I was going to entitle this series, “Preterism Has No Future”, but decided against it. I think certain forms of what has come to be known as Full Preterism (FP) has no future in terms of surviving outside the internet community. The academic community has all but rejected it, and this is not because they have not heard of it. N.T. Wright has certainly heard of it (Surprised by Hope, 127). Andrew Perrin has heard of it (Coming of the Son of Man). Their problems, representative of a great majority, is that FP has no future. There is no goal for the Church, and when you tack on the unbiblical notion of infinite (read, Greek “infinity” here) sin on earth, the Church, by and large, will rightly reject these ideas (although, they are accepting more and more a preteristic grasp of A.D. 70). In other words, 70 A.D. is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning.
Let me quote FP Michael Fenemore so that the reader can understand exactly what is advocated, and what I, for a great time, advocated until around 2008. “Admittedly, it would be nice to see Jesus blazing out of the sky to erase all evil and rule the earth in peace; but we reject any such scenario as fantasy. This is a big step toward spiritual maturity since we must now live by faith, not knowing the future” (ital. his, “What Do We Have Now?”, Fulfilled Magazine, Winter, 2009, Volume 4, Issue 4). The “spiritually mature” among the Christian Church are the FP because, they claim, they have no future. Heaven is the goal, the only goal, and ever will be the goal. So much for planet earth (which, according to another version of FP, Covenant Creationism, the Bible never mentions, so it is easily dismissed as a “problem” with their view when Futurists bring it up). Another aspect here that Fenemore thankfully brings out with clarity is that it is a fantasy to think that Jesus will “rule the earth in peace” and “erase all evil.” He won’t. Evil is infinite. Peace will never be on earth. Jesus will never rule the earth in peace. I believe this represents consistent FP teaching up to this point. I say “up to this point” because FP has never really considered the futurity that it has embedded within it. FP does have a future, but this will require a shedding of certain aspects of what has passed as FP to date.
Admittedly, this may sound bizarre coming from professed Christians (as I believe most of them are true believers) who preach the “victory of Jesus”. But this is precisely where a radical break comes in. How can, on one hand, Jesus be ruler of all things, and yet, at the same time, it is a fantasy to think he will ever rule the earth in peace? One is left to profess that while Jesus does rule the earth, and evil will exist for infinity, then Jesus’ rule is quite okay with the way things are right now. This must be the conclusion since evil will always exist on planet earth. He will never eradicate it, so he must be okay with it. This aspect alters the Christian understanding of the nature of God, particularly His holiness. Man originally lived hundreds of years, yet the LORD God cut short his years because, “And God said: My spirit shall not strive in the adam for ever, because he is flesh, and his days shall be a hundred and twenty years” Gn 6.3. Here, God explicitly stated that His Spirit will not “strive” with man forever (the Hebrew phrase, לֹא-יָדוֹן “shall not abide” is also translated, “shall not strive” or “contend”. din is a Hebrew word for judgment). And, so he numbers his days. The word for “man” is singular and articulate, “the man”. It is corporate in that the individuals that were sinning were all “the man”, Adam by extension. He is the head. They are his children. God will not strive with their evil forever.
I. My Venture into Full Preterism
I came into FP, as I have given this testimony many times at various conferences in which I have spoken, through Reformed Postmillennialism (RP). The route was Gentry-Chilton-Jordan-DeMar (1988-90) ->Milton Terry-J.S. Russell (1990) -> Max King-Preston-Scott (1992-present). Chilton had footnoted King’s work in Days of Vengeance (531 n.49). There, Chilton charged King with a “neo-platonic” view of substance. That is, a more or less gnostic-like (not to be confused with Gnosticism, the heretical abberant of the second century C.E.) approach to physical things in favor of spiritual things. We will come back to this idea as well. It must be noted that Chilton did eventually become a FP of sorts, although we do not know to what extent. We do not know, because of his untimely death, that he rejected a postmillennial vision of victory on the earth for the Church.
I mention Chilton explicitly because his book, Paradise Restored, launched me into the world of Postmillenialism (this was around 1988 coinciding with the third edition printing, 1987). “The kingdom was established when Christ came. But, it has not yet reached its full development. Like the mustard tree, it started out small, but will grow to enormous size [Da 2.44]. The Kingdom will grow in size, spreading everywhere, until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth, as the waters cover the sea. The Kingdom’s growth will be extensive” (ital. his, 74, Paradise. See also Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion, 246-247, ICE, 1997). I never abandoned this idea even after I read King. I incorporated it into FP. That was 1992. The only difference between Gentry and myself was that I had no end to world history since the Second Coming already occurred. I saw the world as “getting better” until a near close as possible realization of the Kingdom of God on earth occured, only to continue as such for infinity (why would such a near-Utopian earth end?). I thought all FP shared this idea initially when I first entered the movement as a speaker/author in 2003. I was sadly mistaken.
I was aware of the “earth” passages, like Col 1.6, which states that “all over the world” the Gospel was preached. This is then connected to Mt 24.14 that “this message will be preached in all the world” before the “end.” Therefore, as FP argues, Hab 2.14 (“for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea”) is already fulfilled by A.D. 70. But this is a categorical mistake. “World”, and “earth” are not always the same in meaning. With the additional “as the waters cover the sea” the vision of the Prophet extends far beyond Israel. I saw that this was tendency with FP: limit everything to A.D. 70. The problem with this is that Habukuk is not seeing the events before A.D. 70, but the results after A.D. 70. To this we now turn as it is the focus of this first installment of this series, Towards A Fuller Preterism.
II. The Age To Come
The “age to come” (olam habba) stood for the Messianic Age (Van Gemeren, DOTT&E, 3.350). A considerable amount of confusion exists on this subject, mainly coming from Evangelical exegesis and eschatological issues that have forced a splicing between “the present evil age” and the “age to come” so that they “overlap” (G.E. Ladd, “Age, Ages”, EDT, W. Elwell, Baker Books, 18-21). Jewish understanding, though, in the first century did not have an overlap. “The promised Redeemer would bring the existing world order to an end and inaugurate the timeless sphere…” (Abraham Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, 1995, 364). One age would end, and the other would then begin. The early Church confessions appear to have adopted this as well: “we look forward to life in the age to come” where “to come” is marked by a future verb with “look forward.”
The prooftext Ladd (and many others) uses to develop this “already/not yet” understanding is Hebr 6.5 which reads, “and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come…(καὶ καλὸν γευσαμένους Θεοῦ ῥῆμα δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος). We can see here, though, that mellontos aionos is future (and is the same phrase in the Apostles’ and Nicene Greek). What is aorist here is “have tasted” – they have tasted of the powers (dunamis) of the age which is presently coming in the very near future (this is the force of the Greek here).
There are several things to be said here, but what should be obvious is that the “powers” of that coming age, and the coming age itself, are two different things. It is the powers of that age to come that they are already tasting, not the age itself. Bruce, who still (amazingly) argues that the “age to come” itself has “broken in” to the “present age”, saw, rightly, the typology being played out here in the author’s mind. In the wilderness, the people of God “tasted” of the good things of the land of Canaan with entering into Canaan. These were fore-tastes of the things to come. They were eaten while in the wilderness (present age), awaiting the Promise (age to come). Within a “generation” (40 years) they finally came into the Land (F.F. Bruce, Hebrews, 12o n.38 -122). William L. Lane sees that it is the “powers” in the present age (Hebrews, 142, WBT). It is the powers of the age to come that has “broken in” just the fruits of Canaan were brought into the wilderness. There is no “overlap” of the ages taught in the OT, or the NT, any more than Canaan overlapped the Wilderness.
This should not, though, take away from the understanding of what FP has called the “transition” from old covenant to new covenant priority. Again, I appeal here, not to FP authors, but to James Bannerman who wrote, “We must look for that precedent, not during the transition period of the Church when it was putting off its Jewish features and putting on the Christian, but after that transition had been fairly accomplished… That fixed condition was not attained,indeed, until some time after the resurrection of our Lord. It was the special work which He gave His Apostles to accomplish, to complete in its full and perfect order the Christian society of which He had Himself, after His resurrection, only laid the foundations” (James Bannerman, the Church of Christ Voume II, 215, 216). Bannerman was Reformed. He taught at the University of Edinburgh with the great William Cunningham in the 1800′s. The “transition period” as it called is not an “overlap” of the ages, but the “powers” of the coming age that was bringing about the change at the “end of the age” in order to “establish” to age to come.
Many Evangelical scholars see the Church as living in the age to come (Mathison, Pratt, Perriman, Wilson, Seraiah, just to name a few). My point here is that the “age to come” is foretold in the Scriptures, by the OT authors and NT authors. Therefore, it is prophesied. And, if this is case, then, clearly, it extends beyond A.D. 70 into our own times. Indeed, Paul pluralizes this in Eph 3.21 that “in the coming ages” (2.7) he might display his glory in the church “into the age of the ages” in the “generations” (plural) to follow his own. Paul saw far beyond A.D. 70. He did so because the Scriptures taught him accordingly.
III. The Age to Come According to “the Scriptures” (the OT)
Mishanaic Hebrew developed the framing of “this age” and “the age to come” (it is found in I En and in the Mishnah. A full-blown concept is found in IV Ezra – see Features of the Eschatology of IV Ezra, Michael E. Stone, Harvard Semitic Studies,35). The world to come, or age to come, comes on the heels of the “day of the Lord” and the “judgement”. The “resurrection of the dead” inaugurates this age. It is, more or less, equivalent with the new heavens and new earth. It is, then, no wonder that we find this same order in John’s visions (Rev 20-22). The events of the “last days” lead up to the “end of the age”, which is then consummated. Then the first day of the “age to come” begins. There is no overlap (A.T. Lincoln, Ephesians WBT, in loc 1.21).
Intertestimental Judaism appears to have developed this framework exegetically by observing “that day” and “in those days” with “the last days” or “the latter days” in the OT Prophets. The “last days” are still apart of the “this age” time, but clearly herald the fact that the age to come ws at hand. The NT usage of the phrase (Eph 1.21; all the Gospels; Hebr 6.5, et al) evidently picks up this known current phrase from such sources as cited above. There does not appear to be any redefinition of the understanding that when one age ended, the other began. Again, it must be stated that, following G.E. Ladd, the majority of scholars posit an “overlap” of the ages, which traditional Judaism did not. What it confusing here, is that on one hand these scholars will write “the blessings which belong to the age to come….are given to believers who still live in this age” (Ladd, op. cit, 20). This is my view. Yet, “…in any case, the NT does an overlapping of the ages” (Ladd, 20). This is not my view, nor is something explicitly taught in the NT. What is taught is that “the powers” of the age to come can already be “tasted” in the present age. This does not, however, demand an “overlap” (vid. Shurer, Emil, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, 2nd Div., Vol. 2, 133-ff). If we look at older interpeters (like, say, Ernest Renan – The Life of Jesus, 1863), the idea was not an overlap, but the last days ending in sudden destruction with the age to come then beginning. That is, older commentaries (pre-Ladd, W.G. Kummel) were decidedly more in line with the Judaistic framework rather than the “overlap” one.
Admittedly, this “already/not yet” view (which I fervently endorsed) is “paradoxical” by nature (T. J. Geddert, “Apocalyptic Teaching”, Dictionary of Jesus & the Gospels, IVP). That is, “resurrection life” is “already” something that belongs to the believer in toto from one sense, and from another sense (the “not yet”) is does not. Paradox indeed, and entirely unacceptable. The problem, which would necessitate a paper in and of itself, is that Paul, in particular, uses the aorist, present and future forms of verbs forming the eschatological pool (“made alive”, “risen”, “sanctified”, “justified”, “perfect”, “destroyed” – each in the respective aspects of the three Greek forms). There are several ways of interpreting this literary trait of Paul. My proposal, in brief, is that in seeing Hebr 6.5 as fundamental. The age was “about to come” (2.5). They were living in the “last days” (1.2). The “power” that would characterize the age to come was already present, as leaven, or as a mustard seed, having been sown, but not “yet” reaching its goal. It is not that “spiritually” the believer had “already” been raised, but “physically” he has “not yet” been raised (and this is what the “already/not yet” concept means in Kummel, Ellis and Ladd, which makes it difficult on that point alone for the FP to accept it). If we take the aorist as seeing the whole progressive act from beginning to end, and the future as the end of that act, then the present offers us explanatory reasons for suggesting that the spiritual had already begun, but was not yet complete. There is no “positional” versus “actual” in Paul. Neither is there any “legal” versus a not yet “real”. There was a truly already-at-work “power” of the age to come that was preparing the people of God to receive the inheritance of which the pre-end-of-the-age Spirit was only functioning as a guarantee (Eph 1.13-ff.). The “already” was the guaranteeing work of the Spirit. The “not yet” was recieving the “inheritance” in the “age to come”. This involves no paradox whatsoever.
This is in keeping with the typology, as mentioned, of the fruits from the land of Canaan brought into the wilderness. Num 13, which reports this story, is filled with what is later utilized in the NT Gospels. Twelve men are chosen to be the “first” to go into “the Land.” Yeshua and Caleb (from Judah) are enthusiastic as they “ascend” (“went up”), whereas the others lose heart. 13.20 reports that the Land was in the “first ripe grapes” season. Ready for harvest. And, guess how long they explored the Land? “Forty days” (13.25). They brought back a mere drop in the bucket of figs, grapes and what not from the Land (Yeshua ascended on high and gave gifts to men). Caleb and Yeshua are enthusiastic to take the Land, but the people rebel. They wish to “turn back” to Egypt for fear of the “strongholds” in the Land. And, so, God, being angry with them, adds a year to the “forty days” – making it “forty years” that they will wander. Hebr 3-4 plays on this theme, quoting Ps 95, which retells the story of Num 13-14.
These sames parallels exist in other accounts, but the one between David and Saul is most explicit. Here we have two sets of kings, one annointed of God Himself, and the other chosen through rebellion. It is the competition of two kings. However, David is not yet a king, even though already chosen and anointed as a king. And, like the story before, David strings together his disciples and they live in caves, on the run, hungry, and without much sustenance (it is no mistake that Jesus used the story of David’s time-in-between-anointing-and-throne for Himself feeding his disciples on the Sabbath – Mt 12.1-ff). When Saul finally takes his own life, David then assumes the throne and becomes king of Israel and Judha, and unites both houses together (which is what the apocalyptic David does in Ezk 36). Saul becomes filled with evil spirits, whereas David is baptized with the Holy Spirit. The typology here for the NT is rich (see, Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, Westminster, 139 – also, Peter Leithart A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel, Canon Press; Robert D. Bergen, 1,2 Samuel, NAC, Broadman as well, et al). These are rich typological themes that are repeated in the NT story for the life of Jesus, competing with Herod, who then sat on the throne in Jerusalem. Saul’s life and rule was numbered and in its last days. Jesus/David would usher in a new age and a new covenant (Davidic covenant) and unite Israel under “one king”. There was not an “overlap” of David’s rule and Saul’s. Saul was “the Lord’s annointed” and proper King of Israel. Until such time David “hid” in the shadows and caves.
The Prophets give us an extraordinary look into “that Day” – which is spoken of as “eternal”. It is a single “Day” (Zech 14.6). It is preceded by “a Day” of the Lord, which is a judgment upon Jerusalem (14.1-ff). What follows that Day is another Day in which “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. “On that Day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (14.9). Also, living water will flow from the City (14.8). This same pattern is found in Ezk 38 where a terrible “day” of the Lord is against the symbolic “Gog” (38.18), which in turn brings about the glory of God in the Land of Israel. He shall dwell with them, and they will be His people and He will be their God. Rev 20-22 follows this very first century Jewish pattern as well, seeing the “day of the Lord” followed by “a new heavens and new earth” age to come glory. This consideration brings us to Isaiah.
It was remarked earlier that the “this age” “age to come” scheme was derived from a proper interpretation of the OT prophecies. No better example of this is found in the OT than the Prophet Isaiah. As stated above, the order of events was that great distress would occur “in the last days”. This is when God would come and “judge the nations” – it would be the “Day of the Lord”. After this would come the “age to come” as the Mishnah understood it – the bringing in of a “new heavens and new earth.” These were not seen as coinciding events, with the new heavens overlapping the time of the “last days.” Rather, the last days signaled that the time for God to come and reward each man according to their deeds had arrived. The inheritance (reward) for the righteous would entrance into the kingdom of God, the age to come, the new heavens and the new earth, the Jerusalem created anew (Is 65.17-ff). In our readings of Is, we will see if this pattern holds forth.
First, Is 2.1-ff is often read in the light of the coming of the Gentiles (nations) in a time of Israel’s restoration. This is certainly true: “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. And many nations shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will tell us his way, and we will walk in it: for out of Sion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem.” The Hebrew here, supported by the LXX translation, is not that the nations come into Mount Zion in the last times, but only flow towards it (‘el is translated with epi in the LXX, with the accusative). That is, the nations are being drawn upwardly to the mount of the LORD. Secondly, the mountain is established as chief among the mountains in that time. Two things, then, will happen in the last times: nations will be signaled to rally to the mount of the LORD, and the mountain itself will become established as the rallying point.
What happens then is that, “And he shall judge the Gentiles, and rebuke many people” And as a result: “then they shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they be exercised any more to war.” The invitation is given in the next verse: “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
What we have here, in the beginning of Isaiah’s composition, unfolds throughout the rest of the book in richer detail. The theme is restoration not only of Israel (Mount Zion), but of the nations. In the establishing of the kingdom of God (Mount Zion), the nations, in turn, respond by following the “word of the LORD” towards the high and holy hill. This, in turn, sets up a judgment of the nations. Finally, “peace” is rewarded to those who follow the word of the Lord and the invitation goes out: “come, walk in the Light of the LORD.” In Rev 21-22 the “Light of the world” is established once and for all time. The Light came into the world at first, and the world “knew him not” (Jhn 1.12-ff). He was taken away for a time. However, by sending the Spirit, God would establish his people and bring back the Light to shine in all the world and to all the nations.
In terms of chronological sequence, “this age” comes to a close “in the last days” culminating in “the end of the age”. Thus, this age->last days->end of the age. This, in turn, is followed by the “age to come” wherein the invitation to come to the Light is given and peace is given to those who have heard the call, followed, and, as a result of judgment, entered into the House of the LORD itself.
We find this pattern again and again in Isaiah. Chapter 2.6-ff speaks of the “Day of the LORD” characterized by the exact opposite of 2.1-5. Nations are against nations (3.5). Jerusalem is crushed (3.1-4). In language found in Revelation (Is 2.10, 19-21; cf. Rev 6.15-17), Isaiah describes this Day in terrible detail (2.6-4.1). However, in 4.2 we find the Branch. The Branch will take the “remnant” of Israel (4.2), those “‘Holy’ is said of him, Of every one who is written for life in Jerusalem.” This is the result of judgment, when the books are opened, and the Book of Life is read (Rev 20.11-15). Atonement is fully applied (4.3). The Exodus motif is found in 4.5 where “on this mountain” God will be a cloud of smoke by day and a fire by night, a shelter from heat, storm and rain (cf. Rev 7.15-17, which parallels 21, 22). This is the age to come blessings as a result of the establishment of Mount Zion.
I want to push on with three more sections from Isaiah in order to demonstrate what scholars have long seen. In chapter 11, verses 1-3 speak of the Messiah, the Branch. Verse 4-5 speak of a time of His judgment, again paralleling Revelation 19.15; cf. II Th 2.8. Then, verses 6-12.6 describes the “age to come” (this passage parallels Is 65.17-ff, the “new heavens and the new earth”). 12.3 speaks of drawing from the “wells of salvation”. This “water” scene is noted by Dave Curtis as a reference to the Festival of Booths, the final festival in which after atonement, firstfruits, harvest and the like. Curtis writes,
During the Feast of Tabernacles, the intense anticipation of rain came to be reflected in the temple services. Each morning of Tabernacles, a water libation (sacrificial pouring out of a liquid) was offered to the Lord as a visual prayer for rain. Shortly after dawn each morning, while the many sacrifices were being prepared, the high priest was accompanied by a joyous procession of music and worshipers down to the Pool of Siloam. The high priest carried a golden pitcher capable of holding a little more than a quart of water. He carefully dipped the pitcher into the pool and brought it back to the Temple Mount.
At the same time, another procession went down to a nearby location south of Jerusalem, known as Motza, where willows of the brook grew in great abundance. They gathered the long, thin willows and brought them back to the temple. At the Temple, the willows were placed on the sides of the altar so that their tops formed a canopy of drooping branches over the altar. Meanwhile the high priest with the water from the Pool of Siloam had reached the southern gate of the Temple. It was known as the WATER GATE because of this ceremony. As he entered, three blasts of the silver trumpets sounded outside the Temple, and the priests with one voice repeated the words of Isaiah:
Isaiah 12:3 (NKJV) Therefore with joy you will draw water From the wells of salvation.” (from The Feasts of the LORD lecture series, Lecture 5).
We have already mentioned Zech 14 above, which ends its scene as picturing all of God’s people and the nations celebrating the Festival of Booths (14.16-ff). By parallelism, then, we can establish that the “age to come” is, in fact, the time of the “new heavens and the new earth.” It comes after the judgment. Curtis, again:
This celebration was repeated every night from the second night until the final night as a prelude to the water drawing the next morning. Nothing in ancient Israel compared to this light celebration. It was so spectacular that the ancient rabbis said, “He that hath not beheld the joy of the drawing of the water (the Simchet Bet Hasho’ayva celebration) hath never seen joy in his life (Sukkah 5:1). The light celebration was reminiscent of the descent of the Shekinah glory in Solomon’s day, and looked forward to the return of the glory of the Lord.
John recorded that it was the day after the Feast of Tabernacles (the eighth day), which was considered a Sabbath, when Jesus returned from the Mount of Olives to teach in the Temple (John 8:2; cf. 7:2, 37). As the Pharisees came to entrap Him, Jesus proclaimed:
John 8:12 (NKJV) Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
What we can start to gather, then, is that Light would come after darkness and judgment. The final festival of booths (tabernacles, which denotes God “dwelling” with His people) in Zech 14 speaks of the “heathen who have come to believe in the living God” (Keil and Delitzsch, Minor Prophets, Vol 10, 412) in the kingdom age.
In the third and final section, starting with Isaiah 53, we find Messiah suffering on behalf of his people. He is raised from the dead (53.11), and justification will, as a result, be given to his people. The servant suffers because of the sins of his people. They have gone “astray” (53.6). However, the next chapter speaks of God calling back his people (54.7), which is the return from exile motif found often in the Prophet. God calls back his people because he has healed their transgression. She was a barren woman, a forsaken woman, yet God will call her back and marry her again (54.5-ff) and enlarge her children (54.1-3). Then, we have the restoration theme again applied to Mount Zion/Jerusalem in 54.11-17, and as a result, an invitation goes forth: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.” The invitation parallels Rev 22.17 which is sent out within the newly established heavens and earth. It is an invitation sent out during the Age to Come.
Isaiah prophetically describes this age and foretells of what it would be like in that time:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (ESV)
Here, we can clearly see that those who accept the invitation in the age to come are “made alive” (regenerated). That times of replenishing and conquering shall come to his people. God’s purpose shall stand in the age to come for his people. Israel’s history did not end in A.D. 70. Israel was restored and raised from the dead in Christ, and as a result, salvation has come to the nations. These nations are ingrafted into God’s People, the Israel of God. This is so forcefully brought out in Is 56.3-8:
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. 6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant – 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” (ESV)
What often confuses NT readers is that Paul’s Gentile mission is seen as fulfilling these larger passages in Is, for Paul quoted from these passages to demonstrate his mission among the nations. This was not a premature act on Paul’s part. It was in anticipation of the Promise to Come of the inclusion of the nations. Paul understood that if Messiah’s foretold “coming in glory” had already begun with His incarnation and birth, then the nations would surely begin to show signs of flowing to “Jerusalem above” in “the last days”. The nations, then, were a sign to Israel that her coming glorification was at hand. In order to prove this, all Paul had to do was point to the powerful demonstration of the Spirit of YHWH among his Gentile converts. They were his “living letters”. They were precursors to what would become the great invitation to all the nations in all following generations.
What is crucial, then, to see is that the powers of the age to come were already breaking in on that final age. It was breaking in during the “last days” – foreshowing what the “age to come” would look like: foreigners entering into the heavenly House of the Lord and offering sacrifices, being counted as co-heirs with Israel; being counted as Israelites themselves. A.D. 70 does not, then, mark the end of Israel, but the transformation of Israel and the beginning of the expansion of Israel so as to include those who accept the invitation and, thus, whose “souls are made alive” (Is 55.3) in a new and living way in a new and living Israel. An Israel for all the world, rather than an Israel apart from the world.
This section continues in chapter 59 where Israel is “like the dead” (59.10). No one is righteous (59.16). 59.17-18 is a scene of judgment and salvation. The LORD himself brings salvation, which Israel failed to give birth to so that “the world” could be saved (Is 26.17-18). Then, 59.19: salvation to the nations. Israel will be saved. This continues into Is 60.1-ff where the Light shines, the nations come through the gates and the invitation will go out. This chapter is heavily alluded to in Rev 21-22. They both speak of the same period of time: the Age to Come. This is when Israel is replanted (61.4), and as a result, will grow into mighty oaks. The age to come is marked by extention, expansion and enlargement. It is an unprecedented time of Israel’s ranks precisely because her ranks are brought in not by blood, but by faith, and since by faith, the little nation of Israel could grow by leaps and bounds.
Continuing the vision, Is 62 foresees what is picked up again in Revelation: a new name. The pattern repeats itself again from 63 onward which forms the end of Isaiah’s composition. In Isaiah we have a proclamation of the purpose of God. “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (46.10). Isaiah 55.11 again, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.” There is only one purpose of God: for Israel to give birth to salvation so that the nations can join with her as one people in all the blessings that can be possibly obtained from the hand of God on earth. It would be entirely short-sighted to insist that Isaiah’s only concern for Israel in the age to come was “spiritual” well being, for God created the heavens and the earth to be inhabited by his people in order to rule and reign in and over the heavens and the earth by the fact that they are now spiritually restored.
The reason Israel could never sustain earthly “blessings” of the Abrahamic, Mosaic and the Davidic covenants was because their spirits were under the bondage of the court ruling of “death” because of the sin of Adam. God’s creation was never intrinsically cursed. These could always be reversed, as the Mosaic covenant promised (Dt. 28). Cursedness was always from a result of sin. And, since Adam’s sin reigned in the form of cutting all off from eternal life, Israel had no “life” outside of the “flesh” to produce salvation to the world. They gave birth to wind, not salvation (Is 26.18).
However, now that “life” has come to dead Israel through Christ, the whole original purpose of God for Israel could now be carried out. Indeed, Israel’s purpose was Adam’s purpose: be fruitful and multiply, take dominion over the earth, rule over the animals. This “expansion” idea is exactly what Isaiah had in mind when he spoke of Israel in the Age to Come. Now that Man is spiritually hooked up to the Tree of Eternal Life in Jesus Christ, he can now fully exercise all divine rights without fear of a disastrous future. God, in the book of Isaiah, has proclaimed the “beginning and the end” to Israel. He has proclaimed Israel’s history under Abraham, under Moses, in the last days, at the end of the age, and in the age to come new heavens and new earth. From beginning to end his purpose shall stand: a new heavens and a new earth; on earth as it IS in heaven. The phrase “beginning and the end” speaks not of the end of Israel, but of the exhaustive-ness of God’s knowledge. It is a statement one will find quoted in every systematic theology dealing with the omniscience of God. From “beginning to end” is all that God knows; his purpse and counsel. It is a declaration that man’s entire history, from beginning to end, will be governed by the eternal counsel and purpose of God. Isaiah has shown us the end result of that purpose: Isaiah 65.17-ff. For that, we must turn to the Part II of this series, which will be coming shortly.