Isaiah: Glimpses of God
Are you one of those people who reads the last chapter first to decide whether it is worth your time to read the whole book? In the case of Isaiah, as in the Bible as a whole, reading the last chapters gives great hope and encouragement to persevere while living through the challenging earlier chapters of our lives! It removes the questions about whether it is worth it to follow the Messiah when those around us ignore Him or persecute us for doing so.
Isaiah wrote primarily to Judah, but there are many principles and truths in his book which are timeless. In Isaiah’s day, as in ours, there are two groups of people: those who follow God and those who reject Him (either actively or passively). This is true in the world at large, and it is also true within the group of those who profess to be His followers. There are consequences for those choices. Some are experienced during this present life while other consequences are eternal.
God is holy, righteous and just. He is also gracious and merciful. He demonstrates both wrath and love. In His wisdom, He found a way to propitiate His wrath against sin in such a way that no aspect of His character was compromised. He does not force us to accept this offering on our behalf, but allows us to choose whether we will bear our own sins or will trust the Messiah to do it for us. Those who trust the Messiah are expected to now live righteously. Even there, where we do not have the innate ability to do so, God provides His Holy Spirit to make it possible.
Much of this last portion of Isaiah will be recognized as a review of truths taught throughout the book. We see God as both Judge and Savior. The future for those who reject God’s atoning sacrifice is grim. For those who accept it, the future is full of delight. Let’s listen as Isaiah presents it to us.
I. DAY ONE: Israel’s Future (Isaiah 65:17-25)
A. End times
- We live in a real world with real choices followed by real consequences. Some of those occur here, some in the life to come. This life is not all there is. There is another world which is beyond the ability of our five senses to understand, but is equally real nonetheless. If that were not true, then we could question the prophecies Isaiah has been giving because we have not seen them all fulfilled in this life on this earth, and certainly Israel did not see them all fulfilled with their return from the Babylonian exile. Isaiah has referred to this new era throughout his book, and in this last section gives us more glimpses of it.
- The philosopher, Immanuel Kant, observed that all people have some innate concern for right and wrong, a sense of moral duty. For that duty to make sense, there must be true justice, otherwise why would someone do right. However, because justice doesn’t always prevail in our world, because not all good is rewarded and not all evil is judged, there must be another time and place where that happens. Also, for true justice to occur, there must be an all-knowing, all-wise judge who perfectly dispenses judgments and rewards. This sounds like the God of the Bible. Isaiah, as well as other Bible writers, tells us that the time when all wrongs are finally righted comes when the Messiah returns in the “end times.”
- We may begin by being confused, however. Verse 19 says there is no more crying, yet verse 20 mentions death. How are we to make sense of this new world? We do so by comparing Isaiah’s descriptions with other portions of Scripture. As we do, we discover that Isaiah is combining or telescoping what we have been calling the Millennial Kingdom with what Isaiah and Revelation call the “new heavens and the new earth.”
- Godly scholars agree that Christ will return in bodily form, but differ in their interpretation of the exact sequence of “end time” events. You may have a different view than the one which is presented here. More important than debating the exact details of the end times is to be prepared for Christ’s return, living in faithful obedience and service while we wait, as Titus 2:11-13 urges. For your consideration, I have footnoted a suggested sequence of events which Scripture seems to indicate, taken from a “historic pre-millennial” viewpoint.1 You may wish to save these references for later when you have more time to study them.2
B. Isaiah 65:17-19
- Before we read the description of the Millennial Kingdom, Isaiah directs us beyond it to the joys of the new heavens and the new earth and our final, eternal destiny.
- Compare verses 17-19 with Revelation 21:1-7.
- What stands out to you from verses 17-19 as something you look forward to?
C. Isaiah 65:20-25
- Before we enjoy that final destiny, there will be the time of the Millennial Kingdom, as described in Revelation 20:1-6. The early church believed that this approximately 1,000 year period would begin with the resurrection of the righteous dead and would conclude with a brief release of Satan, and the resurrection of all the dead, for the final judgment before the “new heavens and new earth” were instituted. During the Millennium, although the Messiah will reign on earth, there will still be some of the problems we deal with in this current age, although to a limited degree. This is the period of time which verses 20-25 seem to be describing.3
- Comparing Isaiah 65:20 with Revelation 21:4, what is one aspect of our current lives which appears to be present in the Millennial Kingdom but which is not present in the new heaven and earth?
- From the beginning, work was meant to be meaningful and to be a blessing to us (Genesis 1:28; 2:15, 19). It was only after sin entered the world that work became a burden (Genesis 3:17-19). What will work be like in the Millennial Kingdom? Compare verses 21-22 with Isaiah 62:8-9.
- Jesus indicated that in the age to come our human relationships would be different (Luke 20:34-35). What does verse 23 suggest about those relationships during the Millennial Kingdom?
- How does verse 24 describe our relationship with God? What “down payment” on that promise do we enjoy now? (John 14:13; Romans 8:26-27; Hebrews 4:14-16) Are you regularly availing yourself of that gift?
- Because of sin, we lost the perfections of Eden. How does verse 25 suggest that we will regain what was lost when the new age comes? (Also see Isaiah 11:6-9.)
II. DAY TWO: God’s Justice (Isaiah 66:1-6)
A. Isaiah 66:1-2
- To be prepared for the Millennial Kingdom and the new heavens and new earth, we need to have the proper relationship with God. Because of who God is, He cannot be manipulated by our show of ritualistic religion; He is not deceived by outward piety without a repentant and obedient heart.
- Verse 1 does not mean there is something wrong in building a temple to worship God; in fact, God called for the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian exile and in the Millennial Kingdom (although there will not be one in the new earth according to Revelation 21:22). Nevertheless, what is more important, the place where we worship or our heart attitude before God? (v. 2)
- How does God describe Himself in verses 1-2a?4 What is the only rational response to this kind of God? (Re-read Isaiah 6, and Isaiah’s response to God.)
B. Isaiah 66:3-4
- God is also not condemning sacrifices per se; after all, He is the one who ordained the sacrificial system. The problem is wrong sacrifices brought with wrong motives. It has been said that “the heart of the worshiper determines the value of the offering.” Religion is sometimes a method used for manipulating God. Other times it can be pride in disguise as we try to look pious in other people’s eyes. What is said about someone who offers sacrifices in the wrong way or with wrong motives? (v. 3)
- What type of worship does God not want, and why? (v. 3; Isaiah 1:11-17; 29:13)
- What type of worship and worshiper does God seek instead? (v. 2b; Isaiah 57:15; John 4:21-24)
- Compare the complaint of the people in Isaiah 64:12 with God’s true analysis in Isaiah 66:4. Verses 3b- 4 confirm that the religious sacrifices offered in verse 3 were hypocritical offerings. These people were coming to God on their own terms, not on His. How will God respond to such hypocrisy? Is He justified?
C. Isaiah 66:5-6
- God has a very different attitude toward those who come to Him with the right motives, and whose faith is proved genuine in the face of mocking and persecution. How does He describe these faithful people in verse 5a?
- Verse 5b speaks of people from among them who are enemies of these faithful ones. Whose enemies are they really? (v. 6) What does that say about how closely God identifies Himself with His people? If you are persecuted for His sake, what will be His action on your behalf?
III. DAY THREE: Israel’s Hope (Isaiah 66:7-14)
A. Isaiah 66:7-9
- Isaiah 1:21-27 prophesied that Zion, or Jerusalem, which had rebelled against God, becoming a spiritual prostitute, would one day be restored by Him. What would her new character be? (Isaiah 1:26)
- Previously, Israel has been described as a child (Isaiah 1:4), and as a bride (Isaiah 62:5). Now she is described as a pregnant woman. Because of God’s intervention, what will be unique about this childbirth? (Isaiah 66:7)
- It has been said that in studying end times events, one should have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Whereas we do not know the specific timing of end time events, it is interesting to note that after 2500 years, the seemingly impossible happened. Israel was “suddenly” re-born as a political entity on May 14, 1948. The “new” Israel will be born spiritually when it recognizes and believes in her Messiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:25-27).
- How does comparing this historical event with Isaiah 66:8 give you confidence that all of the prophecies about Jerusalem will also be fulfilled as verse 9 promises? How does Isaiah 14:24 and 46:10 strengthen your faith in God’s sovereignty?
B. Isaiah 66:10-14
- When Israel is restored as God’s chosen people who then trust in Him, it will be a time for rejoicing! She who was previously spiritually barren will now be spiritually fruitful. All will benefit by coming to her (vv. 10-11; Isaiah 54:1-5).
- There is a principle that you cannot give what you do not have. Israel is pictured as a mother nursing her infant. Now that Israel is learning from God, she will have spiritual milk to feed those who come to her (Isaiah 55:1-2; Jeremiah 31:33; I Peter 2:2).
- A second picture is that of the infant who doesn’t “work” for its food, but trustingly receives it from its mother and is comforted in the process. Similarly, imagine the peace those from the nations will experience as they are nurtured by Jerusalem. (vv. 10-11; Isaiah 48:18) A spiritual application we might make for today is that God gives peace to those who do not work for their salvation, but humbly receive it as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
- Not only will Israel be blessed spiritually, she will also receive material blessings(v. 12; Isaiah 60:5, 11; 61:6).
- God is usually pictured as a father. In verse 13, what attribute of a mother characterizes God? (Remember also the picture of Isaiah 49:15-16.)
- Is this peace and comfort universally promised or are there conditions for receiving it? (v. 14)
IV. DAY FOUR: God’s Return (Isaiah 66:15-24)
A. Isaiah 66:15-17
- Isaiah concludes with the same themes of judgment and hope which have run throughout this book. There is judgment for those who rebel against God (actively or passively). God has taken that judgment on Himself in the person of His Messianic Servant (Isaiah 53), but the time is coming when it will be too late to avail oneself of that salvation (Isaiah 55:6-7). At that time, judgment will be executed against all who have not repented, turning from their own ways to God (vv. 15-16).
- The Day of the Lord is a time when God brings justice on earth. While this will include salvation and blessing to His servants from all nations, God will also bring judgment on His enemies, both Jews and Gentiles (v. 14; Malachi 4:1-3; II Thessalonians 1:7-9). Will any of His enemies escape? (v. 16; Isaiah 13:9; Zephaniah 1:14-18)
- We must worship God in the way He requires. Verse 17 cites some pagan religious practices which were specific violations of the Mosaic Law as examples of God’s justification in judgment. Those who have followed their own ways rather than God’s will meet their end together.
B. Isaiah 66:18-21
- God’s desire is not judgment but redemption. In some mysterious way, God will use the sins of the rebellious in a way that reveals His glory (v. 18) Could this be the time when all finally recognize who the Messiah is? (Zechariah 12:10)
- God will send survivors to the nations to proclaim His glory. The nations mentioned were scattered across the then-known world in all directions of the compass. The survivors themselves will be a sign as they proclaim the “sign” of the Messiah and the glorious acts of God (Matthew 24:30; Luke 11:30; John 1:14).
- What will the result be? (v. 20; Zechariah 8:23) In the past, Gentiles came to attack Jerusalem; now they will come to worship God! What will the nations bring as an offering to God?
- What will be the privilege granted to some of these Gentiles? Previously, such service seemed to be reserved for the Jews, but God’s ultimate plan is broader. All nations and peoples will truly have been blessed through Israel (Genesis 12:3), resulting in a new multi-ethnic community worshiping God and having fellowship with Him.
- Isaiah 66:22-24
- A vision of the new heavens and new earth of verse 22 is more fully described in Revelation 22:12-21.
- When God makes a promise, He keeps it. How long will Israel endure? (v. 22; Genesis 17:7)
- Isaiah ends his book in a very strange way. I would expect a glorious celebration, but instead he gives us a repulsive picture of judgment and hell (vv. 23-24) Why do you think that is?
- Perhaps Isaiah wants to remind us that salvation is not automatic and it is not universal. There is a condition to receiving the great blessings of the Millennial Kingdom and the new heavens and new earth. For those who reject or ignore those conditions, Isaiah gives a final reminder of coming judgment as a warning. God’s judgment on the wicked is everlasting and those condemned to separation from Him by their choice (or lack of choice) in life will suffer eternal separation in death. So – choose life! Respond to the repeated heart cry of God! (Isaiah 1:18-20; 45:22; 55:6-7) God has done everything necessary to save us. He has personally propitiated our sin through the Messiah, and He has offered eternal life to those who repent of their sin and self-directed lives and turn to Him in trust and obedience. What is your choice?
V. DAY FIVE: Isaiah Summary
A. God has poured out His heart to us through Isaiah! We have had many glimpses of God that hopefully have corrected our understanding of Him. I pray that we have taken to heart what God has said to each one of us (James 1:22-25). Isaiah has presented Israel and us with clear choices in relation to God. Let’s take today to review some of what we have learned through Isaiah. Feel free to use any part of Isaiah or past lessons in thinking through the following questions. You may find it helpful to summarize these questions and your answers in your journal for future reference. Try to find one or more verses to support each answer.
B. Uniqueness of God
- How is God different from the gods worshiped by Israel’s neighbors (and ours)?
- Describe God’s holiness. What are the implications for having a relationship with a holy God when we are not holy? Some people see the God of the New Testament as a God of love, and the God of the Old Testament as a God of wrath. Why does holiness demand that God express wrath?
C. Judgment and Salvation
- Isaiah presented a clear choice: trust God and live; or rebel, trusting in yourself and die. All people are sinners by nature and by practice and therefore under the wrath of God with judgment as our destiny. Does God take delight in judging people?
- What has God done to provide salvation instead? What are the conditions? What is the new relationship now and the new future destiny?
- What impresses you about God’s love as revealed in Isaiah?
- How did God balance His love and justice without compromising either one?
D. Servants and Kings
- God can use anyone He chooses to accomplish His purposes, even those who don’t believe in Him. Give a lesson you learned from one king who rebelled against God. Give a lesson you learned from another king who trusted God.
- God requires that His servants be righteous. What does that mean?
- How are God’s servants to treat other people?
E. Religion and Relationship
- What is God’s view of religious rituals?
- What heart attitude does God want in our worship?
- All relationships involve some level of trust; therefore, it is not unreasonable that to have a relationship with God requires us to trust Him. Define and describe “trust.” Where does obedience fit in?
- Is our trust in God primarily because of His good gifts or because of Himself? What does true trust look like in the everyday challenges we face?
Israel’s choice and our choice
- These prophecies of the Millennial Kingdom and the new heavens and new earth should not lull us into fatalism. Just as we had a choice to sin or not sin, and just as we had a choice to trust and obey God and His Messiah or to reject or ignore Him, so we have a choice to prepare ourselves for our eternal destiny. A choice to be faithful to God in this life today will lead to different consequences than the choice to be lazy and self-centered (I John 3:1-3).
LIFE LONG CHALLENGE:
- We came to Isaiah to gain a clearer understanding of our God. Let’s continue to grow in our knowledge of Him—both as He reveals Himself through His word, and as He does so in the context of our relationship with Him. Keep your lists of God’s attributes and continue to add to them as you study other parts of Scripture. Make these lists practical for yourself. You may find them to be an aid in your worship and prayer. They may also be valuable in helping you describe God to inquirers.
- Principles discovered in Scripture are only beneficial as they are applied. Select two which you will begin applying today, and use your journal as an accountability tool.
- Review the verses you have memorized. Find someone who will listen as you practice them. Be sure you understand what each one means in its context. Make memorizing God’s Word a life habit, adding new verses on a regular basis.
- Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!
1. The historic pre-millennial view seems to have been the view of the early church. , Walter A. Elwell, Ed, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984) 716.
2. The following is a suggested sequence of end-time events, taken from a “historic pre-millennial” viewpoint. There are many other related passages which you will also want to include. A topical reference guide, a concordance, and cross reference guide are good resources to help you in what is a fascinating study.
- The first coming of the Messiah – Daniel 9:26; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
- This present age – Matthew 24
- The Great Tribulation – Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1, 11; Matthew 24:21-29; II Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 6:8-17; 7:14; 13:5-10.
- The Day of the Lord, including the second coming of the Messiah and the battle of Armageddon – Isaiah 24; Ezekiel 38-39; Joel 3:2; Zephaniah 3:8; Zechariah 14:2-5; Matthew 24:30-31; Acts 1:8; II Peter 3:10-12; Revelation 16:12-16; 19:11-21.
- The Millennial Kingdom (fulfills many of the promises made in the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants as well as promises to Christ’s followers) – Psalm 89:3-4, 28-29; Isaiah 27:6; Jeremiah 31:31-36; Ezekiel 36:24-38; 39:25-29; Revelation 20:1-6.
- Final battle with Satan – Revelation 20:7-10.
- Final judgment – Revelation 20:11-15.
- New heavens and new earth – Isaiah 25:8; II Peter 3:13; Revelation 21-22.
3. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996) 307.
4. Stephen quoted this passage in Acts 7:48-50; Paul alluded to it in Acts 17:24-25.
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