Isaiah (Part 84): God’s Response: Condemnation and Restoration - Part 3 (Ch 65-66)
Finishing the discussion of Isaiah’s ending chiasm—
E – God’s people are restored (65:17 - 66:2a)
The chiasm’s central point is the glory of the restoration. The first thing we notice in this passage is that God declares creation of a new heaven and a new earth. Verses 17 through 19 parallel much of what we se in Revelation 21:1-4. In Revelation 21:1, John sees the new heaven and new earth. In Isaiah 65:17 we learned that past events will be forgotten, and that corresponds to Rev 21:1b and 4b. In Isaiah 65:18-19 we read of God creating a Jerusalem of joy in which the sound of weeping and crying will no longer be heard. In Rev 21:2 we see this new Jerusalem coming from heaven, and in verse 4, we read that every tear will be wiped away.
The parallel is undeniable. Revelation 21 reveals this new heaven, new earth, new Jerusalem state of no sorrow and no death (v4) as appearing after Christ has returned and after the final judgment. It is indeed at this time that God’s people realize their ultimate hope—the fulfillment of God’s Zion purpose—to be restored in full, everlasting covenant love relationship with their God. Therefore, as we read the verses that follow Isaiah 65:17-19 in this section, we have to maintain a tight hold on this full restoration context. We are not in an earthly kingdom reign of Christ on this still unresurrected earth where sin will still crop up and sorrow and death may still have some sway. We are not in an era of this age in which the world is mostly Christianized still awaiting the return of Christ. In the parallel of Isaiah 65:17-19 with Revelation 21:1-4, we recognize a time when Christ has come, when evil is eradicated, when hope is realized, when relationship is complete. With that understanding, we can approach the next few verses without getting hopelessly tangled.
It is, in fact, the very next verse that will attempt to throw us for a loop. Verse 20 begins by telling us that no longer will an infant live only a few days. (Okay, no difficulties yet. This statement seems to go along perfectly with our scene. Death is no more (Rev 21:4)). The next clause also presents no substantive problem (although something starts to scratch somewhere just below the surface). In the second clause we read that an old man will no longer not live out his days. Again that reinforces the idea that death will not interfere. Well…sort of. Even the old man living out his days seems to imply an end to them. And looking back to the first clause again, even the infant who will not die after a few days, seems to have no guarantee of life if he/she gets past those few.
But the real problem comes in the second half of the verse. There the youth may live to 100 years, but still we read that the youth dies. The one who misses (or doesn’t make it to) 100 years also dies. Not only that, that second person is cursed. Cursed during a time when evil is eradicated?? This all doesn’t seem to make much sense.
The premillennialist simply smiles and offers an in-between stage. Christ has returned, set up an earthly kingdom, and reigns in peace, joy, and safety while evil is still present although suppressed…for a while. Of course, this in-between stage has its own problems. Even if the one who dies at 100 is considered a youth, how will his/her death not sadden anyone? Will no tears be shed? (Remember Rev 21:4 says God has wiped away the tears.) Even for the saved of our age, we shed tears at their passing. And why will there be people recognized to be cursed in this era of peace, joy, and safety? Is the so-called kingdom age really no different from our current age of cursed people? And why is there death during this kingdom age if Rev 21:4 says death is removed? And why is there sin and death if we have already ushered in the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem (Is 65:17; Rev 21:1)? The problems for the postmillennialist are almost the same as for the premillennialist. We can’t have a time of new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem without sorrow, sin, and death, while at the same time having people being cursed and dying. What indeed is really going on?
The only way to understand Isaiah 65:20 in conjunction with Isaiah 65:17-19 is to understand it figuratively. By insisting on a literal explanation, you will have to either ignore or deny surrounding and related passages. All six verses from 65:20-25 describe events of this life—our current existence of that with which we are familiar—highlighting those aspects that are joyful or at peace. We joy at a child brought into the world. We joy as the child grows without sickness or death. We joy at long life; we call those people blessed. We joy in securing our homes and having a stable livelihood. Having food to eat, a place to live, and seeing our children grow are the blessings of life that we glory in. Additionally, peace and safety from violence and attack is also a blessing of life symbolized in the wolf and lamb who graze together without violent intent. Imagining a life of blessing—peace, safety, joy—is the hope that we will have in our eternal relationship with God. That restoration will be all about peace, safety, and joy. The passage does not describe literal scenes, but rather it relates to us expressions of peace, safety, and joy so as to know how blessed will be life with God. As verse 25 says at the end, “They will not do what is evil or destroy on My entire holy mountain.”
God ends the passage with a declaration about himself in which we can take comfort. God is no local deity that depends on us for his peace, safety, and joy. We can’t provide for him. But he does provide for us. He is the Caregiver, Provider, Father. He made us. He made all there is. For eternal provision, we may rest securely with faith and hope in our everlasting love relationship with him.