House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to
When Shall These Things Be?
The Eschatological Madness of Mathison or How Can These Things Be?
Part 9 – The Imminent Liberation of Creation Romans 8:18-23
Michael J. Sullivan
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The Creation Groaning
On pages 196–197, Mathison makes the following argument:
The epistles of the New Testament speak of the restoration of
creation both as something that has already begun and as something
that will be completed only in the future. Paul, for example,
explains that “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31;
cf. 1 John 2:17). Yet, according to Paul, the creation awaits its full
deliverance from the effects of sin. . . (Rom. 8:19–25). The full
restoration of creation is still future (see Heb. 2:8; 2 Pet. 3:7–13).
. . . [R]edemption has to do with more than the spiritual side of
creation. God will fully redeem the physical creation as well.
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing
of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility,
not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in
hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery
to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains
of childbirth together until now. (Rom. 8:19–22)
John Lightfoot associated the “earnest expectation of the creature”
and the “whole creation groaning” with the mind and heart of man, and
interpreted this passage as having nothing to do with the planet Earth—
not even poetically.
. . . [T]his vanity [or futility] is improperly applied to this vanishing,
changeable, dying state of the [physical] creation. For
vanity, doth not so much denote the vanishing condition of the
outward state, as it doth the inward vanity and emptiness of
the mind. The Romans to whom this apostle writes, knew
well enough how many and how great predictions and promises
it had pleased God to publish by his prophets, concerning
gathering together and adopting sons to himself among the
Gentiles: the manifestation and production of which sons,
the whole Gentile world doth now wait for, as it were, with an
out stretched neck.
The Gentile world shall in time be delivered from the bondage of
their sinful corruption, that is, the bondage of their lusts and
vile affections, (under which it hath lain for so long a time,) into a
noble liberty, such as the sons of God enjoy. If it be inquired how
the Gentile world groaned and travailed in pain, let them who
expound this of the fabric of the material world tell us how
that groaneth and travaileth. They must needs own it to be a
borrowed and allusive phrase. But in the sense which we have
pitched upon, the very literal construction may be admitted.
Lightfoot is on solid ground here citing 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Corinthians
11:3; and 1 Corinthians 15:33. Not only is there lexical evidence to interpret
“vanity,” “corruption,” and “decay” as ethical and moral putrefaction
in the heart and mind of man, but contextually the passage has
nothing to do with hydrogen or oxygen or squirrels longing for a better
day when they won’t get hit by cars.
“The sufferings of this present time.” As much as I can relate to R.C.
Sproul Jr. losing his hair and gaining some weight around his midsection
(WSTTB, ix), Paul’s mention of the “sufferings” and “the redemption
of the body” have nothing to do with those kinds of issues. The
context of the “groaning” of the first-century Christians can be found in
the previous chapter. The sufferings Paul has in mind here were eschatological
—the birth pains that were to precede Christ’s return in AD 70
(Matt. 24:8; Rom. 8:22). They had to do with the last days persecutions
and with the saints of the universal church groaning under the tyranny
of Sin and Condemnation under the Law.
For Paul, Sin had produced “death,” but not physical death. Contrary
to Mathison’s assertions, “the body,” “death,” and “the flesh” in Romans
5–8 have nothing to do with the idea of men biologically dying as a result
of Adam’s sin. Paul’s concern is with corporate-covenantal Death, as even
some Reformed theologians teach. “Bondage,” according to the immediate
context, had to do with groaning under the condemnation of the
Law (cf. Rom. 7:2, 7, 15).
The “redemption” associated with the coming of the Son of Man in
AD 70 entailed much more than a physical flight to the wilderness of
Pella, as some commentators have proposed. Appealing to the principle
of the analogy of Scripture, John Murray and other Reformed
theologians understand Paul in Romans 8 to be speaking of the same
“redemption” that Jesus discussed in the Olivet Discourse:
Now in Luke 21:28 . . . [t]his word ‘redemption’ (apolutrosin), when
used with reference to the future, has a distinctly eschatological connotation,
the final redemption, the consummation of the redemptive
process (cf. Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:14; 4:30). Hence anal-
ogy would again point to the eschatological complex of events.
The following chart confirms that the “redemption” of Christ’s disciples
in the first century in Luke 21:28 was the redemption of “the body”
in Romans 8:18–23:
Olivet Discourse & Luke 17
Present sufferings (Rom. 8:17–18)
Suffering to come (Matt. 24:9)
Receive and share in Christ’s glory (Rom. 8:17–18)
Christ comes in glory (Matt. 24:30)
Glory will be “in” them (Rom. 8:18)
Kingdom will be realized “within”
at Christ’s return (Lk.17:21–37; 21:27–32)
Redemption and salvation – resurrection (Rom. 8:23–24; cf. 11:15–27; 13:11–12)
Redemption and salvation – resurrection
(Lk. 21:27–28; Matt. 24:13, 30–31/Matt. 13:39-43)
Birth pains together (Rom. 8:22)
Birth pains of the tribulation (Matt. 24:8)
This was “about to” take place (Rom. 8:18)
This would all happen in “this generation”
On page 200 of WSTTB, Mathison expresses willingness to concede
that the imminence in Romans 13:11–12 was fulfilled in AD 70. The
. . . it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now
salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is
almost gone, and the day is at hand. . . .
But The Reformation Study Bible, of which Mathison is an editor, harmonizes
Romans 13:11 with Romans 8:23, correctly teaching that “salvation”
in that verse is not merely deliverance from persecution (as Mathison
theorizes in WSTTB): “salvation. Here in the sense of future, final
redemption (8:23).” The connection between these two passages is made
even stronger when we allow the Greek word mello in Romans 8 to be
translated the way it is predominately used in the New Testament:
For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy
to be compared with the glory about to be revealed in us. (Rom.
It is more than arbitrary for partial preterists such as Gentry to
honor Young’s literal translation of mello in Revelation 1:19 when debating
Dispensationalists and Amimmennialists, but then not honor it
in Romans 8:18 when debating full preterists. Mello is used in the aorist
infinitive in both verses. Both the imminent glorification of the church,
the coming of the new creation, and the redemption of the body were all
“about to” take place! Gentry writes of mello in Revelation 1:19 (where
it is used in the aorist infinitive):
…this term means “be on the point of, be about to.” …According
to Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, Revelation 1:19 reads:
“Write the things that thou hast seen, and the things that are, and
the things that are about to come [mello] after these things.”
The leading interlinear versions of the New Testament concur.
This is surely the proper translation of the verse.
…when used with the aorist infinitive — as in Revelation 1:19
— the word’s preponderate usage and preferred meaning is:
“be on the point of, be about to. The same is true when the
word is used with the present infinitive, as in the Rev. 3:10.
Unfortunately, none of the major translators cited above translates
Revelation 1:19 in a literal fashion.
Where is Gentry’s disappointment when it comes to translators not
translating Romans 8:18 by the same grammatical standard?
Especially since there are two other imminent Greek words
apokaradokia and apekdekomai for “eagerly waiting” within the
immediate context (vss. 19, 23). At least partial preterist Gary
DeMar has tried to be more honest and consistent with a proper
translation of mello in Romans 8:18 citing Robert Young’s
Literal Translation of the Bible he writes:
“Whatever the glory is it was “about to be revealed”…” We
appreciate the honesty on properly translating mello here as “about
to be revealed,” but contextually there is no ambiguity as to what
the imminent manifestation of this “glory” was – the liberation of
creation from its groanings and bondage, the full adoption of the
sons of God, and the “redemption of the body” (vss. 18-23).
Interestingly enough though, according to Gentry and Mathison one of the things
that was “about to come after” John wrote Revelation 1:19 was the arrival
of the New Jerusalem and New Creation of Revelation 21:1ff.
Mathison and Gentry tell us in their other works that the time texts
in Revelation point to a near fulfillment of the passing of “the first heaven
and earth.” They point out that Revelation 21:1 is referring to the
passing of the old covenant “creation” in AD 70 and is a fulfillment of
Isaiah 65–66. Gentry even says:
The absence of the sea (Rev. 21:1) speaks of harmony and peace
within. In Scripture the sea often symbolizes discord and sin
(13:1–2; cf. Isa. 8:7–8; 23:10; 57:20; Jer. 6:23; 46:7; Ezek. 9:10).
Christianity offers the opposite: peace with God and among
humankind (Luke 2:14; Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:12–18; Phil. 4:7, 9).
But then Mathison and Gentry assign an “expanded” meaning to 2
Peter 3, which discusses the same promises in Isaiah 65–66. They suggest
that Peter is addressing the geological “elements” of the planet while the
Apostle John, referencing the same Old Testament passage, is not.
This is not only arbitrary, it is amazing. If Gentry and Mathison
can give prophetic New Testament passages “expanded” meanings to fit
their eschatology, then they have surrendered their debate with Dispensationalists,
who constantly employ this strategy to force their eschatology
upon New Testament passages.
In Mathison’s section on the “Restoration of Creation” (195–197),
he appeals to the literal and global beginnings of Genesis 1–3 to point
out that preterists have interpreted “the end” in Romans 8 and in the
rest of the New Testament in an inaccurate way. But Mathison should
be open to considering the interpretations of Genesis 1–3 that are presented
by some within the Reformed tradition and by other futurists.
Combined, authors such as Augustine, Milton Terry, David
Snoke, Meredith Kline, and dispensationalist John Sailhamer teach
• Man was created a physical dying creature like all the plant
and animal life around him.
• The physics of the creation did not change after Adam sinned.
• Genesis 1–2 uses the Hebrew word eretz, which should be
translated as “land” and not [planet] “earth.”
• God’s emphases in the early chapters of Genesis are not
scientific but theological, emphasizing the origins of sin in the
heart and man’s need for the Seed of the woman to redeem
him from Sin.
As the theological emphasis in Genesis 1–2 is on the local land of
Eden, which is both theologically and geographically tied to Israel’s
Promised Land, so too is the emphasis of the New Testament on a Great
Commission preached to the nations of Israel and to the Roman Empire
with a judgment that would affect the nations of that world.
Both the localized and covenantal judgment in Eden and the one in
AD 70 affected and continue to affect all humankind. The introduction of
spiritual death (condemnation and alienation from God within the heart
and conscience of man through Adam) was overcome by Christ’s death,
resurrection, and indwelling presence in AD 70. All men and nations of
the world are either inside the new Israel and New Jerusalem or outside
her gates —as the gospel continues to bring healing and judgment to the
nations today and forever (cf. Rev. 21–22:17).
When we take a combined look at some of the best theologians
within the Reformed and Evangelical communities, we find a preterist
interpretation of every eschatological de-creation prophecy in the
Bible. Combined, John Owen, John Locke, John Lightfoot, John Brown,
R.C. Sproul, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, James Jordan, Peter Leithart,
Keith Mathison, Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis, Hank Hanegraaff, and N.T.
Wright teach that the passing away of heaven and earth (Matt. 5:17–18;
24:3, 29, 35; 1 Cor. 7:31; II Peter 3; I Jn. 2:17–18; Rev. 21:1) refers to the destruction
of the temple or to the civil and religious worlds of men—either
Jews or Gentiles; and that the rulers of the old covenant system or world,
along with the temple, were the “sun, moon, and stars,” which made up
the “heaven and earth” of the world that perished in AD 70.
These interpretations are, individually considered, “orthodox.” Yet
when preterists consolidate the most defensible elements of Reformed
eschatology, anti-preterists such as the authors of WSTTB unite in opposition
to even some of their own stated views.
 John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud
and Hebraica, Volume 4 (Hendrickson publications), 157. Lightfoot, Hammond,
and Gill understand the “creation” to be referring to Gentiles. “ . . . Crellius
(Comm., Para.) explains it as a reference to regenerate Christians and Le Clerc
(Supp., NT) refers it particularly to Gentile Christians.” John Locke, The Clarendon
Edition of the Works of John Locke: A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles
of St Paul, Volume 2 (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1987), 789.
 Ibid., 158–159 (emphases added).
 Tom Holland, Contours In Pauline Theology (Scotland: Christian Focus
Publications, 2004), 85–110. Holland is a Reformed theologian who sees
Paul’s “body” of flesh, sin, and death not referring to our physical flesh but to
the corporate body of Sin in contrast to the corporate Body of Christ—the
church. He counters Gundry’s individualistic views of soma in Paul’s writings.
He also argues for “consistency” in Paul’s use of corporate terms. I recommend
this book to any serious student of Reformed theology.
 John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray 2: Systematic Theology
(Banner of Truth Publications, 1977), 389
 The Reformation Study Bible, R.C. Sproul General Editor, Keith Mathison
Associate Editor (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 1, 636.
 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Beast of Revelation, (Tyler, TX: Institute
for Christian Economics, 1989), 23–24.
 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell, (Tyler, TX: Institute for
Christian Economics, 1989), 141–142.
 Ibid., 141.
 Gary DeMar, Last Days MADNESS OBSESSION OF THE MODERN CHURCH, (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), 225.
 61. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 16 vols. (London: The Banner
of Truth Trust, 1965–68), 9:134–135. John Lightfoot, Commentary on the
New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew – 1 Corinthians, 4
vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, , 1989), 3:452, 454. John
Brown, Discourses and Sayings of our Lord, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner
of Truth Trust,  1990), 1:170. John Locke, The Clarendon Edition of the
Works of John Locke: A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul Volume
2, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1987), 617–618. R.C. Sproul, The Last Days
According to Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998). Kenneth Gentry,
He Shall Have Dominion (Tyler TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992),
363–365. Kenneth Gentry (contributing author), Four Views on the Book of
Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998), 89. Gary DeMar, Last
Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Powder Springs: GA, 1999),
68–74, 141–154, 191–192. James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes Developing a
Biblical View of the World (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers,
1998), 269–279. Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis (contributing author) Eschatology
in Bible & Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1997),
145–169. Peter J. Leithart, The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second
Peter (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2004). Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism:
An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1999), 114,
157–158. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress
Press, 1996), 345–346. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God
(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 645, n.42. Hank Hanegraaff, The
Apocalypse Code (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007), 84–86. C.
Jonathin Seraiah, The End of All Things: A Defense of the Future (Moscow, ID:
Canon Press, 2002).