Monday, July 04, 2005

New heavens (?!) and a new earth

How many times have you read the following?

For behold, I create new heavens    and a new earth,

(Is 65:17a; cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1)

I have read that verse, and those inspired by it later in the bible, many times and not once did it strike me that God saw the need to create not just a new earth but new heavens as well! John Goldingay was the one who pointed it out to me in his commentary on Isaiah.

…the problems in the heavens and on earth are two sides of a single coin. The heavens are the garrison of supernatural forces whose battling lies behind battles on earth (13:5), the heavens mirror the actions of Yahweh on earth (13:10).

(Goldingay, John Isaiah NIBCOT, p.368, Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001)

This is massively important to how we conduct our prayer life, how we gain assurance of salvation, and how we see the world now. Isaiah was writing to the people of Israel in exile, slaves to an empire, which was so massive and powerful that freedom and dignity for the people of ‘the Almighty’ seemed beyond all hope. But Isaiah, like John in Revelation to another suffering people of God, feels that what they need to do is remember that the material world is not all there is but that there is a spiritual realm where the events of the earth are determined. Some may argue that belief in the objective reality of the devil and demons is unnecessary to Christian living, but Isaiah and John appear to disagree. As Goldingay says ‘we may find it difficult to work with the mythical language of such pictures, but it is equally difficult to find another way of picturing the reality to which it refers’ (ibid).

However we need to be careful not to slip into a kind of dualism (belief in equal competing deities in heaven) as Isaiah’s portrait of war in heaven never gives the impression that any other supernatural forces can rival the God of Israel. It is necessary for the destruction of evil for there to be, or have been (I am unsure on the Holy Spirit’s teaching here, although I suspect I am meant to be), ‘war in heaven’ (Rev 12:7). But the result is sure and wonderful, because of ‘the blood of the Lamb and … the word of [the martyr’s] testimony’ (Rev 12:11; cf. Luke 10:17-20):

and the former things shall not be remembered    or come into mind. 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. 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. 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. They shall build houses and inhabit them;    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 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. 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. Before they call I will answer;    while they are yet speaking I will hear. 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. (Is 65:17b-25)

For further exploration of this theme try Isaiah 13:5; 13:10-13; 24:21; 34:2-5 (and my previous post on that passage); Rev 12:7-12; 21:1-4. All of which you can find here thanks to Bible Gateway and the publishers of the ESV.


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