Jesus' Parables for Disciples
7. Revealing the Children of God in Future Glory (Romans 8:14-28)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Luca Signorelli (c. 1450-1532), Angel Blowing Horn at the Resurrection on the Last Day, right side detail from "Resurrection of the Flesh" (1499-1502), Fresco, Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto, Italy. Larger image of full scene.
18 "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:14-28)
|Big Concept 7. The Fall of Man corrupted not only us, but the whole creation. However, we Christians, as sons and daughters of God, are harbingers of the New Age. The Spirit strengthens us in our weakness at present and causes us to look forward to the Day of Christ's return when we and the entire creation will be restored to our intended glory.|
One of the questions we struggle with is: Why? Why did this happen to me?
There is much in this life we don't understand. But in this passage we begin to see some of the outlines of our situation in a fallen world. We see that God is still in control, "working" events for the good of his children. And we see a future glory beyond our present struggles. This is a passage of hope, of looking beyond the present to the consummation of all things.
The passage weaves together four themes:
- We are sons and daughters of the Living Father.
- At present we experience suffering.
- The Spirit of God helps us in our present weakness.
- Great glory is coming.
Since these themes are woven together in our passage, it's helpful to consider each theme in turn.
First, let's consider the theme of adoption and sonship which we skipped in the previous lesson. Notice the repeated mention of our status of full sonship in God's family:
14 "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (8:14-17)
The theme is still the Spirit. Here the Spirit bestows on us the gift of adoption. The word "sonship" (NIV) or "adoption" (NRSV, KJV, NASB) is huiothesia, "adoption," a legal technical term of 'adoption' of children.175Though the word is formed from huios, "son" (found in verse 14), Paul isn't pushing the idea of gender here. Rather, he is saying that we have been adopted as full sons and daughters of the Living God, brothers and sisters of Jesus himself (8:29; Hebrews 2:11). Amazing!
Adoption in the Roman and Greek world bestowed full status of son on a person. Sometimes a slave would be manumitted (that is, released from slavery) and adopted at the same time, conferring instant and simultaneous freedom and status as sons.
Adoption was primarily employed when a person had no children to be his heirs. The adopted son would become a full heir to all that his adoptive parents possessed. At the death of the parents their estate would pass to him, to his children, and to his children's children.
In poorer families, since there is precious little to pass on, inheritance isn't something you dwell on. But in wealthy families, it is a much more prominent matter. In the New Testament, inheritance is a big deal. The idea appears many times, particularly in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. Why? Because of the "wealthy family" to which we belong.
Paul emphasizes this idea of inheritance in our passage: "...We are heirs176 -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ" (8:17a). "Co-heirs" (NIV), "joint heirs" (NRSV, KJV), "fellow heirs" (NASB) means just what it says, "inheriting together with."177What Christ inherits, we inherit. What Christ our older brother receives, we receive alongside of him. Under Jewish law, as older brother he would inherit more, but this isn't Paul's point. Here Paul emphasizes that our status in God's family is full. We are "seated with him in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 2:6) and Christ himself is seated at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20), the place of honor as Son and Heir.
Dear friend, you are neither peon nor a nobody. You are a full son of God, a full daughter of God. All God possesses is yours. You are a child of the King of All.
You are sons and daughters, yes. But you have yet to enter into your majority. The day of the actual inheritance passing into your hands is yet in the future. We are not yet at the end of the road:
"...We are heirs ... if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (8:17)
Paul isn't trying to put our salvation in doubt or make it conditional. He is just making the point that the party is delayed until after the battle is fully fought and complete. There is suffering to be endured in the meantime. Consider these verses that look to the future:
"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed." (8:19)
"Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved...." (8:23-24a)
Then in verse 29 we read that our destiny is "that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (8:29).
I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I want you to see how this theme of sonship and adoption carries through this entire passage and how it culminates. We are full sons and daughters now, but it is not yet fully revealed. That comes at the resurrection of our bodies when Christ returns.
|Q1. In Romans 8:14-21, 28, how many times is the idea
of being sons and daughters of God alluded to? What are the promises
made to these sons and daughters? What do we learn about our future and
our role in the future of all creation?
Now we need to observe the intertwined themes of glory and suffering.
17b "...We are heirs ...if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed." (8:17b-19)
While we are sons and daughters now, the world has not yet seen the full impact of who we are. When our true status is finally and fully revealed, it will have cataclysmic implications for the entire creation and ecosystem. Paul is talking about our resurrection when he refers to "the redemption of our bodies" (8:23).
