11. The Glory of God's Reign (Isaiah 60-66)


Audio (49:47)


In the new heavens and the new earth God will recreate his domain. Image: The Great Orion Nebula, image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo credit: NASA/ESA, 2006. In the public domain.

Now the focus turns from Jerusalem's sins to her future glory in God's plan. It is a vision so large that it cannot be fulfilled in the present literal city, but a future Jerusalem of massive proportions, viewed in the New Testament as "the Jerusalem that is above" (Galatians 4:26) and the radiant city of Revelation 20. As the writer of Hebrews said,

"Here we do not have an enduring city,
but we are looking for the city that is to come." (Hebrews 13:14)

Part 11A (Isaiah 60-64)

The Future Glory of Jerusalem (60)

Jerusalem has been distressed. The world is filled with spiritual darkness. But a change is at hand. The prophet commands:

"1 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (60:1-3)

Not only will God gather his people from wherever they have been scattered, known in prophetic terminology as the "rapture" (60:4), he will also attract the nations and all their wealth to the Lord's glory (also 11:10-12; 27:13; 45:20; 62:10).

"4 Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the arm.
5 Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come." (60:4-5)

"Jerusalem" is a kind of shorthand to refer to the people of God (much as "Rome" is used to refer to the Roman Catholic Church; 60:14b; 62:12; Hebrews 12:22-23). Thus some of this prophecy is being fulfilled by the spread of the Christian church throughout history.

"Foreigners will rebuild your walls,
and their kings will serve you.
Though in anger I struck you,
in favor I will show you compassion." (60:10)

"You will drink the milk of nations
and be nursed at royal breasts." (60:16a)

Verse 11 portrays the security and glory of this future City of God that no longer fears enemies and has no need any longer to close its gates at night.

"Your gates will always stand open,
they will never be shut, day or night,
so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations --
their kings led in triumphal procession." (60:11)

We see the echo of this in Revelation.

"On no day will its gates ever be shut,
for there will be no night there.
The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it." (Revelation 21:25-26)

This glorious city will have glorious names.

"[They] will call you the City of the LORD,
Zion of the Holy One of Israel." (60:14b)

"They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the LORD;
and you will be called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted. " (62:12)

"Glorious things are said of you, O city of God." (Psalm 87:3)

"You have come to Mount Zion,
to the heavenly Jerusalem,
the city of the living God.
You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,
to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven...." (Hebrews 12:22-23)

God will not just honor his people, but bring them extra special honor. Look at the superlatives suggested by the imagery of verse 17.

"Instead of bronze I will bring you gold,
and silver in place of iron.
Instead of wood I will bring you bronze,
and iron in place of stones." (60:17)

The city will not only be glorious, but utterly peaceful. Its violence is over.

"I will make peace your governor
and righteousness your ruler.
No longer will violence be heard in your land,
nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
and your gates Praise." (60:17b-18)

In this city there will be no need for streetlights.

"The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory." (60:19)

We see this echoed in Revelation as well.

"The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gives it light,
and the Lamb is its lamp." (Revelation 21:23)

"There will be no more night.
They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun,
for the Lord God will give them light." (Revelation 22:5)

The people of this city will no longer be wicked as in the past, but righteous and holy.

"Then will all your people be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendor." (60:21)

And they shall no longer be a small, insignificant people, but mighty.

"The least of you will become a thousand,
the smallest a mighty nation.
I am the LORD;
in its time I will do this swiftly." (60:22)

None of this is capable of fulfillment in the earthly city of Jerusalem. The prophet (and the Book of Revelation) is speaking of the glory and blessing of God's people at the end of the age.

The Messiah Brings Comfort and Restoration to God's People (61)

Now we come to a passage that Jesus read in his home synagogue of Nazareth after he had begun his ministry. Luke records:

"He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written...." (Luke 4:16-17)

Then Jesus began to read:

"1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor...." (61:1-2a)

Then Luke records:

"Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'" (Luke 4:20-21)

What a day that must have been to hear Jesus declare his own Messianic mission from the words of Isaiah!

Let's look at these verses carefully. First we see reference to "the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord" (NIV) or "of the Lord GOD" (NRSV, KJV). The name of God here is a combination of "Lord" (ʾādôn, "lord, master, owner") and Yahweh (the Tetragrammaton YHWH), the personal name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-15). The Spirit (rûaḥ, "wind, breath") is the Spirit that comes from Yahweh himself -- the Holy Spirit.

Notice that the Spirit's action here is described in two ways:

  1. The Spirit is "upon" the Messiah. The preposition is ʿal, "upon, over, above." Many times in Scripture we see the Spirit coming upon an individual to empower him or her for a particular task (for example, 1 Samuel 10:6, 10; 16:13; 19:23). We see the same thing in the New Testament (Acts 1:8; 19:6; Luke 1:35).
  2. The Spirit "anoints" the Messiah. The verb is māshaḥ, "anoint, spread a liquid." From the verb māshaḥ comes the noun māshîaḥ, "anointed one," transliterated into English as "Messiah." The verb can be used in various contexts -- paint a house, put oil on a shield, rub oil on one's body. But here we see its ritual use, to set apart for service as a king, priest, or prophet by pouring anointing oil on one's head. In Greek the word is translated christos, which is translated in English as "Christ." We see the word especially in the anointing of kings (1 Samuel 10:6, 10; 16:13). Early in Isaiah the word focuses on the expected descendant of David who would deliver Israel -- the Messiah (2 Samuel 7:12; Psalm 18:50; Galatians 3:16). Luke says of Jesus:

"God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." (Acts 10:38)

Because Isaiah 61:1 refers to one who is anointed with the Holy Spirit, the prophet is clearly speaking of the Messiah. For Jesus to say that this passage was fulfilled before them was tantamount to announcing that Jesus himself is the Messiah -- and that's what's so hard for the residents of Nazareth who had seen him grow up. All they can think is, "Isn't this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22) -- unbelief!

Let's examine Jesus'understanding of his mission from this passage. Each line looks at the Messiah's ministry to a different group of hurting and broken down people.

1. To preach good news to the poor. I think that the NRSV's translation "oppressed" best captures the idea of the Hebrew adjective ʿānāw, "humble, meek," since the primary idea of the verb is "to force," or "to try to force submission," and "to punish or inflict pain upon."[228] The Messiah comes to the downtrodden as a bearer of good news.  "Preach good news" is the verb bāśar, "publish, bear (good) tidings, preach, show forth." The root meaning is "to bring news, especially pertaining to military encounters."[229] This passage is illustrated by a previous passage describing a messenger who runs to bring a message of military victory to the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem.

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (52:7)

The Messiah comes with a message of hope to those who are beaten down and without hope.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

2. To bind up the brokenhearted. One of the roles of a healer (or shepherd) is to bind up[230] the wounds of the injured, like the Good Samaritan in Jesus'parable, who went to the injured traveler and "bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine" (Luke 10:34). But the subject of the Messiah's help are not just those wounded physically, but especially those wounded in spirit. How do you bind up a hidden wound, a wound of the heart? Jesus knows, and he is active in this ministry. He will heal you!

"I live ... with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite." (57:15)

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18)

"He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3)

3. To proclaim freedom[231] for the captives[232] and release from darkness for the prisoners. When the Messiah comes he will set you free -- utterly free. In Hebrew the second verb in this line is doubled to emphasize the utter completeness of the freedom. Those who have been in dark dungeons will be set free into brilliant light.[233] Do you know what it is like when a wonderful truth suddenly dawns upon you and shatters your previous understanding? That's what will happen when the Messiah's truth comes to a person. Hallelujah!

4. To proclaim the year of the LORD's favor.[234] Since Isaiah uses the term "year" in the context of setting free of captives, he is probably referring to the year of Jubilee that occurred every 50 years. In that fiftieth year, the trumpet is sounded, all debts are cancelled, land is returned to its original owner, and people who have been sold as slaves to pay their debts are set free (Leviticus 25:8-28).[235]

That concludes the quotation recorded in Luke that Jesus read from this passage in the synagogue at Nazareth, but Isaiah's prophecy continues concerning what the Messiah will do when he comes.

5. To proclaim a day of vengeance of our God. Jesus came the first time to deal with our sin problem. But when he returns a second time it will be to bring justice and judgment upon the earth. For those who have not surrendered to him, it will be a terrible day.

6. To comfort those who mourn and replace their grief with joy.  The final task is to bring comfort for those who mourn. In a sense this was fulfilled in part when the captives returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. But the chief fulfillment will be the joy we will experience at Christ's return. Verse 3 spells out this outbreaking of joy.

"2c ... To comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion --
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." (61:2c-3a)

Jesus said, looking forward to this day -- probably with this prophecy in mind:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:3-5)

Q1. (Isaiah 61:1-3) Are words like "captive" and "prisoner" used literally or figuratively? How did Jesus intend them to be understood when he read them and spoke of their fulfillment? How are you personally doing in adopting Jesus'agenda here? How is your congregation doing?
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Now Isaiah discusses the permanence of what God will do. The people of Yahweh will be solidly planted in their beloved city.

"3b They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations." (61:3b-4)

Instead of being oppressed by surrounding nations in that Day, God will cause other nations to serve Israel and bring their wealth to Jerusalem (61:5-6) -- a theme that we saw in chapter 60:5-16.

Notice Israel's new role with regard to the other nations -- as the ones who bring God's light to the Gentiles. This is being fulfilled through the Church of the Messiah today.

"And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God." (61:6a)

Instead of the shame of being exiles and prisoners of war, Israel will receive honor and a "double portion" (61:7).

"All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the LORD has blessed." (61:9b)

This long-awaited vindication brings joy in the Lord.

"10 I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,[236]
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations." (61:10-11)

We look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of this Messianic prophecy when Christ returns!

Promises to Restore Zion (62)

Isaiah seems focused on the future fate of Jerusalem. It could be Yahweh speaking directly to Jerusalem, but I think it is the prophet himself declaring what the Lord shows him about Jerusalem. By the Spirit he has seen her destruction by the Babylonians and it grieves him.

"For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet,
till her righteousness shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch." (62:1)

Now the prophet declares a series of blessings for Jerusalem, which is the symbol for the nation.

1. Vindication (62:2a). Those who had derided Israel will witness her restoration.

"The nations will see your righteousness,
and all kings your glory." (62:2a)

2. Future blessing (62:2b).

"You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow." (62:2b)

The "new name" seems to indicate a turning point in their fortunes. Other examples of the Lord giving a new name are Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah when God reveals himself and makes a covenant with him (Genesis 17:5, 15); Jacob to Israel after Jacob wrestles with God and overcomes (Genesis 32:28). In the future, Jesus will give a "new name" to those who overcome (Revelation 2:17).

3. Honor and beauty (62:3)

"You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God." (62:3)

A crown was a sign of honor bestowed upon a person. The crown also expresses love and affection in Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19.

4. Fellowship (62:4). The prophet contrasts Israel's utter forsakenness prior to their restoration with the Lord's delight in his Bride Israel when he redeems her from her captivity.

"No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
for the LORD will take delight in you,
and your land will be married." (62:4)

"Hephzibah" means "my delight is in her" (from ḥēpeṣ, "delight" + , "her"). "Beulah" means "married."[237]

5. Joy (62:5). Jerusalem's sons will "marry" her, that is, return to her from exile. God, Israel's Husband, rejoices over his restored Bride.

"As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." (62:5)

Of course, this imagery carries over to the church, which is the Bride of the Messiah, the Bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17).

Watchmen for God (62:6-9)

Now we come to a passage about Jerusalem's watchful guardians. Watchmen were security personnel protecting the city. Some were posted on the walls so they could see and report any processions or armies coming toward the city:

"6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest,
7 and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
and makes her the praise of the earth." (62:6-7)

The watchmen here seem to be looking for the return of the Lord to Jerusalem (52:8), and will not rest until they see his procession. Likewise, intercessors are urged to continue to pray until this takes place. The original fulfillment, of course, was the return of the Jews from Babylon that began in 537 BC, but the ultimate fulfillment will come when Messiah Jesus returns (also 11:10-12; 27:13; 45:20; 60:4-5; 62:10; Hebrews 12:22; 13:4; Revelation 14:11). Now Yahweh promises peace and restoration to Jerusalem (62:8-9), which also finds its complete fulfillment in the Last Days.

The prophecy concludes with a command for the people to get ready for both the people -- and the nations -- who will return to Jerusalem (62:10), as well as their Savior, the Messiah (62:11). In that day God's people will no longer be oppressed and exiles.

"They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the LORD;
and you will be called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted." (62:12)

Hallelujah!

Q2. (Isaiah 62) The Jewish people have been humbled, scorned, and persecuted through the ages. According this passage, what will be their final state? Will Christians be included in these blessings? (Hint: Romans 11:11-24). If God has purposed to restore his people, why is intercessory prayer called for in 62:6-7? Where in the New Testament are we told to pray for what God has purposed? (Hint: the Lord's Prayer). http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=1314

Judgment and Rebellion (63)

Chapter 63 begins with a bloody vision of God, Israel's Savior, who has come from Bozrah, the ancient capital of Edom, having brought judgment upon them. The image is of one whose garments are stained from treading grapes in a winepress, a Bible symbol for righteous wrath and judgment (Psalm 68:23; Lamentations 1:15; Revelation 14:19-20; 19:13-15). God's judgment for rebellion is real. The first verse of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" echoes this biblical mage:

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on."[238]

Praise and Prayer (63:7-64:12)

Verse 7 begins another prophecy with an entirely different theme -- a psalm of praise for Yahweh's kindness to his people. It recounts God's mercy despite Israel's times of rebellion. Three times in this passage we see reference to the Holy Spirit (63:10, 11, 14) -- God's gracious presence with his people in good times and bad. I'm particularly interested in verse 10:

"Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit." (63:10)

"Grieved" (NIV, NRSV), "vexed" (KJV) is ʿāṣab, "grieve, offend."[239] The word can refer to both physical pain as well as emotional sorrow.[240] We're so self-centered that we obsess over our own hurts, but seldom realize that our attitudes and actions can cause grief and offence to the Holy Spirit.

"And do not grieve[241] the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30)

God, forgive us!

The prophet recalls God's mercy in spite of Israel's stubbornness, as he brought them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and finally into rest in the Promised Land. But then the prophet asks -- reflecting the people's state of exile far from their home, their bewilderment that God has not yet saved them --

"15b Where are your zeal and your might?
Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us.
16 But you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us
or Israel acknowledge us;
you, O LORD, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name." (63:15b-16)

This is one of the few times in the Old Testament that God is referred to as "our Father,"[242] though this usage was common on Jesus'lips. The prophet continues,

"Why, O LORD, do you make us wander from your ways
and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?" (63:17a)

The prophet isn't really blaming God for allowing his people to sin. Isaiah knows full well that we ourselves are responsible for our sin (59:2). But this is a poetic way of wondering how God could allow his people to stray so far. It's the same kind of expression we see in the Lord's prayer, "Lead us not into temptation..." (Matthew 6:13a), though we know that God does not lead us into temptation. Rather he allows us to be tempted and tested. Now Isaiah calls upon the Lord to restore Jerusalem to his people and take it away from the Gentiles who have destroyed it (63:17b-19) -- assuming, of course, the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC, which took place well after Isaiah's time.

This prophecy continues into chapter 64. The prophet calls on Yahweh to come down from heaven and deliver them (64:1-3). He affirms that there is no other god like Yahweh, "who acts on behalf of those who wait for him" (64:4b), that is, those who reach out in faith to him.

Israel's problem is, however, that they do not "gladly do right" and walk in God's ways (64:5a). The prophet, speaking for God's people, eloquently states their quandary:

"How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;[243]
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and made us waste away because of our sins." (64:5b-7)

We haven't been faithful to God. How then can we expect him to help us? The prophet has no answer except that we belong to God. We are undeserving, but we are family!

8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;[244]
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look upon us, we pray,
for we are all your people." (64:8-9)

The prayer concludes with a request for God to deliver them (64:12). The answer to the prophet's plea comes in the final chapters.

Q3. (Isaiah 63:7-64:12) What is the basis of Israel's expectation of salvation according to this prophecy? What does 64:5-7 teach us about the quality of our righteousness? How are we to see our relationship to God according to 63:16 and 64:8-9? What does this passage teach about grace?
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Part 11B (Isaiah 65-66)

Judgment for an Ungrateful People (65:1-16)

Now we come to the answer, Isaiah's final prophecy in chapters 65-66, God speaking in the first person through his prophet. Yes, the people have been obstinate, yet God will show his mercy once again.

Verse 1 displays God's great mercy, his grace -- unmerited and undeserved. Listen to God's broken heart. The people he loves dearly have disdained him (as in 50:1-2):

"I revealed[245] myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'
All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate[246] people...." (65:1-2a)

Yahweh has "spread out his hands" in invitation, but his rebellious people have stubbornly rejected him. In the meantime, they are "pursuing their own imaginations[247]" (65:2b). They have thought up their own god -- and then pursued this made-up god with diligence. The nation (gôy) that does respond refers to the Gentile Christians who believe in the Messiah, as Paul notes, quoting this passage in Romans 10:2. Then Isaiah begins to catalog the blatant idolatrous practices (65:3-5) that caused Israel to be removed from their land.

They are like "smoke in my nostrils" (65:5b) and will receive full payment for their sins (65:6-7), though God will spare a remnant (65:8). This remnant will seek the Lord and will return and inherit the land (65:10), but those who forsake the Lord for pagan practices will be slaughtered, because they "chose what displeases me" (65:12b). Yahweh's servants will be blessed, but the rebellious will die in anguish (65:13-14). These rebels will pass away and their rebellion will be forgotten (65:15).

God's New Society (65:17-66:24)

In the place of rebellion and strife, God does a new thing -- a "new heavens and a new earth," which is the theme of the remaining portions of Isaiah's prophecy (65:17; 66:22). Isaiah provides a description of this new Jerusalem, much of which is echoed in Revelation 21 and 22. Peter says that this day will follow cataclysmic judgment on the earth.

"That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness." (2 Peter 3:12b-13)

Let's consider Isaiah's final vision.

"17 Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more." (65:17-19)

In the book of Revelation as here, Jerusalem is more than just a physical city in Judea. It is the term that describes Yahweh's redeemed people, liberated from oppression and death and forever free. In Revelation we read,

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'" (Revelation 21:4b-5a)

Death has lost its grip. In verse 20, the prophet expresses this truth by referring to long life, but in fact, we know from the New Testament, that death itself has been superseded by resurrection, where "death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:54-57, quoting Isaiah 25:8). Instead of futility, the work of their hands will be blessed (65:21-24).

Communication with God will be instantaneous and intuitive.

"Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear." (65:24)

And there will be peace. Isaiah's description of the peace of the Messiah in 11:6-9 is paraphrased here (another evidence of the unity of Isaiah).

"The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent's food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
says the LORD." (65:25)

Q4. (Isaiah 65:17-25) Why do you think the final state is referred to as the new heavens and the new earth? What is new about them? Which verse talks about the end of pain and sorrow? Which verse mentions instant communication? Which verse illustrates the peace of this Kingdom?
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Woe to the Orthodox Hypocrites (66:1-6)

It is possible to be completely orthodox in your theology and follow all the rituals of your faith with precision -- and your heart still be far away from God. This was Jesus'issue with the Pharisees and the burden of 66:1-6.

The prophet seems to be speaking to religious observers who have rejected the very God whom they purport to worship. The period about which Isaiah is speaking is difficult to discern, since he refers twice to the temple (66:1, 6) which had been destroyed prior to the final Babylonian exile in 587 BC, and not rebuilt until the after the first return of the exiles during the time of Ezra in 515 BC (Ezra 6:14). Perhaps he is speaking to the exiles who anticipate returning and building the temple.

He offers Yahweh's shocking warning against the externals of religion without a heart open to God.

"1 This is what the LORD says:
'Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
2 Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?'declares the LORD." (66:1-2a)

In other words, God is saying, even when you build a temple for me, don't pride yourselves on it. No temple can contain me. And any temple to be made will be constructed of the materials I have created. You can hear an echo of Solomon's realization of the inadequacy of the temple he had built about 950 BC (1 Kings 8:27).

Now the prophet comes to the point -- the heart condition of the worshippers.

"This is the one I esteem:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit,
and trembles at my word." (66:2b)

David had come to this realization hundreds of years before (Psalm 51:16-17). Isaiah had made the point earlier as well (57:15) Without a heart for God, the temple sacrifices are worse than sacrifices to a pagan god. They are an abomination to God. The words and concepts here are purposely designed to shock the hearers.

"But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man,
and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck;
whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig's blood,
and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol." (66:3a)

Those who go through the orthodox religious rituals with arrogant hearts are no better than idol worshippers who refuse to listen when God speaks with arms wide open (65:1-2).

"3b They have chosen their own ways,
and their souls delight in their abominations;
4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and will bring upon them what they dread.
For when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, no one listened.
They did evil in my sight
and chose what displeases me." (66:3b-4)

Q5. (Isaiah 66:1-4) If God prescribed temple worship in the Pentateuch, why does he seem to prohibit it in 66:3? What is missing from their worship? Have you ever had this element missing from your worship? What kind of heart is God looking for (66:2)?
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Now the prophet brings a word of encouragement to those whose hearts have remained faithful to God. Though they may suffer persecution now, the time will come when those with religious but wicked hearts will be punished.

"5 Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word:
'Your brothers who hate you,
and exclude you because of my name, have said,
"Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy!"
Yet they will be put to shame.
6 Hear that uproar from the city,
hear that noise from the temple!
It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve.'" (66:5-6)

In the very temple itself, the Lord will judge those who are not contrite before him.

The Sudden Formation of the Kingdom of God (66:7-9)

Now the prophet shifts gears to the phenomenon that will take place when prophecy is fulfilled suddenly in the Last Day at Messiah's return.

"7 Before she goes into labor, she gives birth;
before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son.
8 Who has ever heard of such a thing?
Who has ever seen such things?
Can a country be born in a day
or a nation be brought forth in a moment?
Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children." (66:7-8)

Usually, the formation of a country will take a long time. The modern State of Israel was created suddenly in 1948, but I don't see it as the fulfillment of this prophecy. The kingdom that "will be born in a day" will be the Kingdom of God which will suddenly reign fully when Christ returns in the Last Days, gathers his people, and brings justice throughout the earth. The Kingdom is here now, but will come in its fullness on the day when "every knee will bow ... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).

Rejoicing in Jerusalem (66:10-20)

Now the prophet calls his readers to rejoice at what Yahweh does for the city.

"10 Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.
11 For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance."

12 For this is what the LORD says:
'I will extend peace to her like a river,[248]
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.
14 When you see this, your heart will rejoice
and you will flourish like grass.'" (66:12-14a)

Though the exiled Jews didn't understand the complete fulfillment of this prophecy, they were assured that they would see their beloved city again and were comforted. But for those who persist in their stubborn unbelief, it is a different story.

"14b The hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants,
but his fury will be shown to his foes.
15 See, the LORD is coming with fire,
and his chariots are like a whirlwind;
he will bring down his anger with fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men,
and many will be those slain by the LORD." (66:14b-16)

Yahweh's judgment will be terrible, spelled out in detail in the Book of Revelation.

In the Last Days, Yahweh will gather all peoples to him. When the Messiah comes, faith expands beyond the Jews to the whole earth.

"And I, because of their actions and their imaginations,
am about to come and gather all nations and tongues,
and they will come and see my glory." (66:18)

The Gospel will be proclaimed throughout the earth.

"I will set a sign among them,
and I will send some of those who survive to the nations ...
and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory.
They will proclaim my glory among the nations." (66:19)

Jesus may have had this very prophecy in mind when he declared amidst his own prophecy of the End Times,

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14)

There will be an international response, people from around the world coming to Jerusalem bearing gifts for the King (66:20). Some of these will become priests and Levites, even though they are not Jews (66:21).

The Eternal Kingdom (66:22-24)

The eternal kingdom is coming, but not all will enjoy its fruits. It is entered by faith and submission to the Lord. Verse 24 speaks of a sad reality, given the universality of the Kingdom and its broad invitation (55:1-2). Not all will repent of their rebellion and believe.

"And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies
of those who rebelled against me;
their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched,
and they will be loathsome to all mankind." (66:24)

It seems a strange note on which to end the glorious prophecy of Isaiah, but the message is clear. God's word must be listened to, his invitation must be heeded. The blessings are glorious, but punishment of those who rebel against God goes on forever also. Many people reject the truth as unworthy of God's love, but it is clear in the Bible. Verse 24 is quoted by Jesus (Matthew 9:48) and in the last book of the Bible (Revelation 14:11). It is sad, but true.

Nevertheless, while the punishment of those who rebel lasts forever, so does the glory of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

"'22 As the new heavens and the new earth that I make
will endure before me,'declares the LORD,
'so will your name and descendants endure.
23 From one New Moon to another
and from one Sabbath to another,
all mankind will come and bow down before me,[249]'says the LORD." (66:22-23)

We see the eternal nature of this kingdom many places in the Bible. Earlier in Isaiah we read of the Messiah:

"Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever." (9:7)

It is echoed later in Daniel, who tells us that the Son of Man will preside over this everlasting Messianic kingdom.

"His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:14)

To Mary, the angel said,

"The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:32b-33)

Revelation declares:

"The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.'" (Revelation 11:15)

And these words resound in Handel's Messiah which declares in the "Hallelujah Chorus":

"And he shall reign forever and ever.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Al-le-lu-ia!"

Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Q6. (Isaiah 66:22-24). Why do you think eternal punishment is mentioned at the end of such a glorious prophecy as Isaiah? Why is the enduring, eternal kingdom mentioned? Who will be included in this kingdom? Who will be excluded from it?
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Prayer

Father, we belong to a rebellious race that deserves nothing except punishment for our rebellion -- both passive and active -- against our King. We have no way to buy our way into your good graces. We depend instead upon your good grace -- your favor towards us. Your Messiah has taken our sins upon himself so that we might receive your righteousness. How amazing! Help us live as faithful citizens of your eternal Kingdom now and forever. In Christ's name, we pray. Amen!

Key Verses

"[They] will call you the City of the LORD,
Zion of the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 60:14b)

"Your gates will always stand open,
they will never be shut, day or night,
so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations --
their kings led in triumphal procession." (Isaiah 60:11)

"They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the LORD;
and you will be called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted. " (Isaiah 62:12)

"The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory." (Isaiah 60:19)

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor.
To comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion --
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." (Isaiah 61:1-3a)

"And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God." (Isaiah 61:6a)

"They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the LORD;
and you will be called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted." (Isaiah 62:12)

"Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit." (Isaiah 63:10)

"But you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us
or Israel acknowledge us;
you, O LORD, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name." (Isaiah 63:16)

"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look upon us, we pray,
for we are all your people." (Isaiah 64:8-9)

"Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more." (Isaiah 65:17-19)

"Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear." (Isaiah 65:24)

"The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent's food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
says the LORD." (Isaiah 65:25)

"This is the one I esteem:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit,
and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2b)

"As the new heavens and the new earth that I make
will endure before me,'declares the LORD,
'so will your name and descendants endure.
From one New Moon to another
and from one Sabbath to another,
all mankind will come and bow down before me,'says the LORD." (Isaiah 66:22-23)

End Notes

[228] Leonard J. Coppes, ʿānâ , TWOT #1652a. "This concept of the messenger fresh from the field of battle is at the heart of the more theologically pregnant usages in Isaiah and the Psalms."

[229] John N. Oswalt, bāśar, TWOT #291.

[230] "Bind up" is ḥābash, often used of "binding" on a bandage, and thus of medicating and healing the wounded (Edwin Yamauchi, TWOT #599).

[231] "Freedom" (NIV), "liberty" (NRSV, KJV) is derôr, "release, freedom." It is used of setting free of slaves in Jeremiah 34:8.

[232] "Captives" is a participle of the verb shābâ , which chiefly conveys the idea of a military or paramilitary force subduing a foe and then taking into their possession the men, women, children, cattle, and wealth of the defeated party (Gary C. Cohen, TWOT #2311).

[233] "Release from darkness" (NIV), "release" (NRSV) "opening of the prison" (KJV) is peqaḥ qôaḥ, usually, "opening of the eyes." In the Hebrew text the verb peqaḥ is doubled for emphasis. The Greek Septuagint translation renders "prisoners" as "the blind" (NIV footnote) as indicated in the quotation in Luke 4:18.

[234] "Favor" (NIV, NRSV), "acceptable" (KJV) is rāṣôn, "pleasure, delight, favor" (TWOT #2207a).

[235] We don't know how thoroughly the Year of Jubilee was observed prior to the Exile, but after the Exile, the returning Jews probably celebrated it for a time, since we see a reference to "a sabbatical year for the land" in 1 Maccabees 6:49, 53 and in Nehemiah 10:31. It was not celebrated in Jesus'day, "living on only in principle and in the eschatological hope of the people of God" (David F. Payne, "Jubilee, Year of," ISBE 2:114).

[236] "Garments of salvation" and "a robe of righteousness" are a Hebraic figurative way of saying that a person will be saved and declared righteous. Other references to clothing used in this way are: Isaiah 52:1; 61:3; 2 Chronicles 6:41; Psalm 132:9; Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 6:13-17.

[237] Bāʿal, "possess, own, rule over, marry." Compare, "Your Maker is your husband (baʿal)" (54:5a). The name of the Canaanite god Baal came from this root.

[238] "Battle Hymn of the Republic," by Julia W. Howe (1861) on Union encampment outside Washington D.C. during the American Civil War.

[239] ʿĀṣab, Holladay 280, in the Piel stem.

[240] Ronald B. Allen, ʿāṣab, TWOT #1666.

[241] Lypeō, "to cause severe mental or emotional distress, vex, irritate, offend, insult" (BDAG 604, 1).

[242] "Our Father is also seen in Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 3:19.

[243] "Filthy rags" is two words ʿiddâ , "menstruation," and beged, "garment, cloth." It is used parallel to "unclean" in the previous line. A woman was considered ritually unclean during her period (Leviticus 15:19-24), so verse 6b is a very strong statement, something like: "All our righteous deeds are as foul as used tampons."

[244] Other references to God as the potter and we humans as clay are found in Isaiah 29:16; 45:9; Jeremiah 18:4, 6; Romans 9:21.

[245] "Revealed" (NIV), "was ready to be sought out" (NRSV), "am sought" (KJV) is the Niphal perfect of dārash, "to seek with care, inquire, require." In the Niphal stem it means, "let oneself be inquired of, consulted" (BDB 205).

[246] "Obstinate" (NIV), "rebellious" (NRSV, KJV) is sārar, "turn aside, be stubborn, rebellious." The root means basically "to be stubborn" with a stress on the attitude (BDB 694; TWOT #1549).

[247] "Imaginations" (NIV), "thoughts" (NRSV), "devices" (KJV) is maḥashābâ , ""thought," "plan," and "invention," from a root meaning "to think, plan" (TWOT #767d).

[248] This phrase is found in songs "I've Got Peace Like a River" (Negro spiritual) and "It Is Well with My Soul," by Horatio G. Spafford (1873), "When peace like a river attendeth my way...."

[249] This universal submission to the Messiah is seen also in Philippians 2:9-11.


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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