A Nation Born in a Day (Isaiah 66)
This is the eighth in a short series of posts dealing with the proper interpretation of Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy (OTKP). If you’re new to this subject (or to my blog), you’ll want to read the essay with which I introduced the series (just click here).
My goal in these eschatological adventures is two-fold.
First, I want to open up something of the Christ-centered truth and beauty of OTKP to my brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Secondly, I want to reason a little with my premillennial brethren. In particular, I want to make the case that we all will best understand, enjoy, and profit from OTKP when we see that its true sphere of fulfillment is: 1) Christ, 2) the New Covenant he instituted by his blood, 3) the two-staged spiritual Kingdom he has already introduced (and will soon consummate), and, 4) the New Covenant community he is creating out of elect Jews and Gentiles: the Church.
In short, I would like my premillennial brothers to reconsider the amillennial approach to the interpretation of OTKP.
Since the end of the age will soon be upon us, it is important that we stand together as much as possible. Seeing eye to eye on eschatology would definitely help. These essays—and the book in progress from which they are extracted—represent my best effort at contributing to that worthy goal.
A Nation Born in a Day (Isaiah 66)
This is one of the most difficult—and hotly contested—chapters in the entire OT prophetic canon. Not surprisingly, it has therefore proven a fertile field for speculation, especially among our Dispensational brethren, some of whom find here OT predictions of the birth of the modern Israeli state, Jewish evangelism during the (seven year) Tribulation era, a premillennial regathering of Jews to Palestine, and living conditions in the millennial era itself.
Granted, this is a complex and opaque chapter. But is it possible that there is a simpler understanding, one that not only accords with NT eschatology, but also speaks with more power and comfort to Christians? I believe there is, and that the New Covenant Hermeneutic will enable us to see it clearly and savor it richly.
By way of introduction, we do well to observe that this chapter continues a theme sounded in Isaiah 65: the contrasting destinies of the faithful remnant vs. the apostate multitude. In Isaiah’s day, the former, a minority in Israel, had suffered rejection, mockery, and persecution at the hands of the latter, even as the nation as a whole had grown ripe for judgment (28:9-22, 66:5).
In chapters 65-66, God therefore encourages his saints with rich promises of ultimate justice: Those who forsook the LORD will perish, but those who sought him, mourning for Jerusalem’s deep degradation, will live to see the day when he not only bestows eternal glory upon the City of God, but also brings the Gentiles themselves into her blessed precincts (Isaiah 65:10-11, 13-16, 66:10-11; Luke 6:20-26).
The LORD’s Chosen Temple
In verses 1-2, God reminds his people that no house—no Temple—can contain the infinite Creator of the universe. He does, however, intimate his preferred place of rest: the heart of those who are of a poor and contrite spirit, and who tremble at his word (Mt. 5:3, Luke 18:13).
No doubt these words comforted the pious Jewish exiles of subsequent generations. More than that, however, they are meant to comfort Christians. Why? Because they spoke of a better Day—an eschatological Day—when God, through Christ, by the Spirit, would take up eternal residence in his Church; when the members thereof would worship him, neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth (John 4:21f, Eph. 2:22).
Judgment is Sure
Verses 3-4, in graphic terms, depict the loathing with which God greets the religious observances of the apostates, and also the judgment that awaits them, owing not only to their willful sins, but also to their rejection of the mercy offered them in the admonitions of the prophets (Luke 12:47-8, John 15:22-24).
In verses 5-6, God begins speaking directly to his faithful remnant. He assures them that he will indeed judge their “brothers” who excluded them —presumably religious officials who barred them from sanctioned public worship—, and who also blasphemously mocked them (Mt. 27:39-44, John 9:34).
Verse 6 intimates the fall of Jerusalem, not only to the Babylonians, but also to the Romans. The latter, like the rending of the temple veil at Christ’s death, marked the end of the Old Covenant era, the beginning of the New, and the appearance of “the Jerusalem above” as the eschatological dwelling place of God (Mt. 27:51, Mark 11:14, Luke 21:6, 20-24, Gal. 4:21-31).
A Nation Born in a Day
Verses 7-13, which clearly take us into the eschatological era, speak of this very thing, thereby offering hope to the struggling saints of all times.
The “she” of verse 7 is Zion, a figure for the Church in her OT form. At the end of her course, she will be embodied in a Jewish peasant girl named Mary.
Suddenly, supernaturally, she will give birth to a male child: Christ, the Son of Man, the Last Adam (Rom. 5:12ff, Rev. 12:1-2, 5). Alas, after he has completed his great redemptive work, her pains will indeed come upon her, for henceforth she will share in his sufferings, yes even to the end of the age (Rom. 8:17, Phil. 3:10, Rev. 12:1-6, 13ff).
In verse 8, the birth of Christ (the Head) is conflated with the birth of the Church (his Body). Because of Jesus’ incarnation and subsequent work, God, on the Day of Pentecost, will suddenly and supernaturally beget a new Land, a new Nation, and indeed a new City (v. 10, 1 Peter 2:9). These three are none other than his elect sons (and daughters), the inhabitants of the NT Zion and Jerusalem, begotten from above throughout the entire Era of Proclamation and Probation by the preaching of the Gospel (1 Cor. 4:15, 1 Peter 1:23).
In verse 9, God assures his disheartened (and exiled) OT saints that their toil has not been in vain; that divine omnipotence stands behind the promise of Jerusalem’s latter-day restoration.
Rejoice in Jerusalem, All You Who Mourn!
Therefore, in vv. 10-11 he exhorts them to receive the promise by faith, so that they too, out of the fullness that dwells in Christ and his Body, may one day experience eternal spiritual comfort and delight (John 1:16, 1 Cor. 14:3, 2 Cor. 1:3-7, Eph. 1:23, Phil. 2:1, 2 Thess. 2:16-17).
Verses 12-13 explain further why the saints should rejoice: Through Christ, God will extend peace—reconciliation and spiritual reunion—to his Church, flooding her not only with multitudes of Gentiles, but also with the glorious riches of their grateful love and devoted service (John 10:16, 17:22-23, Rom. 12:1f, 15:10, Eph. 2:11-22). In those days, the Father, with a Mother’s love, will richly comfort his own (1 Thess. 2:1-12).
The LORD will Come in Fire
Verses 14-17 reprise the theme of the contrasting destinies of the faithful remnant and the apostates: The hand of the LORD—which will bring in the New Jerusalem—shall be made known to his saints; but for his enemies, he reserves only indignation (v. 14, Rom. 2:1-11).
The judgment of vv. 15-16, adumbrated by the OT destruction(s) of the earthly Jerusalem, is eschatological, seeing that it falls upon all flesh. It will be accomplished at Christ’s second coming (2 Thess. 1:7-10). Once and for all, he will purge the earth of idolatry, here presented as the bane of OT Israel and Jerusalem (v. 17, Acts 17:22-31).
They Shall See My Glory
Verses 18-21 promise the faithful remnant that their spiritual seed will one day gather the Gentiles into God’s Kingdom, where they (the Gentiles) will enjoy the pleasures and privileges of full membership in the covenant community (see v.12).
This beautiful OTKP is fulfilled in the Era of Proclamation and Probation.
It begins in v. 18b, with God declaring that the time is coming for him to gather all nations, and for the peoples to behold his glory. This reminds us of Jesus’ words, spoken in response to a show of Gentile interest in his ministry: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself” (John 12:32). Through the preaching of the Gospel, the Spirit will effectually call God’s elect—both Jew and Gentile—into the Kingdom, enabling them to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and eagerly to receive the benefits of his redemptive work on their behalf (John 1:14, 3:1ff, 6:4, 10:16, 14:9, 2 Cor. 4:6).
He himself is the sign spoken of in v. 9, a standard beneath which the peoples may gather for salvation (11:10, 12, 49:22, 62:10, Luke 2:34). God will set it among his NT people: first, by sight, among his elect remnant of Jews, and later, by faith, among his elect remnant of Gentiles.
Both, through faith in Christ, are reckoned as survivors of the wrath to come (John 5:24, Rom. 5:1-2, 1 Thess. 1:10).
So that still others may be saved, God will send them to “the remotest parts of the earth,” here epitomized by seven of ancient Israel’s most distant neighbors (Acts 1:8, Rev. 5:9). There they will preach the Gospel, wherein the glory of God is declared, and whereby nations sunk deep in idolatry will at long last hear of his fame and behold his glory for themselves (v.9, Micah 4:4-5, Rom. 10:14-15, 15:14-21).
Verse 20 (virtually impervious to a literal futuristic interpretation) speaks of their good success: Using every spiritual device at their disposal (Rom. 14:13-14, 1 Cor. 9:19-22), they will transform these pagan neighbors into brothers and sisters in Christ (Eph. 2:11-18), transport them to the Zion and Jerusalem above (Gal. 4:21-31, Heb. 12:22), and present them as a spiritual sacrifice in the house of the LORD (Rom. 15:15-16, Phil. 2:17).
While all of them will become part of Christ’s royal priesthood, some, according to the typology of v. 21, will be ordained as spiritual leaders in his Church (Eph. 4:7-16, Titus 1:5, 1 Peter 2:5, 9).
Contrasting Final Destinies
In verses 22-24 we pass from the Era of Proclamation into the eschaton. Here we meet the contrasting final destinies of saints and sinners.
Just as the New Heavens and the New Earth will endure forever before God, so too will Zion’s offspring, the resurrected and glorified Church of Christ, the faithful of all times and all places (John 5:28-29, 11:23-26, 1 Cor. 15:50-58, Col. 3:4, Heb. 11:1f, Rev. 21:2, 10-11).
The NT forbids a literal interpretation of v. 23, teaching that ceremonial “months, seasons, and years” have been fulfilled and forever discarded by Christ (Gal. 4:10, Col. 2:16-17, Heb. 8:13), and also that in the eschaton the sun, moon, and stars will give way to the perpetual light of the glory of God (Rev. 21:23, 22:5). Thus, under OT imagery, the message here is simply that all redeemed flesh—both Jew and Gentile—will worship God forever (Rev. 15:4).
Similarly, the meaning of v. 24—which alludes to the perpetual burnings in the accursed Valley of Hinnom just outside Jerusalem—is that the saints will look with ethical satisfaction (doubtless among many other emotions) upon the eternal punishment of the wicked, for now they are receiving their just due (2 Kings 23:1-14, Dan. 12:2, 2 Thess. 1, Rev. 15:2-4, 16:4-7, 22:15).
Isaiah 66 is indeed a challenging OTKP, but surely it was never meant to be an indecipherable riddle.
Therefore, the great question confronting the Christian interpreter is this: Which method of interpretation—the prophetic literalism of the premillennarian or the New Covenant Hermeneutic of the amillennarian—yields the most satisfying results from a NT point of view?
To find out, we must take our stand on solid NT ground. In particular, we must decide which approach best accords with the apostolic method of interpreting OTKP; which approach best reflects NT teaching on the nature and structure of the Kingdom; and above all, which approach best fulfills God’s stated purpose for the OT Scriptures: that they should supply spiritual encouragement to the Church—the people of the Lord Jesus Christ—upon whom the ends of the ages have come (Rom. 15:4, 1 Cor. 10:11, 1Peter 1:10-12).
Hopefully, the few reflections offered above will help to point the way.