The prophet Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 65:17 something pretty incredible. In the new creation, he says, “the former things” — the experiences of this life, it seems — “shall not be remembered or come into mind.” And that raises question about eternity. In the new creation, are we mindwiped?
Two listeners are asking this exact question, Pastor John, who joins us remotely today over Zoom. Here’s David, who lives in San Antonio, Texas: “Hello, Pastor John. I praise God for you and for Tony and for your faithfulness to this podcast over the years. I’ve searched the archive high and low and cannot find your take on Isaiah 65:17” — which is true; the text has never appeared on APJ, until today. “So does this passage effectively say that we will be memory-wiped before we enter the new creation?” And then a listener named Ryland wants to know “how Isaiah 65:17 jibes with Revelation 5:12, which puts Christ’s sacrifice — the past-tense ‘was slain’ memorial of his crucifixion in this world — front and center for all of eternity. Pastor John, what do you make of Isaiah 65:17. And are my memories of this life deleted in the new creation?”
Well, here’s the quote. Let’s put Isaiah 65:17 right in front of us so that we can be specific. God is speaking:
Behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
So David is asking, Does that mean a complete memory wipe — like, I assume, the hard drive of our former life crashes and starts over as a totally blank slate? And my response is that there are numerous reasons why it does not mean that. And if we think about a few of them, we will get a clearer picture of what the Christian eternal future will be like.
Forgotten Former Troubles
First, in the immediately preceding verse, God says of his servants, “He who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from [our] eyes” (Isaiah 65:16).
Isaiah 65:17 says, “The former things shall not be remembered,” and Isaiah 65:16 limits those things to former troubles. Now that’s a contextual warning to me that we better be careful not to overstate the forgetting of verse 17. It’s probably not a memory wipe of all former things, but a selective memory wipe in some way. So that’s just a little flag warning me, “Be careful here. Don’t overdo this. Don’t overstate this.”
Or think of a total memory wipe. Think what it would mean. If you remember nothing from your former life, you are not you any longer. You have no identity at all. There would be nothing in your mind that could identify you as you. In essence, a total memory wipe means you don’t exist anymore as the person you were. And if you are to have any personhood at all, it would start all over again, like a new creation. You’d be a new total person, and there would be no continuity with that former person at all.
But that contradicts several things we know from Scripture. It contradicts the parables of Jesus and the teachings of the apostles, that we will be rewarded in the age to come according to our works in this life. So, there’s a correlation or a continuity between the person you are and what you did in this world and the person you will be in the new earth.
A complete memory wipe also contradicts the fact that we will recognize each other in the age to come. The risen Christ is the firstfruits, Paul says, of that final resurrection reality (1 Corinthians 15:20), and he relates to his disciples after the resurrection as one that they know. We will know Jesus as the one who came into the world and worked wonders and died for us and rose from the dead — and we will know each other. All that assumes that our memories have not been wiped out.
Song of the Lamb
Perhaps the most important of all is the fact that the ultimate purpose of history, the ultimate purpose of redemption, from creation to consummation, is the praise of the glory of the grace of God. That’s a quote from Ephesians 1:6. God has worked in history so that his wonders would be remembered and praised, especially the wonders of his grace.
“He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful” (Psalm 111:4). God is not going to obliterate the memory of his thousands of works of grace, as though they didn’t matter. On the contrary, according to Isaiah 63:7, God will cause to be remembered “the steadfast love of the Lord . . . the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion.”
This is why Ryland’s question about Revelation 5:12 is relevant. He’s right that the book of Revelation pictures the perfected saints in heaven as singing the song of the Lamb. That’s the Lamb that was slain at a point in history at a place called Golgotha. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” We’re going to be singing that in the age to come.
God did not send his Son to die and just have his sacrifice be forgotten for all eternity. The death of Jesus was the high point of the glory of the grace of God. And that’s the point of the universe: the praise of the glory of the grace of God. We will sing it forever. We will not forget the high point of the grace of God in this history, which means that the death of Jesus will make sense forever. And the only way the slaughter of the Son of God makes sense is to remember sin.
We have to remember sin — our sin. Christ died for our sin. The most poignant expression of Paul’s worship of Christ, it seems to me, is Galatians 2:20: “[Jesus] loved me and gave himself for me.” Do you think Paul won’t say that forever? “He loved me. He gave himself for me.” That poignant love and thankfulness will not be memory wiped. It’s the reason Christ died, to win for himself everlasting songs of thankfulness and worship for his bearing our guilt.
“The reality of hell would make no sense if there were no memory of the outrage of sin.”
Or consider the other side of the coin. In the age to come, we will know that there is a reality called hell. The very last verse of Isaiah pictures the saints in the new age gazing on the defeated foes of God (Isaiah 66:24). But the reality of hell would make no sense if there were no memory of the outrage of sin and no memory of the patience of God in this age.
Remembering in Eternity
So, I conclude that Isaiah 65:17 does not mean that we are memory wiped in the new heavens and the new earth, which would cause David and Ryland to say, “Well, then, what does it mean? Okay, Piper, we get that. We get what you’re saying. What does it mean when it says the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind?” Here are three observations that suggest there is a kind of forgetting and there is a kind of remembering that is different from what we now experience.
The Bible speaks of God not remembering our sins against us. I think that’s a crucial phrase. Psalm 79:8: “Do not remember against us our former iniquities.” Or Ezekiel 18:22: “None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him.” This is probably what the Bible regularly means when it says that God will not remember our sins, as in Isaiah 43:25: “I will not remember your sins.” That is, God will not remember them against us. He will not call them to mind to in any way harm us or punish us. But he does not cease to be God, with perfect knowledge of all reality — past, present, and future. So there is a way to remember sin that is very different from our present experience.
Second, the Bible pictures us in our eternal future as having fullness of joy. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). That means no memories will ruin this joy. We may not be able to imagine how any memory of all our sins could serve our joy, but that leads me to my third and last point about how forgetting and remembering in the age to come will be different from how we experience forgetting and remembering now.
Memory Will Serve Worship
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In other words, there is a way we know our sins now, and there’s a different way we will know our sins in the age to come.
“Whatever God grants us to remember of this world will only serve to deepen our joy, the joy of worshiping Christ.”
We will know them as God knows them, as we are known. We will be granted the capacity to see them as the reason why Christ died, and yet the effect of that seeing, that remembering, will be so changed that the pain of it, the guilt of it, the shame of it will be transformed into a pure, joyful magnifying of the grace of God, which is why God made the world and sent Jesus to save us. That’s what he was after: the magnifying of his grace.
So I take Isaiah 65:17, “The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind,” to mean this: in the new heavens and the new earth, whatever God grants us to remember of this world will only serve to deepen our joy, the joy of worshiping Christ. Everything will be forgotten in the sense that everything that would hinder that worship will be excluded or transformed.