Verses 18-39 are one of the most consoling passages in the New Testament. Because of our sin and sinfulness and God's judgment on it we are surrounded by thousands of bits of evidence each day that all is not well. But that is for our good, otherwise we would become self-satisfied. Genesis 3:16-19 was spoken by God to make man appreciate Genesis 3:15, the first great promise of the Gospel or rather Gospel-promise.
"I consider, I reckon, I think" is spoken by Paul in the name of every child of God. Arndt calls this word an instance of meiosis, an understatement.
Arndt: Paul might have used the term 'know' or 'I am persuaded'. The whole sentence could be called meiosis. Paul is saying that all the griefs, pains, sufferings and woes of this life can't possibly be compared with the glory and splendor of heaven which will be revealed in us.
Lenski: In order that you may understand the better what has just been said about our suffering together with Christ and our being also glorified together with him.
"Sufferings" covers all sufferings, whether caused by our own folly or whether they are those which the Lord has laid upon us as crosses.
The infinitive "to be revealed" reminds us that we've not had direct experience of it in this life. The Word of God has been revealed to us. But the splendor of heaven not yet.
Franzmann: What is it like, that future splendor that we shall inherit with Christ? There is no 'like' that man can use; he can only say, in the assured conviction of his faith, that all the present sufferings of the church (and both Paul and the Roman church knew what suffering meant, 8:35-36; cf. Hebrews 10:32-34) cannot weight in the scale over against that weight of glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 4: 17) the glory which will come into our lives.
Stoeckhardt: The present time, the time of suffering, is a rapidly passing, short period of time. That already is a comfort for suffering Christians. 1 Peter 1:6. . . . Paul had worked and suffered more than all the apostles, but in his severe sufferings he had a deep insight into the promised glory and was greatly comforted. 2 Corinthians 1:11.12.
Luther: Behold how Paul turns his back to the world and fixes his face toward the future revelation, just as though he nowhere on earth saw misfortune or woe, on the contrary , nothing but joy. Truly, even if we are in bad straits, he says, what is our suffering in comparison with the ineffable joy and glory which shall be revealed in us? It is not worthy to be compared or to be called a suffering.
This verse explains verse 18.
Lenski: Paul sheds fuller light on this coming revelation of glory in us.
Note that this verse and the previous one have the idea of revelation in common: in verse 18, the revelation of glory in us and, here, Christians revealed as the children of God. In this life their oneness with Christ is often hidden under suffering, humility, poverty, etc. But not in the life to come.
Note that this verse has three words. The first, a noun, means "watching eagerly with outstretched head." The second is a noun, meaning revelation, showing forth something never before seen. And the third, a verb, "to await expectantly but patiently." It is intensified by the middle voice. Note that forms of this verb occur again in verses 23 and 25. In verse 19 all of nature eagerly awaits the revelation, the showing forth, of the sons of God. In verses 23 and 25 it is "we" who await, obviously Christians are meant. We have "creature" in the KJV. NKJV, NIV, RSV, TEV have "creation." NEB has "the created universe," and AAT reads "nature." It means the entire creation except the devil, his angels, the good angels and unbelieving men who are not mentioned in this pericope. Note that we have "sons of God" in this verse but in verse 21 "children of God" with the same distinction in verses 14 and 16.
Franzmann: He ascribes to 'creation', to man's world and all that is therein, an intense longing for the day on which the children of God will emerge from their hiddenness, their shame and suffering, and will stand revealed as what they are, as justified men who need not shrink from Him who judges the secrets of men, sons of God who see Him face to face. (Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2; Matthew 5:8).
Arndt: 'Creation'signifies all creatures devoid of reason, all creation except man. Creation is here personified. . . . Paul says creation is waiting. He does not refer to conscious waiting. His language is figurative. He points to the fact that creation is now in a condition which is inferior and which will be ended. The term revelation of the sons of God reminds us that the sons of God are not yet revealed or made manifest. Their real nature is not yet apparent. . . . Then Christians will be seen as what they are. 1 John 3:2.
Lenski: And now, since the fall, the creature world in it ultimate destiny is bound up not with the ungodly who shall perish in hell, but with the godly and with their coming revelation of glory in heaven. . . . Here the great fact, which appears already in Genesis 1, and runs throughout all of Scripture, being prominent again in Revelation 21:1, comes fully to view: the unity of God's creation, Christ the head of all things in heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:10), we as God's sons supreme in and with him.
AAT has an attractive paraphrase: "Nature is waiting on tiptoe to see the unveiling of God's family."
Lenski: How the creation comes to be waiting thus is made plain by another 'for.' A calamity came upon the whole earthly creature-world when its crown and head, Adam, fell; then the creation was made subject to vainness.
Rienecker; 'Frustration' is vanity, aimlessness, the inability to reach a goal or achieve results.
"The creation" here includes the entire creation. "Was subjected" is passive voice with God as agent. This is a plain reference to Genesis 3:17-19.
Franzmann: The beasts and birds and creeping things did not revolt against the God who made them; only man, made in God's image for answerable converse with his God, did that. But the rent which man made between himself and God ran through all creation; after man's willed, fatal trespass nothing was as it had been before. . . . Paul calls that doom 'futility' here. A little later (verse 21) he calls it 'bondage to decay.'
Arndt: Vanity here signifies frailty, want of vigor. . . . It was not nature that sinned and brought death upon itself. . . . God subjected all nature to frailty or vanity on account of the sin of man. Cf. Genesis 3: 17.
Stoeckhardt: The creature was subjected to perishableness. Everything earthly disappears.
That is so true. Flesh decays, bread molds, metal rusts, wood rots. The city of Babylon, one of the mightiest of the ancient world, was finally located by archaeologists. Imagine New York City disappearing that completely!
Bengel: The first of believers, whom the Scriptures commend, was called Abel (vanity). Glory is opposed both to vanity and corruption; and the greatest vanity is idolatry, Chapter 1 :21.23. Vanity is abuse and waste. . . . Adam rendered it (creation) liable to vanity, but he did not subject it.
Lenski: Man is evil because of his own guilt, the creatures have no guilt. Man suffers justly, the creatures unjustly. . . . God intended to extend grace to man, to give him time to repent, to be restored; so he subjected the creation to vainness, and let man continue, the whole creation ever reminding him of his guilt. . . . God is the one who subjected the creation to this vainness, but for his great ulterior purposes.
That brings us to the prepositional phrase. This phrase is interpreted in two ways. The RSV is typical of the first: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free etc." The NIV [above] is typical of the second. According to the first explanation "in hope" is read with verse 20, and is rendered "because." According to the second explanation "in hope" is read with verse 21 and means "that."
Arndt: (Agreeing with the RSV) The subjecting was done in hope. . . . here has the significance: better future. . . . Paul means to say that God planned a better future at the time when he cursed the earth.
Stoeckhardt: There was and is hope for the creature. . . . God had fixed His eyes upon a future change in this inconsistency, so that the suffering creature could hope for a change and an improvement in its condition.
Lenski: 'On the basis of hope' should be construed with the main verb. . . . God indeed subjected the creation to vainness, but this would have been a senseless act if this subjection had been without hope. The creation was intended for man, who was made its head and crown. . . . By his grace God opened a mighty hope for fallen man, and that means that this hope extended also to the creation made for man.
This implies of course that the key word in verse 21 must be rendered "that."
We must never forget, as Franzmann reminds us, that "The promise of the woman's Seed (Genesis 3:15) was given before the ground was cursed because of man. (Gen 3:17)" verse 21 reads: "that also creation itself will be liberated from the slavery of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God."
"Nature itself'" includes man but here the phrase includes only human beings, and only the believers among human beings. "Decay" denotes deterioration which finally leads to death. That is slavery. "Glorious freedom" is, of course, the glory of heaven. That is liberty. Scripture says nothing about birds, animals etc. in heaven with man. And therefore we should not speculate. Evidently Paul is speaking about what will happen on the last day.
Arndt: An absolute stop is put to the condition of slavery in which nature now finds itself.
Christians have now already, freedom from the guilt and power of sin, the power of death and the power of the devil. But the freedom on Judgment Day will free all of nature.
Stoeckhardt: When the children of God are glorified, they have attained perfected liberty. Their glory is, at the same time, liberty. They will then follow their own inclinations altogether, the inclinations of the new divine nature, which they received in conversion. With free, joyful spirit, unmolested, unhindered by sin, weakness and death, they will serve their God and Father and with all powers of body and soul honor and praise God in all eternity. And the creature will share in the liberty and glory of God's children.
Scripture teaches both annihilationism and restorationism of creation at the end.
Lenski: What Paul says of creation in this section settles the question raised by other passages: Psalm 102:27; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 20:11; Isaiah 34:4; Luke 21:33; Job 14:12, as to whether the creature-world will finally be annihilated. . . . It has well been said that not the 'earth' itself will pass away, but only the (1 Corinthians 7:31), the form of this present world. The fire mentioned by Peter must be the fire of purification. The 'new heaven and the new earth' in Revelation 21:1 are not new, newly created and never having existed before, but new in contrast with the old, different from what heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1) formerly were.
Another explanatory verse.
Arndt: Paul appeals to something that his readers are acquainted with. He refers to what we all see, namely how every creature instinctively tries to preserve its life and is opposed to dissolution. . . . There arises from creation one mighty chorus of woe as it were. . . . The groaning and suffering is unceasing and continuous.
Stoeckhardt: In whatever direction we turn we note how creation struggles against destruction and experiences pain.
Bengel: The groaning of the creature is not in vain, but it is heard by God.
Note the importance of creation in its entirety. Note the prepositional prefix with both verbs.
Franzmann: But since Christ came, the world's agony is the agony of travail; there is in it the promise of a glad new birth. What Jesus said of history, pocked with wars and shaken by catastrophes, that it is an agony of childbirth, with a terminus and a prospect (Matthew 24:8), Paul here says of the world.
Well said. All creation is like a woman, writhing in pain, about to give birth. But, when the birth takes place, all pain and woe is forgotten. The phrase assures us that this situation will come to an end. In this life all things come to an end, even the curse which God placed on it in Eden.
We have an ellipse at the beginning of this verse The majority of our versions read thus: "And not only creation, but also we ourselves etc." Including this elliptical reference the word occurs five times in this pericope: Verses 19,20,21,22 and here in 23.
Rienecker: The first portion of the harvest, regarded both as a first installment and as a pledge of the final delivery of the whole. The following genitive is genitive of apposition. The Holy Spirit is regarded as an anticipation of final salvation, and a pledge that we who have the Spirit shall in the end be saved.
This is paradoxical. "In ourselves" denotes manner. The point of this phrase is that all of us constantly, though no one else notices, in one way or another, groan. Pain and frustration cause man to groan. But God comforts His believers in Christ with His Holy Spirit, lest they despair and are overcome by circumstances. The word is explained by its appositive. (cf. Verses 19 and 25 for the same word) denote circumstances attendant to another paradox. Though we groan, we are constantly expecting and awaiting the final deliverance of our body. That, more than anything else, gives meaning to life.
Arndt: We await the adoption. It is true we already possess one adoption; according to verse 15 God has accepted us as his children. We are waiting, however, for another adoption, namely to be received into the heavenly home.
Lenski: The body is in slavery even after it enters the grave, for corruption, decay and death still hold it; the resurrection liberates it 'into the liberty of the children of God.'
Kretzmann: We Christians are deeply affected, painfully touched, by the woes and miseries of the present world. . . . But we long to enter into the full possession and enjoyment of our inheritance above, into the redemption of our body, the complete deliverance from all the consequences of sin.
Stoeckhardt: We Christians are not Stoics. . . . We feel the pain of death. This groaning, however, is, at the same time, a real conscious longing and waiting.
Another explanation. Of the nine verses in this text, five are explanations.
Rienecker: The dative is not instrumental but is modal (manner) referring to the fact that salvation is bestowed in the past is characterized by hope.
Arndt: In hope, in anticipation, by way of promise we are saved, but we do not yet enjoy this salvation.
Paul says "Now hope that is seen, experienced, is not hope, for who hopes for that which he sees, experiences?"
In this life no Christian has any experience of what life will be like when the deliverance of the body will take place.
Stoeckhardt: When seeing begins, hope comes to and end. Hoping and seeing exclude one another . . . . Waiting flows from hope.
In this life we walk by faith and not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7. the question in verse 24 is rhetorical. The reader answer it without being giving the answer. Truly, the Christian life is "by faith."
This verse is a fact or particular condition. The truth stated in the main clause depends on whether or not the reader accepts what is said in the protasis (if clause). In this case it reads: "If, as is the case, we hope for that which we do not see, we await it through endurance."
Franzmann: We walk toward that unseen but certain world with the resilient steps of men whose future is so sure and great that the greatest burden of our secular knapsacks seems no weight at all. That is what Paul means by 'patience', this waiting for God's time with the athletic stamina of certain hope.
Stoeckhardt: This description of Christian life should compose the suffering Christians and make them content with their present life.
Jesus said: "He that shall endure to the end shall be saved." Matthew 24:13. And in Luke 8:15 He says: "That which is sowed in the good ground, these are those who with a good and honest heart heard the Word, kept it and brought forth fruit with patience." (Translations our own).