This is Part 2 of a series on the end times. Click on the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to access all lessons under the heading, “End Times.”
The word millennium means “one thousand years” and for our study purposes comes from Rev. 20 where the word is used six times in the first seven verses:
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. 4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. [I] also [saw] the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over these, but they will be priests of God and the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years. When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison … (HCSB)
When do these 1,000 years take place? Have they already occurred, or are they in the future? Are we to take the millennium literally or figuratively? Is it possible we are in the millennium today? Christians have answered these and other related questions differently throughout the church age and in some cases have argued heatedly for their particular point of view. The purpose of our study is to identify and understand four major views of the millennium: postmillennialism, amillennialism, historic premillennialism, and dispensational premillennialism. This document will briefly highlight these views.
Generally speaking, the millennium describes a period in which Christ and His followers reign; when Satan is bound; when righteousness overshadows (but does not yet eliminate) wickedness; and when, according to some views, there are significant (but not yet perfect) improvements in nature and the animal kingdom. Whether one understands the millennium literally or figuratively has a lot to do with his or her view as to when and where these events take place. All of the views call us to look for a future, visible, physical return of Christ and to anticipate the time in which He creates new heavens and a new earth. The primary differences center around whether Jesus returns before or after the millennium; whether the events described take place in heaven or on earth; whether the 1,000 years are literal or figurative; whether Christ’s return is a singular event to a two-stage event (the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing); and whether Christians will endure some or all of the tribulation – a time of intense persecution prior to the second coming.
As we look at different views of the end times, it’s important to note the biblical truths affirmed by all of these views: 1) Jesus will return physically, visibly and personally in the future; 2) Jesus will resurrect all people, who will stand in final judgment resulting in heaven or hell; and 3) He will create new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells and in which Satan, demons and unbelievers have no part.
The postmillennial view
The prefix post means “after.” According to this view, Jesus will return after the millennium, a lengthy era of peace and righteousness not necessarily 1,000 years in length. Basically, postmillennialists believe that as the gospel spreads and the church grows, a larger proportion of the world’s people will become Christians. This will have a positive impact on society at all levels – government, commerce, social interaction, etc. – resulting in a world that functions more in accordance with God’s standards. In effect, the world will be Christianized. Gradually, a “millennial age” of unprecedented godliness will prepare the way for the return of Christ. When He comes, He will resurrect all people, judge them, create new heavens and a new earth, and usher in the eternal state.
The postmillennial view is optimistic about the power of the gospel to change lives and permeate society in a positive way. This view is most popular when the church is experiencing revival and when there is a general absence of war, international conflict, and suffering.
Arguments in favor of postmillennialism are:
- The Great Commission leads us to expect a Christianized world. Jesus said all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, and He has promised to be with us as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Therefore, we have every reason to believe the gospel will triumph in the hearts of individuals and around the world.
- Jesus’ parables of the kingdom indicate that the gospel will permeate the whole world. The parables of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32) and leaven (Matt. 13:33) are specifically cited.
- The world is becoming more Christian. Christianity, for example, is the largest religion on earth, far outpacing Islam, Hinduism and other major world religions.
Arguments against postmillennialism are:
- Although Christ does indeed have all authority in heaven and on earth, and while people from every tribe, nation, and language will be in heaven (Rev. 5:9), this does not mean a majority of the world’s people will become Christians or that the world will dramatically improve prior to Christ’s return.
- While the parables of Jesus indicate that the kingdom of heaven will begin humbly and then grow dramatically, they do not tell us the extent to which this growth will take place. In fact, other parables of Jesus indicate there will be much wickedness leading up to the days of Christ’s return (e.g., the parable of the dragnet in Matt. 13:47-50 and the parable of the sheep and goats in Matt. 25:31-46).
- While Christianity is indeed the world’s largest religion, evil is rampant and spreading. Two world wars and numerous other conflicts in the 20th century put a damper on postmillennial fervor.
The Amillennial View
The amillennial view is the simplest of the four major positions on the end times. The prefix “a” means “no,” and therefore those who hold this view believe there is no future millennium to which believers should look. Amillennialists say Rev. 20:1-10 describes the present church age, not some future era of 1,000 years. Presently, Satan’s influence over mankind has been great restricted so that the gospel may reach the ends of the earth. Those said to be reigning with Christ for the 1,000 years – which are not to be taken literally – are saints who have died and are with Jesus in heaven. Christ’s reign in the millennium is not His physical presence on earth but His authority being exercised in heaven as He sits at the Father’s right hand, having received all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). The exact duration of the millennium / church age cannot be known and the phrase “thousand years” in Rev. 20 is simply a figure of speech to indicate a long period of time during which God accomplishes His will on earth.
According to this view, the millennium / church age will continue until Christ returns. All people will be resurrected and brought before Christ in final judgment. Believers will receive glorified bodies and stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where they will receive rewards for their earthly service. Unbelievers will be brought into final judgment and sent to hell. The eternal state will begin immediately as God brings about the new heavens and new earth.
Arguments in favor of amillennialism are:
- In all of scripture, only one passage (Rev. 20:1-6) mentions a 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus, and this passage is obscure. It is best not to base a major doctrine on a single passage in the Bible. Instead, Rev. 20:1-6 is better interpreted as describing the present church age.
- The scriptures teach only one resurrection, not two (or more) separated by 1,000 years. Dan. 12:2, John 5:28-29, and Acts 24:15 indicate a single, or general, resurrection of all people.
- It seems unreasonable to think glorified believers, unglorified believers and lost sinners would live on earth at the same time, even if only for 1,000 years.
- If Jesus is literally ruling the earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem, it seems unreasonable that people would continue to reject Him and persist in sin.
- There seems to be no ultimate purpose for a literal 1,000 reign of Christ on earth. Once Jesus has returned, what’s the point of delaying the eternal state?
- Scripture seems to indicate that all the major events of the end times will occur at once, not spread out over 1,000 years or more.
Arguments against amillennialism are:
- In response to the statement that only one passage (Rev. 20:1-6) mentions a 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus, it may be said that even if this were true, the Bible only needs to say something once for it to be true and to command our belief. Further, premillennialists do not find this passage obscure by any means, and they see numerous Old and New Testament passages that indicate a long period of time in the future, yet before the final state, during which Messiah reigns.
- Revelation 20 speaks of the “first resurrection,” implying there will be a second one. It also addresses those who have no part in the first resurrection; they will come to life after the 1,000 years and experience the “second death.” A straightforward (not figurative) understanding of this chapter seems best.
- The idea of glorified believers, unglorified believers and unbelievers inhabiting the earth at the same time may be difficult to understand but is not impossible. The resurrected and glorified Christ walked among believers and unbelievers in their natural state after His resurrection.
- Jesus’ physical presence on earth following His return does not rule out the possibility that many will reject Him. He was rejected by many during His earthly ministry as the Suffering Servant. Even Judas, who shared in Jesus’ ministry for three years, ultimately betrayed Him. We should not underestimate the ability of sinful and fallen people to resort to the greatest evil.
- An earthly millennial reign of Christ would show “the outworking of God’s good purposes in the structures of society” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1121).
- The amillennial view lacks a meaningful purpose for Revelation 20.
Next: Historic and Dispensational Premillennialism.
PODCAST: Isaiah 55 – God’s Higher Thoughts and Ways
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 55 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.
Isa. 55:8-9 – “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Because the Servant has accomplished His mission, all who are thirsty are invited to drink from the waters of salvation. But there is urgency in this invitation. “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call to Him while He is near,” the reader is admonished in verse 6. All are welcome – Jew and Gentile alike – but they must forsake their wicked ways and abandon their pride. In so doing, they will find great joy. Even the ones unsure of their ability to proclaim God’s truths are assured that His word “will not return to Me empty” (v. 11).
The word “thirsty” in verse 1 is used throughout Scripture as a metaphor for spiritual longing. Here are a few examples:
- Ps. 42:1-2: As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God?
- Ps. 63:1: God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
- John 4:13-14: Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
- John 7:37-39: On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been received, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
- Rev. 21:6: And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the thirsty from the spring of living water as a gift.”
An Invitation (Isa. 55:1-2)
The Lord issues an invitation to “everyone who is thirsty” to come to Him and be satisfied. Water is a precious commodity in many parts of the East, and an abundance of water is a special blessing (Isa. 41:17, 44:3). In addition, wine, milk and bread are dietary staples. People labor to provide these for themselves and their families, digging wells, tending crops and watching over their livestock. Yet many continue to go hungry and thirsty – an apt analogy for the busyness of religious works that fail to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. While many gladly would pay for the food that sustains spiritual life, Yahweh beckons us to come and buy “without money and without cost” (v. 1). Salvation is God’s gift to mankind. It may not be earned, bought, traded for or stolen; it is available freely to all who receive it in faith (John 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
Warren W. Wiersbe notes, “In Scripture, both water and wine are pictures of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39; Eph. 5:18). Jesus is the ‘bread of life’ (John 6:32–35), and His living Word is like milk (1 Peter 2:2). Our Lord probably had Isaiah 55:2 in mind when He said, ‘Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life’ (John 6:27, NKJV)” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 55:1).
An Everlasting Covenant (Isa. 55:3)
By coming to the Lord, people will have life and enjoy the benefits of the Davidic Covenant, in which God promises that David’s line will continue forever (2 Sam. 7:11b-16). Some interpreters say this is a reference to the New Covenant (Jer. 32:40; Heb. 13:20). While this may apply in some respects, the immediate context specifically mentions David. Of course, the Davidic Covenant is fulfilled in the Messiah (Luke 1:30-33; Acts 13:34-39), who reigns forever and who, through His blood, provides eternal life for all who enter into the New Covenant by faith. That’s why Jesus makes it abundantly clear that eternal life is found only in Him: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
The Nations and Messiah (Isa. 55:4-5)
The reference to “him” in verse 4 speaks not of David, but the Messiah, who will be the world’s “leader and commander.” The word “you” in verse 5 likely means the people of Israel, who will summon the nations to worship the one true and living God. “Isaiah 55:5 indicates that God will use Israel to call the Gentiles to salvation, which was certainly true in the early days of the church (Acts 10:1ff; 11:19ff; 13:1ff) and will be true during the kingdom (Isa. 2:2–4; 45:14; Zech. 8:22). Jerusalem will be the center for worship in the world, and God will be glorified as the nations meet together with Israel to honor the Lord” (Wiersbe, S. Is 55:1).
Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown make an interesting observation about the order of Isaiah’s words in verse 5, which states, “so you will summon a nation you do not know, and nations you do not know will run to you.” They remark, “God must call, before man can, or will, run (So 1:4; Jn 6:44). Not merely come, but run eagerly” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 55:5). Salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Unless He takes the initiative to send His Son; unless the Son pays our sin debt through His death, burial and resurrection; unless the Holy Spirit draws unbelievers to Christ; and unless God grants saving faith to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, there is no hope of redemption for any human being.
Salvation Offered to All (Isa. 55:6-13)
Isaiah calls on his fellow countrymen to seek the Lord while He may be found, for when judgment falls it will be too late. While this plea has an immediate application for Judah, it also speaks to individuals in all generations concerning salvation. Although the Jews are God’s covenant people, they are granted forgiveness of sins and eternal life only by trusting in Him. The message is the same today to all people, as the apostle Paul writes: “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:12b-13). But God’s gracious invitation is limited in time. “[I]t is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment,” writes the author of Hebrews (9:27), so it is crucial for sinners to receive the Lord by faith today, for tomorrow is promised to no one. “Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
The wicked who turn from their evil ways and abandon their sinful thoughts will find the Lord compassionate and forgiving. Because all people are natural-born sinners, their thoughts and deeds are independent of God and lead to earthly distress and eternal judgment. But Isaiah has a message from the Lord: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” [This is] the LORD’S declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
Believers today are assured of higher thoughts and ways because we have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). No longer enslaved to sin, we have the freedom to be the eyes, ears, mouth and hands of our Savior, encouraging one another in the faith and testifying of God’s power to a lost world. The apostle Paul goes ever further in describing the power and promise of the Christian life: “So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
The Lord also reminds us that just as the rain and snow water the earth, resulting in an abundance of food, His word brings life and peace to those who receive it: “My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it to do” (v. 11). Jamieson, Fausset and Brown note, “Rain may to us seem lost when it falls on a desert, but it fulfils some purpose of God. So the gospel word falling on the hard heart; it sometimes works a change at last; and even if so, it leaves men without excuse” (S. Is 55:11). John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck add: “In the Near East dry hard ground can seemingly overnight sprout with vegetation after the first rains of the rainy season. Similarly when God speaks His Word, it brings forth spiritual life, thus accomplishing His purpose” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1111).
The chapter closes with a description of the joy of the exiles when they go out of Babylonian captivity and, longer term, the joy of Israel in the Messianic age. When Christ sits on the throne of David and His people are gathered before Him, all nature will rejoice in the Lord (see also Isa. 35:1-2, 44.23). After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, thorns and thistles grew up and the earth yielded her fruit grudgingly. With the return of Christ, however, the effects of the fall will be reversed and instead of the thornbush, a cypress will spring up, and instead of the brier, a myrtle will grow. The creation itself will rejoice in the redeeming work of our great God and Savior.
Matthew Henry comments: “What is the qualification required in those that shall be welcome – they must thirst. All shall be welcome to gospel grace upon those terms only that gospel grace be welcome to them. Those that are satisfied with the world and its enjoyments for a portion, and seek not for a happiness in the favour of God – those that depend upon the merit of their own works for a righteousness, and see no need they have of Christ and his righteousness – these do not thirst; they have no sense of their need, are in no pain or uneasiness about their souls, and therefore will not condescend so far as to be beholden to Christ. But those that thirst are invited to the waters, as those that labour, and are heavy-laden, are invited to Christ for rest. Note, Where God gives grace he first gives a thirsting after it; and, where he has given a thirsting after it, he will give it, Ps. 81:10” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 55:1).
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 49 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile and ultimate glory.
Isa. 49:6 – He [the Lord] says, “It is not enough for you to be My servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”
In this chapter and the next, Isaiah prophesies about the Servant of the Lord (the Messiah), His mission, and His obedience to God (the Father). Rejected by His own people (v. 4; John 1:11), the Messiah will restore Israel to the Lord and bring salvation to the Gentiles (vv. 5-6). His mouth is likened to a sharpened sword, a reference to His speaking ministry (v. 2; Rev. 1:16). The name Israel is applied here to the Messiah as the One who fulfills Yahweh’s expectations for His people (v. 3). Verses 15-16 feature one of the strongest statements in Scripture of God’s faithfulness to His people.
