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.

Marriage and the Afterlife

In my last entry, I spoke briefly about Jesus’s words in Matthew 22, where Jesus states that “in the resurrection” we will neither be married or given in marriage but will be like the angels. The true focus of that discussion with the Sadducees was that there was such a thing as the resurrection of the dead. For those of us who don’t doubt that, our focus shifts to the topic of marriage in the afterlife. So let’s concentrate on that topic.

In Romans 7, Paul confirms that marriage is a bond for our current stage of life. He says:

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.

Romans 7:2

That context makes marriage sound like something undesirable. That is not Paul’s intent. He is talking about the application of God’s Law to our salvation and uses marriage as an analogy. Obviously, people feel differently about their marriages. Some cannot imagine life without their spouse, others can’t wait for life without their spouse.

Marriage originally was conceived as a permanent and joyful union. Since Adam and Eve lived before sin and were created to never die, marriage would have been a part of our permanent condition. Sin not only altered our relationship with God, it damaged our relationship with each other, and apparently changed the plans God has for us. Marriage still remained a positive and honorable bond, but it would no longer be without challenges; nor would it remain a permanent condition.

So what does God have in mind for us, both in Heaven and in the New Earth? Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, was about “the resurrection”; specifically because the Sadducees didn’t think the resurrection of the dead was literal. It is. This may mean that our time in Heaven during the “Intermediate Period”, the time between your death and Judgment Day, is yet another arrangement. Jesus said in the resurrection we are neither married or given in marriage, but are like the angels. He did not explain what the angels are like other than to imply that they are different than us in this regard. This passage from Matthew may be informed a little by a passage in Isaiah 65. Talking about the post-resurrection world, Isaiah says:

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, and the one not living out a hundred years would be accursed.

Isaiah 65:20

This difficult passage may be only contrasting the painful realities of pre-mature death in the current age to eternal life in the next. Still, we need to possibly consider that there may be an aging cycle within eternal life, and still some form of reproduction or regeneration. The aging cycle would not be something undesirable as it is today under the curse. Possibly it could be similar to the “Immortal Jellyfish”, which is a species that goes through a maturation process only to return to the beginning of the cycle without dying.

What does this say about marriage? Nothing more than if there is reproduction or regeneration is not the same as marital, sexual reproduction.

Does this diminish our need for relationships in the afterlife? I would think not. God is a being who desires relationships, and humans were made for relationships. While our relationships in the afterlife will be different, I would expect them to be more numerous, close and trouble-free. Perhaps marriage is not in the plans for our afterlife, because of the great number of close relationships that we will have.

Considering the little information we have about marriage in the afterlife, how should it inform our marital relations now? People often project their current relationships as being unchanged by death. This comforts them. While I doubt that this is accurate, there is little need to emotionally detach from a person who has died. You may not be married anymore, but for those of us who have been given eternal life through Jesus, we will have a new and better relationship to experience. It is hard to imagine, but Scripture hints at God’s innovations that will make relationships exciting and vital for an eternity.

Won’t Eternity Be Boring?

When you hear the phrase “eternal life” does it excite you or concern you? I could understand at least one concern. Right now, with quarantine still somewhat in effect, life is a little boring. We just had a three-day weekend, and while I enjoyed sitting on my porch watching nature, it was a bit of a yawner. What will life be if it is eternal? Won’t Heaven and the New Earth become redundant at some point?

Let’s start with the experience of boredom itself. When we are bored the environment around us is failing to stimulate our minds sufficiently. We experience a loss of concentration, hormones that make us feel tired and perhaps a degree of anxiety. The biology that creates boredom is not the biology with which humans were created. We are a creation altered by sin and the curse. I definitely expect that boredom is part of the curse and once you leave your body in the grave, you will leave boredom in the grave as well.

Our new biology of a Heavenly body (1 Cor. 15:40) and then an earthly, resurrected body (1 Cor. 15:42-44) will have many differences, and with them many different emotional, spiritual and physical experiences. Can we say there will not nothing negative? Not quite. At least not until the re-creation of all things.

The one sort of negative picture we see is of Heaven in Revelation 6. The martyrs express a degree of impatience with the slow arrival of Judgment Day:

O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the Earth?

Revelation 6:10

Feelings like impatience and the desire for vengeance show that biology change alone will not remove negative feelings. They don’t say, “Hey we are bored waiting here.” That is significant because they are asked to wait, which is typically and ingredient in boredom now.

With the environment of Heaven and eventually the new Heaven and Earth be that much more stimulating? I expect so.

To experience the glory of God in a direct fashion is an experience none of us have had yet. Even those who have had a vision of it were enthralled. It was life changing.

Near Death Experiences tell of the experience of color and of music that is so heightened. If you enjoy these things now, just wait.

Social interactions are another thing that will be changed. The experience of people currently is a mixed bag of joy, frustration, anger, love and boredom. But we won’t be this blend of sin and the image of God. People will be a joy to be around:

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 65:18

Then there is exploration. We like to travel, and there is much of the world that we have not experienced. Of the 48 contiguous states, however, we have hit a lot of sights. Our bucket list for the continental United States is growing short. So, over an eternity, won’t the New Earth become a “been there, seen that” experience?

A couple of things, I would not assume to be the same. First, our interaction with nature will be greatly altered:

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

Isaiah 65:25

Won’t it be a joy to experience the wide array of God’s creatures in a friendly rather than adversarial fashion. Imagine doing it with a body that is not as limited as the one you have.

In fact, I wouldn’t assume we will be constrained to the New Earth. With a whole new universe and a whole new Heaven (the former dwelling place of God), why is the earth our only abode? Angels move freely from Heaven to Earth even now. Does the following verse suggest the same for us:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.

2 Corinthians 5:1

A biology that won’t create the experience of boredom, an experience of God that defies comparison, a body or bodies that will have expanded limits, a new relationship with nature, and a whole new universe or two full of God’s creativity all lead to confidence that we will never be bored. That is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.

We Will All Be Changed (Part 2- Physical Frailty)

When I ask kids what they would like to have changed when they enter Heaven, many choose to have more formidable physical skills.  ” I want to be better at basketball”, for instance. We are all often earth-bound in our imaginations of what a Heavenly or Resurrected body may be.  That said, Scripture does say of the Resurrected body, “It will be sown in weakness, it will be raised in power.”  What kind of power might this include?

Greater speed, strength, impermeable to damage or illness; I expect “yes” to all of them.  Greater beauty, shorter recovery time, more intelligent?  Sure, why not?  According to Genesis people were living for hundreds of years prior to Noah’s flood.  Is this merely mythic?  I see no reason to say so.  There is a branch of science that studies the genome looking for ways to extend human life expectancy.  It is believed that there is a built-in clock within our DNA, and I agree.  In Genesis 6, God seems to adjust that clock so that human life expectancy will slide back to 120 years.  It eventually does so, and remains so to this day.  Can God give us a different genetic code or even use a different means of encoding the construction of our bodies?  I’m sure it is not even hard for Him.  God is able to make us physically immortal. “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 15:42).

I expect our brains will be a vast improvement over current models.  Many people ask if we will recognize each other.  I expect that you will not only recognize those you knew, but you will also know those you never met.  On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John knew Moses and Elijah.  They had the gift.  It was not introductions or name tags. I expect we will be capable of vast learning without the frailties and maladaptions of our current brain.

Will there be pain, hunger, thirst, nausea, itching or other unpleasantries.  “No” says Revelation 7 for the Heavenly body and Revelation 21 for the Resurrected body.  Could there be any injury, or will we be like the Terminator?  This is hard to say.  There will be no mortal injury, but there might be a need for healing and the source will be quickly provided.  The Tree of Life exists at least in the New Earth, and I expect also in Heaven.  It is for the “healing of the nations”.

Will we age?  Aging as it currently plays out is part of dying.  It is the wages of sin.  We will not get old and frail or lose our beauty, but there might be a life cycle.  Isaiah 65:17 and following is a strange passage that says it is about the New Earth.  In verse 20 it speaks about infants and old men.  This passage needs to be understood in light of other passages that say that we are eternal.  So how can you be an infant or old man; or is this just a figure of speech?  The “Immortal Jellyfish” might give us a model.  This species goes through stages like a frog or a butterfly, but it can revert from its “mature” stage back to its initial larval stage without dying.  The Isaiah passage would be referring to the Resurrected body.  Perhaps we go from infant to adulthood and back to infancy.  Who knows?  Eventually, we will.

The New Earth in Isaiah

The New Earth appears in several passages in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments.  One of the weirdest, and hardest to reconcile with the rest of scripture, is found in Isaiah 65:17-25.  I will emphasize that this is my take on this difficult passage and I have more questions than answers.  Prophecy is often purposely unclear.  Some aspects are meant only to be understood when either hindsight or the Holy Spirit unlocks its true meaning.  For prophecies in Isaiah, the mode in which he received them could be a part of the issue.  Isaiah’s prophecies read like verbal descriptions of visions.  Visions that were presented almost like Powerpoint presentations.  What I mean is that one “slide” could be the present, the next Jesus’ first coming, the last Judgment Day; and there is no sense of elapsed time.  Hindsight shows you that there is elapsed time.

With respect to Isaiah 65, Isaiah may be interpreting the vision in terms he and his immediate readers would understand.  We need the rest of scripture to give us “hindsight” into how to understand some the things that he writes.

The section starts with great clarity as to what it is about:

Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth.

This passage is not about Heaven.  It is not about a “millennium”.  It is about a to be created new universe with a new earth.

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

This may make you a little sad.  I don’t think this means that we will forget about our relationships nor that the good God worked through us and for us will be forgotten.  Rather the pain and difficulty inherent in our present time will become a memory that fades away.

But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

These words stand for themselves, but the next part is where it gets weird.

Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.

For people who probably had a life expectancy of 45 years, this might seem like quite an upgrade, but God has promised us “eternal” life.  Verses about eternal life have to inform our understanding here.  Will there be infants and old men?  Living and dying?  Being accursed?  Sin and the wages of sin, should be eliminated with the death of our bodies and the removal of Satan’s kingdom from the system.  No other passage in scripture would lend support to aging, dying, or being accursed.  For this reason, I would have to consider this a literary device, or an interpretation of what Isaiah sees, to make a point–things will be changed for the good.

No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.  For as the days of a tree, so will the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.  They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they are their descendants with them.  

Surely they understood that trees die.  But in comparison it must have seemed that certain species lived forever.  A question raised here is whether the reference to children and descendants are also a literary devices.  Maybe.  With resurrected bodies, it is possible that the new earth might include procreation.  A passage in Matthew tells us that “in the resurrection” which means “in the new earth”, that we will be like angels neither married or given in marriage.  Some take the leap to suggest that means we must be asexual in the new earth, but to be honest I don’t know what the angels are like.  If the new earth is a return to Eden in a way, I would have to assume that Adam and Eve were going to procreate with or without the fall into sin.  I think this topic remains a mystery for now.

Before they call I will answer, while they are speaking I will hear.

Like the Garden of Eden, God is there in visible form.  He will live with us.

The wolf and lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food.  They will not harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Some people want to read this metaphorically.  I think it is probably quite straight forward.  God’s plan is to redeem creation, not just people.  While there is no reference to nature in Heaven, there is a reference here.  Also like the Garden of Eden it is a death-free system without predators.  A place of beauty and of peace.  Could our pets be a part of this “nature”?  We will see.

 

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