A new heavens and a new earth
Isaiah could be called a tale of two cities. Yet both cities are Jerusalem.
There’s an old Jerusalem – the Jerusalem in which Isaiah’s listeners live. They face a terrifying judgement that is first threatened by Assyria and then effected by Babylon. The city is sacked, the house of God (the temple) is destroyed, the people are carried away in exile and all this is a judgement from the LORD. The second half of chapter 2 is a good example of the judgement upon old Jerusalem.
But there’s also a new Jerusalem. This will be an unbreachable stronghold, a city of eternal peace and prosperity. Those who make it to the new Jerusalem will have nothing to fear. The first half of chapter 2 speaks of the new Jerusalem.
Interestingly, Isaiah holds out no hope for old Jerusalem. Neither better defences nor greater godliness will avert the judgement that is coming. The LORD will bring a universal judgement and it will not avoid but rather begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). The first target of God’s judgement is “God’s house” – this means the temple, it means His household (i.e. His people), but ultimately it means Christ (John 2:19-22)! Judgement upon the world will start at the top and work its way down.
But if that’s the bad news, here is the good news: resurrection will also start with the house of God. Christ will be raised up, and He – as the true Temple – will provide the true meeting place with God. Thus a people will be raised in Him. Indeed a new Jerusalem will rise from the ashes. And this new Jerusalem will be the capital of a new creation.
For those who take refuge in Christ, they will come through cosmic judgement to cosmic salvation. They will survive the judgement of old Jerusalem and find themselves in the new Jerusalem. And this new city will be the centre of “a new heavens and a new earth.”
Isaiah is the first person to use that phrase in the bible, but it’s picked up by Peter and John in the New Testament. In chapter 65 the LORD says:
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. (Isaiah 65:17-19)
The word “new” here does not imply that the LORD will throw this “old” world into the bin to start again from scratch. It’s a word which, if left by itself, means “new moon.” There isn’t a brand new moon every month. But rather every month the moon goes through a kind of death and resurrection and is renewed. So it will be with all creation. The whole world will take the path of Christ Himself – through death and into resurrection. And just as Christ did not leave His old body in the tomb in order to replace it with a resurrection body, so this world will not be cast aside but rather redeemed.
And Isaiah means this quite literally:
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 65:25)
In a culture that says “Make the most of now”, “Experience all you can”, “There are no second chances” – Isaiah begs to differ. You don’t need to see the Himalayas before you die. You can see them afterwards. You don’t need to despair when your body stops working, it will start again. You can mourn your loved ones who have died in Christ, but you will hold them in your arms again. This body, this kind of life, this world will be raised, redeemed and renewed into even greater glory.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. (Revelation 21:1-5)