The doctrine of hell is disturbing. The very idea of suffering and separation beyond the grave elicits a wide range of responses, from anguish to anger, and from despair to denial.
The possibility of departed loved ones languishing in outer darkness only adds to the grief of those laying flowers on their graves.
Some atheists cite hell as a reason to deny the existence of a loving God.
What’s more, Anglican cleric John Stott, who wrote the influential book Basic Christianity, found the idea of eternal suffering in hell so repugnant that he rejected it in favor of annihilationism.
According to a 2014 survey by LifeWay Research, fewer Mainline Protestants believe in hell than do Americans in general (55 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively).
And for many evangelicals, hell remains an inconvenient truth.
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah form a single prophecy. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the time in which it is given, it seems best to place it a short time before the attack by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.
Isa. 26:13 – Lord, our God, other lords than You have ruled over us, but we remember Your name alone.
In the context of chapters 24-27, Isaiah uses an analogy of the future destruction of all God’s enemies (chaps. 24-25) to urge the people of Judah to trust Him now (chaps. 26-27). Although God is using the Assyrians as the rod of His judgment against Judah, those who place their faith in the Lord and endure the childbirth-like pains of His correction (vv. 17-18) will rejoice in His salvation: “Yes, Lord, we wait for You in the path of Your judgments. Our desire is for Your name and renown” (v. 8).
Some would argue there’s a contradiction in chapter 26. In verse 14 Isaiah declares that “the dead do not live, departed spirits do not rise up.” Then, in verse 19, he states that “your dead will live; their bodies will rise.” How can both be true? The Apologetics Study Bible explains: “This apparent conflict vanishes when the statements are placed in context. He [Isaiah] referred to past oppressors of Israel, the ‘wicked’ who act ‘unjustly’ (v. 10), the ‘other lords’ who had ruled over God’s people and whom God had already ‘visited and destroyed’ (vv. 13-14). These oppressors could no longer attack God’s people. The situation changed with verse 19; in the future God’s people who die will live … a person can have life after death. The fact that Elijah and Elisha brought to life two boys who had died (1 Kg 17:17-24; 2 Kg 4:18-37), and that a dead man came back to life when his body touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kg 13:20-21), indicates that individual resurrection from the dead was known and experienced long before the time of Isaiah” (pp 1024-25).
The Song of Judah (Isa. 26:1-6)
Although Jerusalem will be surrounded in Isaiah’s day, and vanquished a century later by the Babylonians, the day is coming when Israel’s remnant will sing of their glorious reversal of fortune as they enter the impregnable New Jerusalem. The humble will be exalted and the oppressors crushed. Because of Messiah’s presence there, the city figuratively is said to have salvation as its walls and ramparts (v. 1). While other nations will have places in the kingdom, believers in Israel will hold special positions.
The Lord promises perfect (genuine, complete) peace to those who trust Him – now, as well as in the Millennium (v. 3). The apostle Paul reminds us of this great truth in Phil. 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck write, “This availability of inner tranquility encourages believers to continue trusting the Lord (Isa. 26:4) because He is firm like a Rock … and He is eternal” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1074). For other Scriptures that describe the Lord as a Rock, see Ps. 73:26 (“strength” literally means rock); Isa. 17:10, 30:29, and 44:8.
“The Hebrew word for ‘peace’ (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. ‘What is your peace?’ is the way Jews often greet one another; and Isaiah’s reply would be, ‘My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in Him!’ Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6-9 is based on Isaiah 26:3″ (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 26:1).
In contrast with the righteous who enter the city are the arrogant who “live in lofty places” (v. 5); the Lord will bring them down. Those who used their wealth and privilege to oppress the poor will be on the business end of God’s rod of justice. This does not mean that poverty itself is a virtue. Isaiah simply repeats an oft-repeated message that God has special concern for the poor who seek Him (Isa. 25:4; Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18).
The Long Night of Waiting (Isa. 26:7-18)
Isaiah describes a level and straight path for the righteous, cleared by God Himself. “In the Yukon of old, one man was often sent ahead to ‘break trail’ for others or a dog sled. This passage reminds us that a righteous God has already broken trail for those who follow Him because they are committed to righteousness too” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 424). As a result, God’s redeemed “wait” for Him, “desire” His name and renown, “long” for Him in the night, and diligently “seek” Him in order to “learn righteousness” (vv. 8-9). What a dramatic change occurs in the hearts of men and women when they learn to trust God above all else.
