Redemptive History

"Induction into priestly ministry, the heavenly court setting, the symbolism of priestly clothing, and judicial washing accomplished through atoning sacrifice—all these elements come together in the imagery of the redeemed myriads, white-robed, standing before the throne and the Lamb, appointed to serve God in his temple day and night, and identified as those who 'washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb'. Strange detergent, staining blood."—Meredith G. Kline

Monday, August 21, 2006

Concerning Premillennialism and Isaiah 65:17-25

Isaiah son of Amoz was a prophet of Yahweh. This mortal man witnessed the unspeakable terrors and mercies of Isaiah 6. His words are weighty. These ancient words force the reader to examine one’s place in God’s redemptive history. There are some points of contention concerning the Dispensational or Historic Premillennial interpretations of Isaiah 65:17 – 25. On the outset, it should be noted that often premillennialists claim that theirs is the view of the Early Church. However, this is a broad and untenable claim. While it is true that some Early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus,[1] Justin Martyr,[2] and Tertullian[3] held to a form of premillennialism, it differed in some aspects from historic premillennialism.[4] Also, many other Ante-Nicene Fathers such as Origen,[5] Victorinus,[6] and Caius[7] held to a more amillennial view. Certainly, Patristics is not at issue. However, it is important to note that no one millennial position can lay claim to the historical interpretation of the Church.

The historical premillennial interpretation of Isaiah 65:17 – 25 states that these verses describe the conditions experienced during the work of God called, the millennial reign. This is time period following the second advent of Christ, in which He reigns on earth for one thousand years. The conditions described in these verses are interpreted “literally”[8] by the historical premillennialists. Laying aside for the moment whether or not these verses should be interpreted literally, a cursory reading of Isaiah 65:17 – 25 with passages such as Is. 11:6 – 9; 66:22 – 24; Rev. 21:1 – 8 reveals many similar themes (e.g. peaceable animal kingdom) and statements (e.g. ‘New Heavens and New Earth’). By stark contrast, the millennial portion of Revelation (Rev. 20:1-6) contains no such phrases or thematic content. If these five passages (Is. 11:6-9; 65: 17 – 25; 66:22- 4; Rev. 20:1-6; 21:1-8) were to be laid side by side, Revelation 20 would quickly be seen as out of place. Putting aside what Rev. 20:1 – 6 is describing, it appears whatever it is depicting, it is not found in Isaiah 65:17 – 25.[9]

‘Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth’.” (Is. 65:1a). This phrase, according to historic premillennialism, refers to the thousand year rule of Christ on earth.[10] Yet, a brief survey of other passages that contain this theme will not allow for such an interpretation. Isaiah 66:22 states, “ ‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I will make endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure’.” If the new heavens and new earth refer to the millennial reign as premillennialists hold, then logically the length of time that, “…your name and descendants endure” is one thousand years. Surely such an interpretation confuses the point of Isaiah 66:22—your name and descendants will endure forever.

Warning and encouraging his flock concerning the day of the Lord, Peter says the heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire (2nd Pet. 3:12). In 2nd Peter 3:13 the Apostle Peter warns this destruction will happen, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” Peter’s use of the phrase, ‘new heavens and new earth’ cannot refer to a premillennial thousand year period on earth prior to the consummation of all things. The immediately preceding verse describes the destruction of the heavens and earth. Premillennialism does not hold that the heavens and earth will be destroyed by fire prior to the millennial reign. Rather, it is with the phrase, “home of righteousness” that the new heavens and new earth is defined. This theologically wonderful phrase, “home of righteousness” would not appear to be a fitting designation for a premillennial earth co-inhabited by sinners and saints.

Revelation 21:1 is the final use of the new heavens and new earth phrase, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” Again, mention is made of the passing away or destruction of the old heavens and earth. Besides the context of the following verses (Rev. 21:2-8), the phrase “no longer any sea” is of special import. This is a place where premillennialists and amillennialists agree that the “literal” or “real” meaning is the “symbolic” one. In the Ancient Near Eastern mind, the sea represented evil or chaos.[11] The mention that there is no sea in the new heavens and the new earth does not mean that there is no sea. It means that there is no evil or sin present there, which again is not conducive to the premillennial co-existence of both the righteous and the reprobate. Therefore, other scriptural references of the “new heavens and new earth” do not allow for this term to be applied to the premillennial one thousand year time period on the earth.[12]

‘The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind’.” (Is. 65:17b). The immediate context of the “former things” for Isaiah was the former judgments and deeds of God upon Israel for their sins (Is. 41:22; 42:9; 43:9,18; 46:9; 48:3). However, Christians often interpret this verse as referring to their former sins. This verse is important for the purposes of this study. Since premillennialists insist upon a literal interpretation of Isaiah 65:17 – 25, then this would lead to the notion that people in the millennial reign are unable to cognitively recall their “former things” (i.e. sin). If premillennialists assert that not remembering the former things means anything besides not remembering, then it would appear that the premillennial literal hermeneutic is flexible on this point. “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” (Is. 65:18). Note the duration of the command for rejoicing—forever.

