In Isaiah 65:20, It Sounds as If Isaiah Is Saying That in the New Heavens and New Earth People Will Die. How Do You Interpret This Text?
Question from a reader:
You point out that what Isaiah spoke about Jesus literally happened. Isaiah 65:17 says “I will create new heavens and a new earth”, and then verse 20 says “he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.” It sounds as if Isaiah is saying that in the new heavens and new earth people will die. How do you interpret this text?
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
A standard interpretation of this text is that when a prophet looks forward, even in sometimes thinking of the new earth, he stops short and thinks of the millennial kingdom. The millennial kingdom is almost a cross between the present era and the new earth in that sin, suffering and death will be greatly reduced yet still exist. If you think of the millennium as a literal thousand years at the end of the old earth, that would mean it’s still under the curse even though Christ is on the throne. That would explain why death still happens even though the world is a far better place. It’s still not perfect. We know there is still sin because there is rebellion at the end of the millennial kingdom and destruction of the rebels as mentioned in Revelation 20. The curse still exists and will exist until God brings to end this present earth and fashions the New Heavens and New Earth spoken of in Revelation 21-22.
Some reformed theologians, including Anthony Hoekema in his book The Bible and the Future, believe the language is figurative and should be thought of as saying “If someone died at 100 they would be thought a mere youth, and if they failed to reach a 100 they would be considered accursed.” In other words it’s not saying they actually will die, but life is so long, eternally long now, that death at any age would be unthinkable.
I am not satisfied with the second explanation, and not completely happy with the first either, but those are the standard ways of attempting to understand that portion of Isaiah 65.
For more information on the subject of Heaven, see Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven.