The Restoration of Jerusalem

There are passages of prophecy that require much prayer and careful handling in order to ascertain the period to which they are referring. Isaiah 61:3-5 is not one of them. In fact if the passage is viewed in context of the two surrounding chapters Isaiah 60-62 then frankly viewing the fulfillment as anything other than future requires dubious theology, poor hermeneutics or special pleading. It is the sheer grandeur of these magnificent chapters that makes them hard to misplace. Therefore in the following I shall touch upon some of the highpoints in the actual passage giving the obvious interpretation. Then I shall briefly touch upon some of the alternative views on the meaning of them before closing with a conclusion.

Isa 61:3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. Isa 61:4 And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.

We must first note that this is a blessing to Zion. This is of course the city the glory of which is described at length in Isaiah 60[1]. That chapter expands upon the beauty, joy and praise as described in this verse. We are told that the gates will be open day and night as the wealth of the Gentiles is brought into it. We are told there will be no more violence or destruction. We are also told that it will not be naturally lit as the glory of God will shine there.

This verse alone points us straight to the millennial kingdom. The divine illumination is simply not a feature of this time. Jerusalem has been restored once or twice but never has it been fully restored. We may also note that in Isaiah 60:14 we are told that all of the Jews' oppressors are going to bow at their feet and those nations which are not subservient shall be destroyed[2]. Isa 60:21 tells us that the Jew will have the land for ever so this is not a transient blessing.

We may also note that this is a blessing upon those that mourn; one may reasonably assert that this is a blessing that comes after trouble. Isaiah 60 is identical it refers to a period of blessing coming after a period of darkness[3]. We are therefore reminded that the millennial kingdom comes after a period of great trouble for the Jews and that it is whilst they are still mourning that the restoration occurs.

I believe that if one seriously wishes to make Isa 61:3-5 non millennial then one is forced to first detach it from Isaiah 60. However that is very problematic. Firstly Isaiah 61:3-5 is only two verses after Isaiah 60. Secondly it recounts a period of blessing after a period of pain (as does Isaiah 60). Thirdly it refers to the result of the planting of God (Isa 61:3) as does Isaiah 60:21. Fourthly it refers to this being to bring glory to God (Isa 61:3) as does Isaiah 60:21. It is clear that anyone hearing this prophecy rather than reading it in a Bible with chapter numbers added would assume this is the same event.

If you are taking looking at the whole of Isaiah 60-61 and attempting to make it non-millennial then you are really faced with three options:

  1. Vaporize the promises. The logic here is to assert that because Israel crucified their Messiah that God decided to scrap these promises and move on to something else. The problems with this interpretation are: a) The passage states it will occur after a period of rejection b) The passage states that the purpose is to glorify God not Israel - so why would God scrap it? c) Rom 11:25-26 tells us that after a time of gathering the Gentiles then Israel will be saved d) Rom 11:29 tells us that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. I thus suggest that to claim the promises are gone requires faulty theology.
  2. Spiritualize the promises. The idea is to take the passage and interpret it rather allegorically to make it refer to blessings of the church. Whilst I do know that Isaiah 60 has been treated in this way I just don't see how one can do so with a straight face. It clearly speaks of earthly wealth, earthly glory. It speaks of the subjugation and humiliation of Gentiles by a people that were once themselves humiliated. Why would any Christian want these blessings or anything that sounded like them?[4] What exactly is the fleet of sailing ships?[5] Is this triumphalism really compatible with what we are told the church existence will be? I believe that applying this passage to the church is really just special pleading.
  3. Historicize the promises. As I have already noted the claims of this passage are very extreme. To suggest that they have already been fulfilled requires many of the stated details to be entirely ignored. Which kings served in Jerusalem building walls? Which ships carried captives back? How is the statement (Isa 60:20) 'The sun shall no more go down:' to be taken? In fact historicizing requires a combination of vaporizing and spiritualizing to make it seem even vaguely reasonable.

As I stated in my introduction there are passages where I think the placing of the passage in time is difficult. This however is one of those passages that is so grand and so explicit that it is impossible to follow a literal hermeneutic and make the passage anything other than future. I have just shown one or two of the more striking features that require this interpretation. I then briefly surveyed the three main alternative views which basically take the promises as literal but unfulfilled, allegorical or highly hyperbolic and historically fulfilled.


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