But before we examine the glory, let's look at the sufferings:
17b "...We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (8:17b-18)
"Sufferings" is pathēma, "that which is suffered or endured, suffering, misfortune."178 Paul had certainly experienced his share of suffering for the gospel. In contrasting his ministry to that of so-called apostles, he recounts his life to his Corinthian readers:
"I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:23b-28)
Sometimes this passage helps me when I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself.
Recently I have been reading the story of Christianity in China.179 In the first decade of the twenty-first century we're witnessing a tremendous expansion of the church in China, but the last half of the twentieth century saw massive persecution and death for those who openly declared themselves to be Christians.
You and I and Christians around the world have good times, but we also go through struggles -- both as human beings and as believers in Christ's kingdom. How do we cope? How did Paul cope?
"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
He looked toward the end, "that the life of Jesus may also be revealed...." This isn't just about us. We are part of God's great plan. We are to look ahead.
Creation Groaning (8:20-22)
Christians go through suffering for their faith. But suffering is not unique to us. All human beings endure some kind of suffering -- alienation from one another, pain, poverty, famine, war, sickness, and death. What's more, the created world and all created things are suffering. Global warming is just one of the sufferings of our world.
20 "The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." (8:20-22)
Paul is talking about the fallen creation, about which we have only limited understanding. But let's consider the few things the Scripture does tell us about the Fall.
You know the story. God created the world and all that was in it -- including humankind -- good. "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31a).
But the perfect world that God had created fell and changed when Adam and Eve sinned. We don't know all the details. Genesis just hints at this cataclysmic change, this curse upon the earth and all creation:
"To Adam [God] said,
'...Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:17-19)
Not only did Adam become subject to death, but the ground or earth was also cursed because of him! It is referred to as "the ground which the LORD has cursed" (Genesis 5:29). Later in the Old Testament, the sins of the inhabitants affect the land itself (Isaiah 24:6; Jeremiah 12:4; Hosea 4:3).
Before the Fall, the world God created was apparently one where man and beast were vegetarians (Genesis 1:29) and death seems to be absent. After the Fall, God's word, "... When you eat of it you will surely die" (Genesis 2:17), comes to pass. Apparently death and decay also came to the rest of creation, beginning with the animals from which God made skins to cover Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21).
I wish we knew more about the Fall of Man, but the scripture only hints at it. Much of our theologizing about it is little more than speculation based on limited scriptural evidence, too few data points from which to draw a conclusion. However, the passage we are studying today is one of the most important passages in scripture that sheds some light on the Fall.
In Romans, Paul assumes the condition of fallen man and of fallen creation, but tells us that this is not the final state. Look at the words he uses to describe the creation's own struggle:
20 "For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." (8:20-22)
These are words of sorrow and woe:
"Frustration" (NIV), "futility" (NRSV, NASB) or "vanity" (KJV) is mataiotēs, "emptiness, futility, purposelessness, transitoriness."180 Bauernfiend notes, "This rare word is used in Greek for human nothingness."181 The earth and all that is within it has been mortally wounded as a result of Adam's sin. It is bleeding. Nothing will be right until it feels the freedom of Adam's Redeemer.
"Decay" (NIV, NRSV) or "corruption" (KJV, NASB) is phthora, "breakdown of organic matter, dissolution, deterioration, corruption."182 The root verb means "to destroy, to perish." The noun means "destruction, death, shipwreck, etc."183 The word well describes the cycle of death of all living matter -- plants, animals, and humans.
"Bondage" (NIV, NRSV, KJV) or "slavery" (NASB) is douleia, "slavery, bondage, the condition of a slave."184 Because of man's sin, all creation has been locked into a condition of decay, with no way to break out of it. It has taken Messiah's death to break the bondage of sin over us. It will take Messiah's return to break the earth's bondage to decay, gradual ruin, and general decline. Man's imprint on the earth is responsible for spiritual pollution, global pollution, and more. Messiah's deliverance from the effects of man's sin over earth is required. We were put here to tend God's garden (Genesis 2:15), not pollute it.
"Groaning" or "groans" is sustenazō, "to groan together with, lament, groan."185 The root verb means "to groan or sigh," used in the context of childbirth or mortal conflict, for the dead, for suffering, at judgment, and as a sign of penitence. In our passage there is "a triple sighing of creation, Christians, and the Spirit."186
"Pains of childbirth" (NIV, NASB), "labor pains" (NRSV), "travaileth in pain" (KJV) is sunōdinō, "suffer agony with."187
What can set God's creation aright? Man's sin has brought it down. Creation, in deep agony, groans in deep travail waiting to be delivered by the birth of a new era.
|Q2. (Romans 8:17-22) In what ways was suffering Jesus'
lot in life? Why do we suffer? Why does all creation seem to be
suffering? What will signal the end of that downward cycle of suffering,
decay, and death? Is there anything good to look forward to in this
But while we are still on this imperfect and suffering earth, we have a powerful ally, God's Spirit living within us, who cannot be silenced and constantly prays on our behalf:
26 "In the same way, the Spirit helps188 us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (8:26-27)
We don't know what to pray for. We can't see the big picture, only a tiny piece of it. The Spirit, however, who sees the big picture, prays for us and through us. As we fumble trying to express our pain and struggle to God in prayer, we are echoing the Spirit's cry within us: Abba, Dad. We are your children. Help us in our struggles. The Spirit intercedes for us.
"Intercedes" (NIV, NRSV, NASB) or "maketh intercession" (KJV) is huperentugchanō in verse 26 and the related entugchanō in verse 27. Robertson calls it "a picturesque word of rescue by one who 'happens on' (entugchanei) one who is in trouble and 'in his behalf' (huper) pleads 'with unuttered groanings' (instrumental case) or with 'sighs that baffle words' (Denney)."189
The root idea of this verb in classical Greek is "to go to or meet a person ...for the purpose of conversation, consultation, or supplication ...for the purpose of consulting about a person."190 It means to make a petition on the behalf of another person.
Jesus was the original "helper" or Paraclete for his disciples. Towards the end of his ministry, Jesus begins to explain the role of another Counselor:
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor (paraklētos) to be with you forever -- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." (John 14:16-17)
The word paraklētos, "one who appears in another's behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper,"191 expresses exactly the same concept as the Spirit interceding for us in Romans 8:26-27. In his first letter, the Apostle John uses the same term for Jesus' intervention in our behalf:
"... If anyone does sin, we have an advocate (paraklētos) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous...." (1 John 2:1, NRSV)
The NIV translates the word in this passage, "one who speaks to the Father in our defense."
|Q3. (Romans 8:26-27) How does the Holy Spirit act as a
Helper or Mediator or Intercessor in verses 26-27? What similarities do
you see between the Holy Spirit's ministry here with Jesus' teaching of
the Spirit's ministry as Counselor/Comforter/Paraclete in John 14:16 and
15:26)? Why do you think we tend to take the Holy Spirit for granted or
fail to understand His ministry to and through us?
Hope -- Our Eager Expectation (8:24-25)
The Spirit who reveals Christ to us (John 14:26; 15:26 ) also gives us hope for a better world. "Hope" (elpis) is a far more solid word than our "hope-so" concept in English. It means "the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment, hope, expectation."192 It involves a grand vision of the future and a fervent expectation:
24 "For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." (8:24-25)
We may be going through deep waters now. We struggle. We are persecuted. We are killed for Christ's sake. As the writer of Hebrews reflects: "The world was not worthy of them" (Hebrews 11:38). But this is not the final state. Just as Abraham and the patriarchs were looking forward in faith to the fulfillment of God's promises, so are we looking forward in hope.
"They were longing for193 a better country -- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11:16)
We Christians, we are radical in our faith. We are not just looking for solace for our souls here on earth or social justice in our world -- though we do seek these! We are looking forward with great expectation to a complete reconstitution and renewal of the very earth itself (2 Peter 3:12-13) and a political revolution that brings in the reign of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:10). We look forward in hope to something bigger and better than we see in this life.
Earlier in our study we read, "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2). To the Colossian church Paul writes of this mystery: "which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
|Q4. (Romans 8:24-25) What are the characteristics of a
person who has lost hope? How does this person typically conduct his
life? How does this differ from a person who holds an eager expectation
of a better future? What is the "Christian hope"? How should it motivate
us and affect our lives now?
This leads us to the fourth theme in this passage.
Carl H. Bloch (Danish artist, 1834-1890), detail from "Transfiguration of Christ," oil on copper plate. Full image.
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (8:18)
Two words stand out here: "revealed" and "glory."
"Revealed" is apokaluptō, which means to "reveal, disclose, bring to light, make fully known" something that is presently hidden.194 We may seem to be insignificant, but we are sons and daughters. We are heirs. We may be buffeted by present day struggles, but our true destiny is glory. And in due time it will be revealed.
But what is this "glory"? We don't know exactly, but we do know that it transcends this earthly sphere. The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word doxa is kābŰd, with the root sense of something weighty which gives one importance, such as honor or wealth. God's glory is revealed both in fire and in a cloud. The cloud covered the tent of meeting and his glory fills the tabernacle so that no one could enter (Exodus 40:34-35). His presence appeared over the tabernacle as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21; 40:38; Numbers 9:15; Psalm 78:14). He appeared as a consuming fire on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:17).195
The basic idea of the Greek word for glory (doxa) in secular Greek is reputation or good standing. But in the New Testament it carries over from the Old Testament connotations of "splendor" and "divine radiance."196 The glory of God was present in Jesus (John 1:14), but seldom seen in its fullness. The exception is on the mountain before Peter, James, and John. "There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light" (Matthew 17:2). Jesus' disciples caught a glimpse of his true glory.
The glowing face reminds me of Moses who talked to God face to face:
"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him" (Exodus 34:29-30).
And even this glory will pale in comparison with the surpassing glory we will experience in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 3:7-11). Jesus, who had known that glory before his earthly service, longed for the day when it would be restored:
"And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." (John 17:5)
It is this kind of glory that we look forward to, the glory that has no comparison whatsoever to the struggles we face at present.
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (8:18)
But there is also a promise that it will be revealed "in us" (NIV, KJV) or "to us" (NRSV, NASB) on the Day of the Lord. The text uses the Greek preposition eis, which has a number of connotations, depending on the context. It denotes "entrance into, or direction and limit: 'into, to, toward, for, among.'"197 So it means "in us" here, as reflected in the NIV and KJV translations, but with the added idea of motion towards us, as suggested by the NRSV and NASB. God's glory will extend toward us and fill us!
We see these same ideas of present suffering and future glory in Paul's letter to the Corinthians:
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Unbelievers deride this as "pie in the sky when you die by and by." Though they can neither see nor believe in the future glory of the believers, we do! We have a heavenly perspective.
The Perfect Garden Creation of God
Genesis teaches us that God created the earth perfect: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." (Genesis 1:31). It was a place of life where death and decay had no place. It is pictured in both Genesis and Revelation as a perfect garden or "paradise," a Persian loanword meaning "enclosure" or "park," and was first used in Greek to describe the gardens of the Persian kings.
Isaiah sees the restored creation in the time of the Messiah's reign as a place of peace, without violence, suffering, or death.
Detail from Edward Hicks (American Quaker painter, 1780-1849), "The Peaceable Kingdom" (c. 1834), oil on canvas, 74.5x90.1 cm., National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Full image.
"The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:6-9)
How unlike our present world! We can hardly even imagine it.
Our resurrection, which will take place at Christ's coming, will signal a renewal and remaking of all creation, the onset of the New Heavens and New Earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). Our revelation as sons and daughters on that Day is tied with the renewal of the entire earth:
At the coming of Christ, we will reclaim our physical bodies as resurrected bodies and the creation will reclaim Eden! The earth will be restored and our tears of groaning will be no more:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.... He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'" (Revelation 21:1, 4-5)
|Q5. (Romans 8:18-25) In what sense do we expect to
experience God's glory when Christ comes? How will the suffering
creation experience God's glory? How will our mortal bodies experience
God's glory? In what way will our spirits experience God's glory?
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O sons and daughters of God! Are you discouraged? Do your sufferings seem overwhelming? Is your hope wavering and your vision of the future dim? Then consider Paul's concluding word of this section:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
We'll study this verse in greater detail in our final lesson, but for now , see how this sums up his teaching on suffering, hope, and glory. We see just one piece of the jig-saw puzzle but God sees the complete picture. He can and will take your sufferings and mine and turn them to good for God's glory.
Lord, thank you that we are not part of a dying world but united to a Messiah who is coming to reconstitute our earth. Open up our minds to understand and set our hope firmly in your coming. Give us convictions that will provide stability during our present suffering. Help us, O Lord, to see the future as you reveal it. Open our eyes. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
The Fall of Man corrupted not only us, but the whole creation. However, we Christians, as sons and daughters of God, are harbingers of the New Age. The Spirit strengthens us in our weakness at present and causes us to look forward to the Day of Christ's return when we and the entire creation will be restored to our intended glory.
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26-27)
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