Rev. 5:8 – When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth (HCSB).
And they sang a new song
Matthew Henry argues that the remainder of chapter 5 consists of a song in three parts: 1) the song of the church; 2) the song of the church and the angels; and 3) the song of all creatures. The church sings about its redemption by the slaughtered Lamb.
His blood has purchased people from every tribe and language, people and nation. Imagine the scene in heaven when the Arapaho joins the Armenian in praise, the Chilean lifts her voice in harmony with the Chinese; and the Hebrew worships Yahweh with the Hmong. There are no forgotten people in God’s economy, no lost civilization on earth. The same God who created all people sent His Son to redeem them, and no matter how diverse the human population becomes, it is well represented in the throne room of heaven.
Warren Wiersbe writes: “John affirms that the Lamb died for the whole world! (John 1:29) The more you meditate on the power and scope of Christ’s work on the cross, the more humbled and worshipful you become. This song was also a missionary song. Sinners were redeemed ‘out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation’ (Rev. 5:9). Kindred refers to a common ancestor and tongue to a common language. People means a common race, and nation a common rule or government. God loves a whole world (John 3:16) and His desire is that the message of redemption be taken to a whole world (Matt. 28:18–20)” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 5:1).
A textual challenge
It should be noted that there is a textual problem in these verses. The King James Version says, “Thou … has redeemed us to God … and hast made us unto our God kings and priests” (v. 9), while modern translations such as the New International Version say, “You purchased men for God … You have made them to be a kingdom and priests …”
If the song is impersonal, as the NIV suggests, then it’s possible that the 24 elders are not men but angels. If, however, the correct translation is personal in nature, then the elders most certainly are human, and either the four living creatures represent mankind or only the elders are singing. In any case, angels are not redeemed and could not legitimately sing personally about being purchased by Christ’s blood.
“While scholars differ on this point, it would seem that since the elders are on thrones and are crowned as victors, they represent the church rather than angels. Angels have not been judged and rewarded at this point in the program of God. But angels soon join the creatures and the elders in praising the Lamb (5:11-12). The two different interpretations here should not mar the beauty of the picture and the wonder of this song of praise” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Re 5:9-10).
A slaughtered Lamb
Two words come into play repeatedly in chapter 5: worthy and slaughtered. In verse 6 John sees Jesus as “a slaughtered lamb.” In verse 9 He is “slaughtered.” And in verse 11 He is “slaughtered.” These words take us back to Isaiah’s prophecy more than 700 years earlier: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
While the slaughter of Jesus remains the most heinous crime ever committed, it is not a senseless loss of life but a purposeful payment for the sins of fallen people. Because Jesus is slaughtered – get this, because He is slaughtered – He is worthy: Worthy to take the scroll (the title deed to earth); worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. A Messiah who is only a conquering king is not worthy to take the scroll, but a slaughtered Lamb is worthy to become a conquering king and receive all things from His Father.
Take note of what Matthew Henry writes about the redeemed being made kings and priests unto God: “Every ransomed slave is not immediately preferred to honour; he thinks it a great favour to be restored to liberty. But when the elect of God were made slaves by sin and Satan, in every nation of the world, Christ not only purchased their liberty for them, but the highest honour and preferment, made them kings and priests – kings, to rule over their own spirits, and to overcome the world, and the evil one; and he has made them priests, given them access to himself, and liberty to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and they shall reign on the earth; they shall with him judge the world at the great day” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 5:6–14).
The new song of Revelation 5 is simply and profoundly a new chapter in the old, old story. The slaughtered Lamb is proclaimed worthy to take the scroll from the right hand of the same Father who sent Him to die. The sending itself was neither cruel nor reactive; it was foreordained and carried out in love, securing eternal life, priesthood and kingship for people from every tribe, language, people and nation. Indeed, worthy is the Lamb.
Next: The voice of many angels (Rev. 5:11-12)
Rev. 5:5 – Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.”
The Lion from the tribe of Judah
The lion from the tribe of Judah echoes Jacob’s blessing on his son Judah, conferring leadership over his brothers (Gen. 49:8-10). Jacob prophetically gives the scepter to Judah and makes it the tribe of kings – and the tribe from which the King of kings will come. It is interesting to note that God never intended Saul to establish a dynasty; he came from the tribe of Benjamin. When the people rejected God as their King and clamored for a human ruler, the Lord disciplined them by giving them Saul. But He established the eternal dynasty through David, who was from the tribe of Judah.
Some commentators associate this title for Jesus with the lion-headed living creature near the throne of God – an expression of His power, majesty, courage and victory. Some also connect this title with the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus is strongly depicted as the promised Messiah. (Those who hold this view tend to see the four living creatures as representatives of the four Gospels.) In any case, Jesus of Nazareth is the greatest king to come out of the tribe of Judah – greater even than David, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, calls Him Lord (Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44). There can be little doubt that this exalted Savior is the fulfillment of Jacob’s ancient prophecy. But that’s not all.
The Root of David
The elder also describes Jesus as “the Root of David” (v. 5). In the Old Testament, the coming Messiah is called both the “shoot” and “branch” that will spring from Jesse’s root to restore David’s dynasty. Here’s what the prophet Isaiah records: “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1). But then Isaiah calls this coming Redeemer the root of Jesse: “On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). If the Messiah is the root of Jesse, as Isaiah declares, He also is the root of Jesse’s son David, as the elder makes clear in Rev. 5:5. But how can a single person be both a “shoot” and a “root?” The ESV Study Bible explains: “Jesus is not only the royal descendant (Rev. 22:16) but also the source of David’s rule (Mark 12:35-37).”
Let’s look at these two New Testament passages. In Rev. 22:16, Jesus identifies Himself as “the Root and the Offspring of David,” confirming what Isaiah and the elder in heaven have claimed about Him. As the Son of God, Jesus is the eternal Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; any earthly rule, including King David’s, is under His divine authority. As the Son of Man, Jesus is God in human flesh, adding to His deity sinless humanity; He is, in other words, the God-Man. In Mark 12, Jesus is teaching in the temple complex and He asks, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David? David himself says by the Holy Spirit: The Lord declared to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.’ David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how then can the Messiah be his Son” (vv. 35-37)? Quoting from Ps. 118:22-23, Jesus ties together the deity and humanity of the Messiah and emphasizes the important truth that He is not one or the other, but both.
“He who is a middle person, God and man, and bears the office of Mediator between God and man, is fit and worthy to open and execute all the counsels of God towards men,” writes Matthew Henry. “And this he does in his mediatorial state and capacity, as the root of David and the offspring of Judah, and as the King and head of the Israel of God; and he will do it, to the consolation and joy of all his people” (Re 5:1-5)
Before we leave this section, we should note that the elder in Rev. 5:5 not only tells John who Jesus is, but what He has done. The Lion of Judah and the Root of David is worthy to take the scroll, loose its seals and look inside because He “has been victorious.” As the sinless Son of Man who died on the cross and rose from the dead, Jesus is the qualified Kinsman-Redeemer who will reclaim fallen humanity and a cursed creation. He has defeated Satan – the usurper, the accuser of mankind, the father of liars – and destroyed his works (1 John 3:8). No offspring of Adam can retake what Adam lost because no human is sinless. But now the Lion of Judah and the Root of David steps forward – the “last Adam” who is a “life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). He is worthy to take the scroll because He has been victorious.
Next: The slaughtered Lamb – Rev. 5:6
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 66 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. 66:14-16 – You will see, you will rejoice, and you will flourish like grass; then the Lord’s power will be revealed to His servants, but He will show His wrath against His enemies. Look, the Lord will come with fire – His chariots are like the whirlwind – to execute His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the Lord will execute judgment on all flesh with His fiery sword, and many will be slain by the Lord.
“[M]en can look forward to the future with fear and with hope. God, the Creator, extends the offer of fellowship to the humble who are responsive to His Word (66:1–6). Zion is told to rejoice, confident that all her troubles are but birth pangs, and soon she will give birth to a glorious future (vv. 7–11). God will bless His land with peace and comfort His children in the day He executes judgment on sin (vv. 12–16). This book of powerful poetry ends in prose. God pledges that all mankind as well as the Jewish people will find Him at history’s end. The new heavens and the new earth He makes will endure. But the bodies of those who rebelled against the Lord will be scattered over old earth’s deadened lands (vv. 17–24)” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 445).
Jesus quotes the concluding verse of Isaiah (66:24) in Mark 9:43-48 to contrast the final state of the redeemed with that of the lost. The prophet ends his book with these words: “As they [worshipers of God in the age to come] leave, they will see the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me; for their maggots will never die, their fire will never go out, and they will be a horror to all mankind.” Seven hundred years later, Jesus quotes this passage to warn His listeners that there are everlasting consequences for rejecting Him. He urges them not to let anything keep them from “life” or “the kingdom of God.” Yet, just as many people reject Isaiah’s call to repentance, many in Jesus’ day – and even today – reject His invitation to life and thus will find themselves in “hell – the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
God’s Throne and Footstool (Isa. 66:1-2)
The Lord is depicted figuratively as sitting on a throne, with the earth as His footstool. Jesus borrows this imagery in the Sermon on the Mount, instructing His disciples to speak truthfully – with a simple yes or no – and resist the contemporary trend to swear by heaven and earth (Matt. 5:33-37). Stephen quotes this passage in Acts 7:49-50 in his defense before the Sanhedrin to remind the Jewish leaders that the magnificent temple in Jerusalem is inferior to the God who is worshipped there – a sovereign Lord who cannot be confined to man-made dwellings. Isaiah’s point is that God, who created all things and is greater than any house of worship, seeks a personal relationship with the one who is “humble, submissive in spirit, and who trembles at My word” (v. 2). For Israel, that word is primarily the Mosaic Covenant. Pointing the people back to the Word of God, Isaiah is telling them they need to obey it if they want to receive the Lord’s blessings.
Divine Payback (Isa. 66:3-6)
The stark contrasts in verse 3 expose the people’s religious practices for what they really are: external rituals void of heartfelt worship. While bringing sacrifices and offerings to the temple, the people are murderers, idolaters and breakers of the dietary laws. They have “chosen their ways and delighted in their abominations.” Therefore, harsh judgment is coming. The people who profess to know the Lord, yet hate His people and discriminate against them, will feel the hand of divine discipline when the temple is destroyed.
Jesus has similar words for the religious leaders in His day. Matthew 23 features a series of woes pronounced on religious hypocrites. Here is a sampling:
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel! (vv. 23-24)
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (vv. 27-28)
- Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? This is why I am sending you prophets, sages, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and hound from town to town. So all the righteous blood shed on the earth will be charged to you, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. I assure you: All these things will come on this generation! (vv. 33-37)
Just as God tells the people in Isaiah’s day that He will use the Babylonians to judge them, Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that terrible days are coming upon them as well – divine retribution for rejecting God’s Son, the Messiah. This is fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Romans sack Jerusalem, destroy the temple and scatter the Jews.
Birth of a Nation (Isa. 66:7-21)
Israel’s return to the land after the Babylonian exile will be so swift that it is likened to a woman giving birth as soon as she experiences her first labor pains. The Lord will finish what He started, resulting in great joy for His people. They will exult in a rebuilt Jerusalem just as an infant delights in her mother’s breast. Peace will come to Jerusalem and the nations’ wealth will flow to her. Just as Jerusalem is compared to a mother in verses 11-12, the Lord is compared to a mother who comforts her children in verse 13: “As a mother comforts her son, so I will comfort you, and you will be comforted in Jerusalem.” While these promises offer great hope to the Israelites facing Babylonian captivity, they look ever further into the future to that glorious time when Christ will sit on the throne of David. This should be a message of comfort to Jews today, and to all Christians who look forward to Christ’s glorious return.
While millennial blessings will flow abundantly in Israel, the Lord promises retribution against those who oppose Him and His people. Verses 15-16 are graphic depictions of God’s wrath: “Look, the Lord will come with fire – His chariots are like the whirlwind – to execute His anger and fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the Lord will execute judgment on all flesh with His fiery sword, and many will be slain by the Lord.” D.A. Carson comments: “The fire and sword are the harsh aspect of every divine intervention (cf. Mt. 10:34), but this is the final one (cf. v 24; 2 Thes. 1:7–10). While it has reference to all men, the special objects of wrath are the apostates of v 17 (cf. 65:3–7; Lv. 11:7, 29), who have known the light and despised it” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 66:6).
When Christ returns, He will judge all nations (Zech. 14:3; Rev. 19:17-18) and because of that the world will see His glory. People from around the globe will turn to the Lord and worship Him. Believing Israelites will travel to distant lands to testify of God’s magnificent glory and grace. Those hearing the message represent the distant outposts of Israel’s world: Tarshish (probably southwestern Spain), Put (northern Africa), Lud (western Asia Minor), Tubal (northeastern Asia Minor), Javan (Greece), and other distant lands. They will be won to the Lord and will travel to Jerusalem to worship. Some will even be selected priests and Levites, positions historically reserved for Jews alone.
New Heavens and Earth (Isa. 66:22-24)
The closing verses of this breathtaking book contrast the joy of the redeemed and the fate of the damned, magnifying God’s grace and justice. As the Gentiles once descended on Israel in search of plunder, they will in the age to come travel expectantly to worship the Lord. As they depart Jerusalem, they will see the bloated corpses of those who have rebelled against their King. Just outside the city lies the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna in Greek), a place where children once were sacrificed to pagan gods and, in Jesus’ day, a trash dump where fires burned continuously. The valley is a picture of judgment (Isa. 30:33). Jesus used it to illustrate the horrors of hell (Mark 9:43-48). According to Derek Kidner, in the synagogue verse 23 is read again after verse 24 to soften the ending of the prophecy, but the reality of hell is a true ending for unbelievers (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 66:18).
For believers, however, the new heavens and earth are purged of sin and its consequences. While the terrible fate of those who reject Christ may remain with the saints as a reminder of God’s mercy toward them, the pristine beauty of God’s restored creation overshadows the putrid scenes of Gehenna. There is no doubt that God will shake the earth to its very foundation in the days to come, judging all people and removing the curse of sin. Note how the writer of Hebrews looks to this day: “[B]ut now He has promised, Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also heaven. Now this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what is not shaken might remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:26-29).
The apostle Peter also gives us a foretaste of what is to come, and how we should live in the light of God’s future earthly renovation: “But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that [day] the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, [it is clear] what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be on fire and be dissolved, and the elements will melt with the heat. But based on His promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Warren Wiersbe summarizes: “Throughout his book, Isaiah has presented us with alternatives: Trust the Lord and live, or rebel against the Lord and die. He has explained the grace and mercy of God and offered His forgiveness. He has also explained the holiness and wrath of God and warned of His judgment. He has promised glory for those who will believe and judgment for those who scoff. He has explained the foolishness of trusting man’s wisdom and the world’s resources. The prophet calls the professing people of God back to spiritual reality. He warns against hypocrisy and empty worship. He pleads for faith, obedience, a heart that delights in God, and a life that glorifies God” (Be Comforted, S. Is 66:1).
Commenting on Isaiah’s closing verse – a graphic vision of the saved observing the damned – Matthew Henry writes: “Those that worship God shall go forth and look upon them, to affect their own hearts with the love of their Redeemer, when they see what misery they are redeemed from. As it will aggravate the miseries of the damned to see others in the kingdom of heaven and themselves thrust out (Lu. 13:28), so it will illustrate the joys and glories of the blessed to see what becomes of those that died in their transgression, and it will elevate their praises to think that they were themselves as brands plucked out of that burning. To the honour of that free grace which thus distinguished them let the redeemed of the Lord with all humility, and not without a holy trembling, sing their triumphant songs” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 66:15).
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 65 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. 65:17 – For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind.
Many non-Israelites are seeking God, while His own people rebel against Him. The Lord will punish His people but preserve a remnant, which will experience great happiness. Looking further into the future, Isaiah records the promise of God to create news heavens and a new earth. The present age, with its sin, sickness and death, will be forgotten forever.
Verse 17 of this chapter, along with Isa.66:22 and Rev. 21:1 – 22:5, speak of new heavens and a new earth. Some aspects of chapters 65-66 seem to have in view a time when sin and all its effects are reversed. However, Isa. 65:20 suggests that death is not completely destroyed, leading some scholars to conclude that this chapter refers instead to the Millennium, a 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth that precedes the final judgment of Satan, demons and wicked people and, of course, the creation of new heavens and a new earth.
Provoking God (Isa. 65:1-16)
The Holy One of Israel has reached out continuously to His people, even to those who have not sought Him. He has cried out, “Here I am, here I am” (v.1) and spread out His hands (v. 2). The apostle Paul quotes verses 1-2 in Rom. 10:20-21 to show that the people of Israel heard God’s message yet continued in their rebellion, walking the wrong path and following their own thoughts. Rather than responding in repentance toward Yahweh who loves them, they provoke the Lord to His face in a number of ways:
- Sacrificing in gardens – that is, worshipping in pagan places (Isa. 1:29; 66:17)
- Burning incense on bricks – worshipping at pagan altars and disregarding God’s command to make altars of unhewn stone so as to separate themselves from idolaters (Ex. 20:25)
- Spending nights in secret places – consulting the dead while sitting among the graves (Isa. 8:19)
- Eating swine’s flesh, and putting polluted broth in their bowls – disregarding the Jewish dietary laws (Lev. 11:7; Isa. 66:3)
- Saying to one another, “Keep to yourself, don’t come near me, for I am too holy for you!” – hypocritically justifying themselves as more religious than their fellow countrymen (see Matt. 9:11; Luke 5:30, 18:11; Jude 19)
All of these practices are as irritating to the Lord as the smoke of day-long fires in a person’s nostrils. In response, the Lord will not keep silent; He will repay. “The Assyrian threat (Isa. 1-37) and the Babylonian Exile (chaps. 38-66) were two of the ways the Lord disciplined His people. The consequences of sin had to be faced; God would pay them back in judgment for their idolatrous worship in high places (cf. 57:7)” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1119).
Although judgment is pronounced on the entire nation, the Lord will spare a righteous remnant. Just as a few grapes are left when the vineyards are gleaned (Deut. 24:21), so a small number of those faithful to the Lord will return to the land and possess it. Sharon (v. 10), the coastal plain south of Mt. Carmel, is excellent for agriculture, and the Valley of Achor, west of Jericho, is known for its sheep herding.
The Lord has never left Himself without witness among the world’s people. In the days before the flood, Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). Elijah is the only remaining prophet of the Lord in Israel in his day (1 Kings 18:22). And even in the dark days before Messiah’s return, God will seal faithful witnesses (Rev. 7:4). In contrast to the claims of Muslims that Judaism and Christianity are corrupt forms of monotheism, and contrary to the claim of Mormon founder Joseph Smith that the whole of Christendom fell into apostasy after the death of the apostles, God is faithful to preserve His message by providing truthful messengers, although they may be few in number.
In verses 11-12, the Lord warns those who abandon Him that they will come to a tragic end. Fortune and Destiny (v. 11) are the names of pagan gods worshiped by the Israelites in their efforts to discern the future. So the Lord tells them plainly what will happen: They will die by the sword because they refuse to listen while they persist in evil.
Verses 13-16 contrast the Lord’s servants with those who have departed from Him. The faithful will eat, drink, rejoice, and shout for joy from a glad heart, while the wicked will be hungry, thirsty, and put to shame. Further, those who abandon the Lord will cry out from an anguished heart, lament out of a broken spirit, and ultimately be killed. The faithful are promised a new name – that is, they “shall no longer be ‘forsaken’ of God for unbelief, but shall be His ‘delight’ and ‘married’ to Him (Is 62:2, 4)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 65:15). Finally, God promises to graciously forget their sins.
A New Creation (Isa. 65:17-25)
The final verses of this chapter present great promises – and pose great interpretive challenges. God’s people are promised new heavens and a new earth, a pledge repeated in 2 Peter 3:13 and Rev. 21:1. In addition, they are promised a New Jerusalem, where the redeemed will live securely, enjoy the fruit of their labors, and live a long time. In contrast to military defeat and exile, the Israelites will be “a people blessed by the Lord along with their descendents” (v. 23), and their prayers will be answered even before they are expressed. While they enjoy abundant food, good health, safety and happiness, Satan’s food will be dust (v. 25).
These are wonderful promises. Yet they do not describe a world completely purged of sin and its consequences. Verse 20, for example, tells us that an old man will “live out his days,” implying that eventually he will die. A 100-year-old person is to be considered a youth, and the one who doesn’t live that long is “cursed.” Meanwhile, the serpent is still around, and while evil and destruction are banned from God’s “holy mountain,” one might conclude they are present elsewhere on earth (v. 25).
What are we to make of this confusing picture? Are we not urged to look forward to a day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes; when death will exist no longer; when all grief, crying and pain are banished as the “former things” (Rev. 21:4)? Then why does Isaiah describe a future day when the redeemed enjoy vastly improved but still imperfect lives?
Commentators generally respond in one of two ways. Some take the passage literally, understanding Isaiah to be describing conditions in the millennium, a 1,000-year reign of Messiah on earth that precedes final judgment and the creation of new heavens and a new earth. This view is consistent with a literal rendering of Rev. 20, which describes Satan as bound for 1,000 years while the followers of Jesus reign with Him on earth. At the end of the millennium, Satan is loosed for a short time to deceive the nations, then is defeated and cast into hell. Joining him in the lake of fire are unbelievers, following their resurrection and judgment before the great white throne. With Satan, demons and unbelievers consigned for eternity to hell, God purges the created order of sin and its consequences, resulting in new heavens and a new earth.
Other commentators, however, read Isa. 65 figuratively, understanding references to the sinner (v. 20) and the serpent (v. 25) as promises of judgment and victory. Those who hold this view also tend to see Rev. 20 in symbolic terms, describing Christ’s ultimate victory over Satan, sin and death. “The wicked will no longer flourish, nor the strong prey on the weak, nor the tempter escape his sentence (cf. v 25 with Gn. 3:14–15), in the perfect world to come. But all this is expressed freely, locally and pictorially, to kindle hope rather than feed curiosity…. [T]his is brought to pass not by a bare creative fiat, but through the Messianic king” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 65:17).
Lawrence O. Richards shares a comforting thought: “However students of prophecy sort these elements out, it is clear from Isaiah’s warm and comforting description of God that a real transformation of man’s state and nature lies ahead. Sin’s curse is lifted, lifespan is extended, and peace is brought even to the animal kingdom. All that is wrong on earth will be set right. When you read prophecies of doom – an atomic holocaust, a greenhouse effect that will melt the ice caps and cause the oceans to overflow our cities, a new Ice Age that will destroy life on earth – do not fear. The real destiny of earth is described by Isaiah here” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 445).
Considering the present life and longevity of the unsaved, Matthew Henry writes: “Unbelievers shall be unsatisfied and unhappy in life, though it be ever so long. The sinner, though he live to a hundred years old, shall be accursed. His living so long shall be no token to him of the divine favour and blessing, nor shall it be any shelter to him from the divine wrath and curse. The sentence he lies under will certainly be executed, and his long life is but a long reprieve; nay, it is itself a curse to him, for the longer he lives the more wrath he treasures up against the day of wrath and the more sins he will have to answer for. So that the matter is not great whether our lives on earth be long or short, but whether we live the lives of saints or the lives of sinners” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 65:17).
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 64 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. 64:4 – From ancient times no one has heard, no one has listened, no eye has seen any God except You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.
Isaiah continues His plea for God to act, in language that foreshadows Messiah’s glorious appearance. When Christ returns, the earth will quake, similar to the shaking of Mt. Sinai at the giving of the law. Isaiah’s reference to fire also links these two events (see Ex. 19:18, 24:7; Isa. 2:5 – 4:1; Heb. 12:18-29). Isaiah confesses that the Holy One of Israel cannot tolerate the people’s sins, which have gone on far too long, yet He calls upon the Lord in faith to forgive and restore.
Verse 6 is an often-quoted passage that describes the depravity of the human heart and the inability of people to be reconciled to God through their own efforts. Isaiah laments that “all of our righteous acts are like a polluted garment” – literally, like an unclean menstrual cloth. “[A]ll of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.”
Paul echoes this truth, stringing together a number of Old Testament passages when he writes, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away … there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). But the apostle’s point is not to drive us to despair; it is to direct us to Christ, in whose righteousness we are clothed: “Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ – the righteousness from God based on faith” (Phil. 3:8-9).
The Remnant’s Plea (Isa. 64:1-7)
Convinced of their uncleanness before a pure and holy God, the people realize their desperate state and ask the Lord to rend the heavens like a piece of cloth, come down and execute judgment on Judah’s enemies. Fire and boiling water symbolize God’s judgment here, as in other passages of Scripture (see, for example, Jer. 1:13-14; Mal. 4:1). The Lord’s “awesome deeds” in verse 3 likely refer to the fire, darkness and earthquake that accompanied His giving of the law on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:16-19; Deut. 4:11-13). This same God – the only true God – acts on behalf of those who trust in Him. “Recalling this, the remnant would ask that God work on their behalf. They would confess their sin, spiritual uncleanness, weakness (like a shriveled leaf), and lack of prayer. However, they would not blame God for their dreadful condition; they would know that their wasting away was because of their sins. Therefore they would have to count on God’s faithfulness and promises” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1119).
Verse 4 states: “From ancient times no one has heard, no one has listened, no eye has seen any God except You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.” The apostle Paul picks up on this ancient truth in 1 Cor. 2:9 to make the point that while all people may hear God’s Word with their ears, it is only by the Holy Spirit that the heart receives the eternal truths of God’s gracious and mighty deeds, whether they concern Israel, as Isaiah reports, or the gospel, to which Paul refers.
“Why is God not working wonders?” asks Warren Wiersbe. “They have sinned (Isa. 64:5–6) and must confess their sins and turn from them. If our righteousness is filthy, what must our sins look like in His sight! According to verse 4, God has planned for His people wonderful things beyond their imagination; but their sins prevent Him from sharing His blessings. Is there any hope? Yes, because God is a forgiving Father and a patient Potter (Jer. 18). He can cleanse us and make us anew if we will let Him have His way” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 64:1).
These verses contain a complete though brief description of the impact of sin on human beings, according to Lawrence O. Richards:
- First, sin is habit–forming. We continue to sin against God’s ways (v. 5).
- Second, sin rightly arouses the anger of God and directs it against us (v. 5).
- Third, sin is defiling, making it impossible for us to approach Him (v. 6).
- Fourth, sin so corrupts our character that even the best we can do is fouled by base motives (v. 6).
- Fifth, sin is destructive, shriveling us up from within and creating circumstances that sweep us away (v. 6).
- Sixth, sin alienates us from God, creating a distaste for the Lord that keeps us from calling on His name (v. 7).
- Seventh, sin causes God to hide His face from us and to judge us