The Present State of Nature: The “Already” of Eschatological Fulfillment (Colossians 1:20)

D.J. Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New testament Eschatology and the Environment,” JETS 49 (2006), 473-474:

We may now, finally, ask about the role of the natural world in this universal peace. Two points suggest that, while clearly not dominant in Paul’s argument here, a restoration of the natural world is included. First, to reiterate a point made earlier, verses 15–20 explicitly emphasize the cosmic dimension of Christ’s lordship. If the natural world is included in the scope of the “all things” that Christ rules as mediator of creation, it must also be included in the scope of the “all things” that he rules as mediator of reconciliation. Second, Rom 8:19–22 demonstrates that the world of nature has in some manner been effected by the Fall and is, therefore, in need of restoration. At the minimum, therefore, Col 1:20 confirms our findings from Rom 8:19– 22 and projects them into the present: the eschatological fulfillment of God’s promises continues, according to the NT witness, to include the “land,” expanded to the entire cosmos; and that program of fulfillment has been inaugurated already. But what will this “reconciliation” look like? With humans, as we have seen, reconciliation involves especially a restored relationship with God. With evil spiritual beings, on the other hand, it involves subjugation. What is involved is a restoration (with eschatological intensification) of the original conditions of God’s first creation. God’s people will be brought back into a relation of harmony with their creator; evil will be judged and banished; the earth itself will be “liberated from its bondage to decay.”[95] Furthermore, while the “vertical” dimension of reconciliation is clearly to the fore in verse 20—God has reconciled all things “to himself”—a horizontal aspect is probably included as well.[96] This is because the pacification of spiritual beings has specific implications for Christians’ relationship to them: because God has subjugated them to himself, they have been “disarmed” and no longer have the power to determine the destiny of God’s people. Therefore, we might suggest that the reconciliation secured by Christ means that nature is “already” restored in principle to that condition in which it can fulfill the purpose for which God created it and thereby praise its Creator (cf. Rev 5:13). At the same time, reconciliation may also imply that Christians, renewed in the image of God (see below), are both themselves brought into harmony with creation and, in light of the “not yet” side of reconciliation, are to work toward the goal of creation’s final transformation.

cf. Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, PNTC (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2008), 133-137.

95 Somewhat similar is Thomas Torrance’s notion of redemption as a “reordering” of the cosmos, a restoration of the God-given order present in creation (cf. Divine and Contingent Order [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981] 138; see also McGrath, Nature 175–76).

96 Several scholars suggest, indeed, that Paul’s notion of reconciliation here might be at least partially indebted to Greek and Jewish notions of the need for a cessation of the strife that char- acterizes the world (see Eduard Schweizer, “Versöhnung des Alls (Kol 1,20),” in Jesus Christus in Historie und Theologie: Festschrift für Hans Conzelmann zum 60. Geburtstag [ed. Georg Strecker; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1975] 487–501; Hartman, “Universal Reconciliation” 109–21).

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