“The heavens vanish like smoke”
Our readings in Isaiah and Revelation both challenge us with figurative language about the climax of life on earth. There are many passages in God’s word which make reference to the heavens in a way in which it seems clear they symbolise, in certain contexts, the ruling powers on earth.
Through Isaiah God says, “My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the people; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm (Jesus) they wait. Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever …” (51:5,6).
This earth is being physically abused by human beings and needs renewal, but mankind is unable to agree how to stop this abuse. Representatives of many nations have just gathered together but nothing was achieved! They, and the people they represent, are too self-centred in their attitudes: a world government is essential. The few people today who really know God, find it dangerous in an increasing number of countries, to make their faith openly evident.
Now note the next verse in Isaiah, “Listen to me you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law: fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings … but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations”. And so “the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (verse 11).
When “the heavens vanish like smoke” then “the number of the beast … the number of a man … 666” (Revelation 13:18) will become clear. There have been many proposals as to the interpretation of this number, most of them focusing on the Papacy. After six comes seven and this is the opposite, the number of perfection and completion with the opening of the seventh seal.
There are hidden sevens in Revelation, there is one in this chapter, “Here is a call for the endurance (AV, patience) and faith of the saints” (verse 10). The Greek word hupomone occurs in Revelation just seven times, and is a message to those who carefully search the scriptures. As the “heavens vanish like smoke” let us patiently endure knowing God’s righteousness is about to appear.