Wrestling with Isaiah 65

The information that we have about God creating a New Earth after Judgment Day is found in a few, large sections: Revelation 21 and 22, a bit in 2 Peter 3, and a rather confusing section of Isaiah 65, and a bit at the end of Isaiah 66. The teaching of a bodily resurrection is found in a couple of places in the Old Testament and is clearly understood by the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. After the death of Lazarus, Jesus tells Mary that her brother will live. She responds, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” They had no expectation of going to Heaven at this point. They knew about the resurrection; but what kind of understanding did they have about life after the resurrection? Isaiah 65 gives a description, but how is it to be understood in light of what further revelation would reveal?

Isaiah 65:17-25 is our particular focus. It starts this way:

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.

Isaiah 65:17-18 (ESV)

This clearly states what the section is about. It is about the New Heavens and New Earth. That is a part of God’s creation after Judgment Day. Revelation establishes that. The description that follows is confusing because it doesn’t seem to correlate with other passages about eternal life.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
    and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.

Isaiah 65:19-20 (ESV)

At the time of Isaiah, people were lucky to reach their mid-fifties. Child mortality was likely sky high. The rest of the Bible speaks, however, about eternal life, not long life. This description leads some to interpret this verse as referring to a 1000-year, pre-Judgment Day period known as the Milennium. That does not jive with verse 17, however.

Critics of the Bible will say this disparity reflects that fact that people are making this up as they go. Future generations sweetened the pot by making it eternal. Neither really knows anything about life after death, if it exists.

It is a bad assumption to expect that God rolled out knowledge about everything all at once. While I am sure that God’s plans were known in detail before the creation of the world, the information He gave humans was in a “as you need to know” fashion. There may even have been elements of God’s plan that were contingent. God, being all-knowing, understood the outcome, but the results still were dependent on something happening successfully in time.

Isaiah’s revelation comes at a time where Jesus has yet to make atonement for sin. Theoretically, He could fail. God knows, however, that He won’t. Still, the Old Testament righteous must wait in Sheol for Jesus to complete atonement. The plan to include humanity in Heaven must wait for Jesus to complete atonement. And the full, glorious details of our post-Judgment Day life must wait for the same.

Isaiah 65 is a taste. It is a bit of a teaser. But it gives hope to those whose lives are pretty grim. So, what can we learn from it?

First of all, the people will be a joy. Today, people are not always a joy. In fact, some places have earned a reputation for being exactly, the opposite. But with sinful nature and the curse gone. People in the New Earth, including hopefully you, will be the opposite. It will be a pleasure to hang out with each other.

Death will not be an issue. No death in childbirth. At 100 years old we would be considered like a youth. This statement is hypothetical and stated only to make a point. Now it is possible, that we might go through cycle of aging in our resurrection bodies–moving from child to maturity and back. We will have to wait for the answer to that. But death won’t happen, because no one will be “accursed”.

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain
    or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
    and their descendants with them.

Isaiah 65:21-23

We will work, and we will eat, and things will not be frustrating or work against us like now. No pests or disease in your plants. No five trips to Home Depot because your project is not working. No raiding bands taking your stuff. These were all very relatable to the people of Isaiah’s time and mostly they still are to us.

Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.

Isaiah 65:24

Our interaction with God will be immediate, unmistakable and wonderfully personal. This is the biggest deal of them all. Even true prayer-warriors hunger for a more tangible interaction with God. This will be accessible no matter where we are.

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord

Isaiah 65:25

Some people want to make this into a metaphor. They struggle to believe that nature gets to be a part of eternity. This is no metaphor. Animals of all sorts will be a part of the New Earth and they will be like the fauna of the Garden of Eden. They will be at peace. It will be like a giant petting zoo.

Will it include your animal? You may miss a beloved pet. All I can say is that it might. The argument that animals have no soul because they were not created in the image of God would have an impact on their not being in Heaven. The text doesn’t say if these are resurrected animals or new creations, but they are certainly new in their behaviors. Sin impacted creation, not just people. Jesus reconciled all things, not just people.

Isaiah 65 gives us a few details to contemplate. They are exciting details. Don’t let the odd presentation put you off.

Family In Eternity

I have heard it many times. A person is dying but they are ready. Why? Because they want to see their spouse, child, mother or father. They are eager to see lost family. This is understandable. Our family are usually the people we are closest to and love the most during life. What do we know about the transition to eternal life and family?

One bit of information comes in Matthew 22. The Sadducees are trying to prove logically that the resurrection does not literally exist. They present a scenario where a woman loses her husband without having children. In Jewish law, the brother is to marry the woman and have children. The law served as a social, safety net as there was no government support for widows. In this scenario, the woman survives the death of seven brothers. Surely, the Sadducees argue, the resurrection would create massive family issues as people marry and re-marry during life.

Jesus answers their argument this way:

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in Heaven.

Matthew 22:30 (ESV)

Some people seize on the wording to say that Jesus is only saying that there won’t be weddings in Heaven. But that loses the context. He is saying that marriages created in this life are only for this life. Other passages support that marriage is a contract that ends with death. That may make you sad or give you relief. No matter how you feel about it, it is a stated fact. That doesn’t mean you won’t know and love the people you know and love now.

We are left to imagine what Jesus means by “they will be like the angels in Heaven”. The implication is that the angels have a very different arrangement than what we have now. Jesus is also talking about “at the resurrection”, so this is post-Judgment Day information and may or may not apply to the period between your death and Judgment Day when you will be exclusively in Heaven.

Some worry that we won’t even recognize each other or remember our former relationships. Here I present you a mixed bag of evidence. The first is Jesus’ resurrected bodily appearances. Sometimes He is not recognizable. Other times He is readily recognizable. Again, this is a resurrected body (so post-JD for us). He is also the Son of God, so this may not even apply to us. Another weird piece of information comes from the story of the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). In this story, Saul utilizes a woman, who knows occultic arts, to raise the Prophet Samuel from Sheol. It works, and Samuel is readily recognizable (and angry).

Near Death Experiences (NDE), for what they are worth, do include at times family who recognize each other and recognize their relationship.

I expect that not only will we recognize our families, but that we will know everyone else as well. Peter, James and John recognized Moses and Elijah without introduction, to our knowledge. I also expect that there will be closeness and relationship that rivals the best family relationships with everyone else. Because of this, the significance of family will fade without the blessing of those who are our family being lessened.

What about family who rejects Jesus? Jesus is not optional when it comes to receiving eternal life. I expect that we can have our losses. 1 Corinthians 7:14 says:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

1 Corinthians 7:14 (ESV)

While I would like to believe that this passage says that we are saved in groups, I don’t believe it says that. It only indicates that our unbelieving family have a special priority and source of the Gospel because of us. Jesus indicates that in many cases a person’s enemies because of the Gospel will come from within their family. This is often seen in conversions from other world religions.

So, would not Heaven be diminished if not ruined by a family member who has rejected salvation? We certainly grieve them while on Earth. It would not surprise me if we would briefly grieve them in Heaven. But I expect that loss and even the memory of it to fade in the midst of the glory and love that will envelope us in Heaven.

Will our grief not be re-opened on Judgment Day? Perhaps, but we have this brief description of being in the New Earth:

The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17b (ESV)

I cannot guarantee that everyone in my family will be saved. In fact, I would bet against some who have passed. I would love to be surprised on this matter. All I can do is to be sure to share the Gospel while I can. I don’t want to feel like I left critical matters of salvation unspoken. The rest is in God’s hands.

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