25 Jun 2024

Prophecy in the Old Testament is an incredibly interesting topic. On one hand, just like the New Testament, the entire Old Testament points to the promised Messiah and a final judgment. In fact, the main thrust of the Old Testament is not about describing the last days at all, but rather in pointing the Israelites to their savior. Because of this, it is helpful to recognize that “prophecy” is not always about the last days. The discussion of the end times is a very specific type of prophecy – and it is given a distinctive name, that being “eschatology” (from the Greek ἔσχατος (eschatos) meaning last and the suffix λόγος (logos) meaning word – literally a “word (or truth) about the last things”.)

Side note – when we see the suffix -logy, it means “doctrine of” or “truth of” something. Theology is the doctrine of God (theos+logos), pneumatology is the doctrine of the Spirit (pneuma+logos), hamartiology is the doctrine of sin (hamartia+logos), and so on.

It is interesting to note that the Jews had underdeveloped concepts of heaven, hell, life after death, and so forth. They did write about such things, but their sights were mainly set on their rescue, their coming Messiah, the judgment of their enemies, and finally, a “heavenly Jerusalem.” But, even though they did not develop these concepts nearly as much as the New Testament authors did, they were still able to stave off the influence of their pagan neighbors. For example, many, if not all of the surrounding nations believed that death was final – there was no afterlife. The Israelites however, maintained a belief in an afterlife as evidenced in passages like this…

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! 28If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’ and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’ 29be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment.” (Job 19:25–29 ESV)

But even as the ancient Jews had an underdeveloped understanding of several things, the authors of the Old Testament wrote about those truths that were sometimes a shadow of the fuller truth, but the truth nonetheless. This is evidenced in how the New Testament authors, in many places, interpreted the Old Testament (including its prophecies) in ways that were not always expected. Take Jesus for example. The Jews of the day were expecting a conquering king, not a suffering servant. There are many Jews to this day who are still waiting for their messiah to come, mainly because they cannot see that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies due to their preconceived notions about what Messiah should be like. We need to remember that the truths in the New Testament were revealed many hundreds of years after the last Old Testament book, and the New Testament oftentimes spiritualizes Old Testament prophecies, with one of the most controversial being the idea that Israel finds fulfillment in the church.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Romans 9:6–9 ESV)

Therefore, as we read the Old Testament, where appropriate, we must read it through the Holy Spirit inspired “commentary” that is the New Testament. If a New Testament author spiritualizes an Old Testament prophecy, we should see that as the proper and “literal” way to interpret the Old Testament passage. Often, an Old Testament passage (or prophecy) may be applied to multiple things, for example, passages that are in one sense about David as king but are pointing to the real fulfillment in an eternal King, Jesus, who will reign forever.

Prophecy in the Old Testament

When I think of Old Testament prophecy, the first thing I think of is Jesus. In fact, Old Testament prophecy is largely related to Messiah and the salvation He will bring. The promise of a savior is the first prophecy given…

The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14–15 ESV)

And books like Isaiah are filled with references to Jesus. How He would be born…

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11“Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:10–14 ESV)

…how He would live…

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:1–7 ESV)

…and how He would die…

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:1–6 ESV)

In fact, some sources can cite over 100 fulfilled prophecies about Messiah in Isaiah alone, and over 1000 in the Old Testament as a whole!1J. Dominguez, M.D., 121 Messianic Prophecies of Isaiah fulfilled in Jesus Christ, http://204.200.197.131/prophecies/isaiah.htm

With that in mind, it seems appropriate to assume that even the “end times” prophecies, not only in the Old Testament but also in the New, should in some way point us to Christ. The goal of the Bible is to reveal God and pierce our souls to the point of dying to ourselves so we can live for God. That goal does not change where prophecy is concerned.

Eschatology in Isaiah

For dispensational believers, Isaiah 65-66 represents the millennial reign of Christ on the earth. For postmillennial believers, it represents the success of the church on earth. For amillennial believers, it represents events in the same time frame as Revelation 21. But notice that regardless of your position, this passage is interpreted as describing the end times. The language used certainly makes us think of a “utopia” of sorts…

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20No 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. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. 24Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17–25 ESV)

Remember the “chiastic” structure from the last study? Isaiah 65 is another example of one.2J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary [IVP], 522-523

(A) People not seeking God (Is 65:1)
(B) God seeks but they consider themselves “too holy” for God, God will punish them (Is 65:2-7)
(C) New wine, chosen offspring, a place prepared for them (Is 65:8-10)
(D) Evil destined for destruction (Is 65:11-12)
(E) God’s people and the wicked contrasted, new heaven and new earth (Is 65:13-25)
(D’) Punishment for the wicked (Is 66:1-4)
(C’) Promise of peace and comfort in Jerusalem (Is 66:5-14)
(B’) The Lord coming in judgment (Is 66:15-17)
(A’) People seeking God (Is 66:18-21)

This seems to indicate that the high point of this prophecy is not the end:

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord. 24“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:22–24 ESV)

…but the middle…

Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; 14behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart and shall wail for breaking of spirit. 15You shall leave your name to my chosen for a curse, and the Lord God will put you to death, but his servants he will call by another name, 16so that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes. 17“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20No 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. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. 24Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:13–25 ESV)

This prophecy is a prophecy about the new heaven and new earth. I like what Kim Riddelbarger says regarding this passage:

The point is this. The key part of the whole passage is the section in question (vv. 17-25) which deals with the new creation with its Zion. Steps A1-D1 and A2-D2 [A’-D’] must be fulfilled before the hoped-for reality (E) comes to pass. Given the structure of the prophecy as a whole, the climax of the passage is the eternal state (the new heavens and earth), not a half-way redeemed earth in which people experience life-extension, only to die later on.3http://mikeratliff.wordpress.com/about/eschatology/amillennialism/dr-riddlebarger-deals-with-isaiah-65/

If this truly represents the millennial kingdom, it has interesting implications on this passage:

Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? 2All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. 3“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; 4I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.” (Isaiah 66:1–4 ESV)

Since Christ has come and sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to dwell within every true believer, there is no more need for sacrifices, in fact, God calls this practice “delighting in their abominations” and doing “what was evil in my eyes!” This passage in particular, and the greater context it is in have implications for all of the millennial positions. The dispensational believer must answer the sacrifice question and how it relates to the millennium. The postmillennial believer must answer the question about the seeming eternal language of a new heaven and new earth. Finally, the amillennial believer must show how the events that unfold here are in the same time frame as Revelation 21, not Revelation 19-20.

Again, the call to know what you believe and why you believe it is vitally important here as all three positions can and do answer their questions, and some do it rather well.

Ultimately, prophecy is about God. Because our God created time and works all things so that His desired goals are met, He can give prophecies that will come to pass. In fact, one of the things that prove that the God of the Bible is the only true God is that His prophecies come true.

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:18–22 ESV)

Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. 22Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. 23Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. 24Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. (Isaiah 41:21–24 ESV)

In this post, we looked at Isaiah 65 and Isaiah 66 primarily because those chapters are vitally important to our understanding of the millennium. Many would say that the primary dividing line in biblical prophecy and the study of the end times is this millennium – when it is,. what it is, how long it lasts, etc. If it is, it is important to understand the various positions, as well as to see how the different positions are arrived at, which is why we started this series with a description of each of the major positions. As we’ve seen here, it is not quite as clear-cut as we might like, and there are pros and cons to each position we have addressed.

In any case, all of the positions agree that God is in control of the future and that ultimately, Jesus will be victorious over the enemies of God. That theme occurs over and over again in biblical prophecy, from the very opening pages to the final realization of eternity. If our eschatology is not rooted in Christ and His victory, then it will fall drastically short and will be prone to much error and speculation resulting in pride or anxiety or distraction.

God cares for His own. God preserves His own. And we have seen that over and over again in this series so far – especially in our walkthroughs of Revelation, the Olivet Discourse, and Isaiah. As end times passages go, Isaiah, like the Olivet Discourse, is pretty straightforward. However, the next post will continue to encourage us with the care God shows us from the perspective of Daniel – a man who was uniquely gifted by God to interpret dreams and visions for the edification of the people of God.

And the dreams he interprets and the visions he sees are quite interesting, to say the least!

  • 1
    J. Dominguez, M.D., 121 Messianic Prophecies of Isaiah fulfilled in Jesus Christ, http://204.200.197.131/prophecies/isaiah.htm
  • 2
    J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary [IVP], 522-523
  • 3
    http://mikeratliff.wordpress.com/about/eschatology/amillennialism/dr-riddlebarger-deals-with-isaiah-65/

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