In verse 1 the Servant declares, “The Lord called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.” This Messianic passage speaks both to the deity and humanity of God’s Servant and strikes a common chord between Jesus and others who have been sent to proclaim salvation to mankind. Jeremiah is chosen of God in his mother’s womb (Jer. 1:5), as is John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) and the apostle Paul (Gal. 1:15). The key difference here, as we learn from other Old Testament and New Testament passages, is that Messiah is the eternal Son of God, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). He existed long before John the Baptist, Jeremiah or even Abraham (John 8:58). Still, He added to his deity sinless humanity so that He would be “a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17).
The Second “Servant Song” (Isa. 49:1-13)
God’s Servant, the Messiah, is the speaker in verses 1-5. He calls not only Israel to hear His voice, but the coastlands (islands) and distant peoples because His message is for all mankind. His words are like a sharpened sword – truth that defends the righteous and destroys the rebellious. Often in Scripture God’s words are likened to a sword (Isa. 1:20; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16, 19:15). They pierce to the very heart, discerning our thoughts and intents, bringing conviction and judgment. For those who repent, God’s word is a comfort and a mighty protector, but to those who rebel, His word is the ultimate destroyer.
Why is the Servant called “Israel” is verse 3? “This cannot refer to the nation because the Servant is to draw that nation back to God. The Messiah is called Israel because He fulfills what Israel should have done. In His person and work He epitomizes the nation” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1103).
In verse 6 Yahweh tells the Servant that He will do more than restore the nation of Israel; He will be “a light for the nations” and “My salvation to the ends of the earth.” The Servant will be “despised” and “abhorred” by people, but ultimately “[k]ings will see and stand up, and princes will bow down” to Him (verse 7). This prophecy is expanded in Isa. 53 where, in verse 6, Isaiah writes, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.” The Messiah will be rejected by His own people in His first coming (John 1:10-11), but one day all people will acknowledge Him (Phil. 2:10-11). This does not imply that all people will be saved, for the Scripture is clear that those who go to their graves rejecting Christ have chosen to spend eternity apart from Him (Rev. 20:11-15).
Warren Wiersbe adds this observation: “Our Lord could not minister to the Gentiles until first He ministered to the Jews (vv. 5–6). Read carefully Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24; Luke 24:44–49; Acts 3:25–26; 13:46–47; and Romans 1:16. When our Lord returned to heaven, He left behind a believing remnant of Jews that carried on His work. We must never forget that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22). The Bible is a Jewish book, the first believers and missionaries were Jews, and the Gentiles would not have heard the Gospel had it not been brought to them by Jews. Messiah was despised by both Jews and Gentiles (Isa. 49:7), but He did God’s work and was glorified” (Be Comforted, S. Is 49:1).
In verse 8 the terms “time of favor” and “day of salvation” may be a reference to the Millennium, when Messiah sits on the throne of David and fulfills all remaining covenant promises to Israel. Prisoners are told to “come out” and those in darkness are commanded to “[s]how yourselves” (v. 9). The release of Judah from Babylonian captivity will foreshadow that day when God’s kingdom comes in fullness and God’s people are freed from physical suffering and their struggle with sin. The apostle John’s allusion to verse 10 in Rev. 7:17 – “He will guide them to springs of living waters” – may indicate that many Gentiles will join their Jewish brothers and sisters in making Israel their homeland. In fact, the rest of this section tells us that “many will come from far away, from the north and from the west, and from the land of Sinim,” which, according to some scholars, could be a reference to Persia or China (v. 12).
It’s important to remember that the extension of God’s grace to the Gentiles requires the fulfillment of His promises to the Jews. If the Jews are not returned to their homeland, how will Messiah be born in Bethlehem? How will the temple, with its sacrifices that foreshadow the Christ, be built? How will Nazareth be the place He grows up, or Jerusalem be the scene of His teaching, trials, crucifixion and resurrection? All that Yahweh does for the Jews He does with an eye toward all humanity.
Comfort for Jerusalem (Isa. 49:14-23)
This section begins with Zion lamenting, “The Lord has abandoned me” (v. 14). It continues with some of Yahweh’s most tender assurances that He will rescue and exalt His people (vv. 14-23a). And it concludes with God stating His purpose: “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who put their hope in Me will not be put to shame” (v. 23b). The Lord compares His love for Israel to a mother’s love for her children. Isaiah depicts Israel as a nursing child, completely dependent on the Lord who will never forsake or forget them. “Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands,” the Lord says in verse 16. Warren Wiersbe comments: “The high priest bore the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders and over his heart (Ex. 28:6–9), engraved on jewels; but God has engraved His children’s names on His hands. The word ‘engraved’ means ‘to cut into,’ signifying its permanence. God can never forget Zion or Zion’s children” (Be Comforted, S. Is 49:1).
Although dark days loom on the horizon for Jerusalem, the Lord assures the people that the best days are yet to come. “As I live,” the Lord declares, “you will wear all your children as jewelry, and put them on as a bride does” (v. 18). Zion may seem like a forgotten mother, but one day her children – the returning inhabitants of Israel – will adorn her like bridal ornaments. In fact, the land will not be large enough to hold them. We know that the exiles who return from Babylon after King Cyrus’ decree are relatively small in number, so the return mentioned in verses 19-21 probably is a reference to Israel’s return at the beginning of the millennium.
In the future, when Israel returns to the land, the Gentiles will worship God, honor the Jews and even help transport them to their homeland. What a startling turn of events from the anti-Semitism that has marred so much of human history. The Lord says the Gentiles “will bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters will be carried on their shoulders” (v. 22). Even more amazing, the world’s leaders will pay homage to God’s people: “Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down to you with their faces to the ground, and lick the dust at your feet” (v. 23). What is the purpose of all this? So the Jews “will know that I am the Lord” (v. 23).
Comfort for the Captives (Isa. 49:24-26)
Isaiah closes the chapter with two poignant questions for the citizens of Judah: Can the prey be taken from the mighty? Can the captives of the tyrant be delivered? After all that Isaiah has said and all that the Lord has declared and done, some of the Jews still lament that their situation is hopeless and their future is bleak. But the Lord clearly is in command, even of the world’s most powerful rulers. Notice how the Lord responds:
- “Even the captives of a mighty man will be taken, and the prey of a tyrant will be delivered” (v. 25). No power on earth will thwart God’s plan for Israel. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that no power in the heavens will stop Him, either. He comes into the world to invade Satan’s kingdom and to bind the strong man (Satan), thus plundering his goods by leading lost sinners into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 12:25-29).
- “I will contend with the one who contends with you, and I will save your children” (v. 25). The Assyrians will be defeated on the hills surrounding Jerusalem – 185,000 in a single night. What’s more, the emerging Babylonians will only succeed for a while in conquering God’s people and then will be brought low. In the last days, the antichrist and his followers who oppose Israel will be cut down by the returning King of kings and Lord of Lords. The best allies of God are allies of God’s people, and the worst enemies of God are the enemies of the Jews.
- “I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they will be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine” (v. 26). The reference to eating their own flesh could be symbolic of internal strife among the enemies of God’s people (see Isa. 9:20). Drinking their own blood is just retribution for shedding the blood of God’s servants. Sweet wine is fresh and new; a great deal is required to intoxicate someone. Therefore it is an appropriate image of the large quantities of blood that would be required of God’s enemies (see Rev. 14:10, 20; 16:6).
- Finally, Yahweh reminds the people they should be confident in their future deliverance: “Then all flesh will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (v. 26).
Matthew Henry comments: “See what will be the effect of Babylon’s ruin: All flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour. God will make it to appear, to the conviction of all the world, that, though Israel seem lost and cast off, they have a Redeemer, and, though they are made a prey to the mighty, Jacob has a mighty One, who is able to deal with all his enemies. God intends, by the deliverances of his church, both to notify and to magnify his own name” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 49:24).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 48 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile.
Isa. 48:9 – I will delay My anger for the honor of My name, and I will restrain Myself for your benefit and for My praise, so that you will not be destroyed.
Isaiah 48 summarizes the message of chapters 40-47, assuring the Jews of their promised deliverance from Babylon through Cyrus. God has always known that His people would forsake Him. Yet for the honor of His name and the benefit of His praise, He remains true to His promises and saves them. He also tells them well in advance what He’s going to do so they will not attribute the events to the work of idols or natural causes. Yahweh prophetically signals the day of His people’s liberation from Babylon, depicting their salvation as an escape from a barren desert to a land of abundant water.
Verse 16 features a glimpse of the Trinity: “‘Approach Me and listen to this. From the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time anything existed, I was there.’ And now the Lord God has sent me and His Spirit.” Certainly the “Lord God” is a reference to the Father, while “His Spirit” speaks of the Holy Spirit. But the prophet, referring to himself as “me” speaks “not in his own person so much as that of Messiah, to whom alone in the fullest sense the words apply” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 48:16). This fact becomes clearer when we read Isa. 61:1-2a: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor …” Jesus reads these very words in the synagogue in Nazareth and then proclaims, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21).
Remembering God’s Prophecies (Isa. 48:1-11)
This prophecy speaks to the Jews in exile in Babylon more than a century in advance. Comfortable in captivity, the people see no need to return to their homeland. They forget that the reason for their exile was their wanton sinfulness. They took oaths and invoked the Lord’s name but lacked the holiness Yahweh demands of those called by His name. The Lord told them the captivity would take place, but they refused to repent. And now – more than 100 years later – they are too complacent to go back home. The Lord calls them stubborn, with necks of iron and foreheads of bronze. He reminds them that He told them what would happen far in advance so they would not attribute this knowledge to their lifeless idols. “You have heard it,” says the Lord. “Observe it all. Will you not acknowledge it?” (v. 6).
From now on, the Lord says, He will “announce new things … hidden things” that the Jews have not known. That is, He tells them the Persians will defeat the Babylonians, resulting in the opportunity for His people to go home. The Lord has done this, and no one else. “God by his prophets told them beforehand of their deliverance, lest they should attribute the accomplishment of it to their idols. Thus he saw it necessary to secure the glory of it to himself, which otherwise would have been given by some of them to their graven images: ‘I spoke of it,’ says God, ‘lest thou shouldst say, My idol has done it or has commanded it to be done,’” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 48:1).
Warren Wiersbe ties the mood of complacent Judah with that of the modern-day church: “One would think that the Jews would have been eager to leave their ‘prison’ and return to their land to see God do new and great things for them. They had grown accustomed to the security of bondage and had forgotten the challenges of freedom. The church today can easily grow complacent with its comfort and affluence. God may have to put us into the furnace to remind us that we are here to be servants and not consumers or spectators” (Be Comforted, (An Old Testament Study), S. Is 45:1).
Still, the Lord is faithful. Though the Jews deserve destruction for their wickedness, the Lord promises to delay His anger “for the honor of My name” and restrain Himself “for your benefit and [for] My praise” (v. 9). He refines His people in the furnace of affliction, “but not as silver” (v. 10). This phrase could be taken one of two ways. First, the people – wicked, complacent, hard-hearted, are more like dross than like silver. Second, the affliction the Lord brings on His people is not severe enough to burn all their sinfulness away. Both views are possible; the former is probably the best. In verse 11, Yahweh then asks, “… how can I be defiled? I will not give My glory to another.” In other words, why should the Lord permit His name to be polluted by utterly destroying His special people to whom He has made everlasting promises?
Noting God’s Sovereignty (Isa. 48:12-19)
Isaiah often writes of two proofs of God’s uniqueness: His creative power and His ability to foretell the future. “My own hand founded the earth,” the Lord says in verse 13, “and My right hand spread out the heavens.” Next, He makes it clear that no god could predict the future emergence of Cyrus, or make the Persian king his ally in defeating the seemingly unbeatable Babylonians. “Who among the idols has declared these things?” He asks. “The Lord loves him (Cyrus); he will accomplish His will against Babylon … I have spoken; yes, I have called him; I have brought him, and he will succeed in his mission” (vv. 14-15).
The Lord speaks in the first half of verse 16, stressing that He has not been working in secret since the time of creation. But a different speaker steps forward in the middle of the verse, beginning with the words, “And now.” Commentators suggest it is Cyrus, Isaiah, or perhaps even Israel, but the most likely spokesman is the Messiah. “And now the Lord God has sent me and His Spirit,” He says. “Probably the Messiah, God’s Servant, is intended because of His association (as in 42:1; also note 11:1-2) with the Spirit. Just as Cyrus would not fail in his mission (48:15), so the Messiah-Servant, sent by God with the Holy Spirit on Him, will not fail in His mission” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1102).
Isaiah again quotes Yahweh – “the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” – beginning in verse 17 to stress the fact that God’s discipline has a purpose: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for [your] benefit, who leads you in the way you should go.” Through the Babylonian siege and subsequent captivity, and through 70 years of exile, the Lord is teaching His people to trust Him. The writer of Hebrews later echoes this truth, assuring his readers that God’s punishment is an outgrowth of His love: “God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness” (Heb. 12:7-10).
There are consequences to disobedience, and blessings to be missed, which the Lord makes clear: “If only you had paid attention to My commands,” He says. “Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendents would have been as [countless] as the sand, and the offspring of your body like its grains; their name would not be cut off or eliminated from My presence” (vv. 18-19).
Fleeing Babylon (Isa. 48:20-22)
The edict of Cyrus to free the Jews and return them to their homeland is recorded in 2 Chron. 36:22-23: “The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and also [to put it] in writing: This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build Him a temple at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever among you of His people may go up, and may the Lord his God be with him.”
From the perspective of Isaiah’s time, more than a century prior to this declaration, the people are to know that when the day of freedom comes, their descendents are to leave Babylon with haste. As they go, they will rejoice at their redemption, much as the people in Moses’ day rejoiced at their release from Egyptian bondage. In both cases, it is the Lord who buys back His people. Just as He provided food, shelter and water for the multitude fleeing Egypt, He will supply the Jews leaving Babylon with everything they need. Isaiah reminds his countrymen that Yahweh can split the rocks in the desert and cause abundant water to gush forth (see Ex. 17:1-17; Ps. 78:15-16).
The chapter ends with a contrasting statement for those who oppose the Lord. “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked” (v. 22). This declaration, applying to Jew and Gentile alike, is repeated in Isa. 57:21).
What blessings do we miss by getting out in front of the Lord rather than waiting on Him? What peace do we forfeit when we reject His light and grope in the darkness of our own frail wisdom? Matthew Henry comments: “Now God tells them [the Jews] what he would have done for them if they had persevered in their obedience, First, That they might be the more humbled for their sins, by which they had forfeited such rich mercies. Note, This should engage us (I might say, enrage us) against sin, that it has not only deprived us of the good things we have enjoyed, but prevented the good things God had in store for us. It will make the misery of the disobedient the more intolerable to think how happy they might have been. Secondly, That his mercy might appear the more illustrious in working deliverance for them, though they had forfeited it and rendered themselves unworthy of it. Nothing but a prerogative of mercy would have saved them” (S. Is 48:16).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 42 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact of the coming of Messiah.
Isa. 42:6-8 – “I, the Lord, have called you for a righteous [purpose], and I will hold you by your hand. I will keep you, and I make you a covenant for the people [and] a light to the nations, in order to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, [and] those sitting in darkness from the prison house. I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, or My praise to idols.”
Isaiah introduces the first of his “Servant Songs” referring to the Messiah (vv. 1-17). Israel is called the Lord’s servant a number of times (for example Isa. 41:8; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20) and so is the Messiah (49:3, 5-7; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11). The context and the characteristics of the servant in these passages determine which one Isaiah intends. “Israel as God’s servant was supposed to help bring the world to a knowledge of God, but she failed. So the Messiah, the Lord’s Servant, who epitomizes the nation of Israel, will fulfill God’s will” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1095). Israel, blind and deaf to God’s law, is unable to fulfill the servant’s role (vv. 18-25), and thus it will be left to the promised Messiah.
The “Servant Songs” of Isaiah (42:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13ff; and 53:1-12) refer to different aspects of the Messiah’s ministry. The first depicts Him as the key that unlocks the captives’ chains. The second tells us His mission calls for suffering. The third points to His ultimate exaltation. And the fourth graphically portrays the Servant’s crucifixion.
“These servant songs not only display Christ in His essential beauty, but also serve to model the nature of all servanthood. Anyone who serves God must (a) have a desire to do so, (b) remain humble before others and dependent on the Lord, (c) be committed to winning others’ release from sin’s grip, (d) accept personal suffering, and (e) rely completely on God for guidance and strength (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., 1996, S. 432).
The Servant’s Mission (Isa. 42:1-9)
The opening verses of this chapter clearly identify “My Servant” as a person and not the nation of Israel. The Lord calls Him “My Chosen One” and declares, “I have put My Spirit on Him” (v. 1). Matt. 12:18-21 quotes Isa. 42:1-4 and relates this passage to Jesus and His ministry to Israel. As the Lord’s Servant, He does what Israel could never do: perfectly carry out the will of Yahweh so that people everywhere believe in the Holy One of Israel. “Servant” is the position assumed by Jesus during His earthly ministry. He is chosen from the foundation of the world for the redemption of mankind (1 Peter 1:20; Rev. 13:8). Salvation is in the mind of God from eternity past and stretches into eternity future; it should never be seen as Alpha and Omega’s “Plan B” or an afterthought by a Creator who finds Himself backed into a corner by one of His creatures.
Because the Lord created the heavens and the earth and gives breath to all people, He is sovereign over the universe and is able to assist His Servant. Yahweh assures Him of several promises: His calling for a righteous purpose; His help from the Lord; His fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel; His role as light to the Gentiles; and His deliverance of people from spiritual darkness and bondage. Although Cyrus will release the Jewish people from captivity in Babylon, the Lord’s Servant will free mankind from captivity in Satan’s kingdom. As Jesus declares, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Later, the apostle Paul writes, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Col. 1:13). The lost are spiritually blind and in darkness, but Jesus is sent to open their eyes and give them light (see John 8:12; 9:39-41).
Yahweh, Israel’s covenant-keeping God, makes these promises and refuses to let idols take the credit for their fulfillment. His people are called to remember all that the Lord has done for them and be assured that what He has promised will most certainly come to pass. Yahweh’s statement in verse 8 is especially important in the context of His relationship with His Servant, for if God will not give His glory to another, then Jesus’ claim to deity must either be true or blasphemy. Clearly it is true. Jesus not only claims to be God and demonstrates the authority of God by casting out demons, healing illnesses, controlling the world’s natural elements, raising the dead and forgiving sins; He also longs for the day when His work of redemption is complete and He returns to His glorified position at the Father’s right hand (John. 17:5).
A Song of Praise (Isa. 42:10-17)
Outburts of singing are frequent in Isaiah, and the songs of praise recorded here, as well as in Isa. 44:23; 49:13; 52:9 and other places are similar to Psalms 93 and 95-100 in theme and language. People everywhere are urged to sing and shout the praises of the Lord, who is victorious over His enemies at Messiah’s second coming. A “new song” (v. 10) is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament (Ps. 33:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9) and twice in Revelation (5:9 and 14:3) – always in the context of worship and specifically in Revelation in worship of the exalted Messiah, who has redeemed people by His blood from every tribe, language, people and nation. This new song is “called for by a new manifestation of God’s grace, to express which no hymn for former mercies would be appropriate” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 42:10).
The mention of Kedar and Sela is noteworthy. Kedar is the second son of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13). He fathered a nomadic people in the northern Arabian Peninsula. Sela, or Petra, is in modern Jordan and defines people who carved their dwelling places out of rock. While the people of Kedar and Edom are at times Israel’s enemies, they will join their Jewish neighbors in praising the King of kings. The references to Kedar and Sela also may symbolize the world’s people who wander or remain in fixed locations. They, along with seafarers, desert dwellers and urbanites will join the chorus of nations to sing the Lord’s praise “from the ends of the earth” (v. 10).
The Lord is praised as He “advances like a warrior” and “prevails over His enemies” (v. 13). Silent for so long that people question whether He will come at all (see 2 Peter 3:3-4), He now “shouts” and “roars” (v. 13), laying waste the nations that reject Him and rescuing those who have waited patiently for His justice. It is interesting to note that the Lord groans “like a woman in labor” (v. 14). Earlier in the writings of Isaiah, the prophet says the day is coming when the Babylonians will be “in anguish like a woman in labor” (Isa. 13:8). This is just a foretaste of rebellious sinners’ plight in the coming Day of the Lord. So why, in this passage, does Messiah groan like a woman in labor? “Like a woman in parturition, who, after having restrained her breathing for a time, at last, overcome with labor pain, lets out her voice with a panting sigh; so Jehovah will give full vent to His long pent-up wrath” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Is 42:14).
Finally, those who trust in idols rather than the living God will be “turned back [and] utterly ashamed” (v. 17). Their confidence in “metal-plated images” will come to naught. They will be ashamed that they ever said to inanimate objects, “You are our gods!” As the psalmist writes, “All who serve carved images, those who boast in idols, will be put to shame” (Ps. 97:7).
Israel’s Blindness and Deafness (Isa. 42:18-25)
Isaiah closes this chapter with a message about Israel’s sin and the suffering that results from it. We need to understand that “My servant” in verse 19 is not the Messiah, as in verse 1, but the nation of Israel. The people will not listen to or see what God has done. In fact they cannot listen or see because in their persistent rebellion they have stopped up their ears and closed their eyes. More than 700 years later the hardness of Israel’s heart is personified in the people’s refusal to receive Messiah’s message of the kingdom of heaven. Quoting from Isaiah 6, Jesus tells His followers that He uses parables, in part, to confound the self-righteous religionists: “For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You will listen and listen, yet never understand; and you will look and look, yet never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown callous; their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn back— and I would cure them” (Matt. 13:13-15).
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is equally direct in his defense before the high priest: “You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your forefathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). What was the people’s response? “Then they screamed at the top of their voices, stopped their ears, and rushed together against him” (Acts 7:57). Later, the apostle Paul, quoting Isa. 29:10, notes that Israel’s rebellion is so complete that God has sealed all but the believing remnant in their hardness: “[A]s it is written: God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear, to this day” (Rom. 11:8).
Isaiah is clear that the fault lies, not with the Lord, but with His people: “The Lord was pleased, because of His righteousness, to magnify [His] instruction and make it glorious” (Isa. 42:21). But the people will not receive the Lord or His instruction. As a consequence, they are “plundered and looted,” “trapped in holes or imprisoned in dungeons” (v. 22). Who gives Jacob to the robber and Israel to the plunderer? “Was it not the Lord? … So He poured out on Jacob His furious anger and the power of war” (vv. 24-25). Even so, Israel is oblivious. “It surrounded him with fire, but he did not know [it]; it burned him, but he paid no attention” (v. 25).
Judah’s coming captivity in Babylon will turn the people’s feet but not necessarily their hearts back to the Lord. They will cease their idolatry and return to their homeland yet fail to be fully transformed, waiting for God to grant them a “heart of flesh” in the last days (Ezek. 11:19). Lest we be too harsh in our judgment of the Jews, it’s helpful to note the all-too-frequent impact of God’s chastening on Christian lives today. His rod of discipline often succeeds in curbing sinful behavior but not reforming the heart. The fault is not the Lord’s, who punishes His own as a loving Father (see Heb. 12:3-13). Rather, the fault lies with us when we choose to stubbornly endure rebuke rather than tenderly embrace our Savior.
Warren Wiersbe comments: “How sad it is when God disciplines us and we do not understand what He is doing or take it to heart (v. 25). Israel’s captivity in Babylon cured the nation of their idolatry, but it did not create within them a desire to please God and glorify Him” (Be Comforted, S. Is 41:1).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips