I don’t know why these things happen to me but just the other day a January 16 post on The Gospel Coalition website popped up on my feed. The title of the post is “Will People Die During Christ’s Millennial Reign?” The author, John Currid from Reformed Theological Seminary, tries to make the case that Isa. 65:20 refers to conditions in the eternal state.
Here is what that verse says, “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Will be thought accursed. “
If you are not familiar with the issue, here is a little background. Covenant theologians hold to a two-age model of history, the current age and the age to come. The current age extends until Jesus returns, then the eternal state or age to come arrives. Dispensationalists on the other hand contend that the scriptures envision a 1000 year reign of Jesus on earth between the present age and the eternal state. Isa. 65:20 is one of the battleground texts.
Dr. Currid’s view is that the dispensational interpretation is problematic for two reasons. First, it disrupts the context. Dr. Currid contends that since Isa. 65:17 is a declaration by God that He is creating a new heaven and new earth then Isa. 65:20, which discusses the longevity of life, must also address the period of time when the new heavens and new earth appear.
Second, the dispensational interpretation, says Dr. Currid, does not take the text literally. His view is that a literal interpretation of this text requires that it be understood metaphorically.
His analysis however fails for a number of reasons. First, the prophets regularly do not distinguish between the time frames in which future events occur. Instead they will describe future events as if they happen at the same time when later revelation shows that there is a gap of time separating them. This phenomenon is called prophetic foreshortening. As I write this I am looking out of my window in Estes Park Colorado. In the distance, I can see the soaring Long’s Peak. I can also see shorter mountain peaks between where I sit and Longs Peak. From my perspective, it looks as if the peaks are very near to each other. Yet, since I have been to Longs Peak, I know that there is significant distance between each set of peaks. That is Prophetic foreshortening and it is not a dispensational interpretive device. Amillenialist Kim Riddlebarger agrees that some prophetic texts are best understood this way.
Dr. Currid neglects the commonly occurring prophetic foreshortening. In order to fit into a two age model, he requires that Isa 65:17 and 20 both address the same period of time. This leads him into his second failure.
Clearly Isa. 65:20 is saying that people will live a long time in comparison to what they were living when Isaiah wrote this prophecy. How long? Isaiah says that those who don’t make it to 100 years old will be so exceptional they will be thought to have been cursed. Of course, during the eternal state there will be no more death (Rev. 21:4). So, to reconcile Isa 65:20 and Rev. 21:4 with the two age scheme, Dr. Currid is forced to say that this verse is a metaphor underscoring that “one of the great blessings of the eternal kingdom will be longevity.” So, by understanding that Isa. 65:20 is a metaphor the plain meaning that there is death is made to say that death has been eradicated.
In justifying his metaphorical approach Dr. Currid says that Isaiah is expressing the reality of eternal life using a figure of speech familiar to the original audience. In other words, Isaiah’s readers would not have been able to understand what eternal life means so this metaphor employing the idealized language of greatly extended life is used to communicate that concept. Yet this argument fails if you just look at Isa. 25:8. Here is what that verse says: “He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:8)
It is clear that Isaiah’s readers were expected to understand what it means for God to “swallow up death for all time”. If they could understand it in Isa. 25:8, they could understand it in Isa. 65:20 too.
If we take the text at face value and let it speak for itself we find Isa. 65:17 addresses the creation of the eternal state where there is no more death, and Isa. 65:20 addresses an age when life is greatly extended. Clearly these are two separate ages and both are different from the age in which we live. The best solution then is that between the present age and the eternal state is an intermediate age. In the progress of revelation we have come to see that this age is the millennial reign of Jesus. So Dr. Currid, yes there is death during Christ’s millennial reign.