I started looking at Isaiah 65:25 because some people offer this scripture to support of the idea that in the beginning, during the perfection that existed before Adam’s sin, all animals (and man) were herbivores and this scripture suggests that in the perfection of the new heaven and earth they return to the herbivore state. Well, I found a lot more than just a dietary menu.
First just some quick bullet points. They crop up elsewhere in more detail so I’ll be brief so we don’t get too far off this scripture.
So we cannot use the “End” as a good indicator of the “Beginning”.
Before we look at Isaiah 65:25, go and read Isaiah 65:17-24.
I love the way He says, “I create” in verse 17. I love it because it’s God. He talks about things to come the way He sees it and though in our time frame it is a few thousand years in the coming, here He declares it as imminent. I love it when God shows me things to come but then after the initial excitement I get frustrated because it may be years, decades or more before I see it or my children see it. So after an initial encouragement from the Holy Spirit I wait in faith, trust and hope. (Romans 4:17)
The Jews could not conceive of a resurrected life where we live forever. The images in verses 18-24 is a beautiful picture of what the Jews have and are still waiting for – the reign of their Messiah. Everyone is living exceedingly long lives, but they do die. There is peace, joy and prosperity.
Christians see this as the 1,000 year reign of Christ here on earth before the final transition to the our heavenly state. There’s a little debate about whether this transition will be a renewal, transformation or transportation. It does not really matter which philosophy you choose, what is important is that during this millennium Jesus rules and reigns with a rod of iron; Satan is bound, and there is no deception. Disease seems to be done away with, but the final obstacle, death, is yet to be overcome. Then at the end of this period (Revelation 20:7), Satan is released and there is some final battle before Satan himself is cast into the lake of fire. Now “Death will be no more”, (Revelation 21:4).
After verses 18 to 24, which plainly describe a beautiful picture of those living under the Messiah’s rule, we suddenly see three brief references to the diet of animals.
Now at its simplest we could say that since the wolf no longer preys on the lamb and the lion on the ox then the Jews are being assured that their livestock will not suffer loss. So just as verses 21 and 22 assured them that their fruit crops will prosper, so too their flocks will prosper. As a matter of interest though, if you were to ask a Jew whether this means that their sacrifices would end, they would say no. And if the sacrifices, ordained through Moses under a covenant that was to last forever, continue, then the portions of meat eaten by the priests and the ordinary Jew as fellowship offerings would continue. In short both the killing of animals and eating of flesh by man would continue during the Messiah’s reign. So you cannot insist that man becomes a herbivore during this millennium.
The animals referred to here, the wolf, the lamb, the lion, the ox and the serpent have potent symbolic meaning. To close your eyes to this is to be sure of missing the main point.
First the serpent is eating dust. This was the same condition as after the fall. So we know this is not really hinting at a pre-fall perfection nor a heavenly perfection.
This is what I think. The animals are people types. The wolves are false leaders who deceive believers, the lambs are followers of Jesus. Because Jesus is ruling with a rod of iron, the wolves are prevented from deceiving the flock. The lion and ox are the same. The lion are leaders and kings who normally place themselves above their servants, the ox, but during Jesus reign, He alone is Lord. The serpent is Satan who is bound during the millennium reign and so cannot harm man.
The scriptural justification...
So Isaiah 65:25 finds its full revelation, not in the protection of the livestock, but as an indicator of Jesus’ absolute sovereignty during the millennium reign. But take note, the wolves, the lions and the serpent don’t disappear. They are simply powerless to deceive and prey on man. But at the end of the millennium reign they all surface again and oppose Jesus only to be defeated in the final battle. (Revelation 20)
In many places in Genesis, I suggest that God is describing something real and physical which also has a symbolic meaning. But in Isaiah 65:25 the symbols are extremely powerful and obvious, and though in Isaiah’s day the people may have taken it literally, I think that this side of the Cross and with the Holy Spirit’s guidance we should be seeing the symbolic meaning as God’s aim and not expecting dramatic diet changes for carnivores during the millennium reign. In other words, verse 25 is a parable appended to the natural in verses 17-24. But if anyone wants to argue then let’s wait about 30 to 70 years – Jesus will be reigning and we can just look around. Right now the Church must prepare itself for Jesus’ return.
The real problem in classifying this as real or symbolic is that the symbolic meaning is very obvious and profound while the natural reading just amounts to a minor detail of life during the millennium reign of Jesus. So if the symbolic is the real deal here you have to admit that God sometimes mixes symbolic stuff right alongside the plain and it requires discernment. Because Isaiah is prophesying about the future, it is a little easier to accept. But if God was to have done this sort of stuff back in Genesis, which is supposed to be historical narrative, then we will have to relax some of the rules we have established.
Late addition: I read an article where the writer suggested that, “Whether real or symbolic, this indicated that a wolf killing a lamb was evil and was not in the initial created state”. First, if you cannot commit to whether it is symbolic or not, how will you ever understand anything? (Mark 4:13) Second, if it is pointing to end times, why is it necessarily indicative of the created state. Third, I agree that the relationship between the natural entities in a symbolic scripture often contributes to the symbolic understanding, but you have to discern the symbolic understanding first. Once you discern the wolf as a leader deceiving the flock, then the evil in Isaiah 65:25 is this deception, which leads believers away from Jesus and so to their death as judgement.
The picture of a wolf devouring a lamb in the natural shows how terrible deception is but it does not mean that the wolf is doing evil. Jesus said to beware the yeast of the Pharisees, yet Jesus ate in the home of Pharisees. It was grasping how the self-righteous religion of the Pharisees, that was applied to every aspect of their lives just as yeast was worked throughout the loaf, was the dangerous thing. Eating yeast made by Pharisees was not. A wolf killing a lamb was not evil, but the deception was evil.
The writer of this article really annoyed me. He knew that he was on thin ice trying to assert that carnivores did evil so he used the term a “physical evil” for their actions, as different from a “moral evil” for man’s actions. Well, would the sea have done a physical evil if someone drowned in the sea? Did God do a physical or moral evil in flooding the world? Come on guys, get a grip. Man does evil when he rejects God. The inanimate world and animals does what God designed them to do. God Himself seems to suggest that a lion hunting and eating was something planned by God’s wisdom in Job 38:39-40, and Psalm 104:21. Have a look at “No evil” in Created Mortal.