Tagged: God’s kingdom on earth

Isaiah 25: He Will Destroy Death Forever

Isaiah 25: Listen to an audio file (4.26.09)

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Prologue

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:

Isaiah 24-27 forms 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.

Key verse:

Isa. 25:8 – He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove His people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken.

Quick summary:

Speaking in the first person, Isaiah describes conditions when Messiah’s kingdom is established on earth. “This wonderful twenty-fifth chapter is a song, a song of three stanzas,” writes J. Vernon McGee. The first stanza (vv. 1-5) is praise to God for deliverance from all enemies. The second stanza (vv. 6-8) is praise for provision for present needs. And the third stanza (vv. 9-12) is praise in anticipation of future joys (Isaiah: Volume 1, pp. 175-178).

Take note:

New Testament writers Paul and John quote from this chapter as they anticipate the return of the Lord. Paul borrows from Isa. 25:8 when he writes about our future resurrection and glorification, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). And John, looking toward the day when believers will fellowship face-to-face with Christ, also quotes from verse 8: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4).

Deliverance from Enemies (Isa. 25:1-5)

While there could be some immediate or near-term fulfillment in this song of thanksgiving, it’s probably best to view Isaiah’s praise through the longer lens of the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. At that time all the enemies of God and His people will be humbled and there will be a dramatic reversal of fortune for the remnant that has suffered poverty, captivity and persecution. Isaiah’s confessional song expresses a personal choice to identify with the name and deeds of God. Claiming “Lord, You are my God,” Isaiah states his commitment to a personal relationship with the Creator and Judge of all. In a melodic way, the prophet declares the wonderful truth that God is personal, knowable, just and faithful.

Isaiah provides at least three reasons God’s people are to be thankful:

  • God is faithful to His plan. “Although Judah was being attacked by Assyria, the people could rest assured that what God has said about the future will happen exactly as predicted. Believers today can have the same confidence. Nothing is outside the plan or power of God; no evil or circumstances will interfere with God’s accomplishment of his will for his people” (Gary V. Smith, The New American Commentary, Isaiah 1-39, p. 430).
  • God will defeat His enemies. The identification of “the city” in verse 2 has been interpreted in a variety of ways, from a Moabite city (see v. 10) to Babylon. But perhaps it’s best to view this term as symbolic rather than specific, assuring us that even the best-defended walled cities – the seats of power and influence – will fall beneath the mighty hand of God.
  • God is a refuge to the weak. Isaiah uses two analogies to illustrate this truth. First, the Lord will be like a shelter that protects people from the scorching sun and the driving rain. That is, He will make sure the oppressive forces of evil will not overtake them. Second, He will be like the shade of a cloud that subdues the heat. Although wicked and barbarous people will always oppose God and His people, the Lord will restrain their evil as a cloud gives relief from the heat of the sun.

If chapters 24-25 are spoken just before Sannacherib’s attack on Jerusalem, Isaiah’s song of thanksgiving is an inspiration to those about to face a withering siege on their capital city. “Although this prophecy did not promise them deliverance from Assyrian oppression or victory in their present battle, it reminded them that everything happens according to God’s plan, that their God can do miraculous wonders to save his people, that God is a refuge in times of trouble, and that ultimately God will win the victory over all ruthless peoples” (Smith, p. 431).

Provision for Present Needs (Isa. 25:6-8)

When Messiah reigns, there will be a joyous celebration of His rule by people from around the world. As other passages in Isaiah confirm, Jews and Gentiles from every tribe and nation will gather to enjoy the abundance of the King’s provision (cf. Isa. 2:2-3; 14:1-2; 19:18-25; 45:20-25; 49:22; 60:1-22; 66:18-21). This feast is similar to what David envisions when God finally rules the earth (Ps. 22:25-31). The image of prosperity and fruitfulness stand in stark contrast to earthly conditions in Isaiah 24.

Besides all this, verses 7-8 tell us God is going to do even more. He will destroy death, wipe away tears from every face, and remove His people’s disgrace:

  • The burial “shroud” could be understood in two ways: first, as the covering for a dead body; and second, as a shroud that mourners place over their heads (see 2 Sam. 15:30). In either case, Isaiah sees a day when death is destroyed and there is no longer any need to fear death or to mourn the loss of loved ones. More than 700 years later, the apostle Paul looks forward to the same thing: “The last enemy to be abolished is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). Once the enemies of God in heaven and on earth are judged, the Lord will purge His creation of sin and its effects (2 Peter 3:10-13).
  • In addition, God promises the complete removal of tears – not just tears of mourning, but of sadness, pain, loneliness, oppression, injustice and all other kinds of loss. Since God is the Provider and Comforter, everyone will be happy and safe.
  • Finally, the Lord will “remove His people’s disgrace from the whole earth.” This is more than a promise to Israel, for at this point in human history all people are God’s people. The reproach His followers have suffered for their faith will be taken away and their sacrifices for the sake of the kingdom well compensated. The enemies of God and His people have been brought to justice in God’s court, found guilty and punished (see Rev. 20:11-15).

Anticipation of Future Joys (Isa. 25:9-12)

On that day, when the believing remnant is delivered and Messiah rules as King over the entire earth, the saved ones will rejoice in the Lord and reaffirm their trust in Him. For those in Isaiah’s day, they would see the miraculous hand of God in delivering Jerusalem from the Assyrians as He strikes dead 185,000 enemy soldiers. If God can deliver a city from certain destruction, He can – and will – deliver His people all around the world from the rampant wickedness of the last days.

Isaiah refers to Moab as representative of those who oppose God and will be destroyed. Moab lies east of Israel across the Dead Sea and is a constant enemy of God’s people. “Israel and Judah had many altercations with Moab, that was known for her pride (v.11; cf. 16:6). She felt that the works of her hands and her cleverness would protect her, but it would not. Moab – and all God’s enemies – will be totally destroyed, trampled, and brought down … low (cf. 26:5) to the very dust. Only God’s people, in Israel and other nations, will enjoy God’s time of prosperity and blessing” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1074).

Warren Wiersbe adds: “The imagery here is quite graphic: The Moabites are compared to straw trampled so deeply into manure that the people have to swim through the manure to get out! While the Jews are enjoying a feast of good things, the Moabites are trying to escape from the excrement of the animals the Jews are devouring! Moab was always known for its pride (16:6ff); but God will bring them low along with all the other nations that exalt themselves, exploit others, and refuse to submit to the Lord” (Be Comforted, S. Is 25:1).

Closing Thought

Matthew Henry writes, “There is no fortress impregnable to Omnipotence, no fort so high but the arm of the Lord can overtop it and bring it down. This destruction of Moab is typical of Christ’s victory over death (spoken of v. 8), his spoiling principalities and powers in his cross (Col. 2:15), his pulling down Satan’s strong-holds by the preaching of his gospel (2 Co. 10:4), and his reigning till all his enemies be made his footstool, Ps. 110:1″ (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 25:9).

Isaiah 4: Zion’s Future Glory

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Prologue

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:

Chapters 2-12 likely were written during the reign of King Uzziah.

Key verse:

Isa. 4:2: On that day the branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of Israel’s survivors.

Quick summary:

Israel’s present pride and God’s pending judgment will not defeat the Lord’s ultimate plan to establish His future kingdom on earth.

Take note:

The name Zion is used three times in consecutive verses:

  • “Whoever remains in Zion … will be called holy” (v. 3).
  • “When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion” (v. 4)
  • “Then the Lord will create a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night over the entire site of Mount Zion” (v. 5).

The word Zion is a Hebrew word whose precise meaning may not be known. It may mean citadel or fortress, but generally it refers to aspects of Jerusalem. The terms Zion, Jerusalem, and City of David often are used synonymously in the Old Testament. The Temple Mount is referred to as Zion as well. Zion is called “His holy mountain” (Ps. 48:1). Zion is used as a metaphor for security and protection (Ps. 125). The New Testament continues this imagery, using the term “heavenly Jerusalem” or Zion in reference to the church (Heb. 12:22), the gospel message (1 Peter 2:6), and the place of God’s dwelling (Rev. 14:1).

The branch of the Lord (Isa. 4:2)

Isaiah closes out this lengthy message (Isa. 2:1 – 4:6) by returning to the same positive themes with which he opened it (Isa. 2:1-5). Both the beginning and the end of Isaiah’s prophecy describe what will happen in the last days when God gathers His special people to Zion. Unlike the beginning, however, which focuses on the coming of the Gentile nations to learn from God, these closing words describe God’s work of purifying His holy remnant in Jerusalem.

Commentators differ in opinion as to whether the term “branch” is a reference to the “fruit of the land” or to the Messiah. The Aramaic Targum, which translates or paraphrases Old Testament passages into Aramaic, translates this verse as “Messiah of the Lord,” indicating that early Jewish interpreters thought this was a messianic passage. In addition, Isaiah later uses a different Hebrew word but says of the Messiah, “a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples” (Isa. 11:1, 10). Jeremiah refers to the “righteous branch of David” (Jer. 23:5; see also 33:15), and Zechariah uses the term “Branch” with connections to the Messiah (Zech. 3:8; 6:12).

Gary V. Smith suggests that Isaiah’s reference to “branch” in 4:2 refers to two parallel acts of God that will transform Zion: “God will (a) cause his messianic Branch to spring forth, and also (b) bring marvelous fertility to the produce of the field. This interpretation shows how God will reverse the situation in 2:6 – 4:1. He will (a) replace the proud leaders of his people and give them a new leader, the Branch of the Lord, and (b) replace the ruin, devastation, and shame of the destroyed land with lush crops that will have great fertility” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 156).

Isaiah’s frequent use of the term “on that day” (or “in that day”) in chapters 2-4 illustrates that God’s work of punishing His people for their sins and establishing His kingdom for His glory are complementary acts of carrying out His covenant promise to Israel. Purification involves intense heat and pressure to burn off the dross and perfect the precious metal. In the end the purged metal radiates with beauty and testifies to the skillful hand of the refiner. Verses 2-6 stand in stark contrast to Isa. 2:6 – 4:1.

A cloud by day and a flaming fire by night (Isa. 4:3-6)

God will cleanse those left in Zion of their sin and transform them into a holy people. The word holy (qados) is a reminder of God’s original plan to make Israel His “own possession,” “kingdom of priests” and “holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). The emphasis here is on what God will do, not on anything His people will do to merit God’s favor. Holiness means being set apart for God alone. The holiness God will give this remnant makes them fit for His kingdom and it stands in stark contrast to the sinfulness of the present generation in Zion (2:6 – 4:1).

In verse 4, Isaiah uses a different metaphor than in 1:25 to describe the purifying work of God. Instead of purification through smelting, God will “wash away” filth and “cleanse” bloodguilt; this is more of a reference to sacrificial work than to refining. The prophet also refers to “a spirit of judgment and a spirit of burning” as the means by which cleansing is accomplished. This seems to describe God’s purification of Zion by destroying the remaining wicked people of the city. But it also could describe the work of the Holy Spirit in cleansing the human heart. Matthew Henry comments: “By the judgment of God’s providence, sinners were destroyed and consumed; but by the Spirit of grace they are reformed and converted. The Spirit herein acts as a Spirit of judgment, enlightening the mind, convincing the conscience; also as a Spirit of burning, quickening and strengthening the affections, and making men zealously affected in a good work” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 4:4).

After Zion is purified, God will “create” something new. The word “create” (bara) is a divine activity of making something new, either by transforming something that already exists or by bringing into existence something new. What is God going to create? A “cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night.” This appears to be a reference to God’s special act of re-creating the new heaven and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). God’s glorious presence will be the central feature of this new kingdom. The cloud by day and fire by night are drawn from the Exodus tradition, in which God’s presence in the cloud and fire led the Israelites out of Egypt and ultimately resided in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19, 24; 40:34; Deut. 1:33; 31:15; 1 Kings 8:10-11). This divine presence demonstrates God’s acceptance of His holy people. “The surprising difference is that God’s presence will not be limited to a temple building; it will be like a canopy over the whole of Zion (cf. 60:1-2; 62:2; Ezek. 39:25-29), because all of Zion and its people will be holy” (Gary V. Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 158).

Closing thought

It is clear from Isaiah’s writings that God is at the center of all promises regarding the future of Israel and the world. Gary V. Smith comments: “God will wash away sin and make it possible for people to be holy. God is the one who writes people’s names in his book (4:3-4). God will create a new world order over Mt. Zion, and his glorious presence there will bring protection for his people. He will make the messianic Branch beautiful and he will increase the productivity of the earth. God is the one people can trust and he is the one to exalt. The future of this world is completely dependent on God” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 159).

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips