The Promise of a Bright Future
WHAT compassionate person has not been greatly troubled on witnessing injustices and suffering? There definitely is a need for righting a multitude of wrongs. But will we ever see an end to all the distressing things that continue to affect the human family?
Over 19 centuries ago a man who had made his livelihood as a common fisherman wrote: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to [God’s] promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:13) This man, the apostle Peter, along with many other servants of the Most High throughout the centuries, drew encouragement from this promise. With eagerness all of these looked forward to that grand day when lawlessness, oppression and violence would cease and the scales of justice would be balanced. But how can we be sure that this promise originated with the Creator of man and is certain to be fulfilled? Would a fulfillment bring benefits only to those living at that future time? And is there anything in the promise that offers a dependable hope for billions of dead humans?
It is noteworthy that when Peter referred to “new heavens and a new earth” he was not introducing a promise that Jehovah God had made only recently. About 800 years earlier, the Almighty, by means of his prophet Isaiah, had declared: “Here I am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart.” (Isa. 65:17) “‘Just as the new heavens and the new earth that I am making are standing before me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘so the offspring of you people and the name of you people will keep standing.’”—Isa. 66:22.
Though these words were committed to writing many centuries ago, we today have reliable testimony that they are indeed of divine origin. The Bible itself provides the key in identifying the source of true prophecy. Three points are involved: (1) The message should promote pure worship, (2) the prophet must speak in Jehovah’s name, and (3) the things foretold must come true. (Deut. 13:1-4; 18:20-22) How do the prophecies of Isaiah measure up in these respects?
An examination of the book of Isaiah reveals that it consistently appeals to the Israelites to turn from the wrong course and to serve the Creator with a pure motive. In each case the words are proclaimed in Jehovah’s name. For example, we read:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the badness of your dealings from in front of my eyes; cease to do bad. Learn to do good; search for justice; set right the oppressor; render judgment for the fatherless boy; plead the cause of the widow. If you people show willingness and do listen, the good of the land you will eat. But if you people refuse and are actually rebellious, with a sword you will be eaten up; for the very mouth of Jehovah has spoken it.” (Isa. 1:16, 17, 19, 20)
“Search for Jehovah, you people, while he may be found. Call to him while he proves to be near. Let the wicked man leave his way, and the harmful man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, who will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will forgive in a large way.” (Isa. 55:6, 7)
Clearly, the prophecies of Isaiah measure up to the requirements of (1) turning individuals to pure worship and (2) having been spoken in Jehovah’s name.
But what about the fulfillment—(3) the coming true of what was foretold? Someone might say, ‘We still do not see “new heavens and a new earth.” ’ It should be noted, however, that there was an early fulfillment of this prophecy that can be verified historically.
Because the Israelites refused to heed the call to repentance that was repeatedly voiced through their prophets, Jehovah God abandoned the disobedient people into the hands of their enemies. The capital city of Jerusalem and the land of Judah were desolated when the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar completed their conquest. Archaeological evidence confirms this fact. Says the book The Archaeology of Palestine, by W. F. Albright: “There is not a single known case where a town of Judah proper was continuously occupied through the exilic period. Just to point the contrast, Bethel, which lay just outside the northern boundary of Judah in pre-exilic times, was not destroyed at that time, but was continuously occupied down into the latter part of the sixth century.” (P. 142) While the land lay in a ruined state, many Jews were in Babylonian exile.
There was little hope that the Jewish exiles would be able to return to their homeland. It was against the policy of the Babylonian monarchs to permit this. (Isa. 14:16, 17) Still the prophecy of Isaiah had decreed that a ruler by the name of Cyrus would authorize the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the repopulating of the land of Judah. (Isa. 44:25–45:2) But this was not to happen until the completion of a period of 70 years from the beginning of “the devastations of Jerusalem” at the hands of the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E.—Dan. 9:2.
The turning point came on the night of October 5/6, 539 B.C.E., 68 years after the start of Judah’s 70-year servitude to Babylon. (Jer. 25:9-11) Feeling secure within well-fortified Babylon, the inhabitants engaged in riotous feasting. They were oblivious to the fact that the level of the Euphrates that coursed through the middle of the city was dropping rapidly. The river had been diverted by the besieging forces under the command of Cyrus the Persian. When the Medes and the Persians marched down the riverbed, they gained easy access to Babylon through the gates along the river. Quickly passing through the streets and slaying any who offered resistance, the invaders captured the palace and killed the resident ruler Belshazzar. Thus in one night, with hardly a struggle, mighty Babylon fell.
How does all of this relate to the promise of “new heavens and a new earth”? There is a direct relationship. After introducing the promise of “new heavens and a new earth,” the word of Jehovah through Isaiah continues: “Exult, you people, and be joyful forever in what I am creating. For here I am creating Jerusalem a cause for joyfulness and her people a cause for exultation. And I will be joyful in Jerusalem and exult in my people; and no more will there be heard in her the sound of weeping or the sound of a plaintive cry.”—Isa. 65:17-19.
Following the return of the exiles to the land of Judah and the completion of the rebuilding work, Jerusalem did indeed become “a cause for joyfulness,” ceasing to be a site of mournful desolation. The sound of weeping resulting from the calamities of war that had resounded in the streets of that city decades earlier was heard no more. In 537 B.C.E., when the land began to be repopulated with repatriated Israelites and their domestic animals, a “new earth” came into existence. Over this “earth” of repatriated Israelites, a “new heavens” ruled, for, through Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua, Jehovah God directed and supervised the returned exiles.—Isa. 51:16; Hag. 1:1, 14.
In view of this fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, we can say that it is of divine origin, meeting all three requirements of genuine prophecy. Because the source of the message is the eternal God, Jehovah, we can rest assured that the restated promise of “new heavens and a new earth” will have a grand fulfillment.
FULFILLMENT OF RESTATED PROMISE
Manifestly, as long as the present system of things continues, we cannot expect righteousness to prevail among humankind. Hence, the present system must come to its end. This will take place when Jehovah God, by means of his Son, acts against all who persist in a course that threatens the peace and happiness of the human family. The fact that this great day of executional judgment has not yet arrived should not be misinterpreted, for the passing of time has served a beneficial purpose. Commenting on this, the apostle Peter wrote: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.”—2 Pet. 3:9, 10; 2 Thess. 1:6-10.
Wisely, none of us would want to presume on God’s patience. The day of reckoning is drawing ever closer. For that event to find anyone in a disapproved state before the Creator would spell disaster. That is why Jesus Christ gave this warning: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.”—Luke 21:34-36.
Those who stand as approved will next witness the fulfillment of these words: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4) What grand relief this will mean for humankind! All sadness over injustices, suffering and oppression will then be unknown. Distressing pain will be a thing of the past. No more will death claim our loved ones. Peace will reign everywhere. All persons will be motivated by genuine love in attitude, word and action.
Not even those who have died will miss out on the fulfillment of God’s promise. Why not? The Bible answers: “There is going to be a resurrection.” (Acts 24:15) Jesus Christ’s having been raised from the dead—a fact to which there were upward of 500 witnesses—provides the basis for this hope.—1 Cor. 15:3-6, 13, 16.
Surely, it is the best of news that God’s promise of “new heavens and a new earth” is rapidly moving toward its fulfillment. Hence, there is a vital need for us to seek an approved standing before our Creator. This is what the apostle Peter urged his fellow believers to do, saying: “Since you are awaiting these things, do your utmost to be found finally by him spotless and unblemished and in peace.” (2 Pet. 3:14) Is this what you are striving to do?
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When the exiled Jews returned from Babylon, a “new earth” was established
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“Render judgment for the fatherless boy; plead the cause of the widow.”—Isa. 1:17.