ENDLESS PEACE Isaiah 63–66
” ‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure’ ” (Isa. 66:22).Beyond the judgment at history’s end lies endless peace and joy. Just as beyond the cross, peace awaits the person who comes to Jesus.
A vision of God’s apocalyptic day of vengeance (63:1–6) moved Isaiah to desperate prayer for his people (v. 7–64:12). God replied. Sinners must be punished, but a remnant of Israel would survive (65:1–16). God will then create a new heaven and new earth (vv. 17–25). After the judgment, Zion will suddenly be repopulated (66:1–17), and all peoples will worship as brothers before God’s throne (vv. 18–24).
Understanding the Text
“This is how You guided Your people” Isa. 63:7–19. Like the psalmists and the other prophets, Isaiah looked to history in an effort to understand God. In his prayer Isaiah recalled God’s kindness in the past, and realized that Israel’s rebellion caused God to turn against them. Yet the image of God as a tender and compassionate Redeemer persisted. Where was the God of love that His people had known? Why are enemies permitted to trample down God’s inheritance and His holy place? Similar conflicts between the God we know and present experience have troubled saints throughout the centuries. We can ask, “Why, O Lord?” But we need to remember at such times that revelation has priority over experience. Our feelings and our experiences provide no certain knowledge of God. That is reserved for history and Scripture. Only if we hold fast to these two sources of certainty will we live in hope. “How then can we be saved?” Isa. 64:1–12 Isaiah asked, “Why?” But in the case of ancient Israel, he knew the answer. Israel continued to sin against God, and evoked His anger. Will reform help? Will God relent if His people repent? Isaiah’s belief was, in Israel’s case, no. “All of us have become like one who is unclean,” Isaiah says, “and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” God hid His face from (that is, turned away from) His people “and made us waste away because of our sins.” So what can a sinner do when he at last realizes that his best is less than nothing. That even his “righteous acts are like filthy rags”? Isaiah went back to the beginning, to God’s intention. God is “our Father.” He is the source of Israel’s existence as a people. As a potter, God shaped these descendants of Abraham. Isaiah’s hope was that God would not abandon the work of His hands, and would not “remember our sins forever.” You and I give the same answer when asked, “How then can we be saved?” Nothing we can do can help us. Man’s most righteous acts are like filthy rags. But we too can go back to the beginning! We can realize that God created human beings in His image, to be loved and to love Him. Our hope is rooted in the belief that God will not abandon the works of His hands, but will act to redeem us despite our sins. This is the very heart of the Gospel’s glorious good news. God did act, in Jesus Christ, to redeem us. Gladly we abandon all pretense of righteousness, and then we accept the salvation that He has so graciously chosen to give us despite our sins. Hebrew farmers hitched their robes up around their waists when trampling ripe grapes. Even so, the rich juices stained their legs and their garments. In one of Scripture’s most vivid images, Isaiah 63:1–6 pictures God on the day of judgment, terrifying in His strength, trampling the world as the farmer stomps on ripe grapes, stained with the blood of the wicked. “Behold, I will create” Isa. 65:17–25. After the judgment God will “create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” Set on a new earth that is spinning in new heavens, we will at last realize what original earth might have been had man not sinned. The classic description so captivates man’s yearning that it is repeated not only in Isaiah but also in the world’s great literature. “They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy in all My holy mountain,” says the Lord (vv. 23–25). “The new heavens and new earth that I make will endure” Isa. 66:1–24. Today everything changes. In our area one well-known financier is building himself a $15-million home. It has swimming pools, a bowling alley, and other features, all controlled by a complicated computer system. Even the “guest house” is larger than the homes in which most Americans live. Ironically, he may never live in this private palace he’s building for himself. He has been indicted for insider trading, fraud, and a number of other crimes. What a contrast with God’s New Jerusalem. The “house” God plans is designed to be inhabited by joyous people gathered from every nation and tongue. And the new heavens and earth God designs, will endure.
That’s the Gospel Truth(Isa. 65)
The concept of hell troubles many people. How could a good and loving God ever destine anyone to an eternity in what Revelation calls a “lake of fire”? The fact is, God doesn’t! Chapter 64 contains Isaiah’s plea for a salvation that must somehow be rooted in God, since man’s best efforts are but filthy rags in the Lord’s sight. In this chapter God responded to Isaiah’s prayer. He told the prophet that He has always been eager to save. But obstinate Israel rejected His grace. Even so “descendants of Jacob, and from Judah” will “possess My mountains; My chosen people will inherit them.” People who seek God will be saved, despite their sins. But then God speaks of individuals who continue to “forsake the Lord and forget My holy mountain.” Such persons are destined for the sword; they are marked for slaughter. But note. It is not that God chose their fate. God did everything He could to save them. He called to them, but they did not answer. He spoke, but they did not listen. Instead they chose what displeased God (65:12). It’s an important truth to grasp. And it is part of the Gospel. Yes, some will go away to eternal punishment. But it is not God who fixes a man’s destiny. It is the man himself. The only way a person can be condemned to hell is to condemn himself, by refusing to respond to God’s revelation of His power and His love. So if you know anyone who is worried that God might send him to hell, share the Good News. God won’t send him to hell. The only person who can do that is the person himself. Instead, God is standing between human beings and eternal punishment, still calling, still speaking, still promising forgiveness. All anyone has to do is reach out and take salvation as a free gift. And that is good news indeed.
Heaven or hell. It really is our choice.