‘NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH!’

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Some years ago I re-encountered Is. 65 and v. 17-25 in particular. Then Melanie and I read it a week or two ago and discussed it briefly. On ‘Global Earth Day’ (22 April) I was reminded of celebrating and re-committing to our environment. The outcome? Digging a little deeper into the passage, a picture of God’s ‘new heavens and earth.’ For some background on Isaiah, see footnote [1].

First, some general observations. Like many ‘evangelical Christians’ of yesteryear I grew up with the idea of our earth not mattering very much because the main focus was on getting as many people as possible on board the ‘glory-bound train’ to the sky. Since then I’ve come to see things a tad differently: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the oceans… Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter…’ (David Song, Ps. 24). The whole universe is God’s temple and dwelling place (Is. 66; Acts 7:44ff). Sociologist Tony Campolo sums it up, ‘If you think that being religious, being Christian, being spiritual is getting ready for the next world, you’ve misread the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come here to get you ready for the next world; he came into this world to transform you into the people through whom he could do his work in this world!’ N.T. Wright highlights the necessity of getting ‘the big picture/grand narrative’ of the Bible viz. God’s ‘covenant purpose’ for his people: when Israel failed to be a ‘light to the nations’ he raised up the faithful Israelite, Jesus, and ‘the Israel of God!’ (Gal. 6:16: comprising faithful Jews and Gentiles, cf. Heb. 8; 1 Pet. 2:9ff; etc). The Church’s chief calling today is to fulfill God’s ‘covenant purpose’ in Christ in the whole earth. It’s NOT about our individualistic destiny (a-la-pop psychology preachers) but Christ’s and ours ‘in him.’ When we fail to fulfill that holy calling, it’s like a genius violin-maker entrusting a perfectly crafted violin to a violinist, only to have him/her use it as a tennis racquet! (Wright)

  • Talking about the grand narrative, the God of the Bible is one who constantly ‘comes down‘ to mankind rather than catching up a select few into some Gnostic spiritual stratosphere now or in the future. Think of God’s ancient communication in creation, with stubborn Israel, and supremely via his Son the Lord of the cosmos! (Jn. 1:1-18; Rom. 1:18ff, 8:18ff; Col 1:15ff; Heb. 1:1-4)
  • The Bible focuses on God’s kingdom on earth: for millenia we have prayed, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…’ (Mt. 6:9ff/NIV). Surely this has huge implications for our present and future as Christ-followers.
  • The ‘salvation story’ begins in a garden, i.e. Eden’s garden cathedral (Gen. 1-2) wherein we reign as priest-kings over all creation. It concludes with a magnificent garden-city coming down from heaven and fed by the abundant river of life (Rev. 21 & 22). The ‘new Adam,’ the ‘gardener-Jesus,’ the one who agonized in a garden, was buried in a garden, died on a tree, rose and was mistaken for a gardener, still tends his garden in the world and continues his garden-project in/through us! (Jn. 15:1-17). In this garden, we feed, not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (legalism) but the tree of life (grace) (Bonhoeffer).
  • Jurgen Moltmann has said, “Jesus healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly ‘natural’ things in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded.” Someone added, This is not limited to healing. The presence of the kingdom of God is the natural world He created and is restoring through Jesus,’ i.e. healing, life, forgiveness, love, generosity, joy, hospitality, peace, conservation, patience, et al.’ Yahweh’s ancient promise to Israel is at work, this peace which has already broken into our world means that power and brutality are not the last word! Christ is. What is our role in all this? ‘God will recruit as necessary from the human cast in order to reorder human history’ (Brueggemann). All those ‘in Christ,’ as God’s new creation (2 Cor. 15:7), are empowered by an indwelling Saviour to transform that broken world into one that reflects his proper glory! (cf. Jesus’ ‘New Creation Mandate’ to his followers in Jn. 20:19-23).

Second, it’s important to grasp the biblical context of Is. 65:17ff:

  • Isaiah particularly depicts God as the one who does new things’ [2]. Here specifically Isaiah refers to what Yahweh is going to do for the exiles in Babylon by returning them to Israel. He chooses to create a new Jerusalem/new community, whose inhabitants will be faithful. In 65:17ff the prophet sets out, in extravagant language (not totally exclusive of a literal element??) conditions in ‘the new heavens and earth:’ no more weeping, long life, shalom/prosperity, abiding peace…
  • The prophet reveals One who has always offered relationship to his ‘chosen/my servants,’ via their faithful response to his kindly ‘hesed’/’steadfast love.’ Now Yahweh is saying, I was available to my people, I was rejected and I shall create ‘a new heavens and earth’ for those who are faithful, i.e. Israelites and all nations that look to him. Israel can no longer assume they are the ‘chosen people.’ New criteria have been put into place encompassing humble Israelites and foreigners who tremble at his word.
  • It must have been very difficult for Israel to envisage the peace of v. 17ff in their context of exile. God’s vision is so big!
  • Within the Christian context, we believe that Messiah is doing ‘a brand-new thing’ via his kingdom in the earth, ‘as it is in heaven.’ [3]

Now I’m going to let my imagination run wild… don’t we need a bit of lock down fun?? Please glance at v. 17ff again…

  • The prophet Zechariah (9:9) speaks of the Messiah coming to deliver his people, riding on a donkey, and ‘so waar’ (Afrikaans, ‘truly’) he does just that. God is full of surprises, one just can’t put him in a hermeneutical box! ‘What if’ we recognize each other in God’s new heaven and earth? (Jesus rose and was recognized in a trans-physical body). Even our wives? Lol, the NT may speak of no marriages in heaven, but what about those already married? (Mt. 22:29-30). Bear with me…what if we recognize our pets in heaven (after all, the lion lies down with the lamb)? I’ve often wondered about that, recalling my beloved miniature dachsie, Lulu, who helped me through my Master’s dissertation by frequent visits while busy on my computer. What about those of our family and friends who have died in the Lord? We’re surely all longing to see beloved ones who ‘fell asleep in Jesus,’ I am! Reminds me of the old hymn, God Be With You Till We Meet Again’ (can’t sing that without a tear or two) [attached below]. My wife and I were watching the story of the South African missionary family, the Korkie’s. Pierre, about to be released with the help of South Africa Muslim negotiators, was murdered in Yemen by radicals following an American military intervention gone wrong – it was heartbreaking to watch the mourning family back home, yet expressing the hope of reunion with their beloved son, husband and father. On another tack, I was summoned recently to the bedside of a saintly woman, deep into her 90’s, one of our most faithful members in our last pastorate. She had always loved her flower-gardens. We talked about them. I suggested that she’d be very busy very soon. She smiled. We prayed. Two weeks she died smiling – she was with Jesus in paradise.
  • And I’m just wondering about those other beautiful metaphors in Is. 65:57ff: comfort for the elderly, happiness and joy for all, no more weeping, no more forced removals (I’m thinking of our house church poor in our city slum and township areas), etc. Add to this: the well-being of children, employment and work-enjoyment, answered prayer, harmony between mankind and the animal world, etc! This is encouraging stuff, particular amid the many hardships we all face in our daily kingdom-service for Christ: ‘How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless!’ (1 Cor. 15:57-58/NLT). I’m thinking of our faithful sent-ones, taking the Good News to Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and the poor of our world, often working under the radar – unnoticed by humankind but not by our loving Father!

Do enjoy the photo and song clips below… I found them picturesque, poignant and powerful. I wonder if the prophet would have enjoyed them? I hope so, wink!

Born Again as a New Creation | JesusOnline.com

The Lion And The Lamb Art Print by Jennifer Page

 

 

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] It’s difficult to date Isaiah accurately, there are divergent views. Those who accept the unity of the Book would probably date it about 740ff BC, the promoters of multiple authors, much later. The first part of ch. 65 repeats Isaiah’s beloved ‘Salvation and Judgment’ theme, followed in v. 17ff by his vision of a ‘new heaven and earth.’

[2] See David Bolton’s latest blogs (under ‘Christ-Centered Christianity), ‘When God Does A New Thing,’ Pt. 2 and 3, awaiting Pt. 4. He writes of ‘The ‘God of Eternal Newness.’

[3] Many, including me, grieve the tragic ‘ambushing’ of the Western Church by the late 19th and 20th century dispensationalists, J.N. Darby, C.I. Schofield, Tim La Haye, et al. Their ‘rapture theory’ remains just that, a theory, based imho on shallow biblical exegesis. And how that error has truncated the Church’s mission in Christ’s ‘new heaven and earth’ at this historic time.

2 thoughts on “‘NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH!’

  1. Hi Erroll, on my walk today I was meditating on how God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, how He intended and desired always (as we read re the Israelites in the OT and now with us through Christ) to dwell amongst us. To be ‘here’. What a glorious reality. I realised this is what He made earth for, a place where He could do just that. The new earth will be glorious, as this one was intended. My ponderings were inspired by one of T.Austin’s teaching messages that has just come out on Open Windows called Let The House Be Builded. If you don’t already subscribe to these and you’d like me to forward it to you I’d be happy to. It’s very rich. God bless you and Melanie. Donna

  2. Thanks, Donnalee. May I take you up on your offer? When you have a moment… I’ve always enjoyed T. Austin Sparks, a man ahead of his times and uncanny insight.

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