Monday, September 23, 2013

New Heavens and a New Earth

Today is the first day in our 38th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* this week are:

  •  Isa 64-66; 2 Cor 2
  •  2 Kings 21; 2 Chr 33; 2 Cor 3; Ps 71
  •  Nahum; 2 Cor 4; Psalm 149
  •  2 Kings 22-23; 2 Cor 5; Psalm 73
  •  2 Chr 34-35; 2 Cor 6

Our congregation has been experiencing a lot of loss lately.  With one funeral yesterday and another tomorrow, I was surprised to read of yet a third death in the church family, just last evening.  With this in mind, I was glad to find Isaiah 65:17-25 in our scripture today.  It gives promises for a new heaven and new earth, saying:

17 For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
    and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain
    or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
    and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent's food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Oh, how I wish that there were one single place in the Bible that spelled out a detailed doctrine of the afterlife!  As it is, we have many scriptures that talk about judgement, including Isaiah 66:15-24, which is also in our readings:

15 “For behold, the Lord will come in fire,
    and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
    and his rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment,
    and by his sword, with all flesh;
    and those slain by the Lord shall be many.
17 “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig's flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the Lord.
18 “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory,19 and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.
22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth
    that I make
shall remain before me, says the Lord,
    so shall your offspring and your name remain.
23 From new moon to new moon,
    and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the Lord.
24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
Rather than going into every single scripture that discusses the afterlife (which would be exhausting, to say the least), I'll simply say that while some passages are symbolic or perplexing, there are a few things that are clear.  One day there will one day be a judgment, followed by blessing for those who please the Lord by their faith and obedience, and destruction for those who reject Him and demonstrate that rejection by their disobedience.  
Another thing seems quite clear to me--when the faithful get where they're going, there will still be work to do.  It won't be sitting on a cloud playing a harp.  Life will look very much like--well, life.  Only it will be life in a restored Creation, life focused on god, life in which we work and celebrate and worship and live together in the blessing of the Lord.
New Testament scriptures (which I'm not getting into today) give a more detailed picture of what's to come--but today we have God's promises as He gave them through Isaiah.  My prayer is that when each of us stands in the judgment, we'll emerge on the other side into the brilliance of God's glory.  May God bless you, and may you know His Truth that leads you into perfect peace.

*Scriptures today are taken from the ESV.

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