As it has been shown above, the other Biblical references to the new heavens and the new earth refer to the heavenly state, not to a thousand year earthly reign of Christ.[13] However, Isaiah 65:20 reads, “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be accursed.” Initially, this passage seems to pose difficulties for those who hold to the amillennial position. How could Isaiah 65:17 – 25 refer to heaven if people die? A proper hermeneutic would suggest that the other passages mentioned above in no way allow for a millennial reign, so one should simply interpret the unclear in light of the clear. While this is certainly an acceptable solution, it will not suffice for the present study. This leads to the real crux of the matter between premillennialists and amillennialists. The premillennial hermeneutic, which has been shown lacking with phrases such as “new heavens and new earth,” “not recalling the former things,” and “rejoicing forever” demands that Isaiah 65:20 means that people will truly die. Amillennialists on the other hand, see this verse as metaphorically describing the incalculable long life of the redeemed in heaven. This is due to amillennialists seeing Isaiah 65:17 – 25 as depicting the heavenly state through a series of literary metaphors attempting to convey the unspeakable bliss that awaits the sons and daughters of God. One can just see the prophet bursting anthropomorphical language boundaries attempting to convey the ultimate consummation of all things (2nd Cor. 2:9 cf. Is. 64:4)!

If premillennialists hold that v. 20 refers to the fact that people will die, then they must logically hold that there will be no sorrow or crying when people die in the millennium. For, Isaiah 65:19b states, “… the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.”[14] Isaiah uses the most common trials of life and claims that they will be rectified. These verses are not to be taken as actual conditions experienced by those who are alive during the millennial reign. Rather, they are to be interpreted as a series of metaphors that symbolize the end of all struggles common to humanity. The pain of God’s judgments and our rebelliousness will be as if they were forgotten (Is. 65:17). Not that literal mental recall concerning our former sinfulness will be prohibited. Similarly, the command to rejoice forever is contrasted with the common despair shared by all those who live in this postlapsarian existence (Is. 65:18-19). The painful problem of infant mortality will never be experienced again (Is. 65:20a) or the tragedy of one whose life is thought to have ended prematurely (Is. 65:20b). To further substantiate this, take the capital of all common pain experienced by those on earth—death, Isaiah says it is as if someone who dies at one hundred[15] will have thought to be a child (Is. 65:20d) and he who does not reach one hundred will be like an accursed sinner (Is. 65:20e). Not that some people will literally live extended lives, but some will not reach one hundred years. Rather, Isaiah is claiming that the ultimate common pain of death will be a thing of the past, their days will be like the days of a tree (Is. 65:20 cf. 65:22).

Also, to further substantiate the above interpretation, notice the position of Isaiah 65:20. It directly follows the statement that, “…the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more.” (Is. 65:19). Compare this with the destruction of the common shroud of death that enfolds all peoples. “On this mountain[16] he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers the nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” (Is. 28:7-8). Here is seen the wiping away of all tears as synonymous will the destruction of death forever (Is. 25:7 cf. Is. 65:19; Rev. 21:4). Therefore, given the meaning of the context immediately preceding Isaiah 65:20 as referring to the destruction of death (Is. 65:19 cf. 25:7-8), then it would appear more plausible to interpret v. 20 in an amillennial fashion. It would appear antithetical to state that some people would live extended lives, but still die immediately following a claim that God would eliminate death (Is. 65:19 cf. 25:7-8). Rather, in keeping with the other metaphors in Isaiah 65:17 – 25, the prophet goes to the extreme opposite of the commonly shared pains of life. The son of Amoz is not merely claiming extended life, but forever life!

Continuing with the interpretation that Isaiah 65:17 – 25 contains God’s response to Isaiah’s cries for justice by “righting all the wrongs” commonly experienced by those who dwell on earth, the next metaphor deals with the pain of others wrongfully benefiting from other’s labor, “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant as others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.” (Is. 65:21-22). Again, Isaiah is not attempting to convey the agricultural and architectural conditions during the one thousand year reign of Christ on earth. Rather, he is keeping with the motif of all wrongs being righted. No longer (compare with the “Never again” of v. 20) will the wicked benefit on the backs of the righteous. Truly, the old order of things has passed away (Rev. 21:4). Isaiah 65:23 – 24 deal with the pain of fruitless labor (v. 23a), wayward children (v. 23b), and that dreadful silence from the Lord (v. 24). What parent does not fear that his or her child will be subject to misfortune? In keeping with the complete other end of the spectrum concerning the ultimate righting of wrongs, Isaiah states that they will be blessed by God. Them, and their descendants with them.[17] Also, who has not waited for what seemed an eternity for God to answer their prayer? It is the common lot of all the children of God that at some times their Father seems far off. The heavens are as brass and God does not seem to even hear. “Not so!” says Isaiah. Again in the extreme, God will not only hear their prayer, but before they even ask, He will hear (Is. 65:24).

The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like an ox, but dust[18] shall be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.” (Is. 65:25) This verse is practically mirrored elsewhere in Isaiah, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, and their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like an ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Is. 11:6-9). These verses were quoted in their entirety so that the parallels can be readily observed. The premillennial interpretation of Isaiah 65:25 (and assumedly Isaiah 11:6-9) is that during the one thousand year reign of Christ on earth, the animal’s organic structure will be somehow supernaturally altered to enable previously rapacious animals to be mild and for carnivores to morph into herbivores. However, such a fantastic interpretation is not needed. In keeping with the theme of all wrongs being righted, Isaiah 11:6 – 9; 65:25 are simply another example of this theme.

Contrary to the premillennial view are the phrases “my holy mountain” (Is. 11:9a; 65:25b) and the earth being “full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Is. 11:9b). The cosmic mountain-temple[19] of Yahweh is where these animalistic changes are to occur according to premillennial thought. However, if this mountain is to be equated with the Lord’s temple, then this phrase would appear to ultimately be linked with the final temple—heaven (Rev. 21:22-27). Also, the claim the knowledge of God will cover the earth as waters cover the sea (Is. 11:9 cf. Hab. 2:14) would appear problematic to the premillennial concept of a one thousand year sinner and saint co-habitation. In keeping with the theme of Isaiah 65:17 – 25, this “knowledge” could not simply be intellectual ascent, but rather a relational knowing is what is implied. Greater than earthly death is the problem of not knowing the Lord. Many will suffer in hell due to this lack of knowledge. This problem too will be corrected in the ultimate manner. As the sea covers the earth, all will know Him (cf. Jer. 31:34; Hab. 2:14).

Thus, the string of metaphorically righting all wrongs contains corrections of the common pains over remorse of sin (Is. 65:17), mourning (v. 19), infant death (v. 20a), premature death (v.20 b), exploitation of the righteous (vs. 21-22), futile work (v. 23a), wayward children (v. 23b), unanswered prayer (v. 24), and animal danger (v. 25). One would be hard-pressed to name another pain that would not fall under one of the above mentioned categories. Isaiah 65:17 – 25 uses these common pains to metaphorically describe the new heavens and the new earth, which according to the amillennial position equates to what is known as heaven. There are obviously more questions that could be asked and answered. However, allow this work to serve as an amillennial interpretation of Isaiah 65:17 – 25 and a brief sketch of some elements of amillennial eschatology.


