Who Are the Sons that are Destined to Set Creation Free,
and When Are the Sons Unveiled?
By Jonathan Mitchell
It seems to me that verse 14, in this set of verses, answers the question of who qualifies for sonship.
"For as many as are being continuously led by God's Spirit (or: are being habitually led in the Breath-effect of God), these are God's sons."
Vs. 15 continues on,
"For you folks ... received a spirit of being placed as a son (or: set in the position of a son; you received sonship's spirit), within which we are habitually crying out, 'Abba (Daddy), O Father!'"
Vs. 16 tells us that
this same Spirit (or: spirit) co-witnesses to our spirit (or: in our spirit) that we are ones who have been born of God (God's bairns; God's children).
Paul continues on in vs. 17 that this means that we are God's heirs, and Christ's joint-heirs,
"yet possessors and enjoyers together in an allotment pertaining to Christ if so be that we are continually affected by sensible experiences together (feeling together; receiving impressions, undergoing passion or suffering together), to the end that we may also be glorified together (may be given a joint-approval and a joint-reputation; may together receive a manifestation of that which calls forth praise)."
Vs. 18 says that this glory is
"being about to be unveiled to us (disclosed for us; revealed in us)."
And this was for first century Christians! Creation's looking away and watching with the head stretched forward alertly (it's concentrated and undivided focus) was then constantly awaiting and anxiously expecting
"the unveiling (uncovering; revealing) of God's sons (or: the disclosure from the sons of God)." (vs. 19)
Vs. 22 says that
"all creation is continuously sighing, groaning and travailing together as in childbirth (suffering common birth-pangs) until the present moment."
Again, that present moment was in the first century.
But let us consider vs. 19 in more detail:
"For the looking away and watching with the head stretched forward alertly (or: peak expectation; premonition; intuitive opinion; or: = the concentrated and undivided focus) of the creation is constantly receiving and taking away from out of the unveiling of God's sons (or: = the uncovering and revealing of folks who have the character and qualities of God; or: the disclosure pertaining to the sons of God; or: the unveiling and revelation which belongs to God's sons; or, as an ablative: the disclosure from God's sons)."
The conjunction "For" ties what follows to what was just said: what was progressively about to be disclosed to [them] was something that the creation was at that time
"constantly receiving and taking away from-out-of."
Creation was receiving life and understanding from the unveiling of God's sons. It was the message of the Messiah, His death and resurrection, the advent of the new creation and the new arrangement, the giving of God's Spirit to humanity in a new way, and here in this letter, the awareness of who God's sons are: those who are continuously led by His Spirit (vs. 14). All of this brought the whole creation Light, Life, Grace, Peace, Joy and an Expectation.
Let me make clear what I rendered constantly receiving and (etc.). The Greek word translated is 'apekdechomai,' which is 'dechomai,' which means "to take and receive with the hands," with the preposition 'apek,' a contraction of apo, "from," and 'ek,' "out of the midst of" added as a prefix. This verb should NOT be translated "looking for," or "awaiting."
Now to unpack the phrase, the unveiling of God's sons. The following will give variations based upon noun case functions and different meanings of the words used:
a) paraphrasing one cultural use of the word son: = the uncovering and revealing of folks who have the character and qualities of God
b) the disclosure pertaining to the sons of God
c) the unveiling and revelation which belongs to God's sons
d) as an ablative: the disclosure from God's sons. Option d) would mean that everyone is getting something from the message (the disclosure) that the sons have been given and are publishing - the message of Christ.
With this in mind, consider Gal. 1:15, 16,
"Yet when God... thought well to unveil (reveal; uncover; disclose) His Son within the midst of me (or: in union with me), to the end that I in myself (or: for myself; by myself; of myself) would announce and proclaim the message of goodness, [which is] Him, within the ethnic multitudes (or: may bring and tell the message of ease and well-being: Him [now] among the nations)..."
Another possible reading of this final phrase of the verse could understand the situation of God's Son's being the same as the condition that Paul's describes of Israel in 2 Cor. 3:14-15:
"... for until this very day the same head-covering (veil) continues remaining (dwelling; abiding) upon the reading of the old covenant (arrangement; thorough placement) - it [i.e., the reading of the old, or the old covenant itself] continues not being uncovered or unveiled - because it [i.e., the old covenant and arrangement] continues being progressively and fully unemployed and brought down to doing no work and being made useless, ineffective and nullified within Christ (or: = the old arrangement and covenant is nullified in union with [the] Anointing, and in the midst of Christ). Still furthermore, until today, whenever Moses should be repeatedly read [e.g., in the synagogue], a head-covering (veil) continues lying upon their heart (= the innermost being of the group). Yet whenever the time should be reached when it [= the heart] would (or: can; may; should; or: shall at some point) twist and turn upon, so as to face toward, [the] Lord [= Christ], "the head-covering (veil) is by habit progressively taken from around [it]."
Many of God's sons have a veil over their hearts, and they need to have their hearts unveiled to see Christ and to see who they are in Christ. Until this happens, creation is not being delivered from its bondage. Paul prayed for people that God,
"... might give (suddenly impart) to you a spirit (or: breath-effect; attitude) of wisdom and revelation (UNVEILING; uncovering; DISCLOSURE) within the midst of a full, experiential and intimate knowledge of Himself (or: in a full realization of Him; or: within and in union with His full, personal knowledge; or: centered and resident within an added insight from Him, and which is Him), the eyes of your heart (= the insights and perceptions of the core of your being) having continued being enlightened (or: being progressively illuminated into a state of enlightenment) into the [situation for] you folks to have seen and thus perceive and know what is the expectation" (Eph 1:17-18a).
And vs. 23-24 says,
"Yet not only [this], but further, even WE OURSELVES, constantly holding (having) the firstfruit of the Spirit, we ourselves also continually sigh and groan within ourselves, constantly with our hands taking and accepting away from out of sonship - the ransom-paid redemption of our body - for in the expectation we are made whole and healthy (or: for by the expectation we are delivered). Now expectation being continuously seen (observed) is not expectation, for who continues hoping in expectation for what he also constantly sees? Yet if we continue expecting what we are not seeing, we continue taking away and accepting from out of it through remaining under (or: we keep on eagerly receiving [it] through patient endurance)."
Then vs. 26 continues,
"Now, similarly (or: in LIKE MANNER), the Spirit also habitually takes hold together on the opposite side of a situation so as to assist (joins in with a helping hand) IN OUR WEAKNESS, for we have not seen and do not know the thing which we should pray, to accord with what must be, but rather, the Spirit Himself constantly hits in above us (falls in on our behalf; instead of us hits within) with unexpressed (or: in expressible) groanings (or: with wordless and inarticulate groanings)."
So what is this telling us? We have weaknesses, but the Spirit jumps in to assist wherever He is needed, and even hits the mark above us with His own wordless groans whenever we don't know what must be prayed. Is this then "being led by God's Spirit"? Paul spoke as though some WERE then being continuously led by His Spirit, and so they thus must have been sons of God.
The issue, then, seems to be the "unveiling" of these mature sons who see what the Father is doing, and follow Him in His activities. I suggest that whenever something, or someone, of God's creation is purposed to be set free, that a son will be uncovered so that he can behold His glory. The Christ within the son is the glory of God. When they behold Him within a son, then they will be changed into the same image, from one glory into another glory, until all come unto the measure of the stature of the image of Christ.
We have supposed, from "sonship traditions," that this would only be at the end of the age in a historic "rift in time" (to use Michael Phillips' term), a special parousia. Now I do not suggest that this will not happen, but I question that this would be the only application of this passage in Romans 8. I believe that creation has been set free, and is being set free, ever since this process was begun by Jesus. Jesus said,
"All authority within heaven and upon earth is given to me" (Mat. 28:17)
He also said,
"According as the Father sent Me forth as an emissary, I also am sending you."
Now this leads us to the next question: Must the sons become perfect as Jesus?
I suggest that our focus has been too much upon us instead of upon Christ. Christ is our perfection. The mature in Christ realize that
"it is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me."
It is the anointing that He has given to us which makes us Christ (the body of the Anointed One). It is the anointing that breaks the yoke, and sets creation free. It is Christ within me, the expectation of glory. If we have been made to sit-together with Him within the heavenlies (or: among the heavenly ones), I submit that we now have the authority to set creation free. But if many are not now ready to be snatched out of the fire (Jude 23), then we await God's time, for each one must be made alive in his own group (order; classification).
Must this happen on this side of the grave, or does the Father continue the process after death? God is the Eternal Now, and His "timing" in regard to the earth realm, or the time of our life, transcends all. He decides whether it is in "this life," or the next.
Since I do not believe that we must be flawless to set creation free, I would put this question into another category. Matt. 5:48 makes a promise, not a command,
"You, then, shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Concordant Trans.)
If we consider Rom. 11:36 in regard to this question,
"Because, forth from out of the midst of Him, and through the midst of Him (or: through means of Him), and into the midst of Him, [is] the whole (everything; [are] all things)! By Him (In Him; For Him) [is] the glory on into the ages. Amen (Make it so),"
then everyone enters into perfection, for they enter back into God from whence they came.
But there is another consideration, and that is the word "perfect," which can also be rendered "mature." Phil. 3:15 uses the same word as does Mat. 5:48, saying,
"Let us, then, as many of us as are perfect (mature) ... ,"
as does Heb. 5:14,
"But solid food belongs to perfected ones (complete and mature ones; ones who are fully developed and have reached the goal) - those, because of habit, having organs of perception trained in gymnastic exercise and thus being skilled, because of practice, and disciplined with a view to a discerning (or: when facing the act of separating, making a distinction and then a decision about) both good and evil (both that which is excellent, ideal, of good quality, profitable and beautiful, as well as that which is of bad quality, worthless, ugly or of bad form; or: = between right and wrong)."
So does the Father continue the process after death? I suggest that the Father uses death, whether within this life, or within the next (the second death), to nourish maturity until the fruit of love is produced within each individual. Root out a plant before it bears its fruit, and there is no fruit, and fruit is the goal for the plant. If physical death terminates the process, then for the promise of perfection to be fulfilled, the second death must take up the work.
In this life, both the death of the seed, and the corruption (manure; fertilizer) into which it is planted is of necessity to the life of the plant. Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone. Death is central to the bearing of fruit. Why should we think that physical death would be different? Is it because we don't believe in the ultimate resurrection of all? That this resurrection is into a new life in which more grains are produced? It can happen in this life; it can happen in the next. Jesus Christ is the same throughout. If He begins a good work in us in this life, I maintain that He will bring it to perfection in the next for He will finish His good work.
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