Vol. 11 — No. 3 January 18, 1970
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
In Christ Jesus, whose epiphany as the Son of God and Savior of the world we begin celebrating this day, Fellow Redeemed:
Epiphany is one of the set festivals of the church year, falling on January 6th. The word itself comes from the Greek language and means manifestation or appearance. With this festival and during this season of the church year we strengthen our faith with the manifestation or self-revelation of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of both Jew and Gentile. The ancient church selected a prophecy for the Epistle reading for this festival. The Gentile nations were addressed: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” The prophet saw the response and recorded it: “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” (Isaiah 60:1 and 9) In the Gospel selection St. Matthew recorded the initial fulfillment of that prophecy with the coming of the Gentile wise men from the East to worship the newborn King of the Jews.
Our text is also an Epiphany prophecy recorded by Isaiah. The same prophecy is also recorded by Micah (4:1-4). In vivid word pictures both prophets behold the spiritual glory of the New Testament Church which is made up of both Jews and Gentiles who have come to know the Babe of Bethlehem as God’s Son, their Savior. But this glorious epiphany prophecy is widely misread and misinterpreted. It is used as a basis for the widespread error of millennialism or chiliasm. Since this false doctrine is so common among the sects and in the Reformed churches, we do well to know something of its nature so that we may be on our guard against it.
The millennium is the alleged or expected thousand-year rule of Christ here on earth. The word, millennium, comes from the Latin while chiliasm comes from the Greek. Both mean one thousand, The millennialists or chiliasts believe that Christ will establish His rule here upon earth for a thousand years. There are post- and pre-millennialists—some believing that Christ will come at the end of these thousand years, others believing that He will return to earth to usher in the millennium. Some of the other related teachings are two resurrections, the resurrection of the martyrs followed by the general resurrection, also two visible returns of Christ, at the beginning of the millennium and at the end of time. Most millennialists also teach the universal conversion of the Jews and the fall of the Antichrist as events that will happen before or in connection with the millennium. We should realize that since all of these teachings are out of line with Scripture, there can be and is little agreement as to the details among those who profess them. But there is agreement that the prophecy of our text is one of the great prophecies of the millennium. In conscious opposition to this perversion of this prophecy we would this morning consider our text as—
The language of the prophecy is for the most part word pictures that contain clues as to their interpretation or that are in fact interpreted by Old Testament usage or by plain passages of the New Testament. Let us read and learn to understand what the prophet means, first of all—
“And it shall Come to pass in the last days”—the question is: What does the prophet means by “the last days”? The Old Testament people lived in the “former days,” the days before that event that all the prophets pointed to and all Israel awaited—the coming of the Messiah. His coming would usher in “the last days.” The “last days” would in turn be brought to a conclusion by “the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” as we recently learned from the Prophet Malachi (4:5). So the “last days” are the days following the appearance of the Messiah, which shall continue until the “day of the Lord” comes—the day of judgment. The Old Testament prophets saw this entire era without a time perspective. We see more clearly and realize that the “last days” have lasted almost twenty centuries already. They shall cover the entire New Testament era and shall be brought to a close by the second coming of the Lord in glory for judgment. The millennialists or chiliasts arbitrarily limit “the last days” to the millennium or the last thousand years before the Lord’s coming for judgment.
The next feature of the prophecy is—
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.” You would be surprised by what some millennialists do with these words. Invoking a false literalism they visualize earth movements that will make the mountains on which Jerusalem stands rise to be the highest on earth. On top of it all is to be “the Lord’s house,” or the temple during the millennial reign of Christ. One can but marvel at such blindness! Bible readers are familiar with the use of “Zion,” “Jerusalem,” “the temple,” also “the mountain of the Lord’s house” as word pictures indicating the same thing—the gracious presence and rule of God among His people. The Lord caused His presence to be perceived by a cloud of smoke in the Holy of Holies in the Sanctuary, in the Temple, in Jerusalem, on the mountain of the Lord’s house. All of this is Old Testament imagery pointing to New Testament reality. With the coming of the Messiah the Kingdom of God would come. So preached John the Baptist and Jesus—God with us—after him. Where Christ rules, there is the Church, for the Church consists of believers who are both the objects of Christ’s rule and the subjects of His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God does in fact outrank all the kingdoms of this world. That is a matter of faith, as it always has been. It shall become a matter of sight on that “day of the Lord” when all the kingdoms of this world shall be consumed by fire and only the Kingdom of God shall remain with the believers, who are His Church, remaining as His subjects.
“The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established” in the New Testament times, and then—
That glorious spiritual migration is pictured in these words: “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” The millennialists again interpret these words in a grossly literal manner—expecting that Palestine will be the capital and population center during the thousand years that Christ shall reign on earth. The prophet isn’t visualizing a physical migration, as is going on in a small way today with many Jews from all parts of the world immigrating to Israel. No, for all of us have made that trip to “the mountain of the Lord’s house” when we came to faith in the Lord Jesus, for in that moment Christ took up residence in our hearts and we became temples of the Holy Spirit. Is this manufacturing an interpretation for these words? Not at all! This is but letting Scripture interpret Scripture. The writer to the Hebrews, in encouraging his readers to follow in the footsteps of the heroes of faith, tells them: “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” (12:22) When we bring a baby to baptism, when we lead others to Christ, we are saying to them: “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.”
That this interpretation of these picture words is correct is proven by the following words of the prophecy, which are plain and simple words in the midst of word pictures:
At this point the millennialists run into a contradiction with their literal interpretations. First they picture a physical migration to Jerusalem, but then the prophet says, “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” It’s either one or the other, but not both! It was precisely with this prophecy in mind that Jesus instructed His disciples: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Just before His ascension He repeated the command: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The book of Acts reports how this work was begun, recording the progress of the Gospel from the capital of the Jewish world, Jerusalem, to Rome, the capital of the Gentile world. The westward course of the Gospel continues the story. By word of mouth, through the printed page, over the air waves the Word continues to go forth from Zion, and many are brought to repentance and faith and so join in that spiritual pilgrimage to “the mountain of the Lord’s house.”
Isaiah saw two results of this activity. First,
“He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people.” Whenever and wherever the Word is taught and preached in its truth and purity, there the Lord judges. This message today is a judgment of condemnation upon all millennialistic dreams. The preaching of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus and not by works is always a judgment of condemnation upon all the religious notions and ideas that come from man. Through His Word the Lord judges, but also brings peace:
These are the best known words of this prophecy: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” These are the words engraved over the entrance of the United Nations building. The UN is supposed to be the agency of man to achieve peace among men. The millennialists speak and preach and dream of that future millennial reign of Christ when all nations shall live together in peace. But the prophets do not speak of this peace as coming at the end of the New Testament era—in some imaged thousand-year period. No, they speak of it as a fact during the entire New Testament era. Again and again they speak of the fact of peace during the New Testament era, for example: “All the armor of the armed man in the tumult shall even be for burning, for fuel of fire.” (Is. 9:5) “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them…They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Is. 11:6 and 9) “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off.” (Zech 9:10) These are all vivid word pictures of peace—a real peace in the here and now, not in the future.
But what is the nature of that peace? The angels sang of that “peace on earth.” On the night of His betrayal Jesus spoke of it. He bequeathed that peace to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you—but then He distinctly said—not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” (John 14:27) In that same address He said: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.” Then He added: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” (John 15:33) The Lord gives “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7) Peace with God for estranged man through the forgiveness of his sins and the potential of peace with his fellowman from whom he has also been estranged by sin—this is our gift from Jesus, here, now, today. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.