The essence of the premillennialist position is that there will be an intermediate kingdom on earth before the full establishment of the eternal state. We are currently in the church age, which will be followed by the millennium/intermediate kingdom, followed by the full defeat of Satan, the beast, and his prophet, and then the eternal state will be ushered in. In sum, Jesus returns in Revelation 19:11, and all that follows is a sequence of events.
One of the most common critiques of this position is that premillennialists are focusing too much on one short passage of Scripture, basically missing the forest for the trees. The implication is that the millennium is an idea foreign to or not reinforced anywhere else in the rest of Scripture. Revelation 20 is extrapolated into a whole schema that then forces you to read the rest of the Bible a certain way, disregarding all other contexts.
But what if there were Old Testament passages that taught the future existence of an intermediate kingdom? Wouldn’t that then make Revelation 20 simply another example of progressive revelation, expanding on previous prophesies?
There are a few passages of Old Testament prophecy that seem to fit neither in the past, the present, or the eternal state. They speak to a future span of time when the Lord will reign on earth, in bodily form, for a limited period of time. But the way these (admittedly few) passages speak about that time still include sin and death. So we have the current reality of sin and death still having a presence while the Lord reigns on the earth. Those things mixed together don’t fit in the present (when Christ reigns from heaven), and they don’t fit in the eternal state (when there is no sin or death).
First, let’s look at Isaiah 24-27, which we’ve mentioned in previous posts (if you’re really into this, go ahead and take 10 minutes and read those chapters to get some context). Many people know that Daniel is partly an apocalypse, much like Revelation. But Isaiah also has passages that are considered an apocalypse, as well: chapters 24-25. It even has a label, “Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse.”
Verses 1-20 describe a judgment on the people of earth and the earth itself. The judgment is because people have “transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.” Verses 21-20 state that evil spirits will also be punished and “gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon, and will be confined in prison; and after many days they will be punished.” But chapter 25 says that God will provide a banquet for his people and “swallow up death for the last time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces."
Take notice of a pattern of tribulation, judgment, and kingdom, in sequential order.
Let’s take a step back to get even more context. Every year at Christmas we read Isaiah 9:6, which prophecies a son will be born and the government will rest on his shoulders. Isaiah 13-23 is all about God’s judgment on the nations. Isaiah 24-27 is God’s plan for restoring the nations, now with his Son to rule them. Chapter 26 even speaks of a resurrection that takes place during this time.
Isaiah 24-27 is even alluded to quite regularly in Revelation 19-21.
Isaiah 25 speaks of a lavish banquet; Revelation 19 speaks the marriage supper.
Isaiah 25 speaks of God swallowing death forever; Revelation 21 speaks of death being defeated.
Isaiah 25 speaks of God wiping tears from all faces; Revelation 21 speaks of God wiping away every tear.
Isaiah 26 speaks of the dead rising to life; Revelation 20 speaks of God’s people coming to life.
Isaiah 27 speaks of the serpent and dragon being punished; Revelation 20 speaks of the dragon and serpent being sent to the pit.
Whether or not we agree that both Isaiah and John are speaking of an intermediate kingdom, we must see that they are speaking about the same period of time. While we must say that Revelation 20 expands on what is prophesied in Isaiah’s little apocalypse, it seemingly harmonizes quite well without a lot of explanation. And the belief in an intermediate kingdom has a lot of explanatory power for how well the sequence of events lines up in both Isaiah’s apocalypse and John’s.
Isaiah 65 is another chapter that a period of time that is neither the present nor the age to come. Isaiah speaks of 100 years being a short life, and dying that young because of sin is considered a curse. There is an as-of-yet period of time when lifespans will increase dramatically, but sin and death still have a presence.
In the current age, a long life is 80 years, and sin and death are still present. Something happens that dramatically changes something that seems so natural, but it’s still distinct from the age to come. So in the present age, people can reasonably expect to live between 70 and 80 years. In the intermediate kingdom, that’s still considered infancy. In the age to come, death is eradicated.
Next week, we’ll look at a few shorter passages that speak to the future reality of an intermediate kingdom: Daniel 12 and Zechariah 8 & 14.
For now, are there other interpretations of Isaiah’s little apocalypse that reinforce either amillennialism or postmillennialism?
If so, what are they? Comment below!