I am having a difficult time understanding Romans 8:19-21. I understand Paul is writing to those exiled Israelites in Rome. What I am confused about is where Paul speaks about the creation waiting for the manifestation (revealing?) of the sons of God. Also, in v.21 where it speaks of the creation being delivered into the glorious liberty (glorified state with liberty as a characteristic?) of the children of God.
Who are the sons (huios) of God in v.19 and who are the children ((teknon) of God in v. 21 and how and why would the creation (ktiseos) anxiously expect them?
Any help you can give would be appreciated very much.
The passage in question starts out talking about those who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (verse 1). These, in the Acts period, were set free from the law of sin and death (verses 2-11). This extended to their minds being absorbed in the things of the Spirit. Their life came from the Spirit, and this resulted in them being sons of God, that is, those who represented His character, as well as representing Him in their actions. They were God’s children, as verses 16-17 make clear.
16. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17. and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
Being children, they were also heirs, enjoyers of a portion with God, and joint-heirs with Christ, destined to be glorified together with Him. This is the topic being considered once we get to verse 18.
18. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
The result of their being joint-heirs with Christ will be great glory revealed in them in time to come. This glory is so great that it is not worthy to be compared with the sufferings of the present time they were experiencing.
19. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
He is still speaking here of the time when the glory of Christ will be revealed in the sons of God. He speaks of a “creation” that earnestly waits for this. The word for “creation” is ktiseos, and means creation, not creature, as the old King James Version had it. Yet what exactly is a “creation”? Our thoughts tend to instantly go back to the book of Genesis and the creation of everything “in the beginning” by God. We call this “the creation,” and some have suggested that this is the only thing that can properly be called a “creation,” since they make “creation” out to mean only things that are created ex nihilo, meaning “out of nothing.” Yet a study of the Bible will show that this is not actually the way the word is used in Scripture. We can see this clearly in I Peter 2:13-14.
13. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14. or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
Here, the word translated “ordinance” in the New King James Version is the word ktisei in Greek, a form of the same word that is translated “creation” in Romans 8:19. Here, it is clear that “creation” cannot mean ex nihilo, as this is speaking of things that are created by man. The context clearly reveals that the “creations” in question are rulers such as kings and governors. These are “creations of men.” When men take a man and make a ruler out of him, they are taking one who is a man just like any other man. Then, they are making a ruler out of him, whether it be a king, a governor, a president, a representative, or whatever kind of ruler he might be. This makes rulers creations of men. This is what Peter is referring to in I Peter 2:13.
So when we read the word “creation,” we need not think just of the creation in the beginning. “Creations” may be made long after the beginning. Moreover, creations need not be creations of God, but can be creations of men. Creations do not have to be ex nihilo. Rulers are created out of already living men, and creations can be made out of already existing material. Even when God has created things, since the beginning He has not generally created those things out of nothing, but has used preexisting material to do so.
In this case, then, what creation is being spoken of? Is it “nature,” the creation that God made in the beginning, that exists all around us? If this is so, then the next verse becomes very difficult.
20. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope;
The common thought about this verse is that it refers to the fall, and that is how the creation was subject to futility. It is certainly true that nature is not as it should be, and much in nature is empty and not as God intended it. However, this view totally fails when it comes to the second half of the verse. The one who subjected nature to sin and futility was Adam, or, if we go back to root causes, Satan the tempter. Neither of these subjected nature to sin and futility in hope or expectation of something good to follow. Adam subjected nature in rebellion against God. Satan tempted Adam in the same spirit of rebellion. Adam, I believe, was hoping to die with Eve rather than live without her, and Satan just wanted to harm God’s plans any way he could. They were not subjecting nature to sin in hope. Therefore, the One Who did the subjecting in this case must be God. Yet this does not fit at all with the idea that creation is nature and futility is the fall. God did not subject nature to the fall. The fall was actually contrary to His will. What He did subject both nature and the human race to in Genesis 3 in response to the fall was with a view to redemption. What He did is often called “the curse,” yet it was actually for the good of Adam’s race that He did these things. Sin and death might be “futility,” but this is not what God subjected nature to. Therefore, I would conclude that whatever “creation” is here, it must be something other than the natural world.
At this point, it would be good to point out the fact that Israel was a God-created nation. Consider Genesis 46:3.
3. So He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.
Here God tells the man Israel that He is going to grow him, that is, his family into a nation in the land of Egypt. We know that He grew them in Egypt, apparently miraculously, for they grew from about 75 people to several million in just a few generations. After He did this, God brought them out of Egypt, gave them rulers, gave them laws, and gave them a land, all things that are necessary for a nation to exist as a nation. There are many nations on earth that grew, after the flood, from a few people into a nation. These nations have created their own rulers. These nations have made their own laws. These nations have moved into and taken over their own land. Yet with Israel, they did not achieve these things by their own effort, but rather God brought them about in Israel, and therefore that nation was a God-created nation.
Though Israel was a God-created nation, they did not always act as God desired them to. When God offered to make a covenant with Israel, the people responded as they should have, saying, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8) However, after God gave them the ten terms of the covenant in Exodus 20, commonly called the “ten commandments,” Israel only managed to keep these for a period of about 47 days, and then they broke the first two terms spectacularly in making and worshiping a golden calf, as we can read in Exodus 32. At this point, Israel had broken their covenant with the LORD, and deserved His wrath. Moses knew this, and so he speaks to them in Exodus 32:30.
30. Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
Moses goes up the mountain to speak to the LORD, as he promised.
31. Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! 32. Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”
Moses offers himself here in place of the people of Israel. This was a good thought, but one Moses was not up to. He had to pay for his own sins, so he could not give himself for Israel’s sins. Therefore, the LORD refuses his offer. Yet He does give Israel a reprieve from destruction, as we read in verses 33-34.
33. And the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. 34. Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.”
Therefore, the LORD will continue leading the people into the land of Israel, yet He refuses to forgive their sin. From this point on, they are under the penalty of destruction postponed. Someday, someone would have to pay for Israel’s sin. The One Who finally paid the penalty for what they did was Jesus Christ Himself upon the cross. The full weight of Israel’s sin fell upon Him.
Yet now, Israel could no longer go into the land of Israel under the terms of the covenant. As set forth in Exodus 19:3-6, this was the promise of the covenant.
3. And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: 4. ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. 5. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
These were the terms upon which God intended Israel to enter the land. Once they broke the covenant, however, they could no longer enter the land under these terms. Therefore, God stated new terms upon which they were to enter the land. These terms are stated in the book of Deuteronomy, particularly in chapter 28. In the first two verses, we read of the terms of blessing.
1. “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. 2. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:
Then a list of blessings is given, great blessings indeed. However, this is not all that is said. The LORD goes on to threaten cursings upon them if they do not obey, as is set forth in Deuteronomy 28:15.
15. “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
The list of curses that follow are equally terrible as the blessings preceding are wonderful. In fact, as we get into the depths of the curse in the last few verses of the chapter, we cannot help but shudder at what the LORD promises them will come upon them if they dare disobey Him. Thus the new terms on which they enter the land are not simply terms of blessing, as the terms of the old covenant were, but rather terms of threatening, wherein they must obey or dire punishment will result. Though they endured in the land for a time, this dire punishment did finally and completely fall upon them, and they were cast into captivity outside the land.
Israel’s history after the punishments of God fell was one of futility, as they sought to come back into the favor of God, yet never were able as a nation to show forth the kind of character that would have been required for them to do so. It became clear more and more as time continued on that Israel was bound to a law that they could never obey sufficiently to obtain the true blessing of God. They groaned under the burden of this righteous standard that their corrupted hearts could not live up to, and longed for a better situation: one in which they could truly and freely please God and enjoy His blessings. This brings us back to Romans 8:20.
20. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope;
The creation, that is, Israel, the nation God created, was subjected to futility in attempting to live up to a righteous standard they never (as a nation) could live up to until their hearts were changed. They were not subjected to this futility willingly. They willingly entered into the old covenant with God, but that covenant they broke, and the injunction of Deuteronomy 28 was bound upon them, like it or not, and not willingly at all. Yet the One Who subjected them, God, did so in expectation, knowing that He was not subjecting them to such futility forever. He knew that eventually He would make a new covenant with them, wherein He would write His law on their hearts, rather than on tables of stone, as He proclaims in Jeremiah 31:31-34. This was the hope He anticipated when He subjected the nation He created, Israel, to futility.
Romans 8:21. because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
The nation of Israel itself, the nation God created, will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, the bondage into which they came after breaking their covenant with God. Their deliverance is into the glorious liberty of the children of God. This is what Galatians is talking about when it talks about the Israelites being kept as a slave until the time appointed by the father when they would receive the adoption as sons.
Galatians 4:1. Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2. but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5. to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
So finally, to answer your question, the “creation” is the nation God created, Israel. They are God’s children, and await the time when they will be promoted as children to the sonship place.
I pray this helps.