By Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
In Scripture the new heavens and new earth are already present in history — spiritually and covenantally. And the Isaiah 65:17ff passage is a key text for understanding this truth. This powerful passage reads:
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; / And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; / For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing / And her people for gladness. / I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; / And there will no longer be heard in her / The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.” (Isa 65:17–19)
Some amillennialists declare that there is “substantial evidence . . . for identifying [Isaiah 65:17ff] with the perfect eternal state.” And these verses do seem to speak of something that can only occur in eternity. No weeping and crying? How can we hold that this new creation exists now?
The answer to this problem is found in considering Isaiah’s fuller statement. He speaks of glorious elevated conditions, to be sure. But these conditions are still continuous with the present. We see this in the experiences of birth, aging, death, time, sin, and curse:
No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, / Or an old man who does not live out his days; / For the youth will die at the age of one hundred / And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred / Will be thought accursed.” (Isa 65:20)
This must be preconsummational, for sinners will not be in the post-resurrection perfect state. Nor will infants be born. Nor will people die.
Adams defends the amillennial interpretation of these elements with a rhetorical question: “How else can perfection be described in words which have imperfect objects and concepts as referents?” The answer is: “Easily!” Surely it is not impossible to think of post-resurrection perfection without mentioning four elements of temporal imperfection in the same sentence. Could Isaiah not say that in the (eternal, consummate) new heavens “no infants will be born, no one will age, no sin will exist, and the curse forever ceases”? What is so difficult with stating matters in this way? Does not our Lord inform us that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mt 22:30)?
Fellow amillennialist Hoekema also deals with the passage rhetorically by referring to Isaiah 65:19: “Can one imagine death without weeping?” This is surely less difficult than imagining death without death (cf. 65:20)! But in the context, we must understand the reference culturally: when God’s blessings come upon his city and people, then will pass away the “old things” (65:17) of cultural judgment, devastation, and sorrow due to sinful rebellion (65:2–8, 11–12).
In Isaiah’s day the Lord notes: “Behold, My servants shall sing for joy of heart, but you shall cry for sorrow of heart, and wail for grief of spirit” (Isa 65:14). The rejoicing of God in his people collectively considered will lead to the relief of their sorrow caused by his past displeasure and cultural wrath (cf. Dt 28:15ff; Ps 137). No longer will the “cry of distress” be heard from his people (cf. 2Sa 22:7; Ps 18:6; Isa 19:20), because the world will be dominated by them and not by the oppressor (65:25).
The covenantal language here shows that culture-wide disinheritance caused by rebellion will be a thing of the past. Instead, covenantal inheritance will prevail: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands” (Isa 65:21–22). This reverses covenantal curse language (which Isaiah uses so frequently): “You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall lie with her; you shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but shall not gather its grapes” (Dt 28:30; cf. Zep 1:13; Mic 6:15).
The new heavens and new earth here (and many places elsewhere) refer to the new covenant era. It characterizes the worldwide transformation that begins occurring with the coming and spread of the gospel.
1. Jay E. Adams, The Time Is at Hand, 15.
2. Adams, The Time Is at Hand, 15.
3. Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 202.