One earth or more?

A friend of mine asked me the following question: „If Rv21:1–4 speak about the new Heaven and the New Earth, what is Isaiah 65:17–21 talking about?  I asked 5 Pastors, however, I am still waiting for answers.  Have a blessed Sabbath!  EW” (3 Aug 2012, 9:36pm)

Both, Isaiah and John claim to describe “new heaven and a new earth”[1],[2] but we notice a big difference between both descriptions.  Isaiah promises that there will be no infant who lives only a few days, but allows sinners on the new earth or an old man who does not live out his days.[3]  John, on the other hand, guarantees “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.”[4]  Even for an diligent students it may be challenging to figure out what to do with both descriptions.  Are they referring to different events or just one?  If they both refer to the same event, why are they contrary?  How to unify them?

When Jesus teaches that we are His sheep does He mean that we should grow wool?  Probably not.  When Isaiah describes animals living in heaven[5] does he mean that animals will be saved?  Probably not.  But in both parables a clear concept exists which in fact is the purpose of these parables in the first place.  As Jesus’s sheep we should follow Him because He will lead us to luscious pastures and protect us from wolves.  Whether animals will be taken to heaven or not, everybody there will live in harmony and no one will hurt another.  With these thoughts in mind, let us look again at both descriptions of new heaven and earth.

Isaiah wrote his prophecy primarily to people who could have struggled with concepts of eternal life, resurrection from the dead and other intangible ideas.  To make his message powerful, he spoke with language that would be readily captures by his audience (this is what we do all the time).  When reading the passage we may learn what was meaningful to the people back then.  If there were lower death rate among infants, if people lived a little longer, if enemies did not steal harvests and destroy houses… it would be “heaven on earth.”

John took a new approach when presenting the same topic.  His audience was more mature in understanding abstract concepts.  They lived in time when Greek philosophers tackled ideas of the purpose of existence of the universe and hot it was built.  They lived in time when Jesus preached two deaths, two resurrections, millennium and other strange ideas with which people living 20 centuries later would still have difficulties to understand.  No wonder he had a completely different approach than Isaiah and presented mature picture of the future.  The idea of no death and no tears if for John just the beginning of his essay.

John undertakes to provide support for what he says and presents “the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,”[6] people living safely in the city,[7] and all their needs abundantly provided for.[8]

If there are no enemies of God’s people on the new earth, why should there be a city with thick walls, 12-layered foundation and gates guarded by angels?  No one will try to dig under the walls to get to the city, no one will storm the walls or gates… Why is the city needed there?  Why would the city needs its own water and food supply that is available all year round?  Anyone can get out to the fields to bring the food in, there will be no enemies to lay siege!  Why would we walk on gold — it is slippery and hard to fall on!  Do we need another description of new heaven and earth that would satisfy our dreams like secure Internet, no viruses, no terrorism, no violence, no cyclones, no fires, no economic crisis…?

We need more than Isaiah’s dream for Israelites.  We do not want to die at all and we want to be strong and healthy forever.  We need more than building houses and planting vineyards.  We want to fly to different galaxies and build power houses and plant gardens there.  But we still need what Israelites needed.

We need more than John’s prophecy for Christians promised.  We not only need protection from enemies; we do not want enemies to exist at all!  We do not want to have nights at all.  We do not want to worry about life, food and water, because there are so many more exciting things to, of which the ancients did not have a clue.  What was great for Abraham, Moses, or Isaiah, may have lesser value for John and other apostles.  After we satisfy our basic needs we long for more promises.  We may not picture heaven as a city with golden streets and secure gates, because at present such a city would not be of much value.

When we consider people’s most longed-for needs, different imagery appeals to them.  Some dreams may seem immature for those who have different dreams.  For us living in the 21 century both descriptions of new heaven and earth may seem immature.  In the same manner our dreams may seem immature to others.  But the concept behind all these dreams is the same — absolute joy in God’s kingdom, whatever that means.

[1]      Is65:17nkjv  For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.

[2]      Rv21:1nkjv  Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.

[3]      Is65:20nkjv  No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; For the child shall die one hundred years old, But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.

[4]      Rv21:4nkjv  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

[5]      Is11:6–8nkjv  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. • The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. • The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.

[6]      Rv21:10nkjv  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

[7]      Rv21:24nkjv  And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into it.

[8]      Rv22:2nkjv  In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

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