A New Heaven And A New Earth
1. Today we read from Isaiah chapter 65 and verses seventeen onward. In this passage the prophet uses the expression "a new heaven and a new earth" for the arrival of salvation. These words from Isaiah are taken up again at the end of the Bible in the Apocalypse of John, the Book of Revelation. John reported the following dream of the fulfillment of salvation, "I saw, again, the new heaven and the new earth," (Revelation 21:1). As we see in the creation accounts in Genesis, when it is expressed together as "heaven and earth" it means the entire world created by God. So, what is being said in this text is that the entire created order of the world will be made new and the entire created world will be saved. Today let us think together regarding [how to] live in hope as we wait for "the new heaven and the new earth" as the fulfillment of salvation.
The Salvation Of The Entire Created World
2. Before we get into the substance of this passage itself, first, I would like for us to remember two points. Fact one, the scriptures are not saying here that there is salvation in "heaven." Nor does it say that there is salvation in the world after death beyond the grave. We are not saved by escaping this sin filled world and by going to another world called the kingdom of heaven. That's not the way it is, this world will be saved from the entire created world. It will be saved from sin. We are hoping for the perfecting of this salvation.
3. The scriptures don't say much about the world after death. We should probably say that it speaks quite very hazily about it. Therefore, the church shouldn't talk as if it has seen it. Paul describes those already dead as "those asleep," (First Thessalonians 4:13 and other places). Of course, this is different from our sleeping. It is not necessary to regard it as an unconscious state. However, the clear thing is that sleeping is not the final state. Even for the believer, death itself does not mean ultimate salvation. We will await the hour when we will be awakened. The important thing is that we are persons awaiting in hope whether alive or dead. [Waitng for] what? For the entire created world to be made new and to be saved. We are waiting for the new heaven and the new earth.
4. Second, as we glance at today's passage of scripture we notice that there is a huge gap between verses seventeen and eighteen. Even though the text speaks on the salvation of the entire created world in verse seventeen, in verse eighteen it speaks on the salvation of Jerusalem and the Israelites. Then going to verse twenty-five there is another gap. There in the text we find the wolf and the lamb, a lioness and a snake. This isn't the Israelites. Again the perspective encompasses the entire created world. In short, the prophecy is speaking about the salvation of the Israelites, but sandwiched as it is by verses seventeen and twenty-five it is enlarged to the entire world of creation.
5. In other words, it means that God's ultimate purpose does not lie in the salvation of Israel. It means that it does not lie in the salvation of God's people or in the salvation of the church. In these words given here on Israel's salvation, we must make of it in our reading that God has intentions for the entire world. The words on Israel had to be enlarged for the entire world of creation.
A World Full Of People With Long Lives
6. Having covered those two points above, let's think in regard to the new heaven and the new earth, the saved world of creation. We see in today's passage of scripture not abstract wording but a very unsophisticated and specific depiction of salvation. At the center of what is depicted is the saved people with "long lives." "In that place no one will die at an early age any more, they will age and no one will not see out longevity. A person dying at one hundred years old will be considered a youth and anyone not attaining one hundred will be considered accursed," (verse twenty).
7. Because it talks about longevity that implies some kind of death some time. In claiming that even in the saved world "death" is still there like before is some really strange language. That it doesn't speak in regard to the mastery of death could be seen as a limitation of the Old Testament. Actually, in the new heaven and the new earth that John had seen in his vision, he heard the following words: "... God himself will be with humankind, he will become their God and he will wipe each and every tear away from their eyes. Death will be no more, there will neither be sorrow, nor grief, nor toil any more. For, the first things have passed away," (Revelation 21;3-4). If going by these points, we could make the claim that after the events in Jesus Christ, especially as occurring with the cross and the resurrection, the depiction of salvation in the New Testament clearly obtains a deep down change in nature and substance. But, I'd say that even if I make that claim, the words that Isaiah says about "longevity" will give very rich contents about the salvation that we are given and for which we await fulfillment.
8. Really now, give some thought to "longevity" in this temporary world. Is longevity a blessing that is so obvious? That's not exactly so. Japan is a country with the longest life expectancy in the world. But, but are the elderly in Japan really happy? Yes, in the church we meet a lot of elderly persons with sweet smiling faces. But, in this old world there are a number of senior citizens who want to die before their time.
9. For a long life expectancy to be stated as a blessing, a presupposition is some how necessarily [implied], which might be that "there will be joy in it." It means that joy goes along with being alive. So, before [the scripture] speaks of longevity, it first speaks on joy. The Lord says, "The generations will rejoice with pleasure for ever, they will dance joyfully. I will create. Behold, I will create taking delight in Jerusalem and rejoicing over her people with pleasure," (verse eighteen). A great deal of the joy we experienced when young is lost as we pile on the years. Unless God makes us happy, [our] joy and delight will be lost. Therefore, unless God is making us happy, a long life will not be a blessing. But, here a joy deeper than that is being spoken about. It says, "I will take delight in Jerusalem, I will have pleasure in my people," (verse nineteen). True joy, unchanging joy lies not only in God making us happy, but in being God's joy. In it long life will really be a blessing.
10. Also, the joy that makes long life a blessing cannot be cut apart from what is written in verses twenty-one and so forth. There the text reads as follows: "They will build houses and dwell in them, they will plant vineyards and eat its fruit. Foreigners will not dwell in the places they have built, foreigners will not eat the things they have planted," (verses twenty-one and twenty-two).
11. It is translated here as "foreigners" but, the original meaning is "others." The reason that other people were living where they themselves had built and eating what they had planted was that they were robbed of them by others. The reason they could not but help live frightened over being robbed or avoid the dread of their hard work coming to naught is that the world is a hard place where [people] fight for things and they lived in a world in which one scrambles over such things. From the smallest house with quarrels among brothers to wars between national states what humankind has woven together even to this very day is nothing but a history of this struggling over stuff.
12. But, the fear of being robbed will soon be taken away for good by God. They will no longer have to be afraid because God will be near by to preserve them and rule over them. Rather than calling out to them, God will answer them directly and while he is speaking to them he will grant their requests. God will be that close, he will step right in there and rule over them with his might. Indeed, what the text is saying here is quite surprising. God will not only guard those being robbed from the robbers, he will not only remove the fear of being robbed, he will take away the very crime itself of fighting for things. He will shut the book on stealing and fighting over things between people. In the saved world no one will be robbing anyone, but they will be living as one together. More than that even, not just humankind, but the entire created world will be as one. The lioness and the lamb will chew grass as one!
To Live As A Hopeful People
13. Well, "the new heaven and the new earth" that has been depicted here in this text is totally God's own doing in creation. Since it is God's work of a new creation, humans will either wait with hope for it or not wait at all. Will we believe, live with the hope and die with the hope that God will bear the responsibility to care for us and this world to the very end and he will perfect our salvation? Or will we live like hopeless people and die like hopeless people complaining about the way the world is, looking forward to the coming foreclosure of the world? The picture drawn here in this text is not a godless utopia built up by humans. This is God's world created and built by God, a world where God is with us and where God governs. Therefore, I quoted it in part earlier but, the Johannine Revelation puts it like this: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among humans, God will dwell with people and humanity will be God's people. God himself will be with humans and he will be their God, he will wipe away each and every tear from their eyes."
14. Since there will be salvation in this very world in which God will dwell with humanity, it is the relationship between God and the individual that ultimately has significance. It is important whether or not one has obtained peace with God. Because when [you] don't and [you] are at enmity with God, then when God is here [physically] it will be nothing for [you] but judgment and destruction. When God dwells with humanity it is both salvation but at the same time it is judgment. Therefore, before the rule of God makes its appearing, this passing world must reconcile itself to God. The cross for the redemption of sin, to bring peace between God and humanity, had to be erected on this earth. And now Christ is still calling out to it through his church, "Be reconciled to God," (Second Corinthians 5:20). So, now, in heaven and on earth, our receiving reconciliation with God and living with God, is nothing other than to wait in hope for the new heaven and the new earth and to prepare for the arrival of the world of salvation.