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“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Isaiah 65:17 (NIV)

It’s always interesting to see how people react in a crisis. When our economy plunged into difficulties a few weeks ago, I heard one theme repeated on television from on-the-street interviews and from the pundits: “Why didn’t they tell us this was going to happen? Why didn’t they warn us? Why didn’t somebody say something?”

I’m not sure who was supposed to tell us what, or when they were supposed to tell us, or what affect that was likely to have, but whenever something bad happens our first instinct is to say “Someone should have told me about this!”

Two Destinies

The Bible speaks about two destinies: One that is indescribably good, the other indescribably bad, and all people will enter one of these two destinies. If the Bible is true, and I believe with all my heart, mind, soul and strength that it is, then many will want to know why somebody didn’t say something.

They will look first to pastors and churches for an answer. “If you knew this, why did you not speak clearly about it? Compared to this, everything else in our lives was trivial and passing.” There will be some pastors and churches who will hang their heads in shame and say “Well, we didn’t speak about it, because we didn’t believe it.”

But we do believe it! In this church, we do believe it. I believe it. We believe in heaven and hell. We believe in the everlasting joy of God’s redeemed people, and the everlasting punishment of the wicked. We believe these things, not because we like them, but because we find them stated repeatedly in the Scriptures.

No exceptions

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘My servants will eat, but you will go hungry; my servants will drink, but you will go thirsty; my servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame. My servants will sing out of the joy of their hearts, but you will cry out from anguish of heart and wail in brokenness of spirit’” (Isaiah 65:13-14).

God Himself is speaking, and He describes two groups of people. He speaks about some who are eating, drinking, rejoicing, and singing. He also speaks about others who are hungry, thirsty, ashamed, and crying out in anguish.

The Bible speaks repeatedly of two destinies. Jesus spoke about the narrow path that leads to life, and the broad road that leads to destruction—with many people on it (Matthew 7:14-15). Everyone here today, without exception, will personally experience either heaven or hell.

This is true of every American, every European, every person from Africa, and every person from Asia. Every millionaire, every person making the minimum wage, every student, every teacher, and every stay at home mom will one day enter God’s blessing or live under His condemnation.

The wicked will see the righteous…

            and the righteous will see the wicked

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-33).

Our Lord speaks of the nations being gathered before him, and how he will separate the sheep from the goats. He will speak to the righteous and to the wicked about what they have done, and then he will assign all of us to our destinies.

The wicked will see the salvation of the righteous. “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out” (Luke 13:28-30). The wicked will see the joy of the righteous and will know how much they have lost.

The righteous will hear the sentencing of the wicked. “They will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind” (Isaiah 66:24). The righteous will see what they have been saved from. And on that day you will appreciate what Jesus Christ has done for you like never before.

Some have friends that love and serve Christ. They will watch their friends enter into everlasting joy, while they do not. Some have children or parents who love Christ. They will see their child or their mother or father enter into everlasting joy, while they do not. Some have been hypocrites, pretending to be Christian but living a double life. They will see folks they sang and served with entering into everlasting joy, while they themselves enter into everlasting sorrow.

Heaven: A World of Love

“Behold I will create a new heaven and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17).

Isaiah is talking about the new heaven and the new earth described in Revelation 21 and 22, which will come down from heaven after the thousand year reign of Christ (Revelation 20), sometimes referred to as the millennium.

Restored Joy

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more” (Isaiah 65:17-19).

Isaiah is not talking about complete amnesia. We will know one another in heaven. We will never be able to forget Christ’s love for us and His grace in our lives. His sacrifice on the cross will be the center of our worship for all eternity.

So when God says “The former things will not be remembered,” he is telling us that what breaks your heart will no longer come to your mind. What causes you pain and distress will no longer have power over you; it will no longer be present with you.

Instead, you will find joy in what God creates. You will find joy in the city of God and in the people of God for all eternity. And your greatest joy will be in the joy that God has over you “I will… take delight in my people” (v19).

Isaiah says “The sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more” (v19). John says the same thing another way “God, Himself, will wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:14, 21:4).

That is such an intimate picture: A loving Father wiping away the tears of his child. God does this for his people. You might think that God would delegate wiping the tears of Christians to angels, but God does this himself!

Can you imagine Almighty God doing this for you? You being so close to Him, wiping all your tears, literally, “out of your eyes”—as if he’s removing the very capacity for them. He removes the source of every sorrow, the effect of every pain from your eyes, so that with unclouded joy you can savor heaven—the world of love.

This helps us with a really hard question that I’ve been asked many, many times. It is a difficult question to answer. How could a person be truly happy in heaven, if they have loved ones who are not with them?

I think we can say two things: “The former things will be remembered no more, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). And “God will wipe all tears from their eyes, the sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more” (v18). There is a mystery here in our finite existence that is hard to understand, but the Lord is pointing us beyond the shadows to the infinite joys of heaven.

Restored Vigor

“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed” (Isaiah 65:20).

There will no longer be any death. Isaiah’s using the analogy of what we can understand to point us to what, for now, is beyond our grasp.  I can’t get my mind round living for eternity, but I can understand a man living to a hundred. So Isaiah says “Living to a hundred would be nothing in the new heaven and the new earth.”

The Apostle John says it more directly: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain because the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). One commentator says:

“Death will have no more power and sin will have no more presence.” [1]

The joy of heaven will be more than the absence of death. The joy of heaven will be in the quality of life. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years” (Isaiah 65:20). John Calvin comments:

“Whether they are children or old men, they shall arrive at a mature age so as to be always vigorous, like persons in the prime of life; and in short they shall always be healthful and robust.” [2]

Restored Community

“They will build houses and dwell in them” (Isaiah 65:21).

People will settle down. In this world many people find a home but don’t get to enjoy it. War comes and they have to flee. Last month 30,000 Christians fled their homes in Orissa, India because of persecution. The homes they built have been destroyed. They have to start again.

In our society people are always on the move. You settle into your home after a few years and then your employer wants you to move to another part of the country. Or as you get older you cannot maintain the family home you have lived in for many years because it has become too much work. You don’t want to move, but you have to.

Thousands are finding that the home of their dreams is now beyond their means, and so they face foreclosure. They have to move out of the home that they love. Other people will live in the house.

This continual displacement wrecks community. It tears up relationships and ruins stability. It means that many people do not have the joy of seeing what they have invested in relationships mature. They are not able to stick around long enough to see what comes of their work.

But Isaiah says that in the new heaven and new earth: “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune” (Isaiah 65:21-23).

Isaiah is using what we know to point us to what’s hard to understand. He’s not saying that we will bear children in heaven. Because they could never know what it means to be a redeemed sinner.

He is saying that in this life some children are born into desperate circumstances of poverty, war, and all kinds of abuse. That will no longer be the case. Instead of war and hate and violence and crime, God’s people will live together in love and harmony and peace and joy.

Restored Communion

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

This is an amazing promise. We often speak about wanting to be “heard.” You will be heard for all eternity by Almighty God. Nothing will inhibit your access to him.

God will hear you, and because your desires will be made perfect, God will give you every one of the desires of your heart. Your fellowship with him will be closer by far than anything Adam and Eve ever knew in the Garden of Eden.

Restored Creation

“The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 65:25).

The promise of God is not just that he will restore his people, but that he will restore creation. There will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Old hostilities will be reconciled: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together” (v25). Wolves destroy lambs, but now they will feed together. God creates a new animal kingdom in order to multiply the joy of the human order.

In the new heaven and the new earth redeemed Hutus, and redeemed Tutsis will live together in joy, embracing one another in love. Redeemed Jews and redeemed Arabs will be neighbors and friends, serving God side-by-side with joy and peace. Redeemed democrats and redeemed republicans will speak well of each other to the glory of God for all eternity.

Old natures will be changed: “The lion will eat straw like the ox” (v25). Lions don’t eat straw. Lions eat red meat. It’s their nature.  But in the new heaven and the new earth, every source of violence, pain and destruction is gone. The lion now contentedly eats straw like the ox. That’s a change in nature.

Every last remnant of your old nature will be gone too. When we are in the very presence of Christ, when we are redeemed—the impulse of the flesh that tempts you, the coldness of heart that often makes you sluggish and unresponsive to God, all that you struggle and fight against in your Christian life will be gone forever. We will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51).

The life and joy of this new heaven and new earth will endure forever. I remember when I was quite young thinking about heaven and wondering, “What if the same thing that happened to Adam and Eve happened all over again?” God says, don’t worry about that. “The new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me declares the Lord” (Isaiah 66:22). What Christ redeems is secure forever.

Hell: A World of Hate

“And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind” (Isaiah 66:24).

Outside of heaven—the world of love, there is hell—a world of hate. We might easily pass over this verse, were it not for the fact that these are the last words that God spoke through the prophet Isaiah. The last things we say are often the most important.

More significantly, when Jesus spoke about hell, he used these words to describe its awful reality. Of all the words Christ could have chosen from the Old Testament, he chose these words to communicate his warning about hell: “Their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched” (Mark 9:47-48).

The fire

“Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29).

The fire speaks of God’s presence. The Bible tells us that our God is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), and that for this reason it is a fearful thing to “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

People sometimes speak of hell as being separated from God forever, but the awesome reality of hell for the wicked is that they can never, ever escape from God. Sinners in hell find that they can never escape the God they hate or the burning fire of his hostility towards them.

Sinners hate God, and the wicked never change. They do not love God, and they are never reconciled to him. But they can never escape from him either. The wicked have locked themselves into a war they can never win and a war they can never end.

The worm

“Now I know in part, but then [when Christ comes] I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

While that is a wonderful truth for Christ’s people, it is true in a very different way for the wicked: They will know, even as they are fully known. A person in hell will see the full extent of their own rebellion against God, and their resistance to Christ. And, therefore, they will agree that God’s judgment against them is truly just.

A person in hell will not be telling himself what a good guy he is, and that he has just been misunderstood. Sinners hate themselves. The “worm” speaks of a conscience that eats away at the mind or the heart of a person.

The sinner in hell will know that the single reason he or she is there is their continued and unending resistance and rebellion towards God. That is why our Lord Jesus speaks of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28). Sinners in hell not only hate God, but they hate themselves forever. Their worm does not die. (Mark 9:48)

Why Jesus?

Although there are two destinies: One indescribably good, the other unspeakably bad, many people today find it difficult to understand what they need to be saved from.

You’re doing OK in life. You could use a bit of help from God now and then, but you don’t feel that there is much that you need to be saved from. You’re a good guy. You work hard. You provide for your family. Isaiah’s telling us what we need to be saved from.

The Bible’s teaching about hell helps us to understand why Jesus Christ came into the world, and why he had to die on the cross. What could possibly be on a scale large enough to call for Christ to leave glory, for God to become man, for the perfect Savior to hang on a cross in agony, for the eternal fellowship of the Father and the Son to be ruptured? Why would all that have to happen?

Christ entered hell so that you should never know what it is like. Christ saved us from hell by going there himself. When Jesus died on the cross—this is the meaning and significance of the cross—he experienced all that hell is because he bore sin (that’s the worm), and he came under the judgment of God (that’s fire).

This is what Isaiah has been saying—Jesus went through hell for you: “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5). That’s why he cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

Christ entered hell on the cross. This is how the Reformers understood the marvelous words of The Apostles creed:

“I believe… in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell…”

This was not some kind of trip between his death and resurrection, but right there on the cross he experienced hell.

Hell has a summons for every person. Either you go there yourself or Christ goes there for you. Christ answered my summons on the cross. He went there on my behalf—that’s how he is able to save me, and that’s how he is able to save you.

This Christ didn’t end in the grave. He rose and is seeking your salvation today. Whatever you do, don’t turn away from him today, as if he were your enemy. Whether you are young or old, embrace him by faith today, because he is your friend.

[1] The Prophecy of Isaiah by J. Alex Motyer, p. 530, InterVarsity Press, 1993

[2] Commentary on Isaiah by John Calvin, from Works, p. 400, Calvin Translation Society, 1844


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