Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Friday, August 08, 2008

    Isaiah 2:4 Unfulfilled? (Quandary for Hebrew: How Would Isaiah Text?)

    The familiar, unfulfilled prophecy of the 2,100-year-old scroll — “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” — undoubtedly arouses emotion here.

    The above quote is taken from the New York Times and Jerusalem Journal article by Isabel Kershner entitled Quandary for Hebrew: How Would Isaiah Text? Here's the question: Is Isaiah 2:4 "unfulfilled" or does it find "fulfillment" in Christ though it's full culmination may not be experienced until his return?

    It's true that many Jews may look to this verse as supposed proof that Jesus was not the Messiah, for in their view if he was, then we would at least see less fighting and wars here on earth, if not no wars at all. Yet, to accept this position one must first assume that Christ's kingdom is simply a physical, national, or earthly one or at least one directed to providing unabated peace for us here in this earthly or fleshly realm. It's no wonder that the article ends by saying "The language may have moved on since the days of the prophets, but perhaps the sense of doom has not."

    The solution to this issue as well as the hope for Jews (and all others who will come to know the truth and put their hope in Christ) is in discerning the nature of Christ's kingdom as well as the nature and effect of his rule.

    First, one must ask "Is the design of Christ's rule to provide peace of the sort being described in this earthly realm?" The answer is NO! The Scripture is clear that there will continue to be "wars" and "rumors of wars". Christ revealed to his disciples that they would be hated and face difficulties on all sides. The Scripture reveals there will even be times of great tribulation. Besides all this, the scripture points to the fact that Christ's plan is ultimately not to just fix what is broken here so as to simply have an earthly kingdom, but to recreate and renew so as to possess a kingdom of an entirely different sort. Paul writes "For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be leberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God(Rom 8:20-21). In addition, the writer of Hebrews states "...In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end (Heb 1:9-12).

    One will then ask, are we then supposed to just spiritualize these verses away as if they have no meaning or fulfillment in our present life? The answer to that is NO. Christ has come to bring peace - not only peace with God, but peace among men (at least as far as it will be found among those who experience justification and regeneration through Jesus Christ). As E.J. Young puts it "There can only be a true peace when the hearts of men have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, the Third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, and a new nature given to them." Through justification ("an act of God's free grace whereby he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteh us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us" WCF Q: 32), God provides peace by redeeming and reconciling people to himself through his own righteousness and the atoning sacrifice of Christ which provides forgiveness of sins and removes condemnation. Having dealt with man's sin, God regards men with favor as as E.J. Young puts it "He therefore approaches man with the gracious offer of salvation and brings man to Himself, giving to him a new heart and declaring that man stands in a right relation to Himself. Man, therefore, born again from the dead, now seeks peace and pursues it. In so far as he is now true to the new principle of life within him - for sin still remains and prevents him from acting in perfect consistency with his new nature - he seeks peace." Isaiah illustrates this change not simply by pointing to the heart, but to the practical effects such change can and will have not only in the life of a believer and in a believer's relations with others, but also as far as the rule and law of God is honored and obeyed among men (even nations).

    Does this mean perfect peace will exist on earth? No. There are still those and always be those whose hearts are in rebellion and antagonistic to the Lord and his law. As long as sin (and sinners!) are present and active, there will be malice and a lack of harmony. However, that does not mean peace does not exist. For regardless of the nature and fruit of the ungodly, believers possess both peace with God and are called to peace in their lives as far as it pertains to them.

    Will there ever ultimately be peace? YES! The consummation and ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 2:4 will be when Christ returns and brings about the new heavens and new earth and fills it with his redeemed and glorified people who will pursue and participate only in peace. Hence, even the lion will lie down with the lamb.

    So the answer to whether Isaiah 2:4 is unfulfilled is NO! It is both "being fulfilled" and "to be fulfilled", but that is far different from being unfulfilled.

    The truth is there IS hope not only for Jews but for all who will discover Jesus Christ, His kingdom and its effects and fulfillment as they really are. To know this new life and to participate in the peace to come requires one to believe upon Christ as he really is, and in believing to repent of one's sins, and look in faith upon Christ, who by his Spirit is at work fulfilling the promises made in Christ.

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