Isaiah 35: The Return of the Ransomed
Isaiah 35: Listen to the audio
Isaiah 35: Download notes and a worksheet for further study
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
There is not sufficient information to know precisely when Isaiah delivers the prophetic messages of chapters 34-35. It is clear, however, that these prophecies anticipate the Day of the Lord, when He will judge the nations and deliver His people. Some commentators believe chapters 34-35 serve as an “eschatological conclusion” (and end-times wrap up) to the woe oracles of Isa. 28-33, which could place Isaiah’s prophecy in the reign of Hezekiah.
Isa. 35:10 – [T]he ransomed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake [them], and sorrow and sighing will flee.
“The glorious fact of the coming Millennium should serve as strength and comfort to all believers living in difficult times,” writes H.L. Willmington. “The deserts will bloom. The lame will walk, and the mute will shout and sing. The blind will see and the deaf will hear. A highway of holiness will be built” (The Outline Bible, S. Is 35:3-4).
It’s important to keep in mind that while the millennium is a time of great prosperity and peace for the redeemed, it is not yet the new heavens and new earth promised in Scripture (for example, see 2 Peter 3:10-13 and Rev. 21-22). There is still the presence of “unclean” people, although they will not be permitted on the Holy Way (v. 8). There also are the foolish, even though they will be kept from going astray. And the animal kingdom is not yet totally tamed, despite the fact that God’s people are protected from the “vicious beast” (v. 9). We learn from other Bible passages that there will be sin and death during Christ’s earthly reign, although the human lifespan is significantly lengthened and Jesus will tolerate no rebellion (Isa. 65:7-25). The primary reasons for joy during this 1,000-year period are Christ’s righteous reign from the throne of David (Isa. 9:7) and Satan’s imprisonment (Rev. 20:1-3). In short, the millennium is the most glorious time in human history, and yet it is just a foretaste of what’s to come when God makes all things new (Rev. 21:5).
Life in the Perfect Age (Isa. 35:1-2, 5-10)
“The glory of this chapter is enhanced, if this is possible, by its setting as an oasis between the visionary wasteland of ch. 34 and the history of war, sickness and folly in chs. 36–39,” writes D.A. Carson (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 35:1). In a familiar pattern, Isaiah follows a graphic depiction of judgment with a glorious foretaste of the millennium. Both nature and humanity are restored. The redeemed return to Zion on the “Holy Way” and are overcome with joy.
Note the specifics of Isaiah’s vision of the perfect age:
- “The wilderness and the dry land will be glad …” (v. 1). All of nature waits eagerly for the redemption in Christ’s return (Ps. 96:11-13; 98:7-9; Isa. 55:12-13; Rom. 8:19-22). The beauty that today bursts through the thorns and thistles of fallen nature bears testimony of God’s promise to free creation of the curse of sin (Gen. 3:17-19; Rev. 22:3). Verses 6b-7 provide further details of a redeemed plant and animal world.
- “The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon” (v. 2). Isaiah names three of the most beautiful and fruitful locations in the land, and yet when Christ returns even the desert will produce an abundance that exceeds theirs. There will be no more “parched ground” (v. 7) because the land will become a plush garden that bears testimony of Messiah’s glory.
- “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy …” (vv. 5-6). Jesus evidently refers to these verses to encourage the imprisoned John the Baptist that He is the promised Messiah (Luke 7:18-23). As Jesus’ miracles confirm His deity and Messianic authority, they also provide a foretaste of the coming kingdom, in which complete health is the norm.
- “A road will be there and a way; it will be called the Holy Way” (v. 8). Isaiah often uses the theme of a highway (Isa. 11:16; 19:23; 40:3; 62:10). The highways are not safe to travel during the Assyrian invasion (Isa. 33:8), but in the coming kingdom age the Lord will make them safe and provide a special road called “the Holy Way.” Warren Wiersbe writes, “In ancient cities, there were often special roads that only kings and priests could use; but when Messiah reigns, all of His people will be invited to use this highway. Isaiah pictures God’s redeemed, ransomed, and rejoicing Jewish families going up to the yearly feasts in Jerusalem, to praise their Lord” (Be Comforted, S. Is 35:1).
- “There will be no lion there, and no vicious beast will go up on it” (v. 9). No ferocious animals will hinder the redeemed from traveling the Holy Way to worship the Lord. Even the wild beasts will enjoy a unique period of God-ordained restraint during the millennium (Isa. 11:6-9; Ezek. 34:25; Hosea 2:18).
- “Joy and gladness will overtake [them], and sorrow and sighing will flee” (v. 10). Matthew Henry writes, “When God’s people returned out of Babylon to Zion they came weeping (Jer. 50:4); but they shall come to heaven singing a new song, which no man can learn, Rev. 14:3. When they shall enter into the joy of their Lord it shall be what the joys of this world never could be: everlasting joy, without mixture, interruption, or period. It shall not only fill their hearts, to their own perfect and perpetual satisfaction, but it shall be upon their heads, as an ornament of grace and a crown of glory, as a garland worn in token of victory” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 35:5).
Life in the Present Age (Isa. 35:3-4)
Israel’s glorious future is the backdrop against which God’s people are called to live in the present. Although the Assyrians are besieging Jerusalem and the Babylonians will destroy it, the Lord promises vengeance, retribution and salvation. In light of these promises, God’s people are instructed to encourage the faint hearted and comfort those who are traumatized by Sennacherib’s invading hoards.
In much the same way, Christians today should live in the light of God’s glorious redemption. While we suffer pain, sickness, aging and death, the Lord has promised to redeem our mortal bodies and give us glorified ones (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:51-58). Though we struggle with sin, He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). And even though many Christians around the world are persecuted for their faith, they will be vindicated at the return of Christ (Luke 21:28; Rev. 6:9-11; 19:11-21). And when it comes to the Lord’s chastening, Christians today, like the citizens of Judah in Isaiah’s time, are urged to “strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but healed instead” (Heb. 12:12).
Gary V. Smith comments: “There is no doubt about the theological principle that God will have vengeance on the wicked and violently destroy them and the earth where they live. His judgment is real, it is devastating, and it is final. If one can conceive of a world without divine support and care, that is the world that awaits the nations that will receive God’s wrath…. [I]n chapter 35 God offers an alternative world of fertility, joy, and gladness where he will reveal something of his marvelous glory. The theological principle here is that everyone should be encouraged to experience the salvation of God, no matter how weak or blind they are. God is not only able to remove blindness and strengthen the weak; he will also miraculously open the eyes of many. His kingdom will have abundant water, great fertility, and a holy highway for his redeemed people to come to Zion to worship him. Only those who return to God, only the holy, and only the ransomed will experience the joy of that day” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, pp. 581-82).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips