The Lord of Armies on his throne (Part 2)

This post picks up where Part 1 ends.

Evidence of the angel

No doubt, Isaiah has encountered Yahweh on his throne. But before moving on, let’s summarize the evidence for Isaiah seeing the angel of the LORD in this vision. 

First, note how Isaiah describes the one seated on the throne. Isaiah calls him Lord (Adonai), the LORD of Armies (Yahweh Sabaoth), and the King. In our study so far, we have seen the angel of the LORD identified both as the Lord and the LORD of Armies, divine titles he shares with the unseen Yahweh. As for his role as King, the Israelites are promised a future king who comes from their stock (Deut. 17:14-15). David is promised a physical descendant who rules over an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-16). The prophet Zechariah foretells the Messiah’s revelation to his people: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you; he is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). 

Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises. An angel tells Mary her future son will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:30-33). Jesus presents himself to the Jews as king and they reject him (John 1:11). Jesus acknowledges his right to rule as king (John 18:36-37). He fulfills Zechariah 9:9 when he rides triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (John 12:14-15). Even Pilate acknowledges Jesus’ claim to be King of the Jews (John 19:19). Paul urges Timothy to fight the good fight of faith in light of the imminent return of “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Victors on the sea of glass in heaven sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb: “Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God, the Almighty; just and true are your ways, King of the nations” (Rev. 15:3). And Jesus returns to earth triumphantly one day as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16). 

We could cite other passages, but these are sufficient to show how the Scriptures identify Jesus as the eternal King who humbles himself in the Incarnation and returns one day in glory – a glory that fills the whole earth (cf. Phil. 2:5-11; Rev. 21:22-25).

Second, recall how the apostle John says Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus in the prophet’s vision of the throne in heaven (John 12:37-41). Specifically, John writes about Jesus, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke about him” (v. 41, emphasis added). If that’s the case, we have a rare New Testament reference to the Old Testament activity of the preincarnate Christ, or the angel of the LORD. In light of this, we should keep in mind that John and other New Testament authors affirm the deity of Christ and all the corresponding attributes of deity, including Jesus’ eternality, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and immutability.

Third, when Isaiah writes that he “saw the Lord” (6:1), he could not mean the divine essence of Yahweh, for as the apostle John writes, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). But Isaiah may well have seen the angel of the LORD because, as John continues, “The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s right side – he has revealed him” (John 1:18). 

Paul picks up on this theme in 1 Timothy 6:16 when he refers to God as the one “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see, to him be honor and eternal power.” The apostle then tells us “the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ” (Col. 2:9). As mortal human beings, we cannot see the invisible God who exists outside of time, space, and matter. But we can see manifestations of God in theophanies, Christophanies, and, best of all, in the incarnate Christ. 

Finally, while John attributes the words of Isaiah 6:10 to Jesus – “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts …” (John 12:40) – the  apostle Paul connects these words to the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:25-27). Paul then goes on to note their fulfillment in the days of Jesus, whose salvation is offered to the Gentiles in the wake of Jewish rejection (Acts 28:28). There is perhaps a subtle reference to the Trinity in all of this. Isaiah sees the preincarnate Christ, or the angel of the LORD, on the throne in heaven, while the unseen Father and Holy Spirit are both present and active in Isaiah’s vision.

John’s vision of the throne room in heaven (Revelation 4-5) appears to be an expanded version of Isaiah’s encounter with the LORD. As we read through these two chapters in Revelation, we see the divine presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (“the seven spirits of God” or “the sevenfold Spirit” – 4:5). Further, we see the Father and the Son described as divine beings worthy of worship. So, we shouldn’t be overly concerned about the apparent blurring of divine persons in Isaiah’s vision. As we have noted in previous encounters with the angel of the LORD, he is identified as both the messenger of Yahweh and Yahweh himself. He speaks forYahweh and as Yahweh. And he knows and does what only Yahweh can do. 

The great refiner

The remainder of Isaiah’s vision is recorded in Isaiah 6:6-13:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said:

Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking:

      Who should I send? Who will go for us?

I said:

      Here I am. Send me.

And he replied:

Go! Say to these people: Keep listening but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Make the minds of these people dull; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed.

Then I said, “Until when, Lord?” And he replied:

Until cities lie in ruin without inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate, and the LORD drives the people far away, leaving a great emptiness in the land. Though a tenth will remain in the land, it will be burned again. Like the terebinth or the oak that leaves a stump when felled, the holy seed is the stump.

Isaiah 6:6-13

The LORD cleanses Isaiah’s lips to prepare him for prophetic ministry. One of the seraphim takes a burning coal from the altar and applies it to the prophet’s mouth. Fire is a purifying agent (Num. 31:22-23), and this burning coal is taken from the altar where sacrifices are offered to atone for sin (1 Chron. 6:49). With the application of fire, the serap proclaims Isaiah’s iniquity removed. This demonstrates God’s ability and eagerness to cleanse people from their guilt and enlist them in his service. “God is the great Refiner who removes His people’s dross and makes them righteous before Him. The seraphim are merely His flaming ministers to administer salvation and healing to His people.”

The LORD then asks, “Who should I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah replies, “Here I am. Send me” (v. 8). The “us” to whom the LORD of Armies speaks could be the persons of the Trinity, or an expression of divine majesty. But the imagery surrounding Isaiah’s commission seems to more accurately depict the divine council consisting of the triune God and a hierarchy of created spirit beings such as “sons of God,” seraphim, cherubim, and angels. At times in the Old Testament, we see God summoning spirit beings and engaging them in conversations about earthly events (1 Kings 22:19-23; Job 1-2; Zech. 1:8-17).

Isaiah’s eagerness to go stands in stark contrast to the responses of Moses and Jeremiah to the call of God (Exod. 3:11; 4:1, 10; Jer. 1:6). However, Isaiah seems to be granted a more majestic vision of God on his throne, prompting a greater awareness of his sin and, when forgiven, a greater passion to submit unconditionally. This is key in light of what comes next. 

The LORD essentially tells Isaiah to embark on a futile mission. The people are going to hear the prophet’s messages – including his hopeful challenge to trust God – but they won’t come to a point of genuine repentance. This is similar to God’s warning to Ezekiel that his listeners are rebellious, stubborn, and hard as flint (Ezek. 2:1 – 3:9). Instead of stirring up conviction in the people’s hearts, Isaiah’s messages only serve to dull their minds, deafen their ears, and blind their eyes. 

Most of the people have passed a point of no return. They are beyond repentance. And the only avenue to national healing now is through divine judgment. We should not think of God as unethical in this instance, punishing people for failing to do the impossible. Quite the contrary. The LORD has given the people ample time to repent, but they have refused. And now, Isaiah’s message serves much like a judge’s sentence – repeating the charges, confirming the convictions, and pronouncing just punishment. 

Even so, God is faithful to preserve a believing remnant, from whom he rebuilds his covenant people and restores their land. This remnant is likened to a stump that remains after a mighty tree falls (6:13).

Several New Testament writers quote these verses to explain why Jesus teaches in parables, as well as why so many who hear the gospel reject it (Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27). Further, the apostle Paul writes of those who know the truth about God – through his self-revelation in creation and human conscience – yet refuse to embrace it, leaving them “without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-32). As one commentator notes:

God laments this hardness of hearing and unresponsiveness, but this is the path that the nation has chosen. Isaiah’s preaching will not prohibit the few repentant people from responding positively (Hezekiah), but for the vast majority it will only lead to further hardening and opposition to God’s ways.

Next: Slaughter of the Assyrians

This post is excerpted from Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the Lord, available from Amazon and other retailers.