Answering a Premillennial Objection to the Amillennial View of the New Heavens and New Earth
In a recent volume on the Second Coming of Christ (The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective), noted author and theologian Craig Blaising articulated a couple of arguments in favor of premillennialism that warrant consideration. Continue reading . . .
In a recent volume on the Second Coming of Christ (The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective), noted author and theologian Craig Blaising articulated a couple of arguments in favor of premillennialism that warrant consideration.
Blaising’s first argument for premillennialism is an appeal to several OT passages that he believes portray a phase of the kingdom on earth that is subsequent to the return of Christ but antecedent to the final judgment and the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth. Such texts envision a time where the sin and rebellion of humans is judged and physical death is still present. Blaising does not believe this is descriptive of the present church age and insists that the eternal state cannot be in view (after all, everyone agrees that in the eternal state all sin and death will be altogether absent).
One such text is Isaiah 65:17-20. In spite of the fact that Isaiah explicitly identifies this time period as the New Heavens and New Earth (a not insignificant point that Blaising altogether ignores), and in spite of the fact that, as Blaising himself acknowledges, “the language is similar to Revelation 21,” which all agree refers to the eternal state, he insists this is descriptive of an earthly phase of the kingdom following Christ’s return and preceding eternity. He does this because he believes that otherwise Isaiah 65 would contradict Isaiah 25:7-9.
Both texts, he argues, cannot refer to the eternal state. After all, in the latter text “death will be no more,” whereas in the former text death is still present. Blaising believes the only way to resolve this conflict is to argue that Isaiah 65 describes the millennial phase of God’s kingdom preceding the eternal state (in spite of the fact that Isaiah calls it the eternal state, i.e., the New Heavens and New Earth), while Isaiah 25 describes the eternal phase of God’s kingdom. But no such differentiation is needed.
First, note carefully that Blaising’s appeal to Isaiah 25:7-9 as descriptive of conditions in the New Heavens and New Earth actually contradicts and precludes premillennialism altogether. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, describes for us what will happen at the Second Coming of Christ. No one denies this. Yet in doing so, he explicitly declares that when Christ returns and “when the perishable puts on immortality, THEN (emphasis mine) shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:54b-55). In other words, for Paul the death of death, the termination of all physical suffering and human mortality, occurs at the time of the return of Christ and the resurrection of the body. At that time, says Paul, Isaiah 25:7-9 (he specifically quotes v. 8) will be fulfilled. “Death will be swallowed up in victory” at the time of the Second Coming. No physical death can occur after the Second Coming. If it could, Paul would be wrong in saying that death is swallowed up in victory, in fulfillment of Isaiah 25, at the moment of the Second Coming.
Blaising is asking us to believe that Isaiah 25:7-9 describes events and conditions one thousand years subsequent to the Second Coming, in the eternal state, which is to say in the New Heavens and New Earth. I agree with Blaising that it describes the eternal state, the New Heavens and New Earth, but Paul, contra Blaising, places this at the time of the Second Coming. The point, quite simply again, is that there is no place in Paul’s scheme for a 1,000 year interregnum between the return of Christ (when death is “swallowed up in victory”) and the New Heavens and New Earth.
So once again, in simpler terms (I hope!), here is what Paul is saying. When “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52), all of which occurs at the Second Coming, Isaiah 25:7-9 will be fulfilled: Death will be swallowed up in victory! Blaising is correct in saying this OT passage describes the end or termination of all death. But Blaising is clearly wrong in placing death’s death 1,000 years after Christ’s return, for the Apostle Paul places it simultaneous with Christ’s return. Therefore, I’m left with the only obvious conclusion: there can be no millennial kingdom, in which physical death continues to exist, intervening between the coming of Christ and the coming of eternity. Why? Because Paul says so!
