Saturday, October 3, 2009
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:31 NIV) Have heaven and earth passed away? Ridiculous you say! It has been generally believed that Jesus here meant that the physical heaven and earth will pass away some day. However in this article I would like to point out how Jewish prophets utilizes the language of the heaven and earth. (I are not saying the term heaven and earth never refers to material creation I am saying this term is very often used figuratively as will).
There is more to this statement of Jesus than meets the eye. Remember, Jesus was a Jew who was raised hearing the Old Testament prophets taught in the synagogues. These prophets utilized spiritual language. As the prophet of and to Israel, Matthew 15, Jesus was not only familiar with the language of the prophets, he used the same language.
If there were any gentiles in his audience they would have to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures in the old testament in order to find the foundation language necessary to understand his words? If we don’t do the same we end up with false interpretations that abound today. The Jews in Jesus’ audience were very familiar with what Jesus was saying to them. Let us explore the definition of the prophetic language of heaven and earth.
It was a very special historical occasion when He chose Israel from all of the nations of the earth to be His own. (Deuteronomy.7:60). Not only did He take them for His own, but in addition, He created for them a world of their own; and covenant “heavens and earth.” “But I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The Lord of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people (Isaiah. 51:15,16).”
Clearly Jehovah could not be talking about the formation of the literal heaven and earth, for that had taken place more then 3,000 years before! The verse explains itself. Jehovah is talking about “Zion my people.” God was speaking of the time when He created Israel’s heavens and earth. The material creation existed long before Israel was ever given the Mosaic Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant also became known in Jewish thought as the heaven and earth.
God, did in fact in creating Israel “plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth” of Israel’s world, and thus declared to Zion, “You are my people.” This, was the creation of Israel’s old covenant world or heavens and earth, which was also the beginning of the old covenant or, Mosaic age. The Mosaic covenant becomes a most important factor when we later consider the matter of the “new heavens and earth!” So, please do keep this in mind.
In Bible figurative language, the "heavens and earth are simply Jewish religious/political authorities in the land of Palestine and the people who lived there. With this in mind, we can look at what Moses said. In Deuteronomy 31:28, Moses, said “Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and earth to witness against them.” Moses way not call the rocks on the earth against Israel. He was calling their covenant against them.
In Deuteronomy .30:19, Jehovah said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So, choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”
In Deuteronomy 32:1, Moses said, “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.”
In Deuteronomy 21:1, in the song of Moses, God is talking to Israel when He says: “Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.” Jehovah cannot be talking to the literal heaven and earth. Again the verse explains itself. In the song of Moses, God is depicting the fate of Israel when he says; “For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundation of the mountains” (vs. 22) Were all the mountains set on fire? No.
In Leviticus.26:19,20, Jehovah warned them of terrible consequences should they disobey Him. He said, “And I will also break down your pride of power; I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent uselessly, for your land shall not yield its produce and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.” This language is used over and over again.
Now, in light of the things of above Isaiah it very interesting that just a few chapters later the voice of prophecy began to take on a bright, sparkling shade of color as Yahweh’s eternal purpose began to unfold, as He said this of His people, “You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name.” (Isaiah 62:2), And then, take note of what Yahweh said regarding the “heavens and earth.”
“For behold, I create a new ‘heavens and earth’; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy” (Isaiah 65:17,18).
The prophet Isaiah predicted the passing of heaven and earth in chapter 24. He said the earth would be utterly broken down, clean dissolved, and completely removed, vs. 19. Now this sounds like the destruction of material creation but closer examination reveals it to be speaking of the destruction of Israel's Covenant World under the imagery of "heaven and earth." Note verse 5 gives the reason for the destruction — "they have broken the everlasting covenant." What covenant was that? It was the Mosaic Covenant. God was going to destroy "heaven and earth" because Israel had broken her covenant with Jehovah. Obviously, physical heaven and earth haven't been destroyed.
In verses 22 God is depicted as dwelling gloriously in Mount Zion, that is, in Jerusalem, after the destruction of heaven and earth. Reader, if the physical earth has been destroyed how could literal Mount Zion still exist?
In Jeremiah 22:29 were Jehovah says, "O earth, earth, earth, Here the word of the Lord." Jehovah was not speaking to the whole physical earth Jehovah was talking to a the people. In verses 11;18 and 24 we read that the words were for the people of Judah, concerning the time when they would be taken "into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans." (verse 25)
The prophet Isaiah sees in a vision the things concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, the kings of Judah. God begins to give prediction of coming invasions and captivities of his people and said: Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. he ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. (Isaiah 1:1-4)
Our choices here are limited to the biblical meaning of the heaven and earth. In Isaiah 24 we see a clear picture of God’s promised of judgment on Israel through the Aaayrians. Notice Israel is spoken of as the “earth” particular in verses 20-23.
Sadly many Bible students are unfamiliar with the apocalyptic, and figurative language of the Bible. So many people like to say "The Bible says what it means and means what it says" and there is no such thing as figurative or spiritual language. This is sad because a lot of the Bible is symbolic language. The term heaven and earth is a good example.
God created Israel's "heaven and earth" by giving them his Covenant. Now if he destroyed that Old Covenant heaven and earth and gave a New Covenant, would he not thereby be creating a new heavens and new earth? Isaiah 65-66 also predicted the passing of "heaven and earth" but as with the other prophecies noted above it does not refer to the passing of physical creation. In chapter 65 God predicted that Israel would fill the measure of her sin, vs.7; he would destroy them, vs. 8-15; create a new people with a new name, vs. 15-16; create a new heaven and earth with a new Jerusalem, vs. 17-19.
This is the very same new Jerusalem which is above and the mother of us all that Paul speaks of in (Galatians 4:26-27) And John speaks on (Revelation 21:2) Being Jewish Paul and John utilized this language from the Old Testament. Every first century Jew would have found this language immediately recognizable.
The creation of the new heavens and earth would follow the destruction of the Jews after they had filled the measure of their sins and been destroyed at the coming of the Lord in fire with his angels, Isaiah 66:15ff. The new creation of Isaiah 66 is depicted as a time of evangelism and Jew and Gentile being brought together under the banner of God, vs 19ff.
This is the same "heaven and earth" God had established at Sinai. Consider this carefully in light of 2 Peter 3. Peter wrote to stir up their memory of the Jewish believer of what the holy prophets had written before about the new heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:1-2; Isaiah. 65:17,18).
Peter’s words said exactly that! Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. ( 2 Peter 3:13) Then in verse 10 Peter tell the Hebrew Christians. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works, will be burned up” Jesus, through His instrument of judgment (the Romans) would burn the city of Jerusalem and the temple with its typical “holy of holies.” This destroyed the old covenant heaven and earth.
And then, in verse 12, we learn that those disciples were “looking for and hastening” that great and monumental day of God! We read Peter’s two references to the word “elements” in this passage. (2 Peter 3:10;12) For those unfamiliar with the world of chemistry, the word “elements” is used when speaking of the things which comprise the physical makeup of everything on our planet, including its atmosphere and its seas. Viewing these verses from a“futurist” perspective, it is catastrophic language the destruction and dissolution of the universe in which we live.
When Peter talked about “the elements melting with intense heat,” was he talking about the destruction and dissolution of the universe in which we live? Is he actually describing such a literal, physical destruction? Under Strong’s No. 4747, this word “element” as it is found in the Greek text renders: “lit. elemental, principle, rudiment.”
With the use of the Greek we find that the word elements relates to the “elements” of the law and old covenant. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: (Galatians 4:3) “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again. You observe days and months and seasons and years,” (Galatians. 4:9,10). Here Paul is reprimanding the Jewish believer in Galatia, for returning to Old Testament observances that were a form of "bondage."
In what world or system did the keeping of the law, play an integral part?” Obviously, it was the old covenant world of the sons of Jacob/Israel. Here Paul addressed those Hebrew Christians in the region of Galatia, who were being enticed by the Judaizers and unbelieving Jews to abandon God’s gracious gift of salvation by grace through “faith in His Son,” and go back under the slavery and condemnation of “the old covenant law” with its “elementary principles” or “ordinances and ceremonial rituals,” all of which were designed for the purpose of magnifying their sins.
Paul had that problem with the Hebrew Christians in the region of Colosse as will. “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as, ’Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (Colossians. 2:20,21).
Peter and Paul are in total agreement regarding the “the elements. And in every case, without exception, it has nothing whatsoever with the chemical elements that make up the material fabric of our planet and its atmosphere.
Paul writes to Hebrew brethren, not to be enticed by the Judaizers to go back under the slavery and condemnation of “the old covenant law” with its “elementary principles” and ceremonial rituals,”
Peter writes to Hebrew brethren about these same Judaizers scoffers who willfully forget that by the word of God he destroyed the old word with a flood (2 Peter 3:5-6). Peter spoke of that old world of Noah’s day as a t“heavens and earth” and he contrasts it with the “heavens and earth” of His own day (verses 5-7) Peter said that God destroyed the world with the flood in Noah’s day. He was speaking of “its inhabitants and civil order,” not the physical world or literal heavens and earth?
Peter then goes to say that the heaven and the earth which and now preserved by the same word (old covenant) are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. What judgement was to come with the destruction of the heaven and earth? The prophet Isaiah predicted the passing of heaven and earth in chapter 24. He said the earth would be utterly broken down, clean dissolved, and completely removed, vs. 19. In verse 5 he gives the reason for the destruction — "they have broken the everlasting covenant." What covenant was that? It was the Mosaic Covenant. God was going to destroy "heaven and earth" because Israel had broken her covenant with Jehovah.
Peter then points out to his Hebrew brethren. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (2 Peter 9:10) And then, in verse 12, we learn that those disciples were “looking for and hastening” that great and monumental day of God! Peter said they were “eagerly awaiting” that day of God, when the “heavens and earth” would be destroyed as promised. That promise was made by the Old Testament Jewish prophets. (Isaiah :34:1-4; 65:17-18)
With this thought in mind, please consider Jesus’ words of Matthew 5:17,18, and look at the connection with Peter’s words. In that passage, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.” I just can’t see but one way to interpret those words of the Lord, and that is: If “heaven and earth” have not yet “passed away,” then that old covenant, the law of Moses, is still in effect today! If we take the position that the law of Moses has indeed been fulfilled and removed, which I do, then it would naturally follow that “heaven and earth,” have also “passed away.”