Isaiah 65: The Greatest Premillennial Proof-Text

I realized, after the last post, that I should probably address more directly some of the OT passages which are commonly called upon in support of a premillennial scheme. As for most of those passages, I think it's more likely that they express the widespread Jewish conception of the age to come, and not another interim period at the close of this age. I mean, would we really read those passages as speaking of an interim messianic kingdom if Revelation 20 didn't definitively express such an interim kingdom? I doubt it. It seems to me that we have to read the premillennial structure from Revelation 20 back into those passages in order to see them as being "millennial," but that they make much better sense within their own historical contexts as expressing the more fundamentally Jewish eschatological dualism between this age and the age to come. The fact that those passages express "earthly" conditions doesn't make them millennial. In ancient Jewish expectation the age to come was always a very earthy affair. After all, it is spoken of as the new earth, isn't it?

But for a specific example, let's look at Isaiah 65, which is arguably the single greatest proof-text for the premill interpretation of Revelation 20. In my opinion, such proof-texting reveals more about the anachronistic tendencies of premill hermeneutics than it does about Isaiah's own intention in that passage. Premillennials argue that if we are to read the passage in its plainest sense, without allegorizing it to fit the amill scheme, then the portrait it paints of a child dying at a hundred couldn't possibly fit in the age to come after death has been destroyed, and yet it couldn't possibly belong to this age either, since it portrays the human lifespan being extended far beyond the normal 70 years of our post-fall world. The only explanation, therefore, is that Isaiah 65:17-25 belongs to a period of transition between this age and the next, and thus this passage is appealed to as powerful proof of the premill millennium. A sterling piece of deductive logic.

For the longest time I considered this argument to have the most solid foundation. What seemed to be the only alternative (allegorizing) has always been out of the question for me. But I've come to realize that there's a large hermeneutical problem hidden behind this reading of Isaiah, a problem which it ironically shares with the allegorical interpretation. That is the problem of anachronism, i.e. reading an idea into a period in which it does not historically belong. Besides the fact that the premill reading brings the vision of Revelation 20 into a tenuous relationship with Isaiah 65 which John himself did not support, as we've already seen, there is no indication that Isaiah would have supported it either. And yet by puzzle-piecing these two passages together without considering them each in turn, premillennials simply assume that Isaiah must have expected a further period after the "new heavens and new earth" of 65:17-25.

Most OT scholars agree that there is no clear indication of a belief in bodily resurrection in Scripture prior to Daniel 12. That was, of course, one of the main reasons why the Sadducees rejected the doctrine. Many would attempt to read the idea into the language of Isaiah 26:19 (which from the context appears to be metaphorical for the restoration of Israel, cf. Ezek 37), but the fact remains that bodily resurrection is nowhere to be seen anywhere in proximity to the "new earth" of Isaiah 65, and while life is said to extend dramatically beyond the properties of this age in that passage, it still has a definite end. It hardly needs pointing out that this portrait stands in stark contrast with the "new earth" of Revelation 21-22.

But the premill reading implicitly assumes that Isaiah must have envisioned a time of bodily resurrection after the period he speaks of in vv. 17-25, by artificially inserting that passage into John's millennium. In doing this they ignore the fact that Revelation 20 has no contextual affinity with Isaiah 65. Thus the premill connection of Isaiah 65 with Revelation 20 works entirely off of eisegesis, reading into both passages ideas which belong to neither. This is the definition of anachronism, and this is why the common premill reading is no better than the allegorical interpretation which it derides. In contrast to both of these readings, an historically sensitive approach would recognize that while Isaiah's vision of the lengthened life of God's people belongs to his version of the "new earth" and not to an intermediate "millennium," the idea of bodily resurrection is simply nowhere on his prophetic radar. Hence the reason why this vision is taken up and then consciously transcended by John's vision of a "new earth" where "there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain".