Isaiah 64 records the prophet Isaiah calling for God to break into history as he did at Sinai so that the darkened hearts of Israel would return to the Lord. Presently, Isaiah observes that the land is a desolation because of their sinfulness and God’s righteous judgment has fallen on them. But this separation because of their sins has caused the people to run further from God, rather than turn back to him. After Isaiah has prayed for the Lord to act, Isaiah 65-66 records God answer which describes what he is going to do with his sinful creation. In this lesson we will look at Isaiah 65 as God begins to describe the great things he will do.
Return To Me (65:1-12)
God begins his answer to Isaiah by declaring that he is ready to be sought after by those who did not seek him or ask for him. He will now call a nation that was not called by his own name. God’s first answer is that he is going to avail himself to the Gentiles. The people not called by his own name and did not seek after him, God will now tell them, “Here I am, here I am.” The apostle Paul quoted this statement in Romans 10:20 to prove the inclusion of the Gentiles was always the plan of God. We have seen this point made by God many times, like in Isaiah 60:10 where God will raise his banner to the nations. God will no longer only reveal himself to Israel, but also to the nations who are not seeking him.
Further, God has not rejected Israel in this decision. In verse 2 God says that he is spreading out his hands to a rebellious people. The apostle Paul again notes for us in Romans 10:21 that God is speaking of the nation of Israel. Israel has become the rebellious people, just as Isaiah had also observed. God reviews his dealings with Israel from verses 2-7. God held out his hands, a call for his people to return to him. But they were rebellious and obstinate. They decided to walk in the way that is not good, rather than walk according to God’s way. They decided to follow their own plans and devices. They pursued their own thoughts and desires. The people of Israel continually provoked God to his face, showing a brazen disregard for God by worshipping idols. They rejected God’s law regarding clean and unclean foods, adopting the pagan practices instead (65:4). Yet as they reject the ways of the Lord and walk according to their own paths, they think they are still holy (65:5). This is the problem of not seeing ourselves for who we are. We are to view ourselves as sinners saved by God’s grace. But these people look at their own actions and consider themselves good and holy.
The people’s sins are written before God (65:6). Their sinful acts are recorded in the book before him and God will judge them for their sins. God will repay in full for their sinful behavior. They have insulted the holy God (65:7). Therefore, the wages of their sins will be paid in full to them (cf. Romans 6:23).
But our gracious God will not bring the nation to total destruction. Isaiah 65:8-10 describes a remnant that will remain. God will not destroy all of them. There will be a reversal that will occur as the desolation will be changed to pastures from the western borders to the eastern borders (from Sharon to the Valley of Achor). Before speaking about this reversal, God speaks of his own vindication for this judgment. The people have forsaken the Lord (65:11). Rather than trusting in the Lord, they trust in the pagan gods, Luck and Fate. So God will show them their fate. They are doomed for judgment because when God called, they did not answer and did not listen. They did not choose to do what the Lord delights in (65:12).
My Servants (65:13-16)
The Lord presents a simple contrast in verses 13-16. The servants of God will experience the blessings of God. But these people, who are not God’s servants, will experience wrath and shame. I tell my children this truth repeatedly: only obedient children receive the blessings of the family. Rebelling against the family will cause you pain, hardship, and suffering from the family. God says the same thing to his people. Listen and obey and you will experience the life that God desires you to have in him. Follow his ways and enjoy the riches that are found in God.
New Heavens and New Earth (65:17-25)
Verse 16 is very important to observe since verse 17 is an explanation of God’s prior declaration. God said in verse 16 that there was going to be a reversal. God said that there would be a change. His people will be called by another name (cf. Revelation 2:17; 3:12). They will be blessed by the God of truth “because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.” God is able to set aside the former sins and troubles so that they no longer will come into his reckoning. What is God going to do?
This is how verse 17 begins. God is going to create a new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. A radical change is pictured so that the former ways will not come to mind again. The former things must include the former troubles that we read about in verse 16, which were a summary of the trouble we see Israel involved in from verses 2-12. God says there will be total renewal so that this mess is now forgotten. God will create a new order, a new heavens and new earth. The imagery that God goes on to use in this paragraph shows the dramatic reversal that will occur. God’s people, Jerusalem (Zion), will be a joy and gladness now. They will not be people who cause the Lord to grieve (cf. Isaiah 63:10). God will now rejoice in his people (65:19). They will not be brought under distress for their sinful ways. Verse 20 describes something amazing. The power of death will be destroyed. Further, the covenant curses will be removed (65:21-22). In Deuteronomy 28 God is pronouncing the curses for disobedience and sinful living. Listen to one of the curses:
You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit. (Deuteronomy 28:30 ESV)
The people will no longer be uprooted because of their sins. God will not have to do this anymore. Remember that God promised as much in Isaiah 62:8-9.
The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: “I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.” (Isaiah 62:8–9 ESV)
Thus, the people will be blessed by the Lord and their work will not be for nothing (65:23). God will hear their prayers, even before they are praying, and will answer while they are speaking. Things will be so different in this new world that God says, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (65:25). What a total change in this new world! Further, the dust shall be the serpent’s food. This imagery comes from Genesis 3:15 where we read about the offspring of the woman crushing the head of the serpent. For the serpent to eat the dust for food means that the serpent, which represents Satan (cf. Revelation 12:9), has been defeated and God’s people are victorious! This is seen in the powerful finale, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”
So we must stop at this moment and ask what God is describing? Is God saying that in eternity he will create a new heaven and new earth and all God’s people will live on a perfect earth with God? Often this is the interpretation given. The primary reason I believe this interpretation is made is because what is described in this paragraph is not seen today. It is argued that the wolf and the lamb do not graze together today and the lion does not eat grass like the ox. Further, infants still do die today and God’s people do not necessarily have long lives (65:20). Then they will finish with Revelation 21 which describes a new heavens and new earth after the final judgment in Revelation 20. Therefore, the new heavens and new earth are pictures for our eternity on earth, according to their arguments.
However, to start looking for a literal fulfillment of these images would miss all that Isaiah has done throughout this book. We have repeatedly observed that Isaiah uses physical imagery to speak of spiritual realities. In Isaiah 55:12-13 we read that mountains and hills are going to sing for us and the trees will clap their hands for us. The cypress will replace thorns and the myrtle shall replace the briar. Does it mean that Isaiah 55 has not happened because we still have thorns on our plants? Are we actually rebuilding the ancient ruins of the city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 58:12)? Will camels cover us (Isaiah 60:6)? Will strangers tend our flocks and we will literally eat the wealth of the nations (Isaiah 61:6)? The point I want us to see is that we are never intended to read this images as physical realities. Rather, these images point us to great spiritual realities that God is doing for his people. In the same way, when we read about God creating a new heavens and new earth, we should not think of eternity with a new place to live. Rather, if God is creating a new heavens and new earth, then everything is completely different. There has been a massive change that has occurred. Things are going to be so different that the heavens and earth are considered new.
Further, the descriptions that are given are consistent with the arrival of the messianic age. God will have joy in his people when Christ comes (65:18-19). The power of death will be destroyed in Christ comes (65:20; 1 Corinthians 15:54-56). The curses of the covenant will be nailed to the cross when Christ comes (65:21-22; cf. Colossians 2:14; Galatians 3:10-14). Our prayers will be heard by God and not blocked by our sins (65:24; cf. Philippians 4:4-7). Satan has been defeated and subdued (65:25; cf. Revelation 12:7-9; 20:1-3). The wolf and the lamb imagery was used earlier by Isaiah in Isaiah 11:1-10 to describe the kingdom Christ will bring. When Christ comes, things will be radically different. When Christ came into the world in the first century, everything completely changed. Isaiah is picturing this new order and massive restoration and renewal that occurs when Christ comes. He will change everything!
Think about how often the New Testament uses this very imagery of renewal and re-creation that has occurred because Christ has come!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17–19 ESV)
Notice the clear language of the arrival of the new creation. The old creation has passed away and the new creation has come. Christ came and it is a new creation. Obviously, the apostle is not speaking of the earth, but of us. We are the new creation. Christ has brought in a new order that has completely change, re-created, and renewed us.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:14–15 ESV)
How is “a new creation” an explanation for circumcision and uncircumcision not counting for anything? The answer is what Isaiah prophesied. This is a new order. Christ has come and things are changed. The former things are no longer remembered. The former troubles have passed away. This is why Paul could say that the answer is a new creation. Christ has come and a new order has arrived with him. This new order is the renewal or re-creation of his people.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5 ESV)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4–7 ESV)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV)
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:9–10 ESV)
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20–24 ESV)
When Christ came it was renewal. It is a new creation. It is a new heavens and new earth. Christ has come and we are being changed. We live under a new covenant with new privileges and new joys in the Lord. Behold, the Lord is making all things new just as Isaiah prophesied. Renewal is not about you making yourself a better person. Renewal is about God changing his creation through Jesus to be found in his image. Jesus came and the former things have passed away. A new order is in place and he is making all things new, changing each person from one degree of glory to another as they look upon their Savior Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). God is holding his hands out to you. Your former life will be forgotten and you will be restored to your loving Father. Submit your life to Jesus today.