The Messianic Prophet, pt 2

Posted: June 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

Route 66: Isaiah – “The Messianic Prophet, pt 2”

Can a book with so much judgment contain any grace?  Absolutely!  When someone first reads the prophet Isaiah (not to mention any of the books of the prophets), it can be rather overwhelming to read all the accounts of God’s judgment.  The problem of sin is so plainly seen, as God makes it clear that the wages of sin are death & no matter where the sin originates, eventually it will be answered for in the presence of God.  Yet in all of that overwhelming news of judgment is the promise of God’s grace.  All sin DOES find an answer: either in the judgment of God upon the individual, or in the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.

Elements of this can be seen in each prophetic book of the Bible, but it can be especially seen in the book of Isaiah.  God promised judgment, but He also promised a Redeemer.  He Himself is the Redeemer of Israel, and His work would be seen in the glorious Servant to come.

REVIEW:
The Book of Judgment (1-39)

  • The Ministry Begins (1-6).  The nation invited to reason with God, and Isaiah is commissioned to service.
  • Israel, Assyria, and Immanuel (7-12).  The Assyrian threat is met with the promise of Immanuel, “God with us,” who will one day rule the nations as God.
  • Burdens Against the Nations (13-24).  The surrounding neighbors of Israel are seen in their sin, as is also the sin of the Jewish people.  God promises His judgment to come.  He is the God who is sovereign over all the world.
  • Praise Break (25-27).  Isaiah breaks out in personal praise, and then leads the nation in worship of God.
  • National Woes and Glory (28-35).  Specific sins of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are seen (and judged), but there is a promised future of a restored glorified Kingdom.
  • Historical Interlude (36-39).  Sennacherib comes against Hezekiah, who trusts in God.  God brings deliverance, but Hezekiah gets cocky & reveals too much to the Babylonians.

The Book of Comfort (40-66)

  • The Promise for Israel (40-48)
  • The Person of Redemption (49-57)
  • Final Salvation & Judgment (58-66)


The Book of Comfort (40-66)
 – The whole tenor of the book changes dramatically here.  Whereas judgment was the primary theme of the 1st 39 chapters, the comfort and deliverance of God is what moves to the forefront here.  That’s not to say that 40-66 says nothing about judgment, nor that 1-39 said nothing about God’s salvation – it just wasn’t front & center.  In this, it’s not unlike the change between the Old & New Testaments.  Likewise, there is roughly a similar division, with 39 books of Hebrew Scripture & 27 books of the Greek New Testament.  And while the law of God and His judgment are front & center in the Old, while the grace and salvation of Jesus is front & center in the New – the other still exists in each Testament.  There is so much that deals with the salvation of God through Jesus Christ seen in the OT (much of which we’ll see here), and there can be no doubt about the message of God’s judgment through Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse, the book of Revelation, etc.  Be careful about making a simplistic division between the two & writing off the OT as being “nothing but judgment.”  There is much grace to be seen in the OT!  There is much comfort to be found there.  In fact, the reason why God’s comfort is so comforting is because we understand the righteous judgment we ought to have received apart from Jesus.

The Promise for Israel (40-48)

  • A song of comfort (40).  Much of this goes to the ministry of John the Baptist.  40:3 quoted in Mt 3:3, Mk 1:2, Lk 3:4, Jn 1:23 (voice crying in wilderness).  The good news of God’s comfort needed to be proclaimed, and that’s what John the Baptist did.  John was the last (and greatest) of the prophets in that he prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Himself.  In essence, that is also Isaiah’s role here, in that he reminds the people of the great God that they serve – the God who knew them intimately & remembered them specifically.
    • In a sense, don’t we get the same privilege in the Great Commission?  Both Isaiah and John told the people of their day of the coming salvation of the Lord, and the glory of God.  What is that, if not the proclamation of the gospel today?  We get to tell people how Jesus has already come once, and how He is coming again.  We get to tell them how He is the God of creation who “measures the waters in the hollow of His hand,” (40:12) and who “sits above the circle of the earth,” (40:22).  Of this great God, Jesus offers to give “power to the weak” (40:29) and help those who trust in Him by lifting them up “with wings like eagles,” (40:31).  In our sin, we are the weary ones, but by trusting Jesus as Lord, we are strengthened in Him.  That is the message we proclaim – that is the glorious privilege of the Great Commission!
  • God’s promise of His presence (41).  God reminded His people that He is the first & with the last (41:4), just as Jesus is the Alpha & Omega.  Contrasting Himself with idols, God reminded them that a statue has to be propped up (41:7), but the Living God can act upon the promises He made to His people (41:8).  And He reminded the people of His special covenant relationship with them.  God had chosen them, so they had no reason to fear.  Isaiah 41:10, "(10) Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’"  (That specific promise is for Israel, but the principle applies to the church.  What reason do we have to fear in this world?  God will never stop being our God.  Jesus will never cast us away.  He made a promise to us that where He is, we will be also – we can trust Him to keep it!)  Throughout the rest of the chapter, God continue to contrast Himself with dead idols, reminding His people how He would act on their behalf.
  • The promised Servant and praise (42).  The Servant of God is introduced here, though He won’t be more fully described for several more chapters.  There is a sense somewhat that the Servant of God could be both described as a specific Individual, as well as the nation of Israel, though here, it is clearly a Person.  He is the One who brings forth justice for the Gentiles (42:1), and was given as a light unto the Gentiles (42:6).  Because God promised to send His Servant, God was to be praised!  The enemies of Israel would be defeated, and the nation would be redeemed (Ch 43…)
  • God the Redeemer (43:1 – 44:8).  It was God Himself that would be the nations’ Redeemer…He would deliver them from their enemy.  He would bring them back to the land, from east & west (43:5-6).  This was a promise not only to bring the nation back from the Babylonian Captivity (43:14), but to completely blot out their transgressions (43:25).  He would pour out His Spirit upon their descendants (44:3), and all His people would be known by the name of the Lord (44:5).
  • Foolishness of idolatry & Restoration (44:9-28).  The people had the opportunity to serve the LORD of Hosts – what purpose was there in serving dead useless idols? (44:9)  It was a foolish waste of time.  Instead, God would redeem them out of those things and bring them back from the land of idolatry to the land of His promise & presence (44:26).
  • Cyrus the servant (45:1-13).  Not only was the Servant of God spoken of as the Messiah yet to come, but a more immediate servant would be Cyrus of the Medes & Persians – specifically named by God in 44:28 & 45:2.  God can use any person on earth for His glory, including people from pagan lands yet to be born!
    • Keep in mind that Cyrus would not be known for another 200 years after Isaiah’s writing.  Truly God is omniscient & He is the Lord over all history.  He knows the history that has not yet been written!
  • God reaches out to the Gentiles (45:14-25).  It wasn’t only Israel that was invited to know the Lord, but the people Egypt, Cush, and the Sabeans (45:16).  They could know that God is God, the Creator of the heavens and earth (45:18).  All the ends of the earth were invited to look to Him and be saved (45:22).  (They still are!)
  • Calling Israel out of idolatry (46).  Once more, God addresses the foolishness of idolatry, and calls the house of Jacob to leave it (46:3).  God could not be likened to an idol; He is far beyond it.  There is none like Him (46:9).  (The only image we need of God is the One He Himself gave: His only begotten Son.)
    • Question: why did people turn to idols?  Many reasons, but one was that they didn’t know the true God who was at work.  They scoffed at the idea that God would work on His own timeframe, rather than according to the expectations and preferred timeline of the Jews.  That’s one reason God repeatedly affirmed that He would bring to pass His plan (46:11), and that His promised salvation would not linger (46:13).  When people don’t want to submit themselves to wait upon the Lord, they invent gods of their own imagination (so they can have a butler, rather than a king).  The same thing happens today.  People scoff at the idea of Jesus’ future return, or the idea that they will one day have to answer to God, so they invent gods of their own imagination, or decide to worship themselves as their own god.  Yet just like Israel, they will one day know the truth.  Jesus IS the Living God, and likewise, His deliverance & return is not far off!
  • Promise to judge Babylon (47).  This fits perfectly within the section of God’s comfort.  After all, it was the captivity of Babylon from which God would deliver the nation.  Babylon would not be exempt from God’s punishment, even though He used them.
    • Echoes of this reverberate in the account of Revelation, with the fall of future Babylon at the end of the Great Tribulation.
  • Israel refined & redeemed (48).  God had a purpose for Israel’s punishment, but that purpose would be completed.  They were obstinate (48:4), and were tested (48:10), but they would go forth from Babylon in grand redemption (48:20).

The Person of Redemption (49-57)

  • Messiah’s calling & God’s remembrance (49). The Servant is mentioned again, this time the prophecy being in His 1st person perspective.  God had an eternal calling for Him (49:1) and a specific purpose for Him (49:2).  The Servant actually stands in the place of Israel, in whom God will be glorified (49:3).  Yet still, this Servant is a specific Person, who was called not just to redeem Israel, but also was given to be a light to the Gentiles (49:6).  God’s redemption is continued to be proclaimed, and His covenant promises to Israel are reiterated.  God would not forget them; they were inscribed on the palms of His hand (49:16 – perhaps the nail-prints!). The nation would be laid “waste and desolate” (49:19), but eventually they would see the kings and queens of the earth bow to them (49:23).
  • God’s power to redeem (50).  The voice of God and the voice of the Servant become somewhat interchangeable (which is appropriate, considering that Jesus IS God).  On one hand, God shows Himself as Israel’s Redeemer (50:2), and on the other hand specific prophecy is spoken of the Servant who is rejected, beaten, has His beard plucked out and more (50:5-6).  The Servant would suffer, but He would still be helped by the Lord (50:9).  The Servant invites ALL people to trust in the name of the Lord (50:10), just like He does.
  • God’s promise to redeem (51-52).  Over and over God appeals to Israel to listen to His voice, and to awake from their sinful slumber.  “Listen to Me” & “Awake, awake” each repeated three times.  God was making a point!  He was appealing to His people. (He always reaches out to people so that we might be saved!)  The nation had sold itself for nothing (52:3), but God proclaimed how He would bring peace and salvation (52:7).  His feet were beautiful because He brought the gospel: Isaiah 52:7, "(7) How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”"  (This is still the message we proclaim!  It has been entrusted to us…)  Ch 52 ends by focusing once more upon the Servant of God, coming again to His terrible suffering – something that is only expanded upon in Ch 53.
  • The Suffering Servant (53).  This is one of the greatest and most sublime chapters in all the OT speaking of the Messiah.  53:1,4,5,7,9,12 quoted throughout the gospels, and referenced in 1 Peter.  The scope of it is huge, with specific prophecies fulfilled in Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection.  His substitutionary atonement is clearly seen, as is the predetermined counsel of God.  Isaiah 53 is a mountaintop among the Scriptures, from which the suffering and glory of Christ are seen with unmarred vision.
    • Jesus is despised and rejected (53:3)
    • Jesus was smitten by God (53:4)
    • Jesus is our substitute in suffering and death (53:5-6).  He is the propitiation for our sin.
    • Jesus was silent in death (53:7-8)
    • Jesus was unique in burial, dying among wicked & buried with the rich (53:8).
    • Jesus was absolutely sinless/innocent (53:9)
    • This was the plan of God, and it perfectly accomplished the will of God (53:10-11).
    • Our sins have been justified in Christ (53:11)
    • Jesus is forever glorified because of His obedient sacrifice (53:12)
    • Isaiah 53 alone ought to satisfy any skeptic that Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of prophecy!  This was the chapter that brought the Ethiopian eunuch to faith (Acts 8:32-37), and it still brings people to faith today!
  • Glory after the suffering (54).  As a result of the suffering of God’s Servant, blessing has come & the nation can break out into song (54:1).  Their Redeemer has shown Himself as the Holy One of Israel (a favorite title for God within Isaiah).  Yes, the nation had been punished a little while, but they were brought back and would be magnificently glorified.  The picture can only truly be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom with the "colorful gems…sapphires…rubies" and more (54:11-13).
  • The invitation to redemption (55).  The whole world is invited to drink of the waters of salvation (55:1).  All are invited to come into the everlasting covenant of David through the Messiah (55:3).  So what do we do?  Respond! Isaiah 55:6, "Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near."  (Do we seek the Lord while we have the opportunity?)  Vss. 8-9 are often quoted out of context: Isaiah 55:8–9, "(8) “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. (9) “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."  Many times, we quote this when trying to understand the plan of God which is often unknowable & beyond us.  Although that’s true, the original context of these verses is so much better!  Isaiah just appealed to people to seek the Lord in repentance, with the promise that God would pardon.  Afterwards, God promises that His word does not return void, but bears fruit (i.e. the fruit of salvation for the people who believe).  Thus what is God saying in vss. 8-9?  He’s speaking of His plan to save.  He’s referring to His plan to reach out to the nations of the world with the gospel.  Far more than theorizing about what we can/cannot understand about the plan of God, these verses speak of His incomprehensible goodness.  How good is God?  He’s beyond our understanding & thoughts!  After all, He even planned to redeem people like us.  That’s amazing!
  • God’s promise to the Gentiles (56:1-8).  Again, it’s not just Israel to whom God extends His offer of peace & redemption, but the whole world.  All people everywhere are invited to be gathered unto Him (56:8).
  • God’s knowledge of Israel (56:9 – 57:21).  All of that is in the future, but in the present is Judah’s sin, of which God was keenly aware.  Their leaders took the people into blind idolatry, but they didn’t have to stay there.  They may have backslidden, but they could return to the Lord.  Anyone could, who had a "contrite and humble spirit." (57:15).  But the wicked would have no peace. (57:21)

Final Salvation & Judgment (58-66)

  • True fasting (58).  Fasting had degenerated into something ritualistic; not real.  It was superficial; not sincere.  The people went through the motions & wondered why God seemingly took “no notice” of them (58:3).  God knew their lack of motives, and called them to do something more than ritual, but to put real action with their fast.  God describes what He was looking for: Isaiah 58:6–8, "(6) “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? (7) Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? (8) Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard."  To rebellious Judah, He invited them to do more than go through the motions of repentance through false fasting, but to demonstrate it with their lives.
    • That hasn’t changed today. God still desires sincerity in our relationship with Him.  It’s not that prayer and fasting is bad (quite the contrary!); it’s that they ought never be alone.  What good is repentance with our lips if we never demonstrate repentance through our actions?  God was indeed willing to guide and lead Judah (as seen in vss. 11-14), but they needed to truly delight themselves in the Lord.  As do we!
  • Sin committed, confessed, redeemed (59). God plainly calls out the Jews on their sin – the people had been separated from God because they were defiled (59:2-3).  God details the wickedness of the people, and how they rushed to shed innocent blood (59:7).  Isaiah prophetically spoke up on behalf of the people & confessed their sin (59:9-15).  In response, God acted in a marvelous way as Isaiah prophesies how God brought forth His own righteousness through the Spirit-empowered Redeemer-Servant of the Lord (59:15-20).  The Servant is described as clothed in the armor of God (the same armor that Paul commends to believers in Eph 6:14-17), and through the work of the Redeemer, God’s people once again treasure the and speak the word of God (59:21).
    • This directly speaks of God’s promised work yet to be fulfilled in Israel, but it also perfectly describes the life of a NT Christian in a nutshell.  There is the reality of our sin, brought to light by the word of God – there is confession of sin on our part as we repent and place ourselves into the mercies of Christ – there is the promise and work of Jesus the Redeemer, sent by God, empowered by God, and glorified by God.  Through Him we become the people of God, treasuring His word & promise.
  • Gentiles to give glory to God (60).  God has revealed much to Isaiah about the future redemption of the Jewish people, but once more He reminds the prophet that the plans of God are far bigger than Israel.  God’s plans for salvation extend to every tribe & tongue (including ours!).  There is coming a day when God’s glory will be known over all the earth (60:2).  This was partially fulfilled in Jesus’ 1st coming, but will truly be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom, as Jesus visibly reigns over all the nations.  Just as God shows Isaiah, people from every nation will come to rejoice in the presence of the Christ-King (60:4-9, and more).  The future city of the King will once again be Zion (60:14, indicating literal fulfillment), and the King is spoken of as once being hated & forsaken, but now victorious (60:15).  Chapter 60 goes on to describe more than the Millennial Kingdom, but the eternal state as well.  The language (esp 60:19-20) is picked up in the closing chapters of Revelation to describe the glory of being in the eternal presence of God.
  • The Spirit-empowered ministry of Messiah (61).  Much of Isaiah’s writings have been Messianic, particularly Ch 53 at the end of Jesus’ ministry, and Ch 61 at the beginning.  This was the section of Scripture that Jesus picked up in the synagogue to read.  Luke 4:17–21, "(17) And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: (18) “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; (19) To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” (20) Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. (21) And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”"  No ambiguity there! J  If Jesus says this Scripture is about Him & it is fulfilled, than that’s exactly what it is!  This gives the essence of the gospel message of the Kingdom: spiritual healing, liberty from spiritual slavery, comfort, and more.  That said, Ch 61 not only speaks of Jesus 1st coming, but looks forward the Millennial Kingdom after His 2nd coming.  Old ruins will be rebuilt (61:4), the Jewish people will be named the priests of God (61:6), and they have a double portion of land (61:7).  God promises to honor His covenant with the Jewish people (61:8), and as a result the people rejoice in Him (61:10).
    • Praise God that He honors His promises to ALL of His people!  Whether to the Jews or to the Church, every single one of God’s promises is true.  Like the Millennial Jews, we can also greatly rejoice in the Lord because He has clothed us in garments of salvation (61:10).  The only difference is that we can do it NOW!
  • Promise to exalt Zion (62).  Once more God specifically states His future plans for Zion.  Zion is contrasted with the Gentiles, and spoken of in literal terms (the mention of grain no longer being given to enemies, nor wine being drunk by foreigners – 62:8-9).  It is one more indication that the Kingdom of God finds a literal physical fulfillment in the Millennium.  These promises cannot be easily “spiritualized” away without doing damage to the text.  When God promises that His salvation is coming to the daughter of Zion (62:11), then that is exactly what He means.
  • God’s glorious mercy (63-64).  God is first pictured coming in glorious fury, but His judgment was not against His people; it was for their salvation (63:5).  On behalf of the nation, Isaiah spoke of the historical lovingkindness (loyal love – chesed) of God towards His people (63:7).  They had indeed been rebellious in the past, and God had to deal with their sin.  There was a time when God allowed the adversaries of the Jews to take over the Holy Sanctuary of God (63:18).  Yet the people remembered God’s righteous glory, and they pleaded with Him to return.  They confessed their own sin in graphic terms – a picture that still stands out today.  Isaiah 64:6, "(6) But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away."  (This is still the terribleness of sin.  It’s filthy – it’s unclean.  Even the best we can do is not good enough.)  But even in all of this, God’s people could still call upon Him, and know that He was their Father, Him being the potter & they the clay.  God would not be angry with them forever (64:8-9).  (And praise God for it!)
  • God’s glorious judgment (65:1-16).  Once more, God makes it known that is aware of the sin of His people (sin is never ignored by God; it’s dealt with in full by Jesus Christ!).  It was the people who were not called by His name that actually sought Him out (65:1).  His own people were hypocritical, claiming to be “holier than thou” (65:5) all the while acting in idolatry (65:4).  God made it clear He would bring righteous judgment, but that there would be a remnant of His elect that would still inherit His promises (65:9).
  • The new creation (65:17-25).  Beyond the time of judgment comes a time of blessing.  The old is gone & a new heaven & new earth is promised by God (65:17).  The Millennial Kingdom is described as a time during which a death of 100 years old would be considered the death of a child (65:20).  Once more, it is described as a time that the wolf and lamb feed together in peace (65:25).
    • Question: “How can the reader distinguish between the Millennial Kingdom & Eternal state here?”  It’s difficult, to be sure!  The two periods intermingle quite a bit.  On one hand, we read of people dying, but on the other hand the text is clear about a new heaven & new earth (something that doesn’t take place until the thousand-year kingdom has ended).  This is an example of the “mountain peaks” of prophecy – things that look the same from 1000’s of years of distance, but are actually separated events.
    • In any case, the point is clear that God has a plan for His people beyond judgment.  God would judge, but that’s not all God would do.  He had a plan to bless & to shower His people with grace. (And we get to enjoy that same grace & blessing!)
  • God’s promise to return and judge (66). God affirms His superiority over the temple & the sacrifices (66:1, 3).  As He affirmed in regards to fasting, God saw past the superficial ritual & saw the hearts of the people who truly worship Him (66:2).  It was to those true worshippers that God reiterated His promise to deliver them from their enemies.  God promised a time of immense blessing and peace (66:12), and all His people would rejoice in Him (66:14).  All the nations of the world would witness God’s blessing upon Israel, and they would see the glory of God (66:18,20).  One day every knee will bow & “all flesh shall come to worship” God (66:23).  As for those who choose to rebel, their corpses remain in the place where the worm does not die & the fire is not quenched (66:24).

Conclusion:
It is indeed the Book of Comfort, but it ends on a sober note of judgment.  God does promise to save and bless ALL who choose to worship Him (whether they are Jew or Gentile) – but those are still people who make the choice whether or not to worship God.  Being born a Jew is no guarantee of salvation, just like being born a Gentile is no guarantee of damnation.  It all depends on how we respond to the Redeemer, the Righteous Servant of God.  When Jesus reveals Himself to us, how do we respond to Him?  Do we partake of His substitutionary sacrifice for us & humble ourselves with true acts of repentance – or do we maintain a superficial false spirituality, never worshipping the real God in truth?  Isaiah makes it clear that God extends His salvation to the world.  What would stop anyone from receiving it?

For the rest of us, what’s the message of Isaiah?  It’s the grand promise of redemption!  The Book of Judgment showed how God is sovereign over the events of the world, and knew of all of the sin of the world (both among His people & also among the Gentiles).  He gave hints of the redemption to come, which was grandly portrayed in the Book of Comfort.  There, God acts as the Redeemer, both sending Jesus as the Righteous Servant to suffer & shed His blood for our sin – and also to return as the Victorious Reigning King who will rule the whole earth.  God’s people are redeemed from their sin & have a promised future of dwelling with our Redeemer.  All the sins of which God makes us so painfully aware, are done completely away with in Christ, and we have the promise of living in His glory.  What a promise!  What a future!

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