I woke with a start Sunday morning about 5 AM with a verse of Scripture in my mind,
“...we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses (tsĕdaqah) are like filthy (menstrual) rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, (‘avon) like the wind,
Have taken us away.”
It’s from Isaiah 64 I found out after consulting BlueLetterBible. I did not a first realize that the closing chapters of Isaiah were addressed to Israel. I thought about the Judgment Seat of Christ which all followers of Jesus Christ will experience when they die or at the Rapture of the true Church.
When any follower of Jesus (who knows Jesus personally) dies (or “died”) he or she leaves earth’s constrained 4D space-time domain and time travels (I believe) to a great event in the heavenly places called the Bema (the Judgment Seat of Christ).
We will all be together for that event but it will be a highly personal disclosure of everything we ever were, thought said, did. It will be a kind of cosmic evaluation time with Jesus in charge. The purpose is not condemnation (that can’t happen)—but commendation.
How long will this evaluation take? In earth time down below, it will have happened in “a moment, the twinkling of an eye.” Subjectively: Jesus has “all the time in the world” to show us who we are and what He accomplished in and through us down below.
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
In heavenly, subjective time, God’s great reality-check will require whatever time one-on-one is required.
“Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
“And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.” (2 Corinthians 3:16 - 4:14)
The Bema will “go to motive” as good courtroom judges know (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_motive).
“Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
Therefore! Keep very short accounts with God! We are too easily deceived and very soon defiled by the fallen world we are embedded in! The flesh, the world, and the devil press in on us 24/7!
The Exchanged Life, turns out is key. You are I are not able to live a “victorious Christian life.” But Jesus has, is, and will pour forth His endless life through anyone who will allow Him His rights. Jesus is quite able to give His time and full attention to teach and everyone of us. He has “all the time in the world” for you and for me. At the same time He is now “seated at the right hand of the majesty on high.”
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
For to which of the angels did He ever say:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”?
“I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son”?
But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
“Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
And of the angels He says:
“Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire.”
But to the Son He says:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.”
“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail.”
But to which of the angels has He ever said:
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”?
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1)
In conclusion, here is all of Isaiah Chapter 64, and Ray Stedman’s commentary to expand our understanding a bit beyond ourselves. We are not the only group God is saving.
Oh, that You would rend the heavens!
That You would come down!
That the mountains might shake at Your presence—
As fire burns brushwood,
As fire causes water to boil—
To make Your name known to Your adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Your presence!
When You did awesome things for which we did not look,
You came down,
The mountains shook at Your presence.
For since the beginning of the world
Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear,
Nor has the eye seen any God besides You,
Who acts for the one who waits for Him.
You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness,
Who remembers You in Your ways.
You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—
In these ways we continue;
And we need to be saved.
But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses (tsĕdaqah) are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
And there is no one who calls on Your name,
Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us,
And have consumed us because of our iniquities.
But now, O Lord,
You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand.
Do not be furious, O Lord,
Nor remember iniquity forever;
Indeed, please look—we all are Your people!
Your holy cities are a wilderness,
Zion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful temple,
Where our fathers praised You,
Is burned up with fire;
And all our pleasant things are laid waste.
Will You restrain Yourself because of these things, O Lord?
Will You hold Your peace, and afflict us very severely?
Chapter 64 is the response of the remnant of Israel, the believing Jews, to this. Their cry is a prayer,
O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at thy presence --
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil --
to make thy name known to thy adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at thy presence! (Isaiah 64:1-2 RSV)
They are asking God for judgment, crying, "We know this will be terrible, but it is the only way. So come, Lord, do your work." Hasn't this been our cry at times, when we have seen the terrible things that are going on around us: "Lord, come and end this terrible scene, at whatever cost"? This, then, is the prayer of the remnant, the earnest pleading for relief. The prayer rises out of an awareness of the majesty and the uniqueness of God, exemplified in their words in verse 4,
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides thee,
who works for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4 RSV)
Paul quotes those verses in First Corinthians (2:9-10), saying these unrevealed things have been revealed to us by the Spirit. If you want to see God, and know God, then search his Word. Study it, think it through. Let the majesty of God be taught to you by the Spirit of God, for that is what he has come to do.
God replies to all this in Chapters 65 and 66, which close the book of Isaiah. He first reminds Israel that he has always been available to them, if they were only ready to turn to him. He proves this by pointing out that he has been available even to the Gentiles; not only to the chosen people but also even to the Gentiles.
I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, "Here am I, here am I,"
to a nation that did not call on my name. (Isaiah 65:1 RSV)
He is speaking of the Gentiles. But what about Israel? Of them, he says,
I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually, (Isaiah 65:2-3a RSV)
They are idolaters, following other gods. That is what is wrong with them. More than that,
...who say, "Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am set apart from you." (Isaiah 65:5a RSV)
Literally, the words are, "I am holier than thou." This is where that phrase comes from. If there is any sin in the Bible that is categorized as being worse than any other sin, it is the sin of self-righteousness! That is the sin of Israel. It is also the sin of the church. Like the Pharisees, we often draw our garments around ourselves, crying, "We would never do that!" Remember that the hardest words of Jesus were uttered against the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Not one of us knows what we would do, given certain circumstances, if we thought we could get away with it or everybody else was doing it. That is the terrible evil of the human heart.
