Dec 13, 2013

International Harmony Under the Messiah According to Isaiah 2:1-4 (Part 2)

Michael VlachBy Dr. Michael J. Vlach
Theological Studies

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Does the Church Fulfill Isaiah 2?

In the attempt to understand Isa 2:2-4 figuratively and in reference to the church, some have appealed to the poetic nature of this section. Yet, this fails on two accounts. First, while a poetic element may exist there is also a narrative aspect to it. Sailhamer observes that this passage "within its context in Isaiah is intended to be taken more as narrative than as poetry." [1] And second, Isa 2:2-4 parallels Micah 4:1-3 very closely. This is significant because in addition to poetic expressions of Jerusalem's restoration in Micah, Micah also gives poetic descriptions of Jerusalem's destruction. In 3:12 Micah states,

"Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest."

The implication is this: "If the prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem was understood literally, even though it was poetic in form, it is natural to take the vision of its restoration literally as well." [2] Or to state another way, if Jerusalem's destruction can be both poetic and literal, so too can its restoration.

In sum, Isa 2:2-4 teaches that God's kingdom will be on earth, centered in Jerusalem. Gentile nations will flock to Jerusalem to worship God and learn His ways. There is global peace among nations. This shows a harmony between Israel and the nations. For the first time in history a Ruler, the Lord, will offer perfect judgments on behalf of the nations. These nations will no longer prepare for war but will use their resources for peaceful purposes. This speaks of more than spiritual salvation in the church today. This describes ideal conditions on the earth among nations caused by a perfect Leader. These conditions have not happened yet in human history but they will when Messiah's kingdom is established.

Book of Isaiah

Does Isaiah 2:2-4 Speak of the Church?

At this point we will address the erroneous view that the prophecy of Isaiah 2 is fulfilled in the church today. For example, John Calvin asserted that the "prophecy" of Isaiah 2 was "concerning the restoration of the Church." [3] He also said, "The fulfillment of this prophecy, therefore, in its full extent, must not be looked for on earth." [4] More recently, Kenneth Gentry argues that "Judah and Jerusalem" here "represent the whole of the people of God, just as 'Israel and Judah' do in Jeremiah 31:31...." [5] In reference to 2:2-4 Gentry declares, "Isaiah says that Christ's church will be established." [6] And, "'All nations' will stream (Isa 2:2) into the church." [7] Strimple says the Isaiah 2:2-4 prophecy "is being fulfilled now as men and women of every tribe on the face of the earth call upon the name of Zion's King and become citizens of 'the Jerusalem that is above.'" [8] Kim Riddlebarger claims a present fulfillment of Isa 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-5 based on his understanding of Heb 12:18-24:

"The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews could not be more clear about how he understand this prophecy [Micah 4:1-5/Isa 2:2-4]. Though Old Testament prophets spoke of the earthly city of Jerusalem, the New Testament writers did not say these prophecies would be fulfilled in a future earthly Jerusalem. On the contrary, the author of Hebrews said the prophecy was already fulfilled in the person and work of Christ." [9]

After quoting Heb 12:18-24 for support Riddlebarger goes on to say, "In Jesus Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem has already come, even now." [10]

But the view that Isa 2:1-4 is fulfilled in the church today is not correct for several reasons. First, verse 1 indicates that the word concerns Judah and Jerusalem. Any view that divorces the Jewish geographical element from the prophecy is violating the context of the passage. There is no evidence in the Old or New Testament that directs us to take references to Judah and Jerusalem to mean "church." In reference to John Calvin's view, Bultema rightly warns against such an understanding based on the wording of 2:1:

"This indication ['Judah and Jerusalem'] should have been sufficient for all exegetes to keep them from applying it to the Church or heaven, as has been done most of the time. Calvin says, 'This concerns a scene of the restoration of God's Church—a matter of utmost significance.' This entirely contradicts the opening words concerning Judah and Jerusalem." [11]

Second, Isaiah 2 predicts more than just "salvation" or salvation into the church. It is discussing global international peace. While salvation is crucial, God's kingdom involves more than salvation, it includes a holistic restoration of all things, including nations experiencing international harmony. To claim that Isaiah 2 is about salvation into the church is not sufficient. Even some amillennial theologians have rejected this spiritualization of Isaiah 2. For example, the amillennial theologian, Hoekema criticizes such a view:

"All too often, unfortunately, amillennial exegetes fail to keep biblical teaching on the new earth in mind when interpreting Old Testament prophecy. It is an impoverishment of the meaning of these passages to make them apply only to the church or to heaven." [12]

While I would disagree with Hoekema when he places the fulfillment of Isaiah 2 in the coming Eternal State only and not in a millennial kingdom, his understanding of the passage is a vast improvement over the 'church fulfillment' view. Hoekema rightly states that the church perspective is "an impoverishment of the meaning." What Hoekema understood was that the truths of Isaiah 2:1-4 cannot be completely fulfilled in the church today. "Only on the new earth will this part of Isaiah's prophecy be completely fulfilled." [13] Thus, Hoekema is correct that Isa 2:2-4 must be fulfilled in the future.

Third, it is not the case that Heb 12:18-24 indicates that Isa 2:2-4 is fulfilled in the church. The writer of Hebrews declares that Christians today are positionally related to a city that is still to come (see Heb 13:4). But how can the fact that Christians are positionally related to the coming New Jerusalem prove that the prophecy of Isa 2:2-4 is finding its fulfillment today? Hebrews 12 is not revealing a full fulfillment of Isaiah 2.

Fourth, this 'fulfillment in the church' view presents an imbalanced and even unfair understanding of the blessing/curse motif in regard to the nation Israel. It gives curses to the nation Israel but not the blessing of restoration. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown rightly argue that the promised blessings of Isaiah 2 must not be spiritualized since it calls for literal fulfillment of curses to Israel but not literal blessings for the nation:

"If the curse foretold against Israel has been literally fulfilled, so shall the promised blessing be literal. We Gentiles must not, while giving them the curse, deny them their peculiar blessing by spiritualizing it." [14]

Since the descriptions in Isaiah 2:2-4 have not occurred yet, their fulfillment awaits a future time after the second coming of Jesus the Messiah. The fulfillment will take place in an intermediate earthly kingdom often called the millennium. It also takes place in connection with the Davidic reign of the ultimate Son of David, Jesus. The view that Isa 2:2-4 is fulfilled in the church today is incorrect since it relies on a spiritualization of the text that is not warranted. It spiritualizes Judah and Jerusalem along with literal nations coming to Jerusalem. It also misses the point of international peace among nations.

Hoekema's futuristic understanding of Isaiah 2 is a positive development since he understands that the contents of the Isaiah passage have not been fulfilled yet. Yet the attempt to put the fulfillment of Isa 2:2-4 only in the Eternal State and not in an intermediate kingdom (or millennium) has two major flaws. First, the kingdom of Isaiah is directly related to the Davidic reign of the Son of David (see Isa 9:6-7). One key aspect of amillennial theology is that the Davidic kingdom reign of the Messiah is being fulfilled between the two comings of Jesus. But if Isaiah 2 is fulfilled in the Eternal State, this puts the kingdom of Isaiah 2 outside the Davidic reign of Jesus. According to 1 Cor 15:24-28 Jesus delivers His kingdom over to God the Father after Jesus has successfully reigned over His enemies. Are those who hold to the "Eternal State" view of Isaiah 2 willing to separate the fulfillment of Isaiah 2 from the millennium and Davidic reign of Jesus?

Second, the kingdom promises of Isaiah 2 and other texts (Isa 9; 11) involve the restoration of national Israel with a unique role to other nations. If one wants to be literal with Isaiah 2, one must be literal with the role that national Israel plays with these passages. We find it difficult to hold that Isaiah 2 is describing a time period of global international peace that is yet future from our standpoint, but national Israel's role during this time is non-existent or transcended. Instead, both will occur.


[1] John Sailhamer, "Evidence from Isaiah," in A Case for Premillennialism (Chicago: Moody), 96.

[2] Sailhamer, 96.

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah—Volume 1. Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), 66.

[4] Calvin, 75.

[5] Kenneth Gentry, "Postmillennialism," in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 36. This denies the Jewish element to this prophecy in an unwarranted fashion. While the people of God certainly expands to include Gentiles, specific prophecies concerning Judah, Jerusalem, and Israel can still expect literal fulfillment. It does not follow that since later salvation history will include Gentiles as the people of God, that this passage must have its Jewish elements transcended to something else.

[6] Gentry, "Postmillennialism," 37.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Robert B. Strimple, "Amillennialism," in Three Views on the Millenium and Beyond, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 93. Emphasis is in the original.

[9] Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 73-74.

[10] Ibid., 74.

[11] Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981), 51.

[12] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 205-06.

[13] Hoekema, 205.

[14] Robert Jamieson, Andrew Robert Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary: Critical, Practical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (J. B. Names & co., 1883), 100.