Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
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 anymore (Isaiah 2:2-4).
The great Puritan expositor Matthew Henry explained:
The prophet here foretells the setting up of the Christian church, and the planting of the Christian religion, in the world. Christianity shall then be the mountain of the Lord’s house. That Christianity shall be openly preached and professed in the top of the mountains, in the view and hearing of all. That is shall be firmly fixed and rooted; it shall be established on the top of the everlasting mountains, built upon a rock, so that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. That it shall not only overcome all opposition, but overtop all competition; it shall be exalted above the hills. This wisdom of God in a mystery shall outshine all the wisdom of this world, all its philosophy and all its politics. The spiritual worship it shall introduce shall put down the idolatries of the heathen; and all other institutions in religion shall appear mean and despicable in comparison with this (Henry, Commentary on the Old Testament).
To understand the context of this prophecy, we need to explain a phrase here – “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days.”
We should note at the outset, that the phrase – “the latter days” or “the last days” – does not in this context mean “the end times” or the last days of human history before the return of Christ. This is a common error in interpreting many of these “last days” passages in the Bible. When many Christians read this term, most often, they are understanding any passage in the Bible that refers to the “last days” in the final eschatological sense of the term. But not all references to the “last days” speak of the end of history. The “last days” or “the latter days” is a phrase used in several senses in scripture to mean something other than other than the end of history.
The “last days” in scripture usually refers to the entire time after Christ’s ministry and before the end of history. Although there is currently a huge furor over the “last days” as portrayed in Christian sermons, books, best-selling novels and films, it’s not the first time in history that Christians have assumed that we are living in the time of the very end. While the return of Christ is sure and we are getting closer to it everyday, it still may be thousands of years off. In other words, we were in the “last days” during the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11) and we are still in the “last days” now.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Now wait a minute. What about the passage that reads:
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nations
Neither shall they learn war anymore
“Surely, you are not teaching that peace will come on earth prior to the Second Coming of Jesus!”
And yet that is exactly what this passage teaches. As the Word of the Lord comes forth from Mount Zion, a type of the Church, people from all nations will be converted and will seek to learn the ways of God. Scripture tells us that this “latter day” revival will eventually become so great that the civil governments of nations will use the Law-Word of God to judge their differences and they will not need to resort to war anymore.
Now you may be asking, “How will that ever happen in this wicked, depraved world we live in?”
Let’s look at some more of Isaiah. Chapter 9 verses 6 and 7 tell us:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 9:6,7).
This is of course one of the most often quoted prophecies predicting the birth of Messiah the King. The phrase, “Mighty God,” makes it clear that this is no mere human descendant of David. Jesus was of course of the house and lineage of David, and He is also the Divine Messiah, the Christ. But let’s look at a couple other key phrases that tell us the when and the where of Messiah’s kingdom.
- Of the increase of His government … there will be no end – The phrase “no end” here refers both to the geographical expansiveness and the temporal increase of Messiah’s government. The context of this verse makes it plain that, in the words of John Calvin: “Though the kingdom of Christ is in such a condition that it appears as if it were about to perish at every moment, yet God not only protects and defends it, but also extends its boundaries far and wide, and then preserves and carries it forward in uninterrupted progression to eternity. We ought firmly to believe this, that the frequency of those shocks by which the Church is shaken may not weaken our faith, when we learn that, amidst the mad outcry and violent attacks of enemies, the kingdom of Christ stands firm through the invincible power of God, so that, though the whole world should oppose and resist, it will remain through all ages. We must not judge of its stability from the present appearances of things, but from the promise, which assures us of its continuance and of its constant increase” (Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah).
- From that time forward, even forever. Another key phrase in Isaiah 9 gives us the time period of Messiah’s kingdom. Again, some Christians have interpreted this to mean, from that time – the time when Jesus returns to the earth – forward. Yet the context of the passage makes it clear that the time when “the government will be upon His shoulders” will be the time when the Messiah is actually reigning on God’s throne. And when does this occur? Well, it’s not a future event, but it already occurred in the past almost 2000 years ago. As we have already seen, according to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 (see especially Acts 2:30-31,33-35) Jesus Christ – ever since He rose again, ascended to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God the Father – has been reigning from the throne of David. He will continue to do so until the Second Coming and the end of the world.
Isaiah chapter 11 gives us yet another panoramic view of world conditions as humanity ultimately reflects the glory of God during the heavenly rule of the Messiah.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
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,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And His resting place shall be glorious (Isaiah 11:6,9,10).
Throughout the Bible, ravenous and unclean animals are often a type of the Gentile nations and the unregenerate nature of man. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:32: “I have fought with beasts at Ephesus,” meaning non-believers who opposed his Gospel preaching. The image here speaks of the pacification of the sinful human nature until we reach a time characterized by the proverbial “peace on earth, good will toward men.”
What’s important to note here again is that there is no indication of the physical presence of the Messiah on the earth. The Gentiles are required to “seek Him” as a heavenly ruler who may be known, not as a flesh and blood king, but rather as a heavenly ruler known through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. And what is even greater than this is the assurance that the nations themselves will be at peace and the wonderful promise that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
As we read on in Isaiah, we begin to see an incredibly optimistic picture of the coming reign of Messiah. The final chapters describe the great ingathering of all the nations of the earth into the kingdom of God.
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days;
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
They shall not plant and another eat;
For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people,
And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
Nor bring forth children for trouble;
For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the Lord,
And their offspring with them.
It shall come to pass
That before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
The lion shall eat straw like the ox,
And dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,” says the Lord (Isaiah 65:17-25).
Now right away, some will object, “But the prophet Isaiah is writing about the time when there will be a new heavens and a new earth – the time of Christ’s Second Coming!
However, Paul uses similar language in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he writes that being in Christ is like a “new creation” (see 1 Cor. 5:17 compared to Isaiah 65). In other words, the “new creation” is a glimpse of what is to come, but still a reality in the here and now. Further, there is no reference in the prophecy to the Messiah’s physical presence on earth.
And besides, there are some clear indications that this creative transformative power of the Gospel described in Isaiah 65 must take place within history. Children are still being born (v. 20) houses are still being built; people are planting vineyards (v. 21) and enjoying he fruit of their earthly labors (v. 22).
Isaiah paints an incredibly optimistic picture of a Golden Age of Christianity when the Lord’s House, the church, shall be exalted higher than all other human institutions and the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Now I realize that much of this cuts across the grain of much of the modern evangelical church’s teaching about the end times. In the last 100 years, a more pessimistic worldview based on dispensational premillennialism has won the day by informing us that the church age represents a general decline in the glory of God’s kingdom and that these promises of God are for Israel only and will not come to pass until after Jesus returns to set up His kingdom on earth ruling from Jerusalem.
But that is not how most theologians throughout history have understood eschatology. It has been understood that the Church would not only succeed in the Great Commission, out that the people of God would be greatly blessed by the spiritual and material blessings that would flow from an increase of God’s rule as it progressively came on earth as it is in heaven.
In fact it was inconceivable – in light of the messianic promises given in many Old Testament prophecies including those of Ezekiel, Daniel and many of the Minor Prophets – that the Church, the Bride, could fail to accomplisH all that her Husband had commissioned her to do.