Sunday School Lesson 12 - Isa. 65:17-25 - GOD RENEWS
LAST WEEK: In Isa. 58:1-12, we heard the prophet address the problem of false religious observance. In our modern vernacular (Baptists especially), we'd call it the problem of dealing with a backslidden church members. One of the main truths we learned was that any insincere attempts to show devotion towards God (fasting, in their case) will absolutely fail His righteousness test. The basic truth is that we can't impose obligations upon God, what modern commentators call a "quid pro quo" mindset-giving something to get something in return. God will reject it. So, what kind of devotion will pass God's righteousness test? For starters, God advocates a radical call to justice. He expects us to use our time, talent and resources to alleviate suffering in this world. We obviously can't solve all of it, but with God's help, we might make a mighty dent in the problem. To summarize the teaching of that lesson, we can expect God to bless us when (a) we actively share His concerns about the world and (b) actively join Him in His work to better them. As His people, God expects affirmative action from us in terms of using our abilities and resources to alleviate the suffering of those around us. When we do this, our "light will rise in the darkness" and shine like the "midday sun" (Isa. 58:10). And it also lines up with what the prophet said earlier: "I will also make You a light]of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Isa. 49:6b).
INTRODUCTION: This is our final lesson in the Book of Isaiah, and starting next week, we'll begin a new quarter in the Gospel of Luke, Chapters 10-24. I'm not going to review last week (Isa. 58:1-12) because of the time we need to develop the background and context for today's lesson in Isa. 65:17-25. In this last section of Isaiah we see some of the same themes presented earlier in the Book. But even as they are restated in this section for one last time, we see a final development that points to the ultimate judgment, rescue and renewal of a fallen world. In it, Isaiah shows his original audience (OT Jews) the end point of God's redemptive plan for human history. However, as NT Christians, we know it began with the coming of Jesus (God's perfect Servant described earlier in Isaiah Chap. 53), and that the ending elements of God's plan remain to be fulfilled at Christ's Second Coming.
INTERPRETATION OF LESSON PASSAGES: The final nine verses of this Chapter present great promises but also pose great interpretative challenges for students of the Bible. God's people are promised new heavens and a new earth, a pledge later repeated in 2 Pet. 3:13 and Rev. 21:1. In addition, they are promised a new Jerusalem where the redeemed will live in security, and the prophet describes it in considerable detail. However, unlike eternal heaven, it does not describe a world completely purged of sin and its consequences, and though people live longer, they still die. So, the question for Bible interpreters is why does Isaiah describe a future time when the redeemed enjoy vastly improved yet still imperfect lives? There have been differing interpretations of these passages, but I am going to limit it to the majority view based upon the most literal Bible interpretation: Isaiah is describing the conditions in the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, on earth, which precedes the final White Throne Judgment and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. This interpretation is completely consistent with a literal reading of Rev. 20, which describes Satan as bound for one thousand years, while the followers of Christ reign with Him on earth. At the end of the Millennium, Satan is loosed for a short time to deceive the nations, then is defeated and cast into hell. Joining him in the lake of fire are the unbelievers, following their resurrection and judgment before the Great White Throne. With Satan, his demons, and unbelievers consigned to hell for entity, God purges the created order of sin and its consequences, and the eternal new heaven and earth come into being. I wanted to give you this level of detail in order to defuse any future confusion between this chapter of Isaiah and NT Books that deal with eschatology.
PREFACE v. 17: As we come into Chapter 65, the theme of judgment on Israel for her rebellion continues in the first 15 verses; however, in the final verse 16, we hear God conclude with a word of redemption: "Because the one who is blessed on the earth Will be blessed by the God of truth; And the one who swears an oath on the earth Will swear by the God of truth; Because the former troubles are forgotten, And because they are hidden from My sight!" The promise, then, is that "the former troubles" (sins) are forgotten and "hidden" from God's eyes (i.e., justified).
Read Isa. 65:17-20 - NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH
17 "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness. 19 I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying. 20 No longer will there be in it an infant who lives only a few days, Or an old person who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of a hundred, And the one who does not reach the age of a hundred Will be thought accursed.
v. 17a: "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth" - The conjunction "For" connects this verse to v. 16 and re-confirms the promise that the people's "former troubles" (sins) will be forgotten/forgiven. The mention of creating "new heavens and a new earth" takes us back to the opening chapters of Genesis where "in the beginning" God created the heavens and the earth and pronounced each act of creation "good," but the introduction of sin in Gen. 3 defiled the creation, and nothing has been the same since.
v. 17b: "And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind." - In this new heaven and earth, the "former things" allude to sin, rebellion, and judgment, which God will forgive and forget. As we will see, while God intends to redeem current state of affairs by creating new heavens and a new earth, it does not mean He's going to destroy all that exists and start from scratch, not yet.
v.18-19: "But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness. 19 "I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying." - These two verses can be confusing and should be understood in the context of v. 20, below. Most modern commentators place this Jerusalem in the thousand-year Millennial Kingdom, as opposed to the perfect eternal city reported in Rev. 21 and 22. While all of the city's inhabitants, including the Jews, will be followers of Christ, they are not immortal, nor free of tendency to sin. Even so, this city comes as a joyful contrast to the "weeping and crying" that existed in the ruined Jerusalem of Isaiah's day.
v. 20: "No longer will there be in it an infant who lives only a few days, Or an old person who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of a hundred, And the one who does not reach the age of a hundred Will be thought accursed." - This isn't the promise that "Death will be no more" of Rev. 21:4, but the promise of significantly longer lives. One hundred will be considered a young age; and the fact that people still die, dates this verse in time of the Millennial Kingdom.
Read Isa. 65:21-23 - AS THE LIFETIME OF A TREE
21 They will build houses and inhabit them; They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They will not build and another inhabit, They will not plant and another eat; For as the lifetime of a tree, so will be the days of My people, And My chosen ones will fully enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They will not labor in vain, Or give birth to children for disaster; For they are the descendants of those blessed by the LORD, And their descendants with them.
Note: In Deut. 28 God warned the Children of Israel that they could expect blessings when they obeyed God's Commandments but would suffer curses when they did not, specifically that "The LORD will send against you curses, panic, and rebuke, in everything you undertake to do...on account of the evil of your deeds" (Deut: 28:30). Vv. 21-23 describe life in the Millennial Kingdom when all of these curses have been revered.
v. 21: "They will build houses and inhabit them; They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit." - This reverses the curse of the time when all the lands, structures, and agriculture came under the control of the nations that conquered Israel and Judah (e.g., Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Rome).
v. 22a: "They will not build and another inhabit, They will not plant and another eat;" - This repeats and reaffirms the promises of v. 21. There will be no oppression from governments, corporations, landlords, etc. No more evictions, foreclosures, or arbitrary restrictions. The things that divide people and pit them against each other will be removed.
v. 22b: "For as the lifetime of a tree, so will be the days of My people," Lifespans of people will be that of trees-100s of years-reminiscent of the Prediluvian Era (Noah lived to 950). Although death still occurs in the Millennial Kingdom, it will be comparatively rare. This tells us that the peoples' bodies not only age much slower but are also apparently far more resistant to disease.
v. 23a: "They will not labor in vain" - The Millennial Kingdom isn't paradise; people will still be working for a living, but the conditions will be fair, with good opportunities for everyone. The economy will remain stable; no more layoffs, strikes, or bankruptcies.
v. 23b: "Or give birth to children for disaster; For they are the descendants of those blessed by the LORD, And their descendants with them." - Think about all the children being born today amid poverty, disease, and violence. This won't happen in the Millennial Kingdom. Although we Gentile Christians are technically not OT Jews, we are "descendants of those blessed by the LORD" because we are "fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17), and all the children born during the Millennium will inherit this blessing. This is also suggestive of a very high birth rate during the Millennium.
Read Isa. 65:24 - I WILL ANSWER
24 It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will listen.
v. 24: You'll recall that last week in Isa. 58:3, the people of that time complained that God had failed to reward their devotion-i.e., to answer their prayers. Now we come to a group of people who are actively passing God's righteousness test in terms of justice, mercy, and faith. Their all-knowing LORD GOD anticipates and answers their prayer even before their minds can finish formulating them! And sometimes our prayers seem clumsy, fumbling with words that seem inadequate to express the longings of our heart. Yes? This verse suggests that our deficiencies in prayer are not a barrier to communicating with God, who is quite capable of understanding our clumsiest prayer-even the unspoken prayers of our hearts. Paul said it this way: "Now in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (Rom. 8:26-27).
Read Isa. 65:25 - THE WOLF AND THE LAMB WILL GRAZE TOGETHER
25 The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent's food. They will do no evil or harm on all My holy mountain," says the LORD.
v. 25a: "The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox." - God will not only end conflict between humans but also in the animal kingdom. Predators-wolves and loins-will peacefully coexist with their prey-sheep and cattle.
v. 25b: "and dust will be the serpent's food" - This alludes to God curse upon the serpent in Gen. 3:14; now the serpent will be satisfied to eat the dust through which slithers rather than pose a threat other life.
v. 25c: "They will do no evil or harm on all My holy mountain," says the LORD." - The "holy mountain" is Zion, the mount upon which Jerusalem sits. This verse summarizes the glorious transformation that takes place in the Millennial Kingdom. Without conflict, exploitation, and oppression, the world will be a far different place socially, biologically, ecologically, and spiritually.
CAVEATS ON THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM: Questions regarding the timing and character of the Millennial Kingdom (and the Rapture) has been a topic of much in-house, family debate among Christians for centuries and requires individual Bible students to make extensive study in order to understand the differences and arguments between the competing views. The major differences between these views have been generated by variations among scholars in the hermeneutical (interpretation), exegetical (text analysis), and theological perspectives of Rev. 20. What we, as laymen, need to understand is that none of these differing views actually amount to heresy or apostasy, but should be categorized as differences of opinion. Interestingly, the SBC Baptist Faith & Message doesn't a definitive position on any of these views and says only this about it in Article X:
"God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord."
And this statement will be our practical application for today.