Friday, June 20, 2014

Will Our Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven? *

Part Nineteen:   Is the “Millennial Kingdom” the New Heaven and Earth Prophesied in the Old Testament?

 Last week we saw that there is continuity between our present earth and the eschatological New Earth. The Jewish prophetic vision of a “new heaven and earth” (Isa 65:17; 66:22), and the New Testament fulfillment in Revelation, appear to be referring to the same glorious eternal Kingdom of God: Heaven. But is it? Harmonizing Old Testament prophecies concerning a future restored Israel with the new heaven and earth described in Revelation chapter 21 raises an intriguing question: Is the new heaven and earth prophesied in the Old Testament actually the Millennial Kingdom described in Revelation 20?

There are events and descriptions in Old Testament prophesies concerning Israel’s restoration that seem contrary to the new heaven and earth revealed in Revelation, such as people having children, growing old, and dying (Isa. 65:20-30). On the other hand, there are also clear parallels between the two: the apparent absence of the sun and moon (Isa. 60:19; cf. Rev. 21:23; 22:5); healing of sight, deafness, and other physical disabilities (Isa. 35:5-6; cf. Rev. 21:4); everlasting joy (Isa. 35:10; cf. Rev. 21:4); a New Jerusalem; and a permanent end to weeping and crying (Isa. 65:18-19; cf. Rev. 7:17; 21:4).  These Old Testament prophecies clearly describe a kingdom with characteristics unlike anything imaginable on this present earth.  Moreover, the prophesied Jewish Messiah who would usher in the restoration of Israel was clearly more than just human. Among His other traits, Daniel speaks of him as having “authority, glory and sovereign power,” being “worshiped” by all people, and having a kingdom “that will never end.”  Only Jesus fulfills the prophecies of this future Messiah (Daniel 7:13-14; also Isa. 9:6-7).

How should these dissimilar characteristics of the new heaven and earth described in the Old and New Testaments be harmonized? For some interpreters, prophecies such as Isaiah 35:1-10; 65:17-25; and Ezekiel 36:22-38 refer to the return of Jewish exiles from Babylonia captivity—they don’t describe the future eternal kingdom revealed in Revelation 21 and 22. Other interpreters believe that Isaiah, Ezekiel, and other Old Testament prophets were inadvertently referring to Jews who would be saved throughout church history (see Rom. 11:25-31). In this latter view, many Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel’s future have a spiritual fulfillment in the church rather than literal fulfillment for the nation of Israel. This view is supported by Paul in Romans 2:28-29, 9:6, and Phil. 3:3, which speak of true Jews as being followers of Christ, and by the fact that the New Testament writers considered many Old Testament prophecies to have direct application to the established church and New Testament times. If this is the case, the Old Testament prophets may have had in mind a perfectly restored earthly kingdom under the rule of a messiah who would deliver the Jews from foreign domination—but they unwittingly predicted a future eternal Kingdom when the true Davidic messiah, Jesus Christ, returns to establish the eternal new heaven and earth in the “last days.”  

 A case can also be made that Old Testament prophecies referring to a future restored Israel (Ezek.36: 24-30) have a dual fulfillmenta primary and secondary application. On the one hand, they do predict a future new heaven and earth when Jesus returns to establish His eternal Kingdom. But the same prophesies may also refer to an initial Millennium or a Millennial Kingdoma thousand-year reign of Jesus here on earth prior to the eternal new heaven and earth described in Revelation 21. During the Millennium, God will bring about a literal fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of a restored Israel. Satan will be imprisoned and the world will enjoy an unparalleled period of joy and prosperity under Christ’s’ rule. After this thousand-year period, Satan will be released for a short time to spearhead a final rebellion against God, after which he and his underlings, along with unsaved humans, will be cast into the Lake of Fire (hell) forever (see Rev. 20: 7-15). At that point in eschatological history, heaven and (new) earth will unite to become Heaven, and all believers will enjoy eternal bliss with our Lord Jesus Christ forever.

 In my opinion, this last view is the simplest and least problematic and complicated end-time scenario for harmonizing Old Testament prophecy of restored Israel with Revelation. Without this perspective, the huge amount of details given in Old Testament prophecies concerning the anticipated Davidic kingdom would be reduced to merely figurative language and symbolism—spiritualizing what clearly reads as predictive history. It’s hard to imagine that God would give so much information and description of restored Israel if it did not have a literal fulfillment. 

For the purposes of this study, however, whether or not Heaven uniting with a renewed earth occurs at the return of Christ or a thousand years later at the end of a Millennial Kingdom is not important. (In the latter case, the Millennium would be a transitional phase between the old earth and the New Earth.) What is important is the continuity between the two, so that many of the features in the Old Testament vision of the redeemed earth will become essential features in Heaven.  For example, the Peaceable Kingdom in Isaiah eleven, where humans and animals peacefully coexistence, is an accurate depiction of the relationship that will exist in Heaven among redeemed and restored nature, animals, and humans. 

This brings us back, after a several week detour, to the central purpose of this series of blog articles. Will Heaven be inhabited by our pets and other sentient animals? Certainly if heaven is united with a redeemed and restored planet Earth, as described in Revelation 21:1-4  (cf. Rom. 8:19-23)—rather than Heaven being someplace “far off in space”—it is easier to envision soul-bearing animals now inhabiting the earth joining God’s redeemed people in the eternal Peaceable Kingdom. In next couple blog articles we’ll see what the creatures dwelling in Heaven will be like.

*  The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not  be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website:

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