The struggles of Judah returning to God are like the pains of childbirth. Isaiah writes that the nation is writhing in anguish beneath the punishing hand of God. Like a pregnant woman giving birth to wind, Judah experiences emptiness and defeat through its sinful acts. The Hebrew verb in verse 13 translated “ruled over” gives us the noun baal, the Canaanite storm god whose worship caused so much trouble in Israel. But the word also means “husband,” so the message is that God’s people were not faithful to Him, preferring to pursue their lust for idols. The same image is given in James 4:4: “Adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.” Even so, the Lord graciously carries His people through and keeps His covenant. For other comparisons of spiritual struggle to childbirth, see Isa. 13:8, 42:14; John 16:21; Gal. 4:19.
Isaiah’s comment about the dead tyrants who have troubled Judah (v. 14) do not contradict the doctrine of universal resurrection supplied in verse 19 and elsewhere in Scripture (see, for example, Job 19:25-27; Ps. 17:15; Dan. 12:1-3; John 5:28-29, 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 20:11-15). The prophet simply is emphasizing that the rulers who wrought so much terror and destruction on God’s people can no longer do them harm. Lawrence O. Richards comments in The Bible Readers Companion: “Storms of judgment may sweep over our earth. Wars may devastate, and disease may ravage. Famines may decimate the land, while starvation stalks our families. There are indeed dread fates that are to be feared. But these are not history’s last words! At the end of history – both the history of nations and the personal history of each individual – the shout of God’s promise echoes. ‘Your dead will live; their bodies will rise!’ What a truth to hold fast in troubled times” (S. 424).
Resurrection and Judgment (Isa. 26:19-21)
This is a most revealing Old Testament passage on future resurrection and judgment. While these verses focus on the resurrection of the just – the “first resurrection” of which John wrote in Rev. 20:5-6 – Daniel adds that the unjust also will be raised and that all people will experience eternal life or eternal shame (Dan. 12:2). What a comfort these words are to those experiencing warfare, captivity, injustice, and even death. The promise that God will raise all people one day and pronounce final judgment with absolute justice should spur fear in the hearts of the wicked as it does hope in the hearts of the righteous.
Although views differ on the order of events, the New Testament clearly teaches future resurrection and final judgment for all people:
- Jesus often speaks of His return and final judgment. For example, in John 5:28-29 He says all people will be raised from the dead and experience either everlasting life or condemnation.
- The apostle Paul writes in detail about the rapture (“catching up” / “snatching away”) of the church in 1 Cor. 15:50-58 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18, as well as judgment and reward for all believers (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).
- The apostle John refers several times to resurrection and final judgment in the book of Revelation. He alludes to the rapture by not mentioning the church from Rev. 4-18, chapters depicting the tribulation. He also speaks of the “first resurrection,” or resurrection of the just, in Rev. 20:5-6. And he writes in some detail about the raising of the wicked to stand before the great white throne, from which they are cast into hell (Rev. 20:11-15).
Verse 20 urges God’s people to “hide for a little while until the wrath has passed.” “When God is about to take vengeance on the ungodly, the saints shall be shut in by Him in a place of safety, as Noah and his family were in the days of the flood (Ge 7:16), and as Israel was commanded not to go out of doors on the night of the slaying of the Egyptian first-born (Ex 12:22, 23; Ps 31:20; 83:3). The saints are calmly and confidently to await the issue (Ex 14:13, 14)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 26:20).
Finally, verse 21 gives Judah the assurance that God will deal with her oppressors – Assyria in the near term and Babylon in the long term. Even more, this verse previews the glorious appearing of the Messiah one day to execute judgment upon the earth’s wicked (see Rev. 19:11-21).
Commenting on the phrase in verse 21, “The earth will reveal the blood shed on it and will no longer conceal her slain,” Matthew Henry writes: “Secret murders, and other secret wickednesses, shall be discovered, sooner or later. And the slain which the earth has long covered she shall no longer cover, but they shall be produced as evidence against the murderers. The voice of Abel’s blood cries from the earth, Gen. 9:10, 11; Job 20:27. Those sins which seemed to be buried in oblivion will be called to mind, and called over again, when the day of reckoning comes. Let God’s people therefore wait awhile with patience, for behold the Judge stands before the door” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 26:20).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips