This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.
We have spent the last few posts examining passages that supposedly contradict the renewed earth perspective, and have seen that these texts don’t actually oppose that perspective. Indeed, they fit better with the NHNE view than with the traditional idea that this earth will be destroyed and that when Jesus comes, we will leave this earth and return to heaven with Him.
Today marks a shift in this series, as we begin to make positive arguments for the renewed earth perspective. In this post, in particular, we are going to be looking at several texts that teach cosmic redemption: God intends to redeem and restore all of creation, not just humans.
The content and line of argumentation employed in this post rely significantly on J. Richard Middleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology. We are going to look at several New Testament passages that all describe God’s salvation in some sense, and with each passage, we are going to ask two questions:
- How is salvation described in this passage?
- What is the object or recipient of God’s salvation in this passage? Who or what gets saved?
Here, in context, Peter is preaching the Gospel outside the temple. He has told his audience (“Men of Israel”) that the God of their fathers has raised Jesus from the dead following HIs crucifixion, and that this was foretold by the mouths of the prophets.
19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
There is not a lot of detail in this passage and it is somewhat cryptic, but looking at our two questions, we can see the answers.
How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?
Depending on your translation, Acts 3.21 says something like “universal restoration” or “restoring all the things.” According to Peter, salvation is restorative in that it fixes what sin has broken, and it is also holistic in that it affects everything.
Peter also says that God has talked about this through the mouth of the prophets. Later in this series, we will track the notion of cosmic redemption throughout Scripture, but it is worth keeping in mind that Peter says universal restoration is something that has been prophesied.
This is a brief text and perhaps a murky one, but I think it becomes clearer when it is placed beside some other statements in the New Testament.
Here, Paul discusses God’s plan of salvation and the spiritual blessings we have in Christ:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
This passage talks about our adoption into God’s family and the redemption and forgiveness we have made possible through Jesus Christ. And then, look specifically at verses 9-10: how is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?
“Here salvation (God’s plan for the fullness of time) is understood as gathering up or unifying in Christ that which has been fragmented (or perhaps alienated) through sin.”
So again, we see salvation described in restorative terms, and it is also holistic, because what will be saved? Paul is as explicit as he can be: “all things…things in heaven and on earth.” If you think back to the first post in this series, we talked about heaven and earth as the biblical pairing that we see over and over again in Scripture (cf. Genesis 1.1).
Salvation will be as widespread as creation.
This has been one of my favorite texts in the New Testament for several years. It is a magisterial text that elevates Jesus Christ as the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. But it wasn’t until I considered it more closely that I saw how it also teaches cosmic redemption.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Look at verse 19-20 specifically: how is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?
Salvation is described in terms of reconciliation, making peace between those who are at enmity with one another by removing the cause of the enmity between them: sin. So, again, we see salvation as restorative.
As Christians, we tend to think of this in very individualistic terms: Jesus died for me. While that is certainly true, it’s not what this text emphasizes: the reconciliation made possible by Jesus is applied to “all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”
This clearly refers to more than just humans:
- Colossians 1.16: “all things…in heaven and on earth” were created through Jesus.
- Colossians 1.17: “all things” hold together in Him.
- Colossians 1.20: “All things, whether on earth or in heaven” will be reconciled in Him.
The same language is used in all three instances: what Jesus created, He also sustains and will redeem. Salvation is holistic. It is as wide as creation; it is cosmic in scope.
I like this passage a lot; I think it is really neat, and also weird. After talking about how those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God and fellow heirs with Christ, Paul launches into a series of thoughts about future glory:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
The background of this passage lies in the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 and the fact that a curse is placed on Creation itself because of human sin (v. 20; cf. Genesis 3.17-19). Because of human sin, creation has been “subjected to futility” and is under “bondage to decay”. Both the “whole creation” and “we ourselves” long for redemption.
How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?
Salvation is described here as liberation—being set free from bondage—and also as redemption. Again, this is restorative language. Furthermore, creation itself is longing to be liberated, and we ourselves long for the redemption of our own bodies. Salvation is about more than just us; it is holistic.
2 Peter 3.10-13
We will not spend much time on this passage because we covered it at length in a previous post. In context, Peter is giving a warning to those who scoff and think that judgment won’t come, and he tells them that indeed it will. Here, near the end of 2 Peter 3, he talks about how we should live lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for the coming day of God (and of course, this is when “salvation” comes):
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?
We have studied this already: there is a process where “the earth and the works in it” will be disclosed or laid bare, and we talked about the idea of refining or purification by fire. Again, salvation is restorative.
Then, Peter says, a new heavens and a new earth will come about—not brand new, but a new version of what was before—salvation is holistic.
Putting It All Together
Here is a summary of what we have seen in the passages we have discussed:
So, tying all this together, what can we conclude? In the words of Middleton:
“First, salvation is conceived not as God doing something completely new, but rather as redoing something, fixing or repairing what went wrong; this point is expressed in the language of restoration, reconciliation, renewal, and redemption found in these tests. Second, this restorative work is applied as holistically and comprehensively as possible, to all things in heaven and on earth, where the phrase “heaven and earth” is how Scripture typically designates the entire created order (with the earth understood as the distinctively human realm [Ps. 115:16]). The point is that the final salvific state envisioned in these five texts clearly contradicts an understanding of an immaterial, supramundane “heaven” as the ultimate dwelling place of the redeemed.”
Scripture describes redemption in cosmic terms. It is restorative and holistic.
J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014): 155-63.
I am not attempting in this post (or even in this entire series) to examine every passage in Scripture that supports the notion of a renewed creation. In this post, we are looking at a certain kind of text that supports this idea of cosmic redemption. In future posts, we will trace this theme through Scripture in different ways, but there are some passages that we will not get to.
For example, in Matthew 5.5 Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Although this passage was not central to my own development on this topic, it is a verse that is frequently referenced in support of NHNE. For an excellent discussion of this passage, see Jacob Rutledge, “The Christian and Creation, Chapter 4: Jesus and the Restoration of All Things.”
BDAG, 112, glosses this word, apokatastasis/αποκαταστασις as “restoration”, and suggests a meaning of “restoring everything to perfection or, as of stars in their orbits, to their starting points.”
As Middleton, 157 n.5, points out, this term does not refer to the ultimate salvation of all people. Cosmic redemption is not universalism. While Scripture teaches that God loves and will ultimately redeem His creation, it also teaches that God honors the choices of humans who reject His love and offer of redemption. Middleton, 207-09, covers this in more detail.
The word here is the common Greek word, panta/παντα, which means “all”. Here, it appears in the neuter gender, which is what provides the translation “things.” So, “all things” is the more literal translation; “universal” is more interpretive, but seems sound.
The Greek word for “creation” in this passage is ktisis/κτισις and refers simply to something that is created. Those seeking a different interpretation than what I offer above will occasionally try to argue that in this text, ktisis is referring to humans rather than other forms of creation (animals, plants, rocks, etc.). This interpretation cannot be correct.
BDAG, 573, acknowledges the dispute over the meaning of the word in this passage, but does state that it is usually “taken to mean the waiting of the whole creation below the human level (animate and inanimate).”
Jimmy Allen, Survey of Romans (Searcy, AR: 1973): 79, presses further, helpfully laying out why ktisis cannot refer to humans in this passage. First, it cannot refer to those who are in Christ, because a clear distinction is made between believers and ktisis in Romans 8.23 (“not only the creation, but we ourselves…”). Second, it cannot refer to those who are outside of Christ, because “unbelievers do not look forward to the revealing of God’s sons in glory nor will they obtain the glorious liberty of God’s children.”
This is a reference to the resurrection and the glorious transformation of our bodies, which we will discuss at length in a later post.
 This chart is adapted from Middleton, 163.