Sunday, May 9, 2010

The New Heavens and the New Earth

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendents endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all people will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to the whole human race.”

~Isaiah 66:22-24 (TNIV).

And so Isaiah finishes!

This presents us with an awesome image of the time beyond time—the salubrious nature of things beyond the present tumultuous age.

The new heavens and new earth will endure before God. These are created by God and sustained by him, forever. We will endure with him—our names and our seed—we who are faithful to God. Our role, of course, will be to worship him; this life right now is practise.

Eternal Life

According to many scholars this passage is not necessarily referring to the New Testament promises relating to eternal life.[1] It’s different. Eternal life we have now, for instance, in Jesus (see, for instance, John 17:3). But the concept still reeks of permanence with God in the next age.

The purpose of our worship of God is our seeking his Presence; to know him... the momentary God. Only those who genuinely wish to do this in the present age are granted it in the next.

Name and Descendents

Simplistically these relate to the “inner, ‘real’ truth about a person” (i.e. their name) and the ‘seed’ they come from i.e. in Isaiah’s day, ‘the seed of Abraham.’[2] Both will have relevance to the new heavens and new earth. We belong to Christ i.e. we are now his seed via the rebirth, and we also share his name; the sanctification in him proving us to be “white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18) regarding our new and eternal status under Christ.

The Old and the New

It is important too, to separate the prophesies of Isaiah that are no longer binding—from the ‘Christian’ context. This is illustrated in the mentions of “New Moon” and “Sabbath”—see Colossians 2:16. No one can any longer judge us for these. We’re free from human rules in this way. We’re free simply to love. It’s important, however, that these ‘shadows’ remain as providing testimony to the One who came and died in our stead, releasing us from them.[3]

The new heavens and new earth are the climax towards which everything now is moving.[4] And although it lingers now, it is surely coming (Habakkuk 2:3).

“All people” coming to worship God, notionally in the same place, takes us beyond the idea of one single physical place—it’s in the metaphysical realm that we need to consider this new heavens and new earth, probably far beyond what we in our human minds can conceive presently.

Those Dead Bodies

Woe to the ones who miss the tide—this age swept out to sea and gone forever.

I’m not sure if the redeemed will take a great deal of pleasure in observing the putrefying process—witnessing the dead—other than knowing that which is loathsome is now justifiably dealt with. We loath the spiritually corrupt now anyway.

The terms involved in the imagery surrounding ‘worms’ and ‘fire’ merely provides the ironical contrast—those not for God are against him, and they will suffer perpetual punishment (see also Mark 9:48; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).[5]

Hope of the New Age

This sort of prophesy helps us endure now in this age so we endure with God in the next. It motivates us to get aligned with God’s agenda for our lives right now. It also harnesses within us the appropriate fear of the Lord such that we do not backslide into our previous practices.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] John D.W. Watts, Isaiah 34–66 – Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, Texas: Word, Inc., 2002), S. 360.

[2] J. Alec Moyter, The Prophesy of Isaiah – Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 543.

[3] Derek Kidner, Isaiah – New Bible Commentary (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1953, 1954, 1970, 1994), p. 670.

[4] Moyter, Op cit, p. 543.

[5] Allan Harman, Isaiah – Focus on the Bible (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2005), p. 430.

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