[1]Bercot, David. ed. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, (Hendrickson:1995) pp. 450-451.
[2] Ibid. p. 450
[3] Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James. eds. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, (Hendrickson:2004), p. 483.
[4] In fact, the premillennialism of the Early Church was quite different from either the historic or dispensational premillennialism of today. They held that the earth would continue for six thousand years and culminate in a final thousand year Sabbath (following the pattern of the creation week). See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Eerdmans:1992) p 709.
[5] Origen, Origen De Principiis, Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James. eds. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, (Hendrickson:2004) p. 297.
[6] Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James. eds. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, (Hendrickson:2004) p. 360.
[7] Eusebius, The Church History of Eusebius, Roberts, Alexander & Donaldson, James. eds. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2nd Ser., Vol. I, (Hendrickson:2004) p. 160.
[8] Here, ‘literal’ refers to an exact correspondence to what has been stated (e.g. The king sat in his chair.—The King of England sat on his throne). However, depending upon the author, ‘literal’ can refer to the real meaning the author is intending to convey (e.g. The king sat in his chair.—authority). Thus, the deeper reality of authority symbolically represented by a potentate upon is throne can be called the ‘literal’ reading depending on the intention of the author. See further, G.K. Beal, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling place of God, (InterVarsity Press:2004) pp. 365-385. Also, it should be noted that concerning interpretation, oftentimes ‘literal’ has come to mean ‘true’ and ‘spiritual’ often means ‘liberal’ or connotes the idea of arbitrarily allegorizing. Therefore, caution must be used when saying that one group is ‘spiritualizing’ the text. This often has a negative effect similar to labeling all ‘literalists’ as ‘wooden literalists.’
[9] It is interesting to note that preeminent historical premillennialist and New Testament scholar Dr. George Eldon Ladd states that, “The only place in the Bible that speaks of an actual millennium is the passage in Revelation 20:1-6.” George Eldon Ladd, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse, (InterVarsity:1977) p. 32.
[10] It has been suggested that perhaps the millennial reign is the first thousand years of heaven. However, this is untenable due to the premillennial scenario (e.g. Satan being let loose to deceive and a final battle at Armageddon). This suggestion would have yet another interim: one thousand years of heaven—interim of an undetermined amount of time—resumption of heaven.
[11] Isaiah 57:20 and Revelation 13:1. See also, the Canaanite Mythology of the hero-god, Baal and the Sea-Tiamat.
[12]Also, notice the repetition of the word ‘create’ in Isaiah 65:17 – 18. It is used referring both to the new heavens and new earth (v. 17) and Jerusalem (v. 18). This is what is called in Hebrew grammar, a metonymy. This is the substitution of what is meant by something associated with it. Essentially, this would equate the two. See, G.K. Beal, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling place of God, (InterVarsity Press:2004) p. 25. See further J.D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence, (Harper & Row:1988) pp. 89-90.
[13] Also, traditionally amillennialists have interpreted Isaiah 65:17 – 25 as referring to the spiritual state of the believer in Christ. While it is true that Christians experience spiritual blessings already, there is a much fuller experience of these blessings yet to come. Hence, the “already/not yet” eschatological phraseology normally associated with amillennialism.
[14] Immediately, upon the hearing of the words, “new heavens and new earth” coupled with “Jerusalem” one should hear the echoes of Revelation 21:1-2.
[15] For information on the number one hundred see, Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, (InterVarsity Press:1998) p. 411.
[16] cf. Isaiah 65:25.
[17] The notion of descendants could be an attempt to convey the idea of an ongoing (i.e. forever) life.
[18] cf. Gen. 3:15.
[19] For further explanation of the equation of God’s temple with His mountain see G.K. Beal, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling place of God, (InterVarsity Press:2004) pp. 301-309.

5 Comments:

Blogger Hank said...

My favorite part of your article is foot note 8. arrrgg!

1:48 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Clinton,

Hank referred me to your blog and I stayed up last night going over this post. I think my thoughts are the same on this. Personally, we have been studying these issues in our fellowship, through the exegesis of books. So far, we are not premillenial, but don't know where exactly we fit in. I think my own leaning is more a mil, but I have to say that some of the post mil stuff is very tempting, though I don't know how sound:) I do see an end to this age, which will bring about a complete renovation of the universe and then the things spoken of in Isaiah. From my reading or your article, I gather that is your position as well. Thanks for taking the time to make the article available.

4:11 AM  
Blogger Clinton said...

Tim,

Thanks for reading my article. I actually first wrote it as a response to my Pastor’s Progressive-Dispensational Premillennial viewpoint as he was preaching through Isaiah. I am pleased that you liked it. I am also pleased to hear that you are not premillennial, but I would warn against postmillennialism as well. All of Scripture points to a final conflict, but according to the postmillennialist the vast majority of those alive will be Christian. Also, every thinking postmillennialist I know winds up a theonomist. If you care to get a good sampling of the various arguments, read The Meaning of the Millennium, edited by Robert G. Clouse. It has the dispensational premillennial, historic premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial positions represented and they present their cases and respond to the points of the other authors. Also, I think that I may have some other posts regarding eschatology. Feel free to read any of them.


Providence,

Clinton

2:57 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Clinton,

I really don't think I'll take the post millenial concept. What I meant by tempting was that it sounds great to believe Christ's victory in essence overcomes the world the way they depict it. However, I'm not convinced by the evidence.

I finished reading Three Views on the Millenium and Beyond. Personally, I thought Gentry and Strimple said basically the same thing, except where the post millenialist heads off into heaven on earth. So far, though the exegesis we have been engaged in at church has been eye opening.

I am reading some of the stuff now regarding the prewrath rapture issue and really don't find it convincing in the least, especially once someone tries to break Matthew 24 from chapter 23 or separate Daniel's 70 weeks.

I will post on some of the other articles when I have an opportunity to read them.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Kyle Herrington said...

Hi, your blog is really interesting. I would love to contact you and maybe discuss some things.

Visit my blog, www.kdherrington89.blogspot.com and see what you think. Also, there is a section on the right side called ESSENTIAL READING which links to my other blogs devoted to specific Biblical subjects. Please contact me.

6:57 PM  

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