(Reprinted from Romans and Galatians [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1997], 136-139.)
In Romans 8:19, Paul says it is the eager and intense expectation of all creation that the sons of God be revealed. All creation has a yearning more powerful than gravity for the unfolding of God's purpose and, in particular, "the manifestation of the sons of God." This is an important fact when understood. With millions upon millions of professing Christians, what is creation waiting for? Does it not recognize these people? The word manifestation is in the Greek apokalupsis, a revelation, an uncovering, a revealing. In other words, Paul says that the sons of God have not revealed themselves! What is this apocalypse of the sons of God?
In Bede's Life of Saint Cuthbert, we are told of Cuthbert's way as a bishop:
He delivered "the poor man from him that was too strong for him, the poor and the needy from him that despoiled them." He took care to comfort the sad and faint-hearted and to bring back those that delighted in evil to a godly sorrow. He strictly maintained his old frugality and took delight in preserving the rigours of the monastery amidst the pomp of the world. He fed the hungry, clothed the destitute, and had all the other marks of a perfect bishop.1
Eddius Stephanus, in his Life of St. Wilfrid, tells us that Wilfrid was zealous to convert the ungodly, and to care for widows, orphans, and the infirm. Moreover,
He cared for the poor, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed strangers, brought back captives, and protected the widow and orphan, all so that he might win the reward of eternal life amid the choir of angels with Jesus Christ our Lord.2
At Wilfrid's election as bishop, it was said, "We therefore elect him in his prime of manhood to teach the law of God."3 The apocalypse, manifestation, or revelation of the sons of God is their exercise of godly dominion over all things, bringing all things into captivity to Christ. It is thus wrong to sit back and wait for God's apocalypse if we do not effect our own where God requires it.
In verse 20, Paul continues to develop this point. As Leenhardt so beautifully states it:
Since man has not fulfilled towards creation the ministry with which he was entrusted, creation, for lack of guidance and control, is not evolving towards the end that was assigned to it; it moves purposelessly in the void; life leads nowhere except to corruption and death. Mataiotes stresses this futility of existence, its essential vacuity or lack of substance and meaning. It is man who is responsible for the subjection of creation to this condition which is contrary to its destiny, for it is man who has failed to direct it towards ultimate meaning.4
The liberation of all creation awaits the apocalypse of man, man's assumption of his dominion mandate, "Because the creature [or, creation] itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (v. 21). This corruption (phthora) means a state of decay, an inferior condition to a natural one. The natural condition of creation as God made it is very good (Gen. 1:31). Its present fallen estate is an unnatural one because sin and death prevail. Man, by pushing back the realm of sin, increases the realm of life. Then, at the end, God's mighty act destroys death forever. In speaking of that culmination, Calvin calls attention to its totality, while disapproving of speculations which sought to learn more than Scripture says:
v. 21. But he means not that all creatures shall be partakers of the same glory with the sons of God; but that they, according to their nature, shall be participators of a better condition; for God will restore to a perfect state the world, now fallen, together with mankind. But what that perfection will be, as to beasts as well as plants and metals, it is not meet nor right in us to inquire more curiously; for the chief effect of corruption is decay. Some subtle men, but hardly sober-minded, inquire whether all kinds of animals will be immortal; but if reins be given to speculations where will they at length lead us? Let us then be content with this simple doctrine-that such will be the constitution and the complete order of things, that nothing will be deformed or fading.5
Godet notes, "Paul does not say that nature will participate in the glory, but only in the liberty of the glory of the children of God. Liberty is one of the elements of their glorious state." This power "expresses the unchecked development of the free expression of all the powers of life, beauty, and perfection, wherewith this new nature will be endowed."6 Meyer's comment is also telling:
Observe ... how Paul has conceived the catastrophe, of which he is speaking, not as the destruction of the world and a new creation, but, in harmony with the prophetic announcements, especially those of Isaiah (Isa. xxxv., lxv. 17, lxvi. 22), as a transformation into a more perfect state. The passing away of the world is the passing away of its form (1 Cor. vii. 31), by which this transformation is conditioned, and in which, according to 2 Pet. iii. 10, fire will be the agent employed. And the hope, the tenor of which is specified ... might, in connection with the living personification, be ascribed to all nature, as if it were conscious thereof, since the latter is destined to become the scene and surrounding of the glorified children of God.7
There is a vast difference between seeing the end of the world as only destruction as against the view of it as a transformation. Postmillennialism sees it as transformation, and the transformation includes our regeneration, our dominion work of sanctification, and more.
Luther says, of verse 21, that Paul says two things:
First, that the creation will be set free, namely, from vanity, when the ungodly have been condemned and taken away and when the old man has been destroyed. This liberation is now taking place every day in the lives of the saints. Second, that it will not only no longer be vain but also it will not be subject to corruption in the future.8
Paul continues, in verse 22, calling attention to the fact that "the whole creation" groans and is in travail like a woman in childbirth, awaiting the great consummation. Creation is not to be superseded; it is to find fulfillment together with us. In verse 23, Paul says further that we who are in the Spirit groan also, sigh and pulsate, waiting for the fullness which comes with the redemption of our body. Again citing Leenhardt, "It is not merely a question of the liberating power of death; it is a question of the redeeming action of God aimed at endowing humanity with a new status of existence, by bringing the believer to share in the power of Christ's resurrection (Phil. 2:10)."9
The power of Christ's resurrection means that a redeeming force and people are now at work in history, bringing all things into captivity to Christ. The scope of the resurrected Christ's redeeming power is cosmic and eternal.
1. J. W. Webb, translator, Lives of the Saints (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books,  1981), 105.
2. Ibid., 144.
3. Ibid., 143.
4. Franz J. Leenhardt, The Epistle to the Romans (London, England: Lutterworth Press,  1961), 220.
5. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1948), 305.
6. Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications,  1977), 315.
7. Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistle to the Romans (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,  1983), 325.
8. Luther's Works, Vol. 25, Lectures on Romans (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 363.
9. Leenhardt, Epistle to the Romans, 228.