.284), while the literal component of the passage attaches to the blood of Jesus (v.19) and his flesh as in 2:14 where his humanity is being underlined.
Next he insists that v 20 is an elucidation of v 19, which speaking generally can hardly be denied. For all that, in an attempt to preserve the ‘internal logic’ of the sentence (hardly threatened or obscured by the contrary view, one would have thought) it would seem unduly strained to conclude that the preposition (dia, through) when expressed should be taken as local with “the curtain” yet when unexpressed (that is, assumed despite its remoteness from “the way”) should be regarded as instrumental (by means of) with “his flesh”. As Hughes points out, the single ‘dia’ has the effect of binding “the curtain” and his flesh together and suggests apposition (p. 409). He further quotes N.H.Young who claims that the grammatical grounds for taking “his flesh” as in apposition are “coercive”. In further support of his case, however, Lane draws attention to the fact that ‘dia’, actually expressed three times in 9:11-12, reflects variation in prepositional use. This may be true, but it is hardly relevant here. More to the point, it is certainly inconclusive and suggests special pleading on his part (pp. 275f.). He seems desperate to make a suspect case compelling.
Another point must be made. There is a real danger that abstruse linguistic, syntactical and grammatical arguments are driven by dogma as, for example, in the interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-22. This would appear to be at least a contributory factor here. Lane’s claim that the curtain is literal and not metaphorical in Hebrews 6:19 involves him in contradiction of his own exegesis of 7:13f. and 8:1-5 where he stresses that Christ lacked the necessary genealogical credentials to enable him to penetrate the literal curtain while he was on earth (p.182)., and also that “heaven, as the ‘place’ of God’s presence, transcends earth as the source of all reality and value” (pp.210f.). If this is so, then the literal curtain is but a shadow or symbol of the reality, which is Christ’s flesh. This would seem to be the only reasonable conclusion we can draw from Matthew 27:50f. (cf. Heb. 9:8-12). It might further be mentioned that both 6:19f. and 10:19ff. underline the ever-living nature of the high priest (cf. 7:24f.) who makes access to God possible for mankind by giving his fleshly life as an atonement for sin (1 Pet. 3:18). This being so, we can hardly fail to note that Lane, following Westcott, sees fit to translate the “living way” in 10:20, which Bruce links with John 14:6, by “the way that leads to life” (p.275). Again it must be said this appears somewhat contrived especially when it is compared with Peter’s “living hope”, which is directly linked to Jesus’ resurrection (1 Pet. 1:3). It would seem to be more harmonious, theologically speaking, to see the resurrected Christ himself as the living way, our very life (Col.3:4), and his flesh as the curtain through which that way was opened up. As Cranfield expresses it in comment on Mark 15:38, “the death of Jesus has opened the way into the presence of God” (Mark, p.460). No cross, no glory!
On the assumption then that the view propounded by Bruce and others is both more natural and persuasive we can now state that the curtain or veil was indeed the flesh of Jesus. (To suggest that the new and living way can in some sense be equated with a ‘dead’ curtain seems to me rather odd! After all, Peter tells us that Christ was put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit in order to bring us to God, 1 Pet. 3:18, ESV). This is clearly in accord with biblical teaching in general where flesh and creation (see especially Hebrews and 1 and 2 Peter), which belong to the present age, are always pejorative relative to the age to come. So, contrary to Westcott, whose first objection in particular, as expressed by Bruce, is somewhat mystifying, I would insist that Jesus’ flesh is indeed an obstacle to the vision of God as is implied even in John 14:8-11 (cf. John 1:18; 1 Cor. 2:14). And it is not entirely irrelevant to the point at issue that Charles Wesley referred to Jesus in his famous hymn, “Hark the herald angels sing”, as “veiled in flesh”.
All in all as both John and Paul imply, it is impossible for man in the flesh to see God (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16). Only when this barrier is overcome by the removal of the curtain is vision of God achieved.
At the end of the day, since grammar fails to determine the issue, it is important to recognise that theology is what is at stake. What Westcott apparently failed to note is that the flesh as such, regardless of sin, is an obstacle to be overcome in Scripture. Man as created from the (temporal) earth cannot enter (eternal) heaven and the presence of God (1 Cor. 15:50). According to the original implied promise of Genesis 2:17, salvation, that is, knowing God (John 17:3) and entering his presence (1 Pet. 3:18), for man made flesh (Adam) was dependent on his keeping the law (Lev.18:5, etc.). In the event only Jesus succeeded in doing this. Thus his flesh was the curtain rent apart which permitted access to sinners who put their trust in him. Behind Westcott’s objections to this view apparently lies Augustinian theology, which makes sin the only problem*, but if this is the case, why did not sinless, though fleshly, Adam enjoy the heavenly presence and vision of God from the start? Or, to put the issue another way, why was he subjected to probation if his flesh, or human nature, was no obstacle? If he was created perfect, as traditional theology would have us believe, he had no goal to aspire to since he had already arrived! The whole point, as Paul was well aware, is that to be at home in the body of flesh, irrespective of sin, is to be away from the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6,8) who as spirit lives invisible in inaccessible light (1 Tim. 6:16) and is in any case a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5f.; 1 Cor. 15:50) not least because no one in the flesh can see God and live (Gen.16:13; 32:30; Jud. 6:22, etc., cf. 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6). While Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of a rock and have his face covered to see God’s back (Ex. 33:18ff.), even Paul was temporarily blinded by his (partial?) vision of the ascended and glorified Christ. After all, as he was well aware, the spiritual is spiritually discerned (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). If it is objected (a) that sin is exclusively the problem, Exodus 33:20, which does not mention sin, suggests otherwise even allowing for Exodus 6:12,30 and Isaiah 6:5; and (b) that at the end of the age every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7), it is sufficient to reply that the consequence on the one hand is death (2 Thes. 1:7ff.; Rev. 6:15-17) and on the other transformation (1 Cor. 15:50ff.; 1 Thes. 4:17). The Bible is amazingly consistent.
The flesh then, like the material world as such, is a barrier to be surmounted, a curtain to be pierced and penetrated, either personally by keeping the law (cf. Heb. 6:19f.) or alternatively by vicarious sacrifice (Heb. 10:19f.) leading to final transformation (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50ff.). This is surely the point that Paul is making in a somewhat different way in 2 Corinthians 3 where Moses’ veil, symbolising the old covenant, is a physical obstruction. It is only when that veil, like the curtain in the temple, is removed (3:16, cf. Ex. 34:34) that the Lord becomes both visible and accessible, at least by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Once the curtain of flesh has been dispensed with (cf. 2 Pet. 1:14) we shall not merely be able to see the Lord in all his glory (Isa. 24:23; 66:18; John 17:24; Rev. 22:4) but truly to reflect it (2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24; 1 John 3:2). It is in this hope that we are saved (cf. Rom. 8:24f.).
Advocates of the restoration or renovation of the physical universe use still other texts to support their view. Hughes, for example, alludes to Hebrews 12:28; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1ff.; Acts 3:21 (Hebrews, pp. 381f., 2 Corinthians, 167, 203f., 209).
With regard to Hebrews 12:28 it has to be said that Hughes’ handling of this text is far from sure. First, we need to note that his premise is the Augustinian notion of a cosmic curse stemming from the fall. Dealing with 2:9 he writes: “It is undoubtedly the doctrine of Scripture that man in his fall has degraded the rest of creation with himself and that his redemption involves the restoration of the order of creation to its destined purpose and perfection …” (p. 94, cf. O’Brien, pp. 53f.; Bruce, Colossians, p.74). Thus, in comment on 1:10-12, having described God as Creator, Judge and Restorer, he tells us that the author “teaches that there is to be one more cosmic shaking prior to the establishment of the unshakable kingdom of Christ extending over the renewed order of creation (12:26ff.)” (p. 67). But this, apart from being a virtual contradiction in terms, is surely to pervert the author’s meaning, since 12:27** speaks of the removal of the shakable so that the unshakable (not the renewed) that already exists (since it is eternal) may remain. Next, Hughes fails to reckon with the stubborn fact that the impermanent or temporal creation cannot inherit the permanent any more than the imperfect can inherit the perfect (1 Cor. 13:10). Just as flesh cannot be regenerated (John 3:4,6; 1 Cor. 15:50) because it is part of the temporal physical creation, so, obviously, neither can creation itself. It is simply compounding error to state that “this final shaking of both heaven and earth is necessary for the purging and eradication from the universe of all that is hostile to God and his will … for the inauguration of the new heaven and the new earth, that is, the renewed or ‘changed’ creation, in which all God’s purposes in creation are brought to everlasting fulfilment at the consummation of the redemption procured in and by Christ (Rev. 21:1ff.; 2 Pet. 3:10-13) ….” (p.558). Hughes has failed to realise that the reference to ‘change’ involves destruction like old wineskins (Mt. 9:17; cf. Heb. 1:12). The old will be exchanged for what is for us the new, that is, the permanent (cf. Heb. 10:9). (That the regeneration is the eternal heaven, the throne of God, would seem to be necessarily deduced from Mt. 19:28, cf. 16:27; 25:31; John 17:5,24; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 3:21; cf. Gal. 4:26, etc.)
Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1ff.
As indicated above it is dangerous to read too much into Isaiah’s reference to new heavens and a new earth since the OT people were essentially earth-centred in their thinking (cf. Bruce, Hebrews, 298f., 339; and note De Silva, pp.471f.). The use of present-age physical imagery of one kind or another was inevitable. If it is necessary for us (cf. e.g. Motyer, p.195), how much more for people who lacked the new covenant’s revelation of Christ. Indeed, as de Silva suggests with the eschatology of Hebrews in mind, we must be appropriately cautious with respect to an overly materialistic interpretation of Revelation 21 and 22 (p.472n.). Assuming unity of authorship, it is therefore important to recognise that no OT writer stresses the impermanence, even the destruction, of material things more than Isaiah (e.g. 13:9-13; 34:4; 40:6-8; 51:6; 54:10). Furthermore, it ought not to escape notice that both 2 Peter 3:7,10-12 and Revelation 21 (cf. 6:12ff.; 8:5; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1) point to total destruction rather than restoration. The new creation, the new world (cf. Mt.19:28) and the new or heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10,16; 12:22; 13:14) refer to what already exists, that is, the city of the living God which shares his unshakable character. Heaven is God’s throne while earth is his footstool (Mt. 5:34f.). Writers tend to forget that we are born from above (John 3:3, anothen) and that our mother is the Jerusalem above (Gal. 4:26, ano).
Finally, in light of references such as Matthew 6:10,33; 7:21; 25:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Peter 5:10 and 2 Timothy 4:18, not to mention others, it is difficult not to conclude that the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells is to be equated with what is elsewhere referred to as the kingdom of God or heaven (cf. 2 Pet. 1:11; 1 Pet. 1:3f.; Heb. 9:15).
Scholars appear less than certain about the meaning of apokatastasis. Bruce (Acts, p. 91n., cf. Wright, p. 77) entertains notions of the regeneration, transformation, renovation and restoration of the physical universe. Stott is also convinced that this line of thinking is more natural than the idea that the word ‘everything’ refers to the promises which God will ‘establish’. (All things (ta panta) occurs frequently and can be rather vague and unspecific as it is in English (e.g. the ‘all things’ that Elijah will restore, Mt. 17:11. Fee says that for Paul it refers to the whole of the created universe or the whole of a given subject, Philippians, p.384 n.34.). The context, however, with its strong emphasis on the fulfilment of prophecy (cf. Acts 1:16,20; 2:16ff.; 3:13,18ff.) surely favours the latter idea to which the former is quite alien. Not surprisingly therefore and surely rightly, Marshall maintains that “we should take the phrase to signify God’s perfect realisation of the things that he had promised through the prophets, the chief of which was the setting up of his rule or kingdom” (p.94. Cf. Bayer, pp.268f., 271 and Morey, p.244. On p.245, however, Morey, having glanced at Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:20 claims quite gratuitously that Christ “will return the natural order or reconcile it to the state of perfection and bliss in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy”!) Marshall’s view appears to me to be infinitely preferable not least because of the manifest inconsistency evident in Bruce and Stott’s thinking which seems to be coloured largely by their questionable interpretation of Romans 8:19ff. This inevitably involves them in circular reasoning. In any case, as was pointed out above, Bruce is at odds with himself. His understanding of Romans 8:19ff. contradicts his stance in Hebrews. Secondly, Stott in commentary on the Romans passage is so obsessed with, even mesmerised by the Augustinian view of sin, that he is trapped into flatly contradicting what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50. He writes, “… for nature will be brought … out of corruption into incorruption” (Romans, pp.239f.)! But Paul, like Jesus (John 3:4-6), says this is impossible. What is more, in 2 Corinthians 4:18 (cf. Rom. 8:18,24f.) he asserts that while what is seen is transient, what is unseen is eternal (i.e. perfect like God himself. Cf. John 3:3). As becomes clear in his next paragraph, Stott, evidently in the grip of an inadequate covenant theology, which fails to appreciate the massive contrast between the old and new covenants so clearly taught in passages like 2 Corinthians 3, Galatians 3 and 4, and Hebrews 8 and 12, has embraced the “Old Testament prophetic vision of the messianic age” with disastrous consequences (p. 240). A careful reading of texts such as Hebrews 1:10-12; 10:34; 11:10, 16, 12:22ff. and 13:14, to go no further, should have led him to perceive that his claim that the “Christian hope looks forward not to an ethereal heaven but to a renewed universe, related to the present world by both continuity and discontinuity” (The Incomparable Christ, p.224) is a fundamental error arising from Augustine’s indefensible and thoroughly misleading dogmas of original righteousness, sin and cosmic curse. The truth, as Peter so strongly emphasises, is that far from being earthly, our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, unfading and heavenly (1 Pet.1:4, cf. Luke 6:23; 18:22; 2 Cor.5:1; Phil. 3:14; Heb. 3:1; 9:15, etc.).
Colossians 1:20 is yet another verse exploited by those who believe in the restoration or regeneration of the material cosmos. (It is not a little interesting to observe O’Brien’s reference to the presuppositions of commentators on this verse, pp.53f.) Wright, for example, regards sin as the exclusive barrier between man and God (p. 76), and almost inevitably ends up with a radically unbiblical view of the natural or physical which he fails to see is characteristic of the temporal creation (pp.76-80; see also Challenge, e.g. pp.144,179f.). O’Brien undertakes a detailed examination of the various views that have been held regarding “the reconciliation of all things” and opts, with Lohse, for restoration (p.56), an OT idea if ever there was one! Apart from the fact that this prompts the question he himself poses earlier of how the cosmos as an impersonal entity can be reconciled (p.55), it clearly presupposes the usual unbiblical Augustinian notions of original sin and cosmic curse. If the physical universe is to be destroyed once it has served its purpose, reconciliation or restoration of fellowship will be achieved by faith on the one hand and by the enforced pacification of all hostile forces on the other (cf. Bruce, Colossians, p.76. Fee, in comment on Philippians 2:10, denies that ‘the whole range of creation’ including inanimate creation is implied, pp.224f. nn.34f., cf. Marshall, Saviour, p.268. See also his comments on 1 Cor. 2:6-8, p.103, and on 7:31, p.342. Strangely, consistency seems to desert Fee when he comments on 1 Cor. 15:28 as follows: “In Paul’s view the consummation of redemption includes the whole sphere of creation as well (cf. Rom.8:19-22; Col.1:15-20). Nothing lies outside God’s redemptive purposes in Christ, in whom all things will be ‘united’ (Eph. 1:9-10). Therefore at the death of death the final rupture in the universe will be healed and God alone will rule over all beings (sic!), banishing those who have rejected his offer of life and lovingly governing all those who by God’s grace have entered into God’s ‘rest’”, p.760. What Fee fails to recognise here is that death is not a rupture in the universe but the basic characteristic of a temporal creation which, I would maintain, is what Paul is affirming in Romans 8:19ff. and elsewhere, e.g. Rom. 8:13; Gal.6:8, cf. Gen.3:19, and implying in 2 Timothy 1:10. Note also the logic of Gen.1:1 and Heb. 7:3,16). And as O’Brien himself affirms at the end of his study of Colossians 1:20, the words following the hymn (Col.1:21-23) indicate “the central purpose of Christ’s work of making peace has to do with those who have heard the Word of reconciliation and gladly accepted it” (p.57). How true, but this is far from saying with Wright (p.80), who, like Bruce (Colossians, p.74), is governed by a false understanding of Romans 8:19ff. (p.76), that Christ’s perfection “will one day be shared by ‘all things in heaven and on earth’”. So yet again we must insist that the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50, ESV, cf. 13:10; Heb. 12:27) enabling us to concur with Barth (quoted by Fee, p.646), when he says, “Because the sun rises all lights are extinguished”, and the book of Revelation amply bears him out (21:23; 22:4f., cf. 2 Cor. 3:10f.; 1 Cor. 2:9; 15:28)!
Finally, brief reference may be made to Ephesians 1:10. First, Lincoln, emphasising Ephesians close associations with Colossians, asserts the redemption not the dissolution of the created order and like Bauckham (see above) alludes to Romans 8:18-25. However, Mitton regards inferences drawn from such texts as Colossians 1:15-20 and Romans 8:19-22 as speculative. He also avers that what is probably intended here is that Christ’s reconciling power was effective in all circumstances, both in heaven and on earth and insists that the emphasis in Ephesians is certainly on the uniting of people (cf. O’Brien, pp.53,55,57; Beasley-Murray, p.308). Stott predictably takes a different view on the basis of his highly questionable understanding of Romans 8:18ff. To support his stance that ‘all things’ implies the physical universe he appeals to Hebrews 1:2-3 (God’s New Society, p.44). He could hardly have chosen a worse reference, for only a few verses later the writer undermines all ideas of cosmic renewal when he draws attention to the temporality and perishability of all things material (Heb.1:10-12, cf. 10:34; 11:10,16; 12:18-29; 13:14). As de Silva so convincingly argues (cf. Bruce, pp. 383ff.; Lane, p. 31, and, less certainly, pp. 480ff.), Hebrews presents a worldview totally at odds with that of the restorationists (pp.27ff. passim).
This then raises the question in a slightly different form. What does Ephesians 1:10 mean? I would contend that it coincides with Colossians 1:16 with its telic ‘eis’ and with Romans 8:21 as expounded in the essay (The End Of the World), The above (cf. Bruce, Philippians, p.109). The whole purpose of creation is found or summed up in Christ whose ultimate aim was to glorify God by bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10; Rom. 5:2; 8:18-39; Col. 3:4; 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4; John 17:3-5,24). And just as the physical body, having served its purpose (cf. Rom. 8:28) is destroyed (2 Cor.5:1), so is the physical universe from which it emanates (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). The blunt fact is that for man made in the image of God who is spirit, there is no future in either the world or the flesh (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15-17; Rom.8:13; Gal. 6:8) both of which, as means rather than ends, will find their end (terminus) in destruction as was always the plan. Only the permanently unshakable will remain, and that obviously forever.
Since then Christ is the agent, purpose and goal of creation, he is the heir of ‘all things’ (Heb.1:2). In light of the unmistakable implications of Hebrews 1:10-12, not to mention much of the rest of the book, the temporal creation is the means of attaining the end, which is the inheritance comprising many sons brought to glory (Heb.1:2; 2:10, cf. Rom. 8:14-17). Thus when creation has given birth or borne fruit (Rom. 8:19-23), its harvest been reaped (Mt. 13:36ff.; Rev. 14:14ff.) and its enemies been pacified, it will be dispensed with (cf. Heb. 6:7f.). This, of course, excludes the surely absurd idea that dust, whether in the form of the earth or of man, can be renewed, glorified, rendered incorruptible (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50) and/or purged of sin (!). Such clearly erroneous thinking must be rejected as being a fundamental misunderstanding of Scripture (pace Hughes, p.39, who, for all his occasional brilliance, is nothing if not inconsistent and unsystematic).
Intimations of all this are evident in the OT as a study of its typology makes manifest. For the OT frequently prefigures what happens or is recapitulated in the NT, and this certainly holds good so far as the end of the world is concerned. In Luke 17:28ff. Jesus likens the time of his second advent to the days of Lot (cf. 2 Pet. 2:6ff.; Jude 7). It is important to note that in Genesis 19 it is not merely ungodly people who are destroyed but the cities themselves (19:13,24-29, cf. Isa. 13:9-13, etc. and Babylon). The same picture is clearly drawn in 2 Peter 3:7,10-12: people, works and habitat are all specifically mentioned. And just as Lot and his daughters, though not his wife, were rescued from the total destruction of the cities of the plain, so it will be at the second coming when Christ himself will return to rescue his own (1 Thes. 4:16f.; Heb. 9:28, cf. Am. 4:11; Jude 23).
The same story is told in Exodus, for example:
First, the Israelites groan (Ex.2:23f., cf. Jud. 2:18; 10:16b; Rom. 8:22; 2 Cor. 5:2,4) in the harsh conditions of slavery or bondage (6:5). Next, as the son of God (4:22), Israel requires deliverance (3:8; 4:29-31). Third, in principle the Egyptians are destroyed (note 12:30 and 14:30, cf. 15:21) and Egypt ‘ruined’ (10:7). Fourth, the Israelites, apart from those who like Lot’s wife look back (Num. 14:1-3; Acts 7:39), go on to the Promised Land which was a type of heaven (Heb. 4:9f.; 11:16). Finally, though they take the treasures of Egypt with them (Ex. 12:36, cf. Rev. 21:26), there is no more going back to Egypt (cf. Dt. 17:16; 28:68; Neh. 9:17) than there is re-entry into one’s mother’s womb (John 3:4,6). So in the same way this world, like Egypt and the land from which Abraham departed, will be left behind forever (Heb. 11:13-16; 12:27; Rev. 20:11) and exchanged for heaven and the presence of God (Heb. 1:12). Then indeed the kingdom of the world will have become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ where righteousness dwells forever and ever (Rev. 11:15; 2 Pet. 3:13).
I conclude then that the notion of cosmic restoration or renovation, which stands in blatant contradiction of biblical (though not Wesleyan) perfectionism, is thoroughly unscriptural. The material creation, which had a beginning in time (Gen.1:1), will certainly have an end in violent contrast to Christ (Heb. 7:3, 16, cf. 1:10-12, etc.). So far as creatures of flesh and blood are concerned, we as believers will survive the destruction of the physical body (Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 5:1; 2 Tim. 4:18) and be given transformed spiritual bodies to fit us for our heavenly surroundings and the presence of God who is a consuming fire (1 Cor. 15:50ff., cf. Isa. 33:14-16; Heb.12:26-29; James 5:3; 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:6) and dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16, cf. 1:17). Little wonder that Paul, in counteracting materialism among other things, warned us that if we sow to the flesh, we shall, like the animals which are not guilty of sin, reap inevitable corruption (Gal. 6:8, cf. Isa. 31:3; Rom. 8:13; 2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 10).
* Though Westcott certainly held to the Augustinian view of the Fall (capital F), he was the only one of his generation that I can recall, apart from Newman, who stressed the idea of perfection (which, though it corresponds with the notion of pilgrimage, cf. e.g. Luke 13:32; Phil. 3:12-16 and espec. Hebrews on which see Lane’s index, is logically undermined by the thoroughly OT notion of restorationism). He wrote, for example, that “man was made in God’s image to gain His likeness” (p.306); “We cannot but believe that under any circumstances, and wholly apart from the Fall, there would have been progress in the race, as well as in the individual, towards the gradual fulfilment of the idea of humanity” (p.308), and “There is ‘a making perfect’ which is correlative with ‘salvation’” (p.313). All this suggests that his thought was not entirely governed by the traditional cart-before-the-horse idea that God made us perfect to begin with. Like so many others, however, he apparently, though illogically, held to the view that the material creation would be restored in some sense answering to the redemption of man’s body (p.310). Behind this, however, surely lies confusion between physicality and corporeality (cf. 1 Cor. 15:35ff.) and between redemption and restoration. The truth is that the removal (metathesis) of the material creation (Heb.12:27) corresponds with the removal (apothesis) of the material body (2 Pet. 1:14, cf. 1 Pet. 3:21 on which see Kelly, pp. 83f. and 161f.). Since we have lost our flesh in corruption, our bodies need redemption (Rom. 8:23), and that they acquire in Christ.
** When I first suggested that the ‘eis’ of Romans 8:21 should be regarded as telic, I did not appreciate how remarkably similar in its basic implication this verse was to Hebrews 12:27, which also has its purpose or result (hina) clause. Note (a) removal or destruction; (b) things that have been made, that is, creation which was brought into being by the hand of God (see e.g. Ps. 8:3,6;102:25; Isa.48:13, etc.); and (c) the unshakable remaining. It may be complained, of course, that the children of God are creatures of time not eternity. What needs to be recognised, however, is that through faith in the eternal Christ (John 8:25f.; Rom. 6:22) they have come to share in the unshakable, the eternal life of God (Rom. 8:10; 1 Pet.4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4) who is the Father of spirits (Num. 16:22; Heb. 12:9 and note John 1:13), as was the intention from before the foundation of the world (Mt. 25:34; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2, etc.).
Hebrews 12:27 also bears interesting comparison with 1 Corinthians 1:28; 2:6; 6:13; 13:8 (2x); 13:10; 15:24,26 all of which provide, like 7:31 (cf. 1 John 2:17), either direct or indirect evidence of the basic imperfection or inadequacy of the physical creation. Fee, to whom I owe these references, quotes Conzelmann to the effect that “the things that are” belong “to the negative side” (p. 83 n.23). In other words, the physical creation including the flesh is not only imperfect and inherently incapable of (spiritual) perfection but frequently, though not always, like all things “made by hand” even by God (cf. Heb. 9:11,24), referred to pejoratively Scripture. (This truth is further underscored by references such as John 3:3,7,31; 19:11; Col. 3:1-7; Jas. 1:17; 3:15,17. John 3:31 highlights the issue. John the Baptist’s testimony “betrays nothing of sinfulness but only finitude and limitation” (Carson, ad loc. p.212), for John was a burning and shining light (John 5:35) and his testimony was true (John 10:41).) To put the matter bluntly, there is no ultimate future in transient materiality. God has something better in store.
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