Let’s return for a moment to this alleged inconsistency between Isaiah 25 and Isaiah 65. Yes, it is true that the prophet in chapter 25 envisioned the eternal state as one in which death was altogether absent. Yes, it is true that the prophet in chapter 65 portrayed the eternal state (he himself calls it the New Heavens and New Earth) as one in which death appears to be present. But note carefully that Isaiah does not merely assert that physical death will exist in the New Heavens and New Earth. Rather he portrays conditions in which “no more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed” (v. 20).
I explained in a previous blog article (and in Chapter One of my book, Kingdom Come), why Isaiah chose to speak in such terms, and I urge you to go back and read again my comments. Here I would simply say that it is not at all the case that Isaiah is incapable of envisioning a scenario in which physical death is altogether absent. Clearly chapter 25 indicates that he can. Rather, the prophet is seeking a way to communicate vividly and effectively to a people who were constantly burdened with the anguish of premature infant death and the sorrows that it invariably would bring. He is, in effect, saying: “People, can you imagine a time and place where if someone were to only live 100 years we would all lament the fact that he/she had died so young?” We need not insist that Isaiah is saying, “Yes, and in literal fact, people in that time will die prematurely at age 100.” Isaiah is simply doing what not only other biblical authors but we today do as well: he is using the idealized language of the present to portray in terms intelligible to the people of his day the reality of future glory in the age to come. He may not be describing it in as exalted and exhaustive terms as he is capable, but why should we insist that he do so?
Walter Kaiser’s attempt to account for the language of Isaiah 65 is even less persuasive. He is certainly correct in pointing out that “the point of Isaiah 65:20-24 is that in the future one may disregard any thoughts of an untimely death” (Preaching and Teaching the Last Things, 160). But rather than embrace the explanation proposed above, he argues that the “Jerusalem” of vv. 20-24 is different from the “Jerusalem” of vv. 17-19. Although nothing in the text even remotely suggests that the prophet had such a radical distinction in mind, Kaiser insists that in vv. 17-19 “Jerusalem” refers to the renewed city of the eternal state, whereas in vv. 20-24 “Jerusalem” refers to a millennial city. He says this, mind you, in spite of the fact that the antecedent of “it” in v. 20 (the Jerusalem where Kaiser insists death will continue to reign) is the “Jerusalem” of the new heavens and new earth described in vv. 17-19. “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days,” etc. The reference is to the “Jerusalem” of the “new heavens” and “new earth” (vv. 17-19). Why, then, does he make this proposal? It would appear that he comes to this prophecy in Isaiah already committed to premillennialism and imposes the latter upon the text, forcing it to conform to a preconceived eschatological scenario.
Blaising also refers to Isaiah 11:4 where God “strikes the earth with the rod of his mouth.” He believes this “indicates the presence of rebellious activity not in keeping with the eternal kingdom order in which sin is absent” (144). But why does he conclude that it must therefore describe what will occur in the millennial kingdom? Because he needs it to!
He actually concedes that whereas “it is possible that the reference to the rod in Isa 11:4 refers to the definitive final judgment, more likely it is to be understood as a general feature within the overall description of the messianic reign” (144). Why is this “more likely”? It is “more likely” not for any obvious exegetical or theological reasons but because otherwise Blaising loses another potentially premillennial OT text!
The fact is, Isaiah 11:4 falls within a larger context that describes the characteristics of the coming Messiah, a passage that Jesus himself cites and applies to his own person and work in the first century (see Luke 4:16ff.)! Thus the sort of judgment that is portrayed in v. 4 (in highly figurative language I might add: Isaiah speaks of the “rod” of Messiah’s mouth and of his killing the wicked “with the breath of his lips,” terms that no one would insist on taking in a physically literal sense) could easily be what the reigning Lord Jesus exercises throughout the course of the present church age as well as the judgment that he will inflict at the time of his second coming. The only reason anyone might argue that it must or even likely describes the sort of judgment that will occur in an intermediate messianic kingdom is because they need OT texts that warrant belief in the existence of such. But nothing in the text itself justifies interpreting it in such a fashion.