Prof. David J. Engelsma
A Spiritual Fulfillment of Isaiah 65:17ff
The literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy ends in a carnal Messianic kingdom.
The literal interpretation of the prophecy of Isaiah 65:17ff., advocated by postmillennialist Christian Reconstructionism, ends in an earthly kingdom of Christ.
Besides, a consistently literal interpretation leads to absurdity. Not even the most ardent advocate and practitioner of a literal interpretation of Isaiah 65:17ff. can carry it off, as was demonstrated in the previous editorial
But Old Testament prophecy of the coming Messianic kingdom may not be interpreted literally. To do so is, at best, to become a dispensational premillennialist, turning eschatology into the restoration of Old Testament Israel and its earthly glories, and, at worst, as Herman Bavinck warned us, to lapse into Judaism.
The New Testament instructs us to interpret Old Testament prophecy spiritually. In the earthly figures familiar to the prophets and their hearers, the Holy Spirit of Christ foretold the spiritual glories of Jesus Christ, His church, and His new creation. Those earthly features of the prophecy — houses, fruitful vineyards, successful labor, trouble-free days, no crying, long earthly life, Jerusalem — are not the reality of the prophecy.
They never were the reality of the prophecy.
They were not the reality of the prophecy for the spiritual Israelite at that time. He or she saw through them and beyond them to better and higher prospects: the things that eye has not seen, that ear has not heard, and that never entered into the heart of man to imagine, the things that God has prepared for them that love him (I Cor. 2:9).
Must it be spelled out? Houses, fruitful vineyards, successful labor, trouble-free days, no crying, long earthly life, and Jerusalem are all things that eyes have seen, ears have heard, and have entered into the heart of man to imagine. These are not the things, therefore, that God prepared for the spiritual Israelites who loved Him.
Those earthly trivia, once used to represent the heavenly kingdom and life, certainly are not the reality of Old Testament prophecy for us New Testament believers who have already begun to experience the life, riches, and glory of the risen Christ by the gift and indwelling of the Spirit of Pentecost.
I do not think that the postmillennial Christian Reconstructionists really appreciate the absolute disinterest with which the Reformed amillennialist regards the splendid earthly kingdom of postmillennialism.
Suppose for a moment that the Christian Reconstructionists by their constant badgering of the churches and by their own heroic efforts, in alliance with the charismatics, bring about their dream. The whole world, including every nation, is governed by Christians and fulfills the fondest expectations of Kik, Boettner, Rushdoony, North, Chilton, Gentry, and the others.
We Reformed amillennialists will not be jumping for joy. Why should we? There will be death in that world. Sooner or later, we will still have to feel the bitter pang of separation from a beloved wife, child, parent, and friend. What difference does it make that we go through this grief after 500 years rather than after 50 years? Indeed, the grief after 500 years of love must be worse than the grief after 50.
There will be sin in the postmillennial kingdom. Every day we will know our misery of guilt and shame, the worst misery of all. Every day anew we will have to battle indwelling sin, which wrenches from us the groan, “O, wretched man that I am.” What difference does it make that Gary North sits on the throne of the world and that Kenneth Gentry, Jr., is in charge of radio, television, movies, and the internet worldwide?
There will be hordes of ungodly in this postmillennial kingdom, on the admission of even the most optimistic postmillennialists themselves. They will hide it. Outwardly, they will conform to the law of God, particularly the civil regulations of the Old Testament Bible, either out of selfish desire to enjoy the material prosperity or out of fear of Christian Reconstructionist vengeance. But in their hearts they will hate God. They will be rebels inwardly against the Christ. At the end of the millennium they will rise against the Lord (Rev. 20:7-9).
This will grieve the Reformed amillennialist. If there were but one enemy of Christ in the kingdom, this would grieve him. For there would be in the Messianic kingdom a despising of God’s commandments, at the very least in the hearts and minds of the ungodly. And, as the Psalter puts it, “because Thy statutes are despised, with overwhelming grief I weep.”
There will be no vision of God in the face of Jesus Christ in this kingdom of postmillennialism. Still only in a glass darkly.
For these reasons alone, we Reformed amillennialists would not be enthusiastic over Christian Reconstructionism’s kingdom. Indeed, we would be groaning, as we do today, waiting for the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23). We would be crying night and day for divine vengeance on Christ’s and our enemies (Luke 18:1-8). We would be praying fervently, “Lord, put an end to this postmillennial business as soon as possible, and come quickly.”
What is even more distressing for the Reformed amillennial believer is that this postmillennial kingdom is supposed to be the culmination and final form of the Messianic kingdom. According to the postmillennialists generally and the Christian Reconstructionists in particular, with the ending of the millennium the kingdom of Christ comes to an end. The eternity that follows will not be the Messianic kingdom, but only the bare kingdom of God.
As regards the kingdom of Jesus Christ, that’s it!
That earthly reign by means of the church, filled with sin, death, and unregenerate reprobates who hate and curse Christ morning, noon, and night, is the climax and conclusion of Christ’s kingdom.
Behold ... a dismal flop!
If that is the Messianic kingdom at its very highest and greatest, Christ is destined to be displayed publicly as a royal failure.
The Christian Reconstructionists never tire of railing upon Reformed amillennialists as defeatists. They do not hesitate to accuse the church in history of being responsible for the failure of their millennial kingdom yet to appear.
Talk about defeat!
Is their earthly kingdom with its sin, death, and sinners the best that Christ can do as king?
That Christ is a sorry failure.
I do not believe it for a moment. The Reformed amillennialist recoils from the very notion as blasphemy.
The postmillennial dream is not the Messianic kingdom, much less the apex and end of it.
Nor is this the prophecy of Isaiah 65: l7ff.
As we shall see.