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Is There Death In Heaven? (1)

There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed(Isa. 65:20).

A reader asks, "Why does Isaiah 65:20 see sin and death in the new heavens and the new earth?" The reader also refers to Revelation 21 and II Peter 3 as proof that death shall not enter the new creation. Revelation 21:4 declares, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death ..." II Peter 3:13 is probably the verse to which the reader refers: "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." Surely, where righteousness is, death cannot be, for death is the punishment for sin.

At the very outset, I want to assure readers of this pamphlet that I am aware that the text is difficult to explain. Because of its difficulty, I am not sure that I have the right interpretation; I invite readers to submit their interpretation if they have a better one.

One thing is sure. The interpretation of the text, whatever it may be, cannot allow for death in the new creation which is to come. That would be dreadful, and would rob heaven of its blessedness. Scripture is very emphatic that death belongs to this creation and is the curse pronounced upon it and upon man for sin. Salvation, including its final glory in heaven, is emphatically salvation from death.

It is probably important to make a couple of more general comments before I offer my explanation. The first is this. Both premillennialists and postmillennialists frequently appeal to Isaiah 65 in support of a kingdom of Christ here upon earth, either after Christ’s coming (premillennialism) or before Christ’s coming (postmillennialism). Both interpretations are wrong. Both fail to take into account the typical character of the Old Testament Scriptures; i.e., specifically, both fail to recognize that Israel in the Old Testament was a type of the whole church of Christ gathered from the beginning to the end of time, and that Canaan was an Old Testament picture of heaven.

Both appeal to this text because it seems to speak of death in the kingdom of Christ, and, of course, if that kingdom is realized here in the world, there will be death. How discouraging! If the believer has only a kingdom in which there is still death, that is not much of a kingdom. For, if death is present, sin will also be present, along with sickness and sorrow. That is all we may ever hope for in this world. It is only in another world that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes, and there will be no more death.

Further, both premillennialists and postmillennialists do not reckon with the context in which Isaiah 65:20 is found. If they would pay attention to the context, they would notice that Isaiah speaks here of the final perfection of the kingdom of Christ in a new heavens and a new earth, which is not in any sense to be found in this present creation: "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind" (17).

Yet, in spite of the fact that Isaiah, under divine inspiration, is speaking of the new creation which shall be established when Christ comes again, he nevertheless uses Old Testament figures. Read on: "But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy" (18). Jerusalem is used as synonymous with the new heavens and the new earth. It is no wonder that the apostle John, in describing this new creation, speaks of it as "new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" (Rev. 21:2).

Verse 19 carries on that same thought and also speaks of the new creation as Jerusalem: "And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying." This reminds one of Revelation 21:4: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."

Isaiah 65:20, which has our attention for the moment, must be interpreted in this same way, namely that the Old Testament is a typical description of the New. Canaan was a picture of heaven. Jerusalem was a picture of the kingdom of heaven where the throne of Christ, pictured in David, was established; and where the temple was a picture of God dwelling in covenant fellowship with His people. Israel was a picture of the church of all ages, destined to live in covenant fellowship with God in the kingdom of Christ forever in a new and glorious creation in which heaven and earth are one.

Further, Isaiah is prophesying of the return of Judah to Canaan from the Babylonian captivity. He finds in that return a type of the final deliverance of the church from the captivity of this present evil world into its full salvation in heaven in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 65 (including verse 20) must be interpreted in that light.

It ought not surprise us that God revealed His purposes to Israel in such typical or pictorial ways. Israel was a child (Gal. 4:1-6). The people of God did not yet possess the Spirit of the ascended Christ who would lead them into all truth. They could not read and understand a work on Reformed Dogmatics; they had to have a picture book. Parents who faithfully instruct their children do not read to their little five-year-olds Calvin’sInstitutes; they show their children a Bible storybook with pictures in it to help them understand.

A minister, teaching his catechumens Reformed doctrine, needs a blackboard to draw illustrations and diagrams, to help the children understand. Only when they come to years of maturity are they able to plunge into a work on Reformed Dogmatics. So it was with Israel. So it is in Isaiah 65:20. If we do not keep this in mind, we shall stumble and fall in our interpretation of this rather difficult verse.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 9
  • Issue: 26
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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  • Address
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  • City
    Jenison
  • State or Province
    MI
  • Zip Code
    49428
  • Country
    United States
  • Telephone
    616-667-6033

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