May 9, 2013

The New Heavens and Earth

Isaiah 65:17–20

"Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind (v. 17).

We noted a few months ago that Moses foresaw Israel's return from exile as an incredible salvation with ramifications beyond Canaan itself. The world would be drastically changed as little Israel was exalted and its enemies cursed (Deut. 30:1–10). Isaiah expands on this theme in today's passage, the first explicit biblical reference to the new heavens and earth, revealing that the return from exile affects the entire cosmos.

Isaiah foresaw that the Messiah's atonement would lead to His people's forgiveness and enable God to justly declare them righteous, giving the Messiah offspring in the prolonging of His days (Isa. 53:10–11). Besides alluding to Christ's resurrection, these verses are a faint glimpse of the eternal life of believers. After all, if death is the punishment for unrighteousness, how could God keep His promises and at the same time not sustain forever the lives of those whom He declares righteous (Gen. 2:15–17; John 3:16)?

Only a new world free of sin is a home fit for those declared righteous in Christ and made righteous by His Spirit. New heavens and a new earth are the Son of David's final goal (Isa. 65:17). In the new heavens and earth, there will be no reason to mourn. God Himself will rejoice in His once fallen but fully restored people (vv. 18–19). Moreover, long life will be the rule and not the exception, for the one-hundred-year-old person will be considered young (v. 20). This poetic imagery should not be read too literally. Isaiah earlier predicted that death would be swallowed up forever (25:6–7), and the age references in 65:20 make the same basic point, especially since old covenant Israel had a dimmer revelation of eternal life than we enjoy today. Finally, the new heavens and earth will be so filled with peace that even predator and prey will get along (vv. 24–25).

Jesus brings this glorious transformation, but He does so in stages. The restoration began when He brought Israel out of Babylon, but it was inaugurated in power in our Lord's incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection. It continues today as the ascended Christ rules over all. And it will be consummated at His return (1 Cor. 15:12–58). John Calvin writes, "The prophet speaks of the restoration of the church after the return from Babylon . . . but that restoration is imperfect if it be not extended as far as to Christ; and even now we are in the progress and accomplishment of it, and those things will not be fulfilled till the last resurrection."

Coram Deo

If we were asked to give a simple one-sentence summary of Christian eschatology, this would certainly suffice: God is going to make all things right. That includes even the physical world. The Lord will fully transform all things, renewing them so that there will be no cause for pain, mourning, or anything else that we dread so much. This is the hope that lies before us, and knowing that all will be set right in the future helps us endure pain in the present.

For Further Study