Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Isaiah's “New Heavens and a New Earth”


     Are the “new heavens and a new earth” of Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 the same as the “new heavens and a new earth” in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1? No. A major problem among many interpreters of OT prophecies is the failure to consider the immediate historical context, the common use of symbolism, the subsequent dispensation in God’s overall scheme, and NT information showing the fulfillment of these prophecies.
     Isaiah’s prophetic ministry covered the period between 740 and 698 BC, during which time Assyria rose to power and conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel. While much of Isaiah’s message warned of impending doom, particularly against Judah and Jerusalem, it was also a message of hope including a number of messianic prophecies (2:2-4; 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-16; 42:1f f.; 53:1 ff.; et al.). All of these prophecies were fulfilled over 1900 years ago when Christ came to earth, suffered on Golgotha, and set up his spiritual kingdom (the church).
    The expression “new heavens and a new earth” was a figure Isaiah employed to symbolize the new spiritual and moral arrangement to be set up by the Messiah some 700 years after these words were penned. Paul writes concerning this new order: “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth — in Him” (Eph. 1:10 NKVJ). Again he writes: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Isaiah foretold that this new spiritual arrangement would center on “Jerusalem” (65:18-19; cf. 2:3). Not only did the church begin in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47), but the church is figuratively described as “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-23). Other symbols Isaiah used illustrated that one’s spiritual stature, in this new system, would no longer be assessed by length of days (cf. Matt. 11:11; 18:1-6; 20:1-16), and there would be spiritual security under God’s providence (Isa. 65: 20-24). While many are tempted to take Isa. 65:25 literally and envision animals among the inhabitants of God’s kingdom, remember that the same symbolism is used in 11:6-9 in a context which clearly portrays the initial coming of the Lord (cf. 11:1, 10; Rom. 15:12). The idea conveyed is that under the Messiah’s reign the “animal nature” of man is to be transformed (Rom. 8:5-10; 2 Cor. 5:17) and one-time enemies will be at peace (Eph. 2:13-17).
     To remove these prophecies from their historical context and attempt to directly apply them to a time yet in the future is to completely skip over the wonderful workings of God in the 1st century AD as he set up the new spiritual arrangement under Christ. Peter and John, living in this new Christian system as citizens of God’s spiritual kingdom (Matt. 16:19; Rev. 1:9), simply borrowed the figures used by Isaiah to symbolically describe the next arrangement in God’s scheme (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1), namely the future heavenly realm [see previous post <Link>].
--Kevin L. Moore

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Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8b/Crop_Book_of_Isaiah_2006-06-06.jpg/1280px-Crop_Book_of_Isaiah_2006-06-06.jpg

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