The Perfect Creator
The Bible presents the Creator God as eternal (Gen. 1:1; Isa. 57:15; 66:1; Rev. 4:9f., etc.), immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and incorruptible (Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17). Since he lives for ever and ever (Rev. 4:9f., etc.), he has neither beginning nor end (cf. Heb. 7:3). In a word, he is perfect (Mt. 5:48), that is, complete (cf. James 1:4), self-reliant (Dan. 4:35; Rom. 11:34-36) and wholly independent (Acts 17:24f.).
The Imperfect Creation
By contrast, the physical creation, like the law (Mt. 5:18; 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8), is temporal (Ps. 102:26; Isa. 51:6; Mt. 24:35), provisional (Heb. 12:27), destructible (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12), corruptible (Mt. 6:19f.; Rom. 8:20f.), dependent (Col. 1:17) and imperfect in that it is only good like a tool serving a purpose (Gen. 1:31, cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:6). It has both a beginning (Gen. 1:1) and an end (Rev. 20:11; 21:1). The mere fact that it is the handiwork of the eternal God establishes this (Ps. 102:25; Isa. 45:12, etc.). (See further my Manufactured or Not So.)
Since the human body of flesh derives like that of the animals from the earth (Gen. 1:24; 2:7), it too is naturally temporal, mortal and corruptible (Ps. 49:12,20, cf. Rom. 1:23,25). However, man was also created in the divine image with a view to his becoming like God (Gen. 1:26-28; Rom. 8:29; Cor. 3:18) as his child (Rom. 8:12-17; Eph. 1:4f.; 1 John 3:1-3). In light of this God promised innocent Adam that if he kept the commandment and attained to righteousness by obedience (Dt. 6:25; 24:13; Rom. 2:13; 6:16), he would not die (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). In other words, the precondition of eternal life was righteousness. So in order to escape from this temporal creation and gain the immortality and incorruptibility of God Adam had to avoid all taint of moral corruption and prove himself righteous (cf. Rom. 2:7,10; 1 Pet. 1:7). He failed and all his posterity like him (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 6:23). Thus, since all human beings fail in their bid to exercise the dominion to which they are called (cf. Eph. 2:1-3), they come short of the glory of God and succumb ineluctably to death and destruction (Rom. 3:23; 5:12).
Righteousness and Life
However, in the plan of God whose purpose has ever been to save man himself (Isa. 45:21-23; Phil. 2:9-11) keeping the law is not the only way of gaining life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5, etc.) or the Spirit (cf. Gal. 3:2,5). For sinners, a second Adam or representative man is provided to serve as Saviour (Mt. 1:21). Since he does not break the commandment (1 Pet. 2:22) and is not therefore personally a sinner who is liable to death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23), he is pronounced righteous and receives the gift of the Spirit of life in accordance with the promise (Dt. 30:20; Ezek. 20:13,21; Mt. 3:13-17; John 1:33; 6:27).
Thus, in order to redeem those who have succumbed to death through sin like Adam, Jesus gives his own flesh, which is not forfeit on account of sin, as a sacrifice (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:22; 1 Pet. 3:18). And since believers whose sins are forgiven are accounted righteous in him (Rom. 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:21), they are granted the Spirit or eternal life (John 3:16).
As it happens, however, all sinners, even believing ones, continue to die physically like the animals (Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:19f., etc.). Indeed, the author of Hebrews says that their death is appointed (Heb. 9:27). So while sin is forgiven, physical death still occurs (cf. Rom. 8:10; 1 Cor. 15:22). Does this mean that Jesus’ atonement has proved ineffective? Not at all. Since the “good” or useful creation lacked a covenant guarantee in the first place, it was never scheduled for permanence (cf. Gen. 8:22), least of all for redemption. Thus when Adam failed to overcome it, he died and all his posterity followed suit (Rom. 5:12). He returned to the dust from which he was taken. This is the paradigm or pattern followed by all sinners, and the threat of death is not rescinded. By sinning and coming short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), they fail to achieve the promised escape (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5) from the natural corruption which pervades the entire temporal creation (Rom. 8:18-25; Heb. 1:10-12).
The first unavoidable inference we are compelled to draw from this is that our flesh remains forfeit on account of sin and is not subject to redemption. This is not just a matter of logic but of other teaching.
First, in John 3:1-8 without any reference to sin whatever, Jesus himself taught that because we are born (naturally mortal and corruptible) flesh, it is indispensably necessary (as opposed to imperative) for us to be born again or from above. He was clearly implying that while our physical bodies are adequate for living temporarily on earth, they are clearly incapable of living eternally in heaven in the presence of God (cf. John 11:25f.). Otherwise expressed, just as we were born of earth-derived flesh to live on earth, so we need to be born from above to live in heaven. To enter the (spiritual) kingdom of God, we need not another physical birth but a spiritual one. What is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6, cf. 1:12f.). Even Jesus himself, since he was born of the flesh of the Virgin Mary, needed to receive the Spirit or to be born again (cf. Mark 1:10f.). Denial of this reflects docetism, the view that Jesus was not truly human, and this according to John is the worst of heresies (1 John 4:2f.; 2 John 7).
1 Corinthians 15
Second, Paul says essentially the same thing in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54 where he noticeably omits all mention of sin until he refers to its sting in verses 55f. In light of this we are forced to conclude that in his view our fleshly, that is, our first Adamic natural bodies as such are inherently inadequate or imperfect. He pointedly contends that the basic problem with the natural body is that it is composed of dust (15:47a) and derives from the corruptible earth (Gen. 1:1; 2:7; Isa. 34:4; 40:6-8; 50:9; 51:6,8,12; Rom. 8:18-25; James 1:11). By contrast, the spiritual body of the second Adam derives from heaven. Clearly, like Jesus (Mt. 6:19-21), James (1:9-11), Peter (1 Pet. 1:4,23-25), the author of Hebrews (1:10-12) and John (1 John 2:17), Paul makes a radical distinction between the eternal incorruptible heaven which is the throne of God and the temporal corruptible earth which is his footstool. Little wonder that he solemnly warned that sowing to the flesh produces a harvest of corruption while sowing to the Spirit brings eternal life (Gal. 6:8, cf. Rom. 8:13).
Jesus and Martha
It is relevant at this point to recall Jesus’ paradoxical statement to Martha at the death of Lazarus (John 11:25f.). On the one hand he says that the believer will die and yet live, on the other hand he says that the believer will live and never die. There is only one possible way of interpreting this: all sinners will die physically but they will survive spiritually as the image of God. Again we are forced to conclude that while the atonement does not redeem the flesh that derives from the earth, it does redeem the spirit which derives from heaven (John 3:6, cf. Heb. 10:14, etc.).
Elsewhere Jesus points out that the body of flesh may well be killed but that does not mean that all is lost (Luke 12:4). Again the inference is that the spirit survives. However, as 12:5 indicates, there is a second, that is, a spiritual death, and this is certainly to be feared (Rev. 20:6,14, cf. James 4:12; Mt. 10:15; 11:23f., etc.).
It may be objected at this point that Jesus himself never sinned and therefore in contrast with David (Acts 2:29-36; 13:30-37) retained his fleshly body even after his resurrection (Luke 24:39, etc.) and was never to die again (Rom. 6:9, cf. Heb. 9:28). (1* Christians, universally to my knowledge, fail to realize that Jesus as the second Adam who kept the law gained immortality at his baptism or he would not have received the Spirit. He had met the condition of life given to the first Adam, Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5. The crucial point is that he freely gave his flesh, which in his case was not liable to death, for his fellows. And this was why death could not retain its hold over him, Acts 2:23f.) But that does not mean that he took his still corruptible flesh to heaven. Since, as Paul says, flesh and blood, being corruptible by nature, cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 15:50, cf. 15:42), the body of his humiliation was changed at his ascension, which like his regeneration was a natural necessity (cf. John 20:17), and replaced by a body of glory (Phil. 3:21, cf. John 17:5,24; Heb. 1:3). At this point, he who had already pleased his Father and gained his (God’s) immortality also gained his incorruptibility. As Paul expressed it he brought life and incorruption (Gk.) to light (2 Tim. 1:10). (Pace most translations which fail to distinguish between immortality and incorruptibility.)
Jesus thus set the pattern for the transformation of the saints at the end of history who neither die nor experience corruption (1 Cor. 15:51f.). Proof of this is implicit in his own prayer to the Father that he as man should be glorified with the glory that he shared with his Father before the world began (John 17:5,24, cf. Heb. 1:3).
So the second unavoidable inference is that the corollary of the death and corruption of David’s flesh on the one hand (Acts 2:29) and the non-corruption but transformation of Jesus’ flesh, which had made him lower than the angels only for a little while (Heb. 2:7,9), on the other (1 Cor. 15:51f.; Phil. 3:21) is the destruction of the material creation. Just as the flesh cannot be born again, neither can the creation which is its source. The two stand or fall together.
There are many who claim that the physical body of Jesus that was raised from the grave was transformed. This being the case, creation will likewise be transformed at the end of history (see e.g. Harris, pp.53-57,165-170; GG, pp.245ff.). Alternatively expressed, the resurrection transformation of Jesus is the precursor or first fruits of the transformation of creation (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20,23). If this is so, among other things it
(a) contradicts Jesus own word (Luke 24:39, cf. Mt. 14:26f.);
(b) denies Paul’s assertion that the corruptible cannot inherit the incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:50b);
(c) that the visible is transient (2 Cor. 4:18);
(d) implies that a physical resurrection never occurred at all, and
(e) makes the ascension redundant.
In brief, it reduces all to a deceitful charade. Clearly it arises out of the requirements of Augustinian theology and worldview where corruption is not inherent but the result of sin.
The author of Hebrews leaves us in no doubt that at the end of earthly history all things created by the hand of God are subject to removal (Heb. 1:10-12; 12:27, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50b; 2 Cor. 4:18; Rom. 8:20,24f.; Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1). It is the unshakable alone that will remain and it will be eternally new (Rev. 21:5). This can only mean that the physical creation once it has served its purpose of nurturing the complete tally of the children of God (cf. Rev. 6:11) is headed for destruction (Heb. 6:7f.). As it had a beginning (Gen. 1:1), so it will have an end (Heb. 12:25-30).
Needless to say, this is asserted in no uncertain terms elsewhere in Scripture. Jesus informs us that the world in contrast with his word will pass away (Mt. 24:35, cf. Gen. 8:22). Paul says that the physical body as part of a naturally corruptible creation (Rom. 8:18-25, cf. Ps. 103:14-17) will be destroyed (1 Cor. 6:13; 2 Cor. 5:1, cf. 4:16). The Psalmist (102:25-27) and the prophet Isaiah affirm (34:4, cf. 40:6-8; 51:6; 54:10) that the physical creation is inherently ephemeral and in direct contrast with its Creator who is eternal. Peter goes so far as to insist that the entire creation will be subject to combustion (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12, cf. 2 Thes. 1:8; 2:8). John, like Paul (1 Cor. 7:31), tells us that the world is passing away (1 John 2:17) and that when the Lord Jesus returns in the glory of God (Luke 9:26; Tit. 2:13) creation will flee away (Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 20:11; 21:1).
Why then the widespread notion that creation will be redeemed?
The reason why many Christians cling so tenaciously to the notion that creation will be redeemed stems in the main from failure
(a) to understand biblical covenant theology;
(b) to recognize that creation was originally uncovenanted;
(c) to see that it is inherently temporal (Heb. 1:10-12) and corruptible even apart from sin (Mt. 6:19-21; Rom. 8:18-25; 1 Pet. 1:4);
(d) to recognize that the flesh and the physical creation are interrelated;
(e) to give due weight to OT texts like Isaiah 51:6; 54:10; Zephaniah 1:18; 3:8, etc.;
(f) to appreciate the invalidity and absurdity of the Augustinian worldview which put the cart before the horse by positing initial perfection, fall and cosmic curse;
(g) to recognize that Jesus was not transformed at his physical resurrection but at his ascension (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51f.);
(h) to recognize man’s basic dualism as flesh and spirit;
(i) to appreciate that rebirth is spiritual not physical (John 1:12f.; 3:1-8; 11:25f.);
(j) to recognize that the bodies (but not the flesh) of believers who have seen corruption at death are redeemed as bodies of glory (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:44; Phil. 3:21), and
(k) to appreciate the difference between what is “made by hand” (material, Ps. 102:25; 119:73, etc.) and what is “not made by hand” (spiritual, 2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 9:11,24, etc.).
(See further my The End of the World, Cosmic Curse?, Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?, The Corruptibility of Creation, The Destruction of the Material Creation, Will Creation Be Redeemed?, Thoughts on the Redemption of Creation, Manufactured of Not So, With What Kind of Body Do They Come?, Re the Body of the Resurrected Jesus, Spiritualisation, Restoration and Replacement, Restoration and Resurrection, Biblical Dualism, etc.)
M.J.Harris, Raised Immortal, Basingstoke, 1983.
M.J.Harris, From Grave to Glory, Grand Rapids, 1990.