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An Idyllic Earthly Kingdom

“There is something fundamentally wrong with the world. It will be in war and turmoil and trouble until a new world order comes. This cannot be fulfilled until Christ returns and sets up His kingdom. Then, and only then, nations of the world will abandon their instruction of war. Then, and only then, will there be peace and tranquility over all the world for a thousand years as Christ reigns on earth” (John Walvoord, The Return of the Lord 151). Is this the nature of Jesus’ kingdom?

Prophecies of Peace
A favorite passage of premillennialists is Isaiah 2:1-4, which foretells people hammering their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. How shall we understand these expressions?  Premillennialists insist on a strictly literal interpretation—or so they say. Even they admit that people are no longer fighting with swords and spears. Common sense says we should let the New Testament inspired writers tell us what these mean.

Isaiah said these things would happen “in the last days,” an era that Peter affirmed had begun on Pentecost (Acts 2:16-17). The cause of the peace Isaiah foretold would be the word of the Lord going forth from Jerusalem, precisely what Jesus ordered the apostles to do (Luke 24:47). Those who accept the gospel are reconciled, both to one another and to God, in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Another favorite passage is Isaiah 11:6-9, depicting Messiah’s reign. It says the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, cows and bears will graze together, lions will eat straw like oxen, and children will play by the holes of poisonous snakes, yet all will be unharmed. Once again, we are told this must be understood literally, despite the fact that in the preceding verses Messiah is wearing the belt of faithfulness and slaying people with his breath! Isaiah says the cause of this condition is that the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord. Can animals learn God’s plan? Would it change their very natures?

Paul cites this passage in Romans 15:12 and applies it to Gentiles [the nations] peacefully coexisting with Jews in Christ. Isaiah said God will “on that day” gather the remnant of His people. The New Testament refers to those in Christ as “the remnant of His gracious choice (Romans 11:5).” Paying closer attention to the inspired interpretations of these and like prophecies would prevent many fanciful speculations.

“New Heavens and a New Earth”
The New Testament does indeed promise new heavens and a new earth when Jesus comes (2 Peter 3:13). Isaiah had used this expression to describe the kingdom of Christ (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22); interestingly, he connected this phrase with the two prophecies we have already considered (65:24-25). Now, Peter, who said that all the prophets spoke of the days of Jesus’ first coming (Acts 3:24), borrows this expression to describe what lies beyond Jesus’ second coming. Is Peter predicting a renovated old earth? No, he explicitly says that “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (v. 10); then for emphasis he repeats that description (v. 12).

The meaning of this expression is simple. The old order of separate Jewish and heathen kingdoms passed away at Jesus’ first coming. The present order of Jesus ruling both Jews and Gentiles in a spiritual kingdom will pass away when He returns. Heaven awaits (see Revelation 21).

Jesus’ Teaching
Jesus never depicted His kingdom as an idyllic earthly one. To the contrary, in the parable of the tares He said that its citizens would live side by side with sons of the evil one (Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43). The parable of the dragnet repeats the point (Matthew 25:47-50). Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34-39); that is, differing reactions to Him would set former friends and loved ones at odds. He said that being a citizen of His kingdom might even cost one his life, but if so, that is the price of discipleship (Matthew 16:24-28). As He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

For all Christians there is one hope (Ephesians 4:4). It is not living in a paradise earth; it is receiving an inheritance “reserved in heaven for you . . . to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

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