Part Twenty-Seven: How Does Human Redemption Initiate Animal Resurrection
We saw in a previous blog article that the eschatological New Earth will include similarities to the Garden of Eden—only more wonderful. What ushers in this renewed creation? The Bible tells us it will come about with the future redemption of God’s people. Our redemption initiates nature’s redemption; it provides the framework by which the curse is removed and nature is restored to its pre-Fall state. The Apostle Paul speaks to this in Romans chapter eight:
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he [God] will give us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us (8:18–23 nlt).
Biblical theology and church tradition—taken as a whole—agree that saved humanity’s redemption will include the whole of creation. This is the great hope expressed by Paul in the passage above, as well as a major theme in Old Testament prophecies. Such a belief is also expressed in the writings of early church Fathers (e.g. Justin, Irenaeus, and Lactantius) as well as recent theologians and scholars, as we saw in blog articles 24 and 25. The question is how exactly will creation’s redemption—the removal of the curse and restoration to Eden-like conditions—be linked to human redemption, as the apostle Paul expresses above? In particular, for the purpose of this series of articles, how will human redemption in the eschaton play out in the resurrection of animals?
The answer is simple but incredibly wonderful. As with humans, animal redemption depends on the work of Christ. When Jesus died for the sins of the world (John 1:29; Rom. 5:8), it paved the way for the redemption of all who receive Him as Lord and Savior (John 1:12). The Bible also teaches, as Paul explained in Romans eight, that the damage wrought on creation by fallen humanity (the curse) will be removed as part of the same redemptive process (21). All creation, Paul declares, “is waiting eagerly ” for its redemption alongside of saved humanity, when it will finally “join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay” (Rom. 8: 19, 21—NLT).
Other passages confirm this. Colossians chapter one tells us that God reconciled “to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his [Jesus’] blood, shed on the cross” (1:20, emphasis added). In Revelation God said, “I am making everything new” (21:5) and “no longer will there be any curse” (22:3). All things mean all things. Not just Christ’s followers, but the entire earth and cosmos cursed by human sin will be made new. Every animal and plant and every natural feature despoiled and polluted by the human race will be restored. Ecological theologian H. Paul Santmire said it this way: “Christ is the royal minister God sends to redeem creation, . . . [and] the royal minister God sends to inaugurate the new creation.”
It makes perfect theological sense that God will redeem creation through human redemption. Remember, animals did not sin and nature did not fall when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were banished from the Garden of Eden. Nature was cursed because of the first couple’s sinful rebellion—and to this day it continues to suffer because of human sin. In the case of people, those who accept salvation offered by Jesus Christ are granted forgiveness of sins and promised eternal life in a renewed new heaven and earth. Because the curse is tied directly to human sin and is removed by human redemption, it follows naturally that animals will share in that redemption. Why would God give humans such glorious grace and not the animals whose curse people are responsible for? There is no biblical reason why animals will not be redeemed alongside humanity; and if redeemed, resurrected as well.
Does this mean animals will be “saved” in the same sense as humans, that is, did Jesus’ atoning death for human sin cover animals too? “Certainly not in the way he died for mankind,” explains theologian Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven. “People are made in God’s image, animals aren’t. People sinned, animals didn’t. Because animals didn’t sin, they don’t need a redeemer in the same way.” But, Alcorn continues,
in another sense, Christ died for animals indirectly because his death for humanity purchased redemption for what was brought down by humanity’s sin, including animals. . . .
As goes mankind, so go the animals. If we take to its logical conclusions the parallel Paul makes between humans’ and animals’ groaning [in Romans 8], then at least some of those animals who suffered on the old Earth must be made whole on the New Earth. . . .
The creatures that groan and cry out for their resurrection are specific suffering people and specific animals. . . .I believe this suggests that God may remake certain animals that live on the old Earth. (383-384)
Notice Alcorn included animals along with humans who “cry out for their resurrection.” If humans receive resurrected bodies as part of their redemption, as Paul taught in Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and elsewhere, it’s reasonable to assume that animals, which share in creation’s redemption, will likewise receive resurrected bodies. In other words, since creation anticipates freedom from bondage to the curse through the redemption of God’s people, there is good theological reason to believe that animals participating in that redemption will receive imperishable, resurrected bodies along with redeemed humanity. Thus, animals that have lived and died on this earth will be resurrected to dwell in the New Earth (Heaven).
But does this mean all animals will be resurrected? What about non-sentient animals? Will mosquitoes, toads, and snakes also receive resurrected bodies? This will be the topic of next week’s blog article.
* The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website: www.danstory.net.