By Christina M Wilson
New Heaven/New Earth: Isaiah 65:17-25
The passage concerning the new heaven and new earth described in Septuagint Isaiah 65:17-25 fits squarely into cycle three of the second volume of Isaiah. Readers may recall that the elements defining a “cycle” are: 1) Israel’s need, 2) the Servant’s coming and sacrifice, 3) results for God’s believing people and believing Gentiles, and 4) statements of God’s judgment upon those who willfully and persistently disobey (see Devotional 2.86). Each of the cycles is complete in itself. Because chapter 66 opens with God speaking in a tone of displeasure toward false worshipers (verses 1-4), readers can deduce that this begins a new cycle (1).
A New People
In summary, Septuagint Isaiah 65:17-25 represents an idealized vision of the spiritual qualities of the “new” people of God, i.e., the church. Verses 65:1-16 makes this point clear. The composition of Israel changes with God’s rejection of those who have “left” him (verses 2-7 and 11-15). First, God manifests himself to the Gentiles (Isaiah 65:1). Then, he rejects those who have consistently rejected him (Isaiah 2-7, 11-15). Finally, he spares the faithful remnant of Israel, that is, those who believe and follow (Isaiah 65:8-10, 13-16). Just as the judgment upon the disinterestedly unfaithful is final (Isaiah 65:15), the blessing upon God’s servants is final (Isaiah 65:16). God gives this group–believing Israelites and believing Gentiles–a “new name” (Isaiah 65:15). (See also the Septuagint for these verses. They really “pop.”)
Not the “Millennium”
Descriptions of the “millennium” invariably make much of a revived nation of Israel. But, Septuagint Isaiah 65:17-25 does not describe that illusive “millennium.” This is for the simple reason that Gentiles are not national Israel. Rather, they are “a nation, who called not on my name” (Septuagint Isaiah 65:1; Isaiah 65:1). And, as equally important, the remnant–“a grape-stone… found in the cluster” (verse 8)—is too small to represent the entirety of the political nation of Israel. The combination of Gentiles who respond to the Lord’s call and the believing remnant of Israel constitutes the “new” Israel, which shall be given a “new name.” Clearly, for those who are willing to receive the teaching of Isaiah, the old order of concrete (physical) worship with its national boundaries is passing away. A new order of spiritual relationship with God is beginning.
The teachings of Jesus Christ, God’s very singular Servant, and the teachings of the apostle Paul and the writer to the Hebrews align perfectly with the consistent and persistent teachings of Isaiah (see John 4:21-24 in its entire context, Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 9-11, Galatians 3:2-3, 14 in context of the entire letter, Hebrews 8:13 in the context of Hebrews 9, and Acts 2:1-21, 38-39; Acts 10:44-45, and Acts 19:1-6). Isaiah’s prophecy in a nutshell concerns the changing of the guard. In former times (Old Testament times), God made Israel the guardian of his word. In these times (New Testament times, beginning with the advent of Christ), God makes his own Holy Spirit the guardian of his word. Septuagint Isaiah 65:17-25 describes life in the new order. In Old Testament times of the old order, God dealt with the nation of Israel. In New Testament times–the age we are in right now, God deals with his chosen from the whole world, that is, everyone who believes in God’s Servant, who is the Christ, God’s Son, the King.
A New Heaven and a New Earth
Because of the astounding nature of the changes Isaiah envisions, he stretches his vocabulary to describe “a new heaven and a new earth” (Septuagint Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 65:17) (2). Because Isaiah uses no time markers to indicate specifics, it is appropriate to receive the sense and purpose of the passage without undue speculation that imports into the passage conclusions garnered from elsewhere, including a patchwork of Scripture taken out of context from other places. Suffice it to say that Isaiah describes an ideal community of people in relationship with God, the Servant, and the Spirit. The passage describes how the new heaven (singular in the Septuagint) and new earth change everything.
Isaiah indicates that the changes will be permanent, just as God’s rejection of those who reject him is permanent. Isaiah presents no possibility of a national repentance that involves political boundaries. Isaiah left those chapters behind. After centuries and centuries of rebuffed opportunities to embrace God’s mercy and warnings, the last times have arrived. The spiritual replaces the concrete. Believers will be garnered from the whole world, even though God preserves the root and the seed that will grow and become his new olive tree (Romans 11:16-17). In a few short centuries, the Servant will be born, sins will be blotted out by the Servant’s sacrifice on the cross, and the Holy Spirit will be given. Isaiah’s words speak finality.
17 For there shall be a new heaven and a new earth: and they shall not at all remember the former, neither shall they at all come into their mind. (Septuagint Isaiah 65:17)
The new heaven and new earth include all ethnicities of people, just as in parallel, all manner of animals live in peace together (Isaiah 65:24-25). Likewise, all God’s many and varied children will live in his peace together. And, praise God, as Paul seems to suggest in Romans 11, if the bulk of ethnic Israelites repent and turn back to him, they, too, will be grafted once more into their own olive tree (Romans 11:23). But notice, the olive tree which Paul describes now includes great numbers of Gentiles. While the old age was exclusive, the new age is inclusive. “I became manifest to them that asked not for me; I was found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold, I am here, to a nation, who called not on my name… For there shall be a new heaven and a new earth: and they shall not at all remember the former, neither shall they at all come into their mind” (Septuagint Isaiah 65:1, 17).
…moving on… next time, Lord willing, we will move on to the final cycle and the final chapter, chapter 66
1 Earlier in Post 2.86, I had written that volume 2 contains three cycles. Having completed the intervening chapters in detail, I now see that there are four.
2 See Paul’s description of the use of “regular” words to describe spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2:13).