READ : Isaiah 65:17-24
If life has you down right now, here’s a suggestion: read ahead in God’s book to the end of the story and see how it all turns out for those who love him.
I have a confession to make. I love to read popular fiction — spy novels, techno-military thrillers, murder mysteries, that sort of thing. I realize that these books are to literature what junk food is to fine cuisine, but I really can’t help myself — they’re just so entertaining.
I also have a further confession to make though. When I’m reading one of those exciting novels, I sometimes cheat. As the drama approaches its climax and the suspense becomes more and more unbearable I’ll occasionally skip ahead to read the end of the story. You know how it is with those thrillers. The hero is caught in some impossible trap with absolutely no way out, or our country has been dealt a devastating blow and seems destined to be defeated. The situation appears to be hopeless. So if I find myself becoming too anxious or depressed over how the plot is unfolding, I’ll just turn ahead to the end of the story to find out how the good guys turn defeat into victory. They always do in the end.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do that in real life? When we find ourselves caught in the middle of nightmarish circumstances or trapped in some tragedy with no way out, if only we could fast forward to a happy ending! But unfortunately we can’t. Life simply has to be lived through. There’s no way to bypass the pain or skip ahead instantly to better times.
Having said that, though, there is one thing that as Christians we can do. We can read ahead to the end of the book. Whatever may be the twists and turns of our individual plot lines, we do know how the larger story turns out. We know the way the world and its history are going to end. We know who holds the future, as the song says.
Our Christian hope is that at the consummation of all things with the return of Jesus Christ in glory, not just us but the entire universe will be transformed and will experience the blessings of redemption. The suffering and futility of life in the old sin-spoiled creation will be replaced by the joy of a perfect new heaven and earth. The final chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy point us toward the glory of this new Creation.
“Behold, I Make All Things New”
Isaiah begins in chapter 65 with the Lord’s promise that at the end of time and the close of this age, he will create new heavens and a new earth. This new creation is described in this chapter, perhaps more wonderfully than anywhere else in the Bible. It’s really one of the most beautiful and evocative passages in all of scripture. Listen:
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, 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. . . . 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 . . . . 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.
God’s promises here in Isaiah 65 are reechoed at times almost verbatim in the closing chapters of the Bible, where the apostle John sees the new heaven and the new earth in his final series of visions (Revelation 20:1ff.). God himself declares from the throne, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 20:5).
That’s all well and good but how are we to imagine this new universe? What sort of world will it be when wolves and lambs graze peacefully together, and lions feast with cattle instead of upon them? Perhaps the universe will be completely destroyed and then remade — from scratch, so to speak. The Bible does say that on the last day “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done in it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).
But I think such apocalyptic language means that the whole created order will undergo a sort of renewal or transformation. In biblical imagery, fire can purge or cleanse as well as destroy. The new creation, we learn from scripture, will be a continuation of the old heaven and earth, but with the universe transformed, redeemed, made perfect.
The same will be true on a personal level. Our resurrection bodies will somehow be continuous with our old mortal bodies, but gloriously changed. Though we can’t begin to imagine how all this will happen, we may be sure that in some magnificent way the hope that the Bible holds out for the whole physical creation (see Romans 8:18-21) will be realized when Jesus Christ comes again in glory.
This new creation is brought about through exactly the same means as the old one: by the power of the word of God. “Behold,” God says, “I create new heavens and a new earth.” This process of re-creation began at Easter with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and it continues within us. As scripture says, “If anyone is in Christ, he’s a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But God’s new creation will reach its climax only at the end of the age. Notice that the eternal future we look forward to is very much a physical one, both as the book of Revelation describes it in the New Testament and in Isaiah’s marvelous visions here in the Old Testament. All those popular images of eternal life as sprouting angels’ wings and floating up around on the clouds in a vague sort of spiritual existence are symptomatic of our culture’s abysmal ignorance of scripture. Our true future as believers is that we will live forever, with real bodies, on a real earth that is part of a real universe — all of it, in fact, more (not less) real than the life and world we presently experience.
In the great vision of Isaiah 65, the life of the world to come is described as life on earth, very much like our lives now — but with all the tragedies and mishaps and sorrows removed once and for all.
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. (vv. 21-23)
The new creation is going to be life in a world made perfect, a world that’s joyful and glorious beyond our wildest dreams and expectations. Much of what we’re told about it is what is not there: no stillborn infants, no tragic deaths, no sound of weeping or cries of distress (vv. 19-20; cf. Revelation 21:4). The new Creation means life without pain, misery, frustration, or loss. But among all the blessings of happiness and peace, the greatest joy of the life of this kingdom will be that God himself will be with us. We will live eternally in the presence of Life himself.
“Eye Has Not Seen . . .”
What can we say in response to this great vision? Let me briefly summarize what the Bible teaches us about our future in Christ and the world to come.
We’re told at least three wonderful things about that world. First, in it suffering will be replaced with glory. In fact, the Bible says that whatever suffering we experience now isn’t worth comparing with the glory that will be then. Paul told the Corinthians that this slight momentary affliction (by which he meant all the pain that life can hold) is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure (2 Corinthians 4:17). So suffering is temporary, but glory is forever; suffering is insubstantial, glory is solid and massive. They just don’t compare.
Second, in the coming world futility will give way to freedom. The creation itself is going to be set free, says the apostle Paul, “from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). What that will actually be like, I can’t begin to imagine. The Bible uses words like “imperishable” and “unfading” (1 Peter 1:4) to describe the world that’s coming. It says that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, niv). Whatever it will be like, this glorious liberty of the creation will mean the end of all the things that frustrate us and spoil our happiness here and now. There will be no loss. There will be no more goodbys.
The third thing we learn about the world to come is that there our salvation will be fully and finally completed. In a sense, we’re only half-saved now. If you are a Christian, one day your physical nature is going to be renewed just as surely as your spiritual nature has been. These bodies of ours, weak and frail, aging, prone to accident and sickness, still given to sin, subject finally to death, will be transformed and glorified along with the rest of creation. I sometimes try to picture how it’s going to be: beauty that never fades, strength that never diminishes, blooms that never wither, bodies that never die, but I’m at a loss. Nevertheless that is what’s coming for those who love God.
For now, remember this: we are saved in hope. Sometimes we forget that and think we can have it all now, but we can’t. Salvation is always going to be something to look forward to and to wait for patiently, until the final day when God makes all things new. But don’t forget to hope, either. The day is coming. Nothing can stop it. If you know Christ, this is what’s ahead for you.