Monday, January 2, 2017

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 181

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 181

We concluded yesterday with the Lord saying, "For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes," and today we find out the reason why, "See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind." (Isaiah 65:17) The troubles of the past and the former things are hidden from the Lord's eyes because they are gone. In the day Isaiah envisions, Christ has made new creatures out of man, and new creatures belong in a new creation. The Lord cast our sins behind His back, never to be brought up again, when we repented and came to Christ, and He is going to cast the old order of things behind His back someday as well. The gospel of Christ changed the world by changing the hearts of men and women. He will also change the natural world, making all things new.

"But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in My people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more." (Isaiah 65:18-19) In Isaiah's day the Lord was not able to take delight in His people. Because of their idolatry, within a century He would allow Jerusalem to fall to Babylon, with the citizens of Judah taken captive to a foreign land for a period of seventy years. But as we have been studying for the past week, a day is coming in which she who was known as Desolate and Deserted will become God's crown jewel and a diadem in His hand. 

There will be no more weeping and crying because the creatures and the creation have been changed. The next verse has been controversial among Bible scholars because it appears to indicate death will still plague mankind for a season. Some believe it refers to the period of time known as the millennium, when Christ reigns for a thousand years and Satan is imprisoned for the same length of time. During the millennium, these scholars say, lifespans will once again be long like they were in the days of the patriarchs. If this opinion is accurate, we must take verse 20 literally and assume people will still meet death during the millennium. Other scholars believe verse 20 refers to the eternal kingdom age and should be taken symbolically, because when comparing this passage with what Isaiah said of this time period in Chapter 25, he predicted that the glorious restoration of Jerusalem would also bring about this new condition, "On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever." (Isaiah 25:7) The scholars who believe we are looking at the eternal age in verse 20 link it with Revelation 21:4, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 

So let's go ahead and take a look at verse 20. God says of His holy city, "Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed." (Isaiah 65:20) Long life in Old Testament times was considered a great blessing of God and an indication that the person was walking in the Lord's ways. The reward for godly living was long life and prosperity, the type of prosperity that will be described in the remainder of Chapter 65. So if we assume this portion of Scripture is meant to symbolize eternal life, we can conclude that in his Old Testament way of thinking, Isaiah understood eternal life as a reward for the righteous living that would be present in the eternal age. However, the scholars who take the literal route believe that during the millennium, when Satan is imprisoned and mankind is not tempted to sin, children will still be born and people will still grow old and eventually die, though this will be at the advanced ages we found in the patriarchs in Genesis. In this view, unending life is not present until after the Great White Throne Judgment, when all the Lord's enemies are vanquished and Satan is cast into the lake of fire forever. At this point eternity begins and with it neverending life for those faithful to the Lord. 

There are very good arguments for and against both opinions and I don't know the answer. If the greatest theological minds throughout history have not been able to agree on this passage, then certainly somebody like me is not going to come up with a definite conclusion. If the word "death" here is meant to be taken literally, then I agree it must refer to the millennium when all the tribes of Israel are regathered to the nation under Christ the King and Satan is bound for a season. But if the word "death" is meant to be taken symbolically, then it must refer to the eternal age following the millennium in which death does not actually exist and the neverending lives of God's faithful ones are the reward of having followed the One who now reigns forever as Lord and King. Beyond that, I can't render an opinion either way.

Isaiah foresees a complete reversal of fortune for his people. As we know, Jerusalem has been invaded time and time again. The city and the temple have been razed to the ground on several occasions. That one piece of land has been fought over, and is still being fought over, ever since the first child of Israel set foot in the promised land. But when the day comes that the people become those whom the Lord can take delight in, "They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of My people; My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them." (Isaiah 65:21-23) This verse, in my opinion, lends credence to the interpretation that Isaiah is speaking of the millennial period. But even so, we can't be certain that in his Old Testament theology he isn't viewing this material prosperity as simply the reward of godly living. Isaiah foresees his people possessing the land for a time period he cannot fully take in and so he compares the longevity of their possession to the longevity of ancient trees. There are trees on the earth right now that scientists believe are already 5,000 to 9,000 years old, and Isaiah may have had eternity in mind when he compared his people and their possession of the land to the long age of an uncut tree. 

One thing we can be sure of is that the people will be walking so closely with their God that He is able to make them this promise, "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear." (Isaiah 65:24) The relationship between the people and the Lord will be so tightly woven that prayer, as we know it in our day, will be transformed into something completely new and different. In today's world we most often come to the Lord in prayer to ask Him to meet needs or solve problems or turn bad situations around. But the world Isaiah pictures is quite different. When the Lord reigns He will supply needs before they even occur. The One who spoke the universe into existence and holds all things together by His powerful word is going to sustain all believers forever. Prayer will become an act of worship and praise, a way to connect deeply with God, because mankind will no longer have desperate circumstances or reasons to plead with Him for help. Everything needed will already be here and prayers will no longer be supplication for assistance, but an offering of praise. 

In our study we have seen God make new creatures of mankind and a new creation for mankind to inhabit. He is also going to redeem the animal kingdom, "'The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy in all My holy mountain,' says the Lord." (Isaiah 65:25) Man used to prey upon his fellow man, but no longer. Man used to prey upon the animals, but no longer. Animals used to prey upon each other, but no longer. No wonder there will be no more tears when Christ reigns forever! Nothing will ever harm or destroy! We won't ever turn on the news to hear of a terrorist attack or of a murder or see terrible pictures of cruelty and neglect perpetrated against children or animals. No wonder the Lord Jesus taught the disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come." This should be our prayer every day. Thy kingdom come, Lord! May the day when all will become new come soon!

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