Isaiah is a Bible in miniature: The 66 chapters are divided into an “Old Testament” (Chapters 1-39) and a “New Testament” (Chapters 40-66). The final chapters—discussed here—parallel the end of the age we live in today, as unfolded in the last book of the Bible, the Book of the Revelation. Open your English Bible half way and you'll land in Isaiah.
Many people see Bible prophecy as always future, postponed indefinitely, never to happen to us. This view is very naive. God’s dealings with His chosen nation, Israel, are a template on how He deals with every nation!
Isaiah served in Jerusalem from about 740 to 680 BC. During his time the ten northern tribes were overrun by the Assyrians. The deterioration of the nation—the two Southern Tribes of Benjamin and Judah—continued for nearly a hundred years after Isaiah died. Solomon’s Temple and the City of Jerusalem were finally leveled by the Babylonians on the 9th of Av, 586 BC. The loss of life was enormous and the suffering terrible beyond words.
It would be 70 years before a handful exiles from Babylon were allowed to return from their exile, rebuild the walls, and put in place a Second Temple. (See Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Malachi). Yet the Jews are God's "Chosen People," a model nation. They are the only nation on earth enjoying a covenant with God!
A bit later in history, after Isaiah, Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem--for his whole life--from about 625 BC to about 586 BC. He is called "the weeping prophet" because of the grief he felt when the city was destroyed. He is considered a “type” of Israel’s messiah, Yeshua, who would appear on schedule in 30 AD. Yeshua would also weep over Jerusalem.
The Second Temple was also destroyed on the same date in 70 AD. Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations to grieve over both national tragedies. (Highly recommended: "Death of a Nation" by Ray Stedman.)
Isaiah also wrote of the impending national collapse of Israel in his day. Earlier in his career as a prophet to Israel, God warned him he would be ignored and eventually killed by his own country men, which came to pass.
Jeremiah would also be one of many slain prophets Jesus grieved over. Yet what both Isaiah and Jeremiah wrote would be remembered and highly revered by the Jews centuries later and down to today. We desperately need to hear and respond to what they learned about the living God.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See, your house is left desolate to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’ (Jesus in Luke 13:34, 35)
If there is one book of the Bible which fits the decline and imminent fall of America, it’s surely Jeremiah. Same God as Moses knew nearly a thousand years earlier:
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with Moses there, and proclaimed the name, ‘The Lord.’ The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ (Exodus 35:5-7)
Our once-great nation, The United States of America--"land of the free and home of the brave"--has survived longer than most other great world powers because the founding fathers honored the God of the Bible. Our end would not be happening now if our people would turn to God for mercy. In times past God has sent revivals to the remnant of people out among the Gentiles. A revival is unlikely now. In March 2021, our whole planet was locked down, all 196 nations! Our current apathy and disregard of God, our sense of entitlement are shocking to patriots who remember our history.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Irish statesman Edmund Burke is often misquoted as having said,“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” while British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”"
God created the universe, and us. He champions the causes of all who seek Him and walk with Him. The lockdown of 2020 was surely intended to be a wake up call to us from the Author of Life, He alone has immortality. All "lower forms of life" under God--us included--exist by God's favor and grace. The lockdown was global in 2020 was surely not only America being called into God's court room, it was the entire world. Way more will follow.
One of the most significant aspects of the 2020 lockdown was the shuttering of many churches! Pastors everywhere are out of work, and John MacArthur quipped that many would probably not be rehired because of their lack of competence.
At least a third of Americans claimed to be Christians until a few years ago. Today there are a few followers of Jesus in our nation—a "remnant" —perhaps numbering only 10% of us on earth? It makes little sense at first glance, for God to isolate true Christians from one another, making it very difficult now for us, to communicate, to experience “Body Life,” to compare notes with one another, and to agree together and to pray.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)
Obviously God has been very unhappy with the low state of the church in recent years as seen in the words of Jesus to the Church at Laodicea.
‘And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:14-22)
God's long term strategy was evident when Jesus was sent to the Cross as predicted by Zechariah, "I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered." (Matthew 26:30-31, Zechariah 13:7-8). Persecution, marginalization, eclipsing, and the scattering of the sheep now characterize our day. When people reject Jesus down through history—and ignore His right to rule in our lives—God’s gives them over to a counterfeit! God deals with cooperating remnants, not so-called “moral majorities.” Yet when God’s remnant does come back together we will see complete vindication.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way. (John 14)
God is dealing with us with maximum mercy and forbearance. Every one who knows and trusts Jesus is safe and many can already see the light ahead at the end of the tunnel.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter,and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not reject for ever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, when one’s case is subverted—does the Lord not see it? Who can command and have it done, if the Lord has not ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should any who draw breath complain about the punishment of their sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven. We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven. (Lamentations 3:21-42)
Isaiah 64 is a prayer by Isaiah as he saw dark times ahead for Israel. In Chapter 65, God responds! The prophet was dismayed because the people of Israel would not take their God seriously. If all this makes no sense, please talk to God! We are all in the same boat.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
Isaiah was the greatest of the prophets and a superb master of language. If you enjoy beautiful, rolling cadences and marvelous literary passages, you will enjoy this book for that reason alone.
Isaiah is the fullest revelation of Christ in the Old Testament -- so much so, that it is often called "the gospel according to Isaiah." To acquaint yourself with these magnificent, prophetic passages looking forward to Christ is to experience much of the richness and depth of Scripture.
Also, the prophetic nature of the book of Isaiah is one of the great proofs that the Bible is the word of God, for Isaiah lived some 724 years before Christ. The many passages looking forward to the Messiah point so clearly to Christ and are fulfilled in him, and thereby constitute an unanswerable argument for the divine inspiration of the book.
Any time we approach a new book, we always want to look for a key. I am afraid, however, that this is sometimes a rather weak approach. Sometimes these Bible books seem like locked houses, barred and shuttered, so that you can't get anything out of them unless you find the key. And some people feel that the only duly-licensed real estate agents are the Bible teachers, who alone have the keys to the Scripture's "real estate."
But scriptural books are not like that. They are more like national parks. They are open to everyone to roam in, and are a delight to explore all by yourself. But each park has a characteristic peculiar to itself that distinguishes it from the others; and you appreciate a park better if you know what that characteristic is. I have learned to appreciate some of the distinct characteristics of the great national parks in the West. For instance, if you want to see nature's various moods, go to Yellowstone Park. There she pulls all the tricks out of her bag and throws everything together. If you want to see mountain grandeur and cool lakes, Glacier Park in Montana is the place to go. If you want to be awed and humbled and stirred, then go to the Grand Canyon. If you are looking for a quiet valley in which to rest and reflect, Yosemite fills the bill -- that is, any time other than midsummer, when some twenty thousand people are in the valley with you.
Sometimes I think of these books of the Bible like this. The book of Revelation is to me very much like Yellowstone National Park. It is full of spouting geysers and all kinds of weird symbolism and a variety of formations. The Gospel of John is more like Yosemite; quiet and deep and reverent. But there is no question that the book of Isaiah is the Grand Canyon of scripture. Geologists tell us that the Grand Canyon is a miniature history of the earth -- a condensed history, a pocket volume of the past -- just so, the book of Isaiah has long been recognized as a miniature Bible.
I am very inclined to think that the order in which the books of the Bible occur is divinely inspired, because of their unique arrangement. By no means are they placed in an order we would expect them to be, and I think this is highly significant. It is particularly interesting that the book of Isaiah is exactly in the middle of the Bible. It comes right at the center and is often called a miniature Bible.
How many books does the Bible have? Sixty-six. How many chapters does Isaiah have? Sixty-six. How many books are there in the Old Testament? Thirty-nine, and therefore twenty-seven in the New Testament. And the book of Isaiah divides exactly in that way. The first half of the book comprises thirty-nine chapters. There is a distinct division at chapter 40, so that the remaining twenty-seven chapters constitute the second half of this book.
The New Testament begins with the history of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, as he came to announce the coming of the Messiah, and it ends in the book of Revelation with the new heaven and the new earth. Chapter 40 of Isaiah, which begins the second half, contains the prophetic passage that predicts the coming of John the Baptist:
A voice cries:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40:3 RSV)
And this, John says, was fulfilled by himself when he came. And when you read on to the end of the book you will find that chapter 66 speaks of the new heavens and the new earth that God is creating. So you find here in the book of Isaiah a remarkably close analogy that parallels the entire Bible.
Visitors to the Grand Canyon are always astonished by one thing when they go there. They stand at the rim and look out over the vast. jumbled, silent canyon -- down to the Colorado River, which seems but a silver thread more than a mile below them -- and sooner or later some tourist cries in amazement, "I don't understand how a tiny thing like that river could have carved a canyon like this!" They are amazed by that concept.
Now if you read the book of Isaiah thoughtfully and carefully, you sense immediately the grandeur and the power of God. You hear the powerful, rolling cadences of this book's language. You sense the insignificance of man when compared with the might and the wisdom and majesty of God. And if you ask yourself, "How could Isaiah, just a human being like myself, write a book like this?" to answer seems impossible.
We know very little about Isaiah himself. He lived during the reigns of four kings of Judah -- Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. His ministry began some 740 years before Christ when the ten tribes that formed the northern kingdom of Israel were being carried away into captivity by Sennacherib, the Assyrian invader. And Judah, the southern kingdom, was plunged into idolatry toward the end of Isaiah's ministry in 687 B.C. and was carried captive into Babylon. So the ministry of this prophet spans the time between the captivity of the northern kingdom and the captivity of the southern kingdom -- about 50 years. Isaiah was a contemporary of the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah. And tradition tells us that Isaiah the prophet was martyred under the reign of Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings recorded by the Old Testament. The story is that he hid in a hollow tree to escape the reign of Manasseh, and the king's soldiers, knowing he was in that tree, sawed the tree down. Thus, he was sawn in half. Some scholars feel that when the epistle to the Hebrews in its great chapter about the heroes of faith, lists being sawn in two as one of the ways the prophets were martyred, that it refers to the prophet Isaiah. (Hebrews 11:37)
He was the human author of this book, and it is indeed amazing to think that a man could write language as beautiful as this and reveal the tremendous things found here. But, when visitors go down the long trail to the Colorado River, they are no longer amazed that a river could carve out the great canyon, because they can actually hear the grinding rocks being swept along by the force of the current, and they can sense the powerful and invisible force of this river. The book of Isaiah is something like that. Here is a man carried along by an amazing force and speaking magnificent prophecies because of it.
In his second letter, Peter says of the Old Testament prophets, "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation because," he says, "no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:20,21) and this explains how Isaiah could speak and write as he did.
Now the amazing thing is that prophets who spoke like this were very much aware that an invisible power within them was speaking through them and that what they spoke and wrote was greater than their own. They actually searched through their own writings to discover hidden truths, and in this sense they ministered to themselves. They studied their own writings. Peter says the same in his first letter:
The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when they predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12 RSV)
Now if any key is needed to this book, this is it. Isaiah was a man who was searching for something. Peter says he was searching after the salvation that was to come from God. And the interesting thing is that the name "Isaiah" means "The salvation of Jehovah."
Now what sets this man searching? Why does he pore over his writings, puzzling over this matter? Well, when you read this book you can see his problem. Isaiah lived in a time of national stress, when man's true nature was visible and was exposing itself for what it was just as in our day. He was terribly bothered over man's innate rebelliousness, as he cries out in the opening chapter. The nation has deliberately forsaken the ways of God and their stupid obstinacy is simply beyond his understanding. "Why," he says, "even the ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib..." (Isaiah. 1:3) Even an animal knows where its bread is buttered, where it gets blessing and help. But he says, "Not Israel. They don't know where to go." They are wandering off stupidly, ignorantly, and this amazes him. He simply cannot understand their stubborn refusal to turn back -- and the other nations around are just as bad.
Then God gives Isaiah a vision. He sees God in his awful purity and holiness. This amazing revelation of God is in chapter 6, verses 1 through 3:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." (Isaiah 6:1-3 RSV)
Imagine this! As he is in the temple one day, he sees God. In the year King Uzziah died, when the throne was vacant, he saw the throne that was never vacant. He saw a God of wrath and power. As you read on, you see beautifully described how God has power to shake the earth to its foundations -- an immense God, infinite and mighty, speaking in thunder and moving in strength. Isaiah asks, "How can such a God do anything but destroy the rebellious creatures that are men? Where is salvation for men like this?"
His problem grows worse as, in the second part of this book, he is made aware of man's helplessness. Chapter 40 begins on that note. Here is the prophetic passage concerning John the Baptist:
A voice says, "Cry!" (Isaiah 40:6a RSV)
Go to this nation and cry, cry.
And I said, "What shall I cry?" (Isaiah 40:6b RSV)
God said, cry that,
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. (Isaiah 40:6 RSV)
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand for ever. (Isaiah. 40: 8 RSV)
Man is just like the grass. He is temporary -- here for only a little while. His life spans but a brief period of time and then ends. Isaiah sees in this man's utter impotence and helplessness as he blindly stumbles on to his doom.
But then Isaiah begins to see the answer. Woven beautifully throughout this book is the ever-growing revelation of God's love, of Jehovah's salvation, found in the figure of someone who is to come -- the Messiah, the servant of God. At first it is dim and shadowy, but gradually it grows brighter and still brighter until, in chapter 53, the figure of Christ steps right off the page and fills the whole room and you realize that he is the answer.
But what Isaiah was given to show especially was that the God of transcendent glory that he saw in chapter 6 -- the God who frightened him so much that he cried out. "... I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." (6:5) -- is the same God who would one day be,
...despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces... (Isaiah 53:3a RSV)
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed... (Isaiah 53:5 RSV)
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth... (Isaiah 53:7a RSV)
And Isaiah saw how God's love would break the back of man's rebelliousness and meet his helpless need.
Then, at last, he sees beyond the darkness and gloom of the centuries yet to come, to the day when there will come a morning without clouds, the day of righteousness, when all God's glory will fill the earth. And man will make war no more, and they will beat their swords into pruning hooks and their spears into plows, and nothing shall hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain.
You can find these two themes, or characteristics of God, brought together in the book of Revelation. In the fourth chapter, John tells us of a mighty vision of God: "And lo, a throne stood in heaven..." (Revelation 4:2) Then, in Revelation 5:6 he says, "And between the throne and the four living creatures...I saw a Lamb..." There, then, are the two themes of Isaiah: a throne and a Lamb. In Isaiah 6:1 you see the throne, "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up..." And you find the Lamb in chapter 53, verse 7:
...like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7b RSV)
This is God's plan you see. God doesn't choose to come with power and might and warfare to wipe men off the face of the earth (although that is the way we try to solve our problems!). As God declares to Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 RSV)
God's method is to break through man's rebelliousness not by might, not by power -- but by love, by love that suffers. And when he does, and the heart responds by opening up, then all the majesty and the power of God are poured into that life to bring to it the fulfillment that God has intended for human hearts.
It is remarkable how up-to-date this book is. The first part of the book presents the threat of the king of Assyria; the last half of the book describes the threat of the kingdom of Babylon; and the middle part of the book, chapters 37 through 39 are the "filling" in this historical sandwich -- an interlude carrying us from Assyria to Babylon. These two nations -- Assyria and Babylon -- are in the world today and have been since before the time of Isaiah.
The king of Assyria stands for the power and philosophy of godlessness -- the idea that there is no God and that we can live as we please; that we are in a deterministic, materialistic universe that runs on in its clanking, grinding way and there is nothing we can do about it but try to enjoy ourselves and make the most of things. It is the philosophy that might makes right, and that man has no one to answer to but himself. This is the Assyrian philosophy so prominent in our own day, and it is also the philosophy behind communism.
The second force is the power of Babylon. In Scripture, Babylon is always the symbol of apostasy, of religious error and deceit. Again, this is what we experience today, on all sides. The voices from which we should be able to expect guidance -- the voice of the church itself in many places -- are often voices crying out against God, by preaching the things that encourage wrongdoing and destruction in human life. So we are living in the very times described in Isaiah.
The dominant characteristics of human life are basically rebellion and helplessness. Have you ever noticed how true that is? I read recently in the papers of a man who was given a speeding ticket. When the officer handed him the ticket, the man read it, handed it back to the officer, threw his car into gear, and sped off. The officer jumped into his car and they wound up in a high-speed chase in which the man finally ran his car off the road and destroyed it, killing both himself and his six-year-old daughter who was in the car with him. Now what made him do that? Wasn't it simply that same innate rebelliousness of the human heart which does not want to be confronted with authority? That is the problem with all of us, isn't it?
