Amillennialism and the Age to Come—A Critical Review # 11

by | Jun 8, 2017 | Book Reviews, Eschatology

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10

The Test Case of Isaiah 65:17-25

In previous posts I have challenged Waymeyer’s hermeneutical priorities.  I have argued that notwithstanding his refusal to do so, hermeneutical priority must be given to the New Testament over the Old Testament.  I also argued that the more literal New Testament passages must be given priority over the more figurative prophetic genres of much of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation.

In this post those hermeneutical priorities must be tested in relation to one of the Old Testament prophetic passages on which Waymeyer believes he can build a case for what he calls “the intermediate kingdom” of the millennium.  That passage is Isaiah 65:17-25.  As he says in his treatment of this passage, I have stated in the End Times Made Simple that this may provide one of the most plausible passages in favor of a future millennial kingdom which falls short of the eternal state.

This is so because taken literally and interpreted in terms of the naïve hermeneutics Waymeyer espouses it seems to teach that a period of time is coming which far surpasses the present, but which still contains the reality of death.  The key verse is Isaiah 65:20: “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Will be thought accursed.”  Similar are the words of verses 22-23a: “They will not build and another inhabit, They will not plant and another eat; For as the lifetime of a tree, so will be the days of My people, And My chosen ones will wear out the work of their hands.  23 “They will not labor in vain, Or bear children for calamity …”

I have several responses to the use Waymeyer makes of this passage.

First, the figurative genre of prophetic literature may not be ignored in the way that Waymeyer does in interpreting this passage.  If such a verse occurred in historical narrative I would admit that its meaning would be clear.  It does not, however, occur in such a literal genre of Scripture.  It occurs in prophetic literature which is composed of what Numbers 12:8 calls “dark sayings.”  This means that a naïve literalism is out of place in interpreting such a statement.

Waymeyer cites and criticizes Richard Bauckham who says that “Prophecy can only depict the future in terms of the present.” (38).  I admit that this statement goes a little too far.  The Old Testament does predict the resurrection.  In fact, Isaiah himself predicts the resurrection world in Isaiah 25:8—as Waymeyer points out.  Still, it remains true that in terms of actually apprehending, deeply understanding, or “getting a feel” for what the age of resurrection might be like, there is still a necessary place for depicting the future in terms of the present.  Even we who live in New Testament times grope for understanding about such a future.  This is where the vivid, figurative language which depicts the future in terms of the absence of the miseries of the present has an important place.  Storms makes this point in a more balanced fashion: “The best and most intelligible way the original author of this prophecy could communicate the realistic future glory of the new heaven and new earth, to people who were necessarily limited by the progress of revelation to that point in time, was to portray it in the hyperbolic or exaggerated terms of an ideal present.” (39).  I would only add to Storms that in an important sense we also are so limited.  We really do not know what living in the glory of the world of resurrection will be or feel like.  We ourselves have a difficult time having a right and proper sense of it.  And if we do—who have the light of the New Covenant—, then how much did the Old Testament saints who lived before life and immortality was brought to light through the gospel!  That brings me to my second point.

Second, when interpreting such figurative passages of Scripture, we must pay close attention to the real intention of what is said.  Let me say this very clearly.  The true purpose and deepest intention of Isaiah 65:20 is certainly not to affirm the presence of death in the future state.  At best, this is a secondary implication, and when it comes to figurative passages such secondary implications must be evaluated very critically.  The true intention of these verses is to affirm the absence of the great and terrible tragedies that fill the present age with such deep sorrows.  Some of us know the terrible sorrows of which Isaiah 65:20 speaks.  We know the deep sorrow of burying our children.  We know the painful frustration of laboring and toiling only to see our work destroyed.  We know what it means to work hard for something and then see what we have built inherited by someone else.  We know what it means to “bear children for calamity.”  Isaiah’s clear purpose and true point is to affirm that all such sorrows and tragedies will be banished from the age of which he is speaking.  It is a sad trivializing of Isaiah’s words to find in them a proof text for death in the millennium.  It really constitutes extreme callousness to his glorious affirmation.  Such a hermeneutical response to Isaiah 65:20-23 is incredibly insensitive.  Given the figurative genre of these words, it is also wholly unnecessary.

Third, such an interpretation is also incredibly insensitive to how this passage is interpreted in the New Testament.  This is, of course, the other hermeneutical principle and priority upon which I have insisted in previous posts.  There are clear interpretive statements made about Isaiah 65:17-25 in the New Testament.  We do not find anything in any of them about a millennium where death still exists.

Granted, Waymeyer acknowledges that there are certainly allusions to Isaiah 65:17-25 in the New Testament which apply it to the eternal state.  He seeks to explain these references by way of “prophetic conflation.” (42-45).  By way of such prophetic conflation, Waymeyer believes that he can meet the Amillennial polemic based on the way in which the New Testament applies the words of this passage.  He can, thus, have the best of both worlds:  the Premillennial interpretation he favors and the application to the eternal state found in the New Testament.

The reader should note, in the first place, that Waymeyer has actually granted the central point I want to make here.  He appears to agree that the allusions to Isaiah 65:17-25 in the New Testament understand it to speak of the eternal state and, therefore, of a period in which there is no death.  He is certainly right to agree with Amillennialists about this.  For there are clear references throughout Isaiah 65:17-25 to conditions which can only be fulfilled in the perfection of the eternal state.  Its joy is eternal (Isa. 65:18).  Weeping is banished (Isa. 65:19).  No evil or harm is done in God’s holy mountain—the New Jerusalem (Isa. 65:25).  It seems to me, however, that Waymeyer’s use of the idea of prophetic conflation in this matter is misguided and finally futile.  This is true for at least two reasons.

In the first place, it ignores the hermeneutical priority of the New Testament over the Old Testament.  This means that we are bound to interpret the Old Testament as the New Testament does.  What needs to be pointed out, then, is that, not only does the New Testament apply Isaiah 65:17-25 to the eternal state, but that it never takes it to speak of the Premillennialist’s millennium at all.  The Premillennial interpretation of Isaiah 65:17-25 is absent from every possible allusion to the passage in the New Testament!  The new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17) is a reference to the eternal state in the New Testament (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).  The New Jerusalem (Isa. 65:18) only descends from heaven in the eternal state (Rev. 21:2-4).  The banishment of weeping is found only in the eternal state (Rev. 21:2-4).

Waymeyer’s use of prophetic conflation in order to explain the clear references to the eternal state is misguided for a second reason.  The very passage on which the Premillennialist seeks to argue for the presence of death in the condition described in Isaiah 65:17-25 is actually understood quite differently by the New Testament.  Here we need to look closely at the flow of thought or structure of Isaiah 65.

Verse 19 asserts that there will no longer be weeping in the state predicted. This is clearly fulfilled according to the New Testament by the eternal state in the clear allusion to Isaiah 65:19 in Revelation 21:2-4.  There John says explicitly that the absence of weeping entails no more death!  Revelation 21:4 says explicitly: “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  Crying in Revelation 21:4 is the exact word used in the LXX to translate the weeping of Isaiah 65:19!

But what must be seen and weighed in connection with all this is that verses 20-23 of Isaiah 65 are the explanation in that passage of the statement of Isaiah 65:19, “And there will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying.” Thus, the New Testament takes verses 20-23 not to describe a time in which death continues, but interprets them of a time in which there will no longer be any death!  The phrase, “there will no longer be any death,” is, then, the New Testament summary of Isaiah 65:20-23.  Thus, the New Testament in Revelation 21:4 actually supports the figurative, Amillennial interpretation of Isaiah 65:20-23.

Waymeyer’s misunderstanding of biblical, hermeneutical principles and priorities, thus, betrays him into a misguided interpretation of Isaiah 65:17-25 which brings him into collision with the teaching of the New Testament.  Space does not permit me to show this with regard to the other passages which he thinks teach an intermediate (millennial) kingdom in the Old Testament.  I am satisfied, however, that proper hermeneutical principles and priorities will also explain those passages in a way which removes their supposed support for Premillennialism.  If Isaiah 65—the most plausible support for a Premillennial kind of intermediate kingdom to be found in the Old Testamant—can be so clearly understood in a manner supportive of the Amillennial position, then so also can the other passages he brings forward.

 

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