Perspective, vantage point, that is the rhetorical device latent within this pericope. In Romans 8:18-25, the apostle Paul offers us a view of something hitherto unexplored and unknown; a vista through the corridors of time and into the future. Preachers are tasked with painting this panoramic image for their auditors so they may take comfort that the Lord over life and death—Jesus Christ—is also the Lord over human history, including their own.
From this point in Romans 8, we can see in astonishing clarity the whole plan of salvation for all of God’s creation. It is the kind of view that speaks to a person’s soul and changes their perspective. There is a mystery being unveiled here, akin to the mystery Paul discloses in Colossians 1. It has to do with God remaking the creation, remaking Israel, doing something new with the ancient division between Jews and Gentiles, and it bears crucially on all people through all times.
Paul intimates that the signpost to understanding what God has been doing in the world, and will continue to do, has been uncovered. It all pivots on the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God. The language of, “The creation waits with eager longing” (Romans 8:19), is Paul directing his readers on the path to the vista. The idea of God subjecting creation to futility and slavery (8:20), and of creation then being rescued, “Set free from its bondage to corruption” (8:21), is the view over the corridors of time. It is awe-inspiring and grand.
Paul has been writing a carefully crafted letter, building up pitch and excitement, and then, with the end of this train of thought nearly in sight, he takes us to the climax of the chapter which is itself the highpoint of the letter so far. Of course, it is central. Of course, it is vital to the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Preachers ought to incorporate this stunning, climactic perspective into their preaching; be it on this text or the other awe-inspiring texts appointed for this day from Isaiah 44:6-8 and Matthew 13:44-52. These texts hang together with visions and depictions of the Kingdom of God in relation to God’s purposes for creation and the atonement of Christ that advances world history toward its omega point.
Paul begins where the previous paragraph ended, with the promise that the present suffering, though often intense, will be far outweighed by, “The glory that is going to be unveiled for us” (Romans 8:18). Note preachers: Unveiled for us, not “in us,” as though glorification were, after all, simply us looking pleased with ourselves. Not “to us” either, as though we were going to be spectators of “glory” like people watching a fireworks display. The point of “glory” is it means glorious, sovereign rule, sharing the Messiah’s saving rule over the whole world. This is what the whole creation awaits. Stunningly, it is waiting for all God’s children to be revealed (8:19). Then, at last, creation will see what we were meant to be and how it was our sin, rebellion, and treason that kept the entire world in corruption. On the last day, the day of resurrection of all flesh, there will be an end to all corruption and even the Earth itself will be renewed. This grand vista of the coming consumption of creation and redemption hinges on the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There we find hope, confidence, and security through the machinations of an ever-changing world. Anchor life there.
The point of “glory” is it means glorious, sovereign rule, sharing the Messiah’s saving rule over the whole world. This is what the whole creation awaits.
To understand this, we need to grasp the big, Biblical story of creation. When we look at the world of creation as it is in the present, we see a world in the same condition the children of Israel were in when they were enslaved in Egypt. Just as the God of Abraham allowed the Israelites to go down into Egypt, in bringing them out He defined them forever as the freedom-from-slavery people. So, the same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has allowed—not caused but permitted—creation to be subjected to its present evolution of the season, growth and decay, birth and death. It has its beauty, yes, but it always ends in tears or at least a shrug of the shoulders. Will the lamb ever lay down next to the lion? We seem at odds, constantly combating, and contesting nature.
But, intimates Paul, there is the promise of God that creation and humanity will be reconciled in Christ and because of Christ. Remember the covenant with Noah and his sons (Genesis 9:8-17). Remember God’s covenant commitments to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6). The Lord God would one day put the whole world to rights by reclaiming His global kingdom through His chosen King — Jesus the Son. Noah and Abraham believed those promises, as distant and cryptic as they may have been. By their faith in God’s promises and character, they were justified. God saved them through the faith granted in God’s own Word (Hebrews 11:7-8). The vista, the panoramic scene Paul shows us, portrays Christ stretched from horizon to horizon. Only this man, the “last Adam,” could reset creation on its path to fruition.
Once, man was put in charge of creation. When our first parents rebelled and committed treason by worshipping parts of creation instead of God Himself, creation fell into disrepair. Even in that state of disrepair—weeds and wild, poisonous and deadly—its glory, though greatly dampened, cannot be concealed. It breaks through and, as Paul said in Romans 1:20, God’s, “…eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen.” But even then, human hearts corrupt it further: “Exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” “Therefore God gave [us] up in the lusts of [our] hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of [our] bodies among ourselves, because [we] exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (1:24-25).
God allowed this state of our self-enslavement to continue, not because the created order wanted to be like that but because He was determined to eventually—at the fulness of time—reclaim His usurped earthly kingdom and restore it, no, advance it to the original plan (just as, when Israel failed, God did not change the plan, but sent a faithful Israelite who represented all true Israel; the Messiah, Jesus Christ). The plan had called for mankind to take their place under God and over the world, worshipping the one and only living Lord, the Creator Lord — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and exercising glorious stewardship over the world.
The creation is not waiting to share the freedom of God’s children, as some translations imply. It is waiting to benefit when God’s justified-by-grace children are at last glorified. It is waiting on tiptoe for the freedom it will enjoy when God gives to His adopted-through-baptism children that glory, that wise rule, and stewardship, which was always intended for those who bear God’s glorious image. It is an image perfected in the Son of God and gifted to those clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
The creation is not waiting to share the freedom of God’s children, as some translations imply. It is waiting to benefit when God’s justified-by-grace children are at last glorified.
This perspective on the created order has all kinds of implications; from the way we think about the ultimate future of the world and ourselves to our present anticipation of that final responsibility for God’s world. Going to Heaven, it turns out, is not the final goal, but rather the staging ground for our glorification. This is a positive, world-affirming view, without any of the risks associated with pantheism on the one hand or the cult of environmentalism on the other. There is still evil, and mankind is the source of it in the world and the world continues to be affected by it… so it groans. But think about how hopeful Paul’s message is, how far-reaching the Gospel is: The Earth itself, into which the blood of Christ seeped, will be redeemed and renewed, just like our spirits in Holy Baptism, just like our bodies on the day of the resurrection. God through Christ Jesus reclaims His global, even cosmic kingdom from corruption and, behold, all things are new.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Romans 8:18-27.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 8:18-27.
God’s Greater Story-Check out this wonderful sermon series on Romans 6-14 by our own David Schmitt.