People often say to me in counseling: "I know what I ought to do, but I have to confess that I don't want to do it." Why not? We all have this problem don't we? Rebelliousness and helplessness. It is reflected in the growing despair and sense of futility that grip so many people today -- the loneliness and apparent meaninglessness of life. And twice in this book -- once in the beginning and once toward the end -- you find the great words that God addresses to a world that is gripped by rebellion and helplessness. God says in chapter 1, verse 18:
"Come now, let us reason together ...
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool." (Isaiah 1:18 RSV)
He offers forgiveness, pardon. Again, in chapter 55, verse 1:
"Ho, every one who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price." (Isaiah 55:1 RSV)
You see, God's message to man is not condemnation. His message to man is, "Come, come; the salvation of Jehovah is available to all." And when a man accepts what Isaiah says --
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 RSV)
-- he will discover the answer to his deepest need; that the rebellion can be cured and the helplessness canceled and man can become what God intended him to be.
I often think of what occurred years ago to one of England's Bible teachers. As he hurried down to catch a train after one of the services at which he had been speaking, a man ran along the platform after him and caught him just as he was about to board the train. And the man said, "Oh, sir! I was in your meeting tonight and I heard you tell about a way by which man can find peace with God. I need help. I want to find my way to God. You help me."
The teacher said, "I'm sorry. I haven't time. I've got to catch this train. But I will tell you what to do. Take this Bible and go to the nearest lamppost. Turn to Isaiah 53:6. Stoop down low and go in at the first 'all' and stand up straight and come out at the last 'all'." Then he boarded the train and off he went.
The man stood there for a minute, puzzled. He didn't know what to make of it. Then he said, "I'll do what he said." He took the Bible that the teacher had given him and went over to the nearest lamppost. "Now what was it he said?" he thought. "Oh, yes, find Isaiah 53:6." He found it."'All we like sheep have gone astray.' What did he say to do now? 'Stoop down low and go in at the first 'all'. Stand up straight and come out at the last 'all'. 'All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.'" "Oh," he said, "I see what he meant. I'm to admit that's the case with me. Stoop down low and go in at the first 'all'. Acknowledge that I've gone astray, that I've turned to my own way. Well, then what? Well, I'm to stand up straight and come out at the last 'all'. 'But the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.' He bore it."
In a moment the man saw it. The next night at the meeting he came up, handed the Bible to the teacher, and said, "Here is your Bible, and I want you to know that I stooped down and went in at the first 'all' and I stood up straight and came out at the last 'all'."
Well, that is Isaiah's message. It is the message of the Bible -- the message of the word of God. Let's stand up straight and come out at the last 'all'.
This last section of the book of Isaiah covers the final events of world history, and closely parallels the book of Revelation. As I pointed out when we began this study thirteen weeks ago, the book of Isaiah is in many ways a miniature Bible. It divides like the Bible. The Bible has 66 books, and Isaiah has 66 chapters. The Old Testament has 39 books, and the first division of Isaiah has 39 chapters. The New Testament has 27 books, and the second half of Isaiah has 27 chapters. The theme of the last of Isaiah is the theme of the last of the Bible: the end!
Matthew quotes the words of Jesus, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to all the earth as a witness to every nation, and then the end shall come," (Matthew 24:14). It is that end that Isaiah brings before us now in these closing chapters of his prophecy, beginning at Chapter 59. This chapter answers the question many are asking today, "Why is the world in such a mess? If God is really running this world, why is he doing such a poor job of it?" Some feel even they could do a better job.
God's answer to these questions is given in the opening words of chapter 59:
Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear ["It is not my failure," God says];
but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hid his face from you
so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies,
your tongue mutters wickedness. (Isaiah 59:1-3 RSV)
The problem is not with God, but with man. The passage goes on to describe the wickedness of Israel particularly (since this chapter is addressed to the nation), and beyond that, to the whole world. The Apostle Paul quotes Verses 7-8 in Romans 3 to show that this applies to the whole race of men.
Their feet run to evil,
and they make haste to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity,
desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they know not,
and there is no justice in their paths. (Isaiah 59:7-8a RSV)
That is an excellent description of what theologians call "the depravity of man." God says there is something wrong with us. It is utter foolishness to deny it.
At the close of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill, a great historian in his own right, penned these words,
Certain it is that while men are gathering knowledge and power with ever-increasing speed, their virtues and their wisdom have not shown any notable improvement as the centuries have rolled. Under sufficient stress: starvation, terror, warlike passion, or even cold intellectual frenzy, the modern man we know so well will do the most terrible deeds, and his modern woman will back him up.
That eloquently confirms what Isaiah declares. The problem is not so much the presence of human sin, for God has an answer for that, set forth in Chapter 53 of Isaiah, in the marvelous story of One who was "wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed," (Isaiah 53:5). Yes, God has a full answer to the dilemma of human evil, but the problem that separates man from God is an unwillingness to admit to that evil. That is what keeps God from acting on our behalf. If you come with a humble, repentant heart, you can get anything from God; but if you come with a self-justifying excuse, God will give you nothing.
Man is strangely reluctant to admit that he is contributing to the problems he faces. People seem to be blind to the fact that selfish ways and self-centered actions and attitudes are directly connected with the terrible evils that flood our land and fill our newspapers today. It is very difficult to get them to accept the fact that God's wrath comes upon mankind because of our wrong attitudes and actions. This is why so much evil abounds -- drug abuse, child abuse, wife beating, incest, homosexuality, pornography, and other terrible things. Strangely, we seem to be incapable of doing anything about these. They only worsen from generation to generation. As Churchill has pointed out, there is no improvement as the centuries have rolled by. The reason is that we are unwilling to admit our evil and this is oftentimes true of Christians as well as the world.
At Verse 9 of this chapter, however, there is a dramatic change. A group comes forth who do admit their part in the problem. They are the remnant of Israel, the tiny believing band of Jews who do acknowledge that they have gone wrong.
Therefore justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not overtake us;
we look for light, and behold, darkness,
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope for the wall like the blind,
we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight
among those in full vigor, we are like dead men. (Isaiah 59:9-10 RSV)
What a strange blindness permeates all of human society today! The confession continues.
We all growl like bears [Does that sound like your house?];
we moan and moan like doves;
we look for justice, but there is none;
for salvation but it is far from us.
For our transgressions are multiplied before thee,
and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing, and denying the Lord,
and turning away from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. (Isaiah 59:11-13 RSV)
That is the real problem. But what an honest confession is here, a full acknowledgment that the problem is with you and me -- not God! There is an immediate divine response to that confession:
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one intervene;
then his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation upon his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in fury as a mantle. (Isaiah 59:15b-17)
This is looking on to the day, described in the book of Revelation and other places, when God will begin to judge evil in human hearts. God acts immediately to this end. And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the Lord.
This is the second return of Jesus, when he comes to Israel to deliver them from their evil. As Israel's Redeemer, he comes to Zion (Jerusalem) to begin his restorative work. Chapter 60 is another glowing description of the blessing of Israel after its restoration. This is a beautiful account of what prophecy students call the "millennium," the thousand years of blessing that follows the restoration of Israel to its God. It begins with a summons to the nation to stand up and rejoice in its deliverance.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3 RSV)
I hope you will read for yourself this beautiful poetic description of millennial blessings, when Israel will be the head of the nations. The chapter closes with language very reminiscent of the book of Revelation.
Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land for ever,
the shoot of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I might be glorified.
The least one shall become a clan,
and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
and in its time I will hasten it. (Isaiah 60:20-22 RSV)
All of God's promises to Israel will be fulfilled to the letter. These great passages in Isaiah look forward to that time of earthly glory, when Israel shall be the foremost of the nations. It shall all come to pass, exactly as recorded here. Chapter 61 is a flashback to the days of the Messiah's first appearance. It opens with his own words.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion --
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3 RSV)
Luke's gospel records that Jesus went into the synagogue at Nazareth on one occasion, as was his custom, and asked for the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled it until he found the place where these words are written. Turning to this very spot, he read this passage about the Spirit coming upon him, anointing him, and that he was called to preach the gospel, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, etc. He stopped reading in the middle of a sentence, after the comma following the words, "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he closed the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, sat down, and said, "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your hearing."
Note carefully where he stopped reading. He did not go on to read, "and the day of vengeance of our God," because when he first came he introduced "the day of God's favor," the day when God withholds his judgment.
This is the answer to the question people are asking, "Why doesn't God do something?" The answer is, because he is giving people everywhere a chance! When he starts judging, he will judge the whole world -- everybody in it, without exception. Only those who have already bowed to his will — will escape the penalty of that judgment. Then he will begin "the day of vengeance of our God," the phrase Jesus did not read that day in the synagogue. This comma has been called "the longest comma in history." "The year of the Lord's favor" now covers almost two thousand years of time, but it will be followed by "the day of vengeance of our God."
Notice the contrast between "the year of his grace," and "the day of vengeance." God does not like vengeance. He does not delight in judgment. Isaiah calls it "his strange work." But it must be done eventually, though it will be kept as brief as possible. This is what prophecy records as "the time of the end."
The rest of the chapter and all of Chapter 62 go on again to describe the restoration of Israel. All of this applies to us spiritually, as a description of our permanent relationship with God and describing the security of the believer. Hear Verses 3-4 of Chapter 62:
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My delight is in her
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:3-4 RSV)
Those are specific promises to Israel that have spiritual application to us. The last verse of Chapter 62 speaks to this as well:
They shall be called The holy people,
The redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought out,
a city not forsaken. (Isaiah 62:12 RSV)
This is to be the ultimate fate of Jerusalem, but describes our status in the eyes of our Lord. We are "accepted in the Beloved," (Ephesians 1:6 KJV).
Chapter 63 is another picture of the judgment of God. It portrays the Messiah coming to Jerusalem from the south and entering into a dialogue with the believers there. He comes from Edom, in the Negeb, with blood-soaked garments. Those who see him coming ask,
Who is this that comes from Edom,
in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
he that is glorious in his apparel,
marching in the greatness of his strength? (Isaiah 63:1a RSV)
"It is I, announcing vindication,
mighty to save" (Isaiah 63:1b RSV)
Why is thy apparel red,
and thy garments like his that treads in the wine press? (Isaiah 63:2 RSV)
His answer comes,
"I have trodden the wine press alone,
and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments,
and I have stained all my raiment.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and my year of redemption has come." (Isaiah 63:3-4 RSV)
The parallel to this is found in Chapter 14 of the book of Revelation, where the apostle sees an angel coming out from heaven, having a great sickle in his hand,
Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has power over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who has the sharp sickle, "Put in your sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe." So the angel swung his sickle on the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth and threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God, and the wine press was trodden outside the city and blood flowed from the wine press as high as a horse's bridle for one thousand six hundred stadia. (Revelation 14:18-20 RSV)
That measurement is about two hundred miles -- which is the distance from Lebanon in the north down to Edom in the south of Israel. The whole land will be covered with blood from the great battle of Armageddon, the warfare that ends the struggles of earth, as depicted in other Scriptures. This is a terrible picture of the treading of the wine press. The "harvest" always deals with Gentiles, while the "wine press" is always a picture of God's judgment of Israel. This will be "the time of Jacob's trouble" which Jeremiah mentions.
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.--Ray Stedman, "Then Comes the End."
Behold the Messiah (Isaiah 49)
The Man in Charge of the Universe
|"The teaching of the New Testament is that now, at this very moment, there is a Man in heaven appearing in the presence of God for us. He is as certainly a man as was Adam or Moses or Paul; he is a man glorified, but his glorification did not de-humanize him. Today he is a real man, of the race of mankind, bearing our lineaments and dimensions, a visible and audible man, whom any other man would recognize instantly as one of us. "But more than this, he is the heir of all things, Lord of all lords, head of the church, firstborn of the new creation. He is the way to God, the life of the believer, the hope of Israel, and the high priest of every true worshiper. He holds the keys of death and hell, and stands as advocate and surety for everyone who believes on him in truth. Salvation comes not by accepting the finished work, or deciding for Christ; it comes by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole, living, victorious Lord who, as God and man, fought our fight and won it, accepted our debt as his own and paid it, took our sins and died under them, and rose again to set us free. This is the true Christ; nothing less will do." (A.W. Tozer)|
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