But after the time of God's judgment of Israel, God will fulfill all his promises. Once again we have described here the beautiful conditions of the millennium, beginning with the promise ultimately of a new heaven and a new earth:
For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth;
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing,
and her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
and the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the child shall die a hundred years old, (Isaiah 65:17-20a RSV)
That is, when a child is one hundred years old he is still a mere child. The longevity of the ancient world will come back again.
...and the sinner a 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 like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, (Isaiah 65:20b-22a RSV)
What a beautiful picture of the restoration of the earth! Isaiah closes with words describing the change that shall occur in the animal kingdom, a description we have already seen in Chapter 11 of this prophecy.
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 or destroy
in all my holy mountain. (Isaiah 66:25 RSV)
The final chapter continues the dialogue between Jehovah and Israel. The fascinating thing about this chapter is that it is a direct reply to the yearning on the part of many in Israel today to rebuild the temple upon Mount Moriah. As you know, some of us have had a very close association with the Jews who are committed to rebuilding a temple upon that mount.
They are determined to do this and they are working every way they can to accomplish it. But God has a word for them, which we find in the opening words of this chapter,
Thus says the Lord:
"Heaven is my throne
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house which you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things are mine, says the Lord.
But this is the man to whom I will look,
he that is humble and contrite in spirit,
and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:1-2 RSV)
It is not that the temple will not be built. It will be. And animal sacrifices will once again be offered in it as they were offered in the days of our Lord. But God is saying that these are all worthless if he is not enshrined in the heart. He goes on to describe in scathing language what animal sacrifices will mean without that heart worship.
"He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man;
he who sacrifices a lamb, like him who breaks a dog's neck;
he who presents a cereal offering,
like him who offers swine's blood;
he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense,
like him who blesses an idol.
These have chosen their own ways,
and their soul delights in their abominations." (Isaiah 66:3 RSV)
We have seen all through this book how God hates phony religion. He hates outward ritual that has no inner reality! This will be true of those days as well. Let me point out one word he utters here to the true believers in Israel. Verse 5,
Hear the word of the Lord,
you who tremble at his word:
"Your brethren who hate you
and cast you out for my name's sake
have said, 'Let the Lord be glorified,
that we may see your joy';[That is sarcastic language.]
but it is they who shall be put to shame." (Isaiah 66:5 RSV)
Then the most amazing wonder of all times is unveiled in Verses 7-9:
"Before she was in labor
she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
she was delivered of a son.
Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?
For as soon as Zion was in labor
she brought forth her sons.
Shall I bring to the birth and not cause to bring forth?
says the Lord;
shall I, who cause to bring forth,
shut the womb? says your God." (Isaiah 66:9 RSV)
What is this all about? The most amazing thing that has happened in human history is that Israel produced a son, Jesus, before she travailed in labor. The great tribulation and the judgment of Israel described here is as a woman in labor, and yet Israel will come to the realization that nineteen hundred years before she entered into her labor, she had already had a son! This is the great wonder of the age. God declares that people will say, "Who has ever heard such a thing, that a nation then 'shall be born in a day.'" When Jesus returns, and the nation sees who it is, those will believe in him will be made righteous and they shall flood the earth with the knowledge of God. Israel shall be God's witnesses in that day.
The closing verses are a final description of the restoration of that nation, and promise anew of the new heavens and the new earth still to come:
"For as the new heavens and the new earth
which I will make
shall remain before me, says the Lord;
so shall your descendants and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon,
and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,"
says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:22-23 RSV)
This is a millennial scene. Even during those times when all the nations, led by Israel, shall come up to Jerusalem to worship, God will have provided a memorial for them, reminding them of the cost of disobedience and the terrible fate of unbelief.
"They shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh." (Isaiah 66:24 RSV)
So the great prophecy comes to an end. We are left with the question, "Do we truly know this loving, patient God, terrible in his justice, awful in his might and power, yet so earnestly loving in his attempt to bring men to himself?"
That is the great question. The name Isaiah means "Jehovah saves." That is what God wants. This great prophecy is a testimony to the fact that, "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all men should come to the knowledge of repentance," 2 Peter 3:9).
Let me close with these words from C.S. Lewis,
In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that, and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison, you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
I wish Ray had lived long enough to teach all of Isaiah. His thirteen messages are worth their weight in platinum. After he was called to be the first pastor at Peninsula Bible Fellowship in 1950, Ray, a new graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary, spent a summer driving Harry Ironside around on various speaking engagements. Ironside died before completing a great commentary on Isaiah. Ray took his mentor’s notes and finished it, so we have this magnificent work with us today. (https://www.raystedman.org/thematic-studies/body-life/body-language)
After Ray Stedman completed his short series on Isaiah at PBC Cupertino, I asked him facetiously when he planned to teach the other 90% of Isaiah (it was his favorite book).
Circumstances led him to present us instead with a magnificent series of 12 sermons on Colossians, (1987) (https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/colossians)
May I recommend Ray’s vast library? Most messages are available also in audio and listening to Ray is highly recommended.
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February 17, 2019.