Terry J asks (January 24):
One of the trickest passages to interpret from any eschatological viewpoint is Isaiah 65:17-25 – especially verse 20. What is your view on the meaning of this passage?
Wayne Rohde Asks (January 25):
I was glad to see Terry’s question re: Isa. 65:17-25, particularly v. 20.
I remain convinced that the amil position easily does most justice to the whole counsel of God. It seems to me that there’s nigh-well an avalanche of problems with the pre-mil (and post-mil) position(s), as well as a comparable avalanche of passages supportive of the amil (two age) scheme. Furthermore, regardless of the meaning of Isa. 65:20ff (and parallels), I see nothing in these verses that matches what’s going on in Rev. 20:1-10. Just as the Isaiah passage says nothing about a millennium, so Rev. 20 says nothing about people bearing children, building houses, etc.
But the precise meaning of Isa. 65:20ff eludes me, in terms of what the best way of understanding Isaiah’s point is. Is Isaiah conflating something in the present age with something in eternity? Or is he simply speaking non-literally so as to employ language in a way that accentuates the glorious conditions of the new heavens and earth? I anxiously await your response!
Kim Riddlebarger’s reply:
According to dispensationalists, Isaiah is referring to the millennial age on earth during the 1000 year reign of Christ after his return to earth (cf. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, 487-490). For reasons we will soon explore this cannot be the case.
According to postmillennarians, this passage refers to the latter day glory of the church on the earth. John Jefferson Davis writes, “the blessings of the church’s latter-day glory spoken of in Isaiah 11:6-9 are reiterated and expanded in Isaiah 65:17-25. The intensified period of spiritual blessing produces conditions in the world that are termed `new heavens and a new earth.’ (V. 17). This refers to the dramatic moral renovation of society rather than to the eternal state, since Isaiah speaks of a time when children are still being born (v. 20), when people are still building houses and planting vineyards (v. 21) and engaging in their earthly labors (v. 22). Paul uses similar language when he says that salvation in Christ is like a `new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17), or again in Gal. 6:15, `for neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.’ The conditions of health and temporal peace of which Isaiah speaks in 65:17-25 are not the essence of the gospel, but they are properly the consequences of the gospel when its impact is intensive and extensive in the world. The message of reconciliation with God also produces as its fruit reconciliation between man and man and even with the natural order itself. It should also be noted that 65:17-25 makes no reference to the Messiah’s physical presence on earth. In the latter days, God desires to create in Jerusalem (the church) a rejoicing (v. 18). But the realities of verses 18-25 refer neither exclusively to the eternal state nor to the time following the second advent, but rather to the messianic age when Christ still rules at the right hand of the Father in heaven.” (Cf. John Jefferson Davis, The Victory of Christ’s Kingdom: An Introduction to Postmillennialism [Canon Press], 37-38).
For four important reasons, I think both the premil and postmil interpretations stumble badly.
First, as Motyer points out, Isaiah 65:1-66:24 is a chiasm, in terms of its structure. This simply means that the logic of the passage flows from the opening verse (Isaiah 65:1–A1) and the final verses (66:18-21-A2)–both of which deal with those who have not heard nor sought the Lord–toward the middle of the chiasm, i.e. A1 (65:1), B1 (vv. 2-7), C1 (vv. 8-10), D1 (vv.11-12) E (vv. 13-25), D2 (66:1-4), C2 (66:5-14), B2 (66:15-17), A2 (18-21). In this case, Isaiah 65:13-25-E is the middle of the chiasm, and is therefore the central theme of the entire prophecy and speaks of the joy of the Lord’s servants in the new creation. This means that the central truth (or high point) of this entire prophecy is found in the middle of the chiasm, not the end (vv. 66:22-24), which speaks of Jerusalem as the center of the world. (See J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary [IVP], 522-523).
The point is this. The key part of the whole passage is the section in question (vv. 17-25) which deals with the new creation with its Zion. Steps A1-D1 and A2-D2 must be fulfilled before the hoped-for reality (E) comes to pass. Given the structure of the prophecy as a whole, the climax of the passage is the eternal state (the new heavens and earth), not a half-way redeemed earth in which people experience life-extension, only to die later on.
Second, verses 17-20 of Isaiah 65 are composed of two poems. One is a poem of the new creation (vv. 17-18b), the other is a poem of the city and its people (vv. 18c-20). As Motyer points out, “throughout this passage Isaiah uses aspects of present life to create impressions of the life that is yet to come. It will be a life totally provided for (13), totally happy (19cd), totally secure (22-23) and totally at peace (24-25). Things we have no real capacity to understand can be expressed only through things we know and experience. So it is that in the present order of things death cuts off life before it has begun or before it has fully matured. But it will not be so then” (Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 530). In other words, metaphors are used of things neither we nor Isaiah can fully understand. The poetic structure surely points in this direction.
Third, as Meredith Kline points out, the language here reflects covenantal blessings now magnified in light of new heavens and earth. These blessings take us well beyond the natural order, but can only be understood in light of the natural order (Kline, Kingdom Prologue,152-153).
Fourth, is Isaiah telling us that as a result of the spread of the gospel (“moral renovation” in Jefferson’s terms), people will live longer, only to die? Where does the gospel promise long life? It promises eternal life! In fact, isn’t the whole point of prophecy clearly stated in verse 17. “I will create new heavens and a new earth?” This is a time subsequent to Revelation 20:1-10, which describes the binding of Satan and the reign of the saints in heaven after suffering upon the earth, only to end in a great apostasy before the final judgment. Both pre and post millennarians must assign this prophecy to the same period of time as Revelation 20. But given the chiastic structure and use of metaphor, isn’t it far better to see Isaiah 65:17-25 as describing the same time frame as Revelation 21, which is clearly describing the eternal state? I certainly think so.
Kim has a wonderful way of explaining things to make it easy to understand without all the ‘fluff’. He has been such an encouragement to us. Thanks for posting this Mike.
I wrote something similar here http://sjonee.wordpress.com/2007/06/19/a-special-post-for-a-special-premillennial-friend/ in the comment section (I think last comment?) for Rachel who sometimes comments here in order to answer her questions on text. I don’t know if she ever came back and read it…I’m sure Kim’s is better than mine but they seem similar.
As for me, that does speak of the Millenial Kingdom on earth ( which is to fulfill the many OT prophesy passages to Israel). One person suggested that the 1000 years spoken in Rev. 20 is a Hebrew idiom such as the Psalm 50:10 verse of the cattle on a thousand hills is. But in my search on the net I found many sites, yet the only Hebrew idiom in Rev. 20 is “the lake of fire” which means a vast expanse of fire and destruction. For the Isaiah 65:17 verse being the new heavens and the new earth, it speaks of the restoration that is needed for the Great Trib is a devastating time as the Lord said in the Olivet discourse. The eternal kingdom is that which we enter at rebirth and realize at our entrance through the first death or rapure. The Millenial kingdom consists of that time of satan being bound. Then he is let loose again to deceive those born in the Millenium. But the fire of God destroys him and all who were deceived by them -there is no battle against Gog and Magog this time. The Millenial kingdom is only part of the eternal kingdom, not seperate from it. It will be the time that the promises of God to Israel and the nations will be fulfilled. The things in Isaiah 65:17-25 speaks of those things that cannot be happening in the eternal kingdom (we, as believers ruling and reigning with Christ are not going to have children, die, or be deceived), but only on earth.Though many OT prophesies are written in parabolic form, that doesn’t negate the realities of what will be happening during them. As I read Ireneaus and Hippolytus concerning these things, they have lined up with what I have believed concerning the Millenial Kingdom rule of Christ in Israel over the nations. The new heavens and earth happen before the manifested eternal kingdom of our glorified bodies and begins with the Millenial Kingdom. While Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father He will still sit upon the throne of David.There are many verses in the Psalms that speak of the earth remaining forever. This is why I believe the new heavens and earth is refurbished (made new) and the Lord reigns on the throne of David at the same time of the eternal kingdom. 1 Cor. 15:24-28 are going to be fulfilled at the end of the Millenial Reign. I also am fascinated that these men’s works speak of the Church going through the Tribulation (the time that Jesus said would be like no other time in history-the time of Jacob’s trouble for Israel) but some argue that that is about the Trib saints that have come to Christ through the two witnesses and the 144,000. I tend toward pre-trib rapture because we will not know the day or hour. If that is an error then I will be post trib concerning the rapture. I am not keen on the mid-trib theory and do not believe the pre-wrath as I have read dissertations refuting it. Hippolytus has named Elijah and Enoch as those two witnesses and they will evangelize in the first half of the Tribulation. The Antichrist will build the Temple at about the time the witnesses are killed. Then he will sit in the Temple and call himself God. This was oral tradition handed down from Apostle John to Polycarp to Ireneaus to him. This is the outline of events that I believe through reading these disciples of John’s teachings-Ireneaus, Against Heresies,book 5,19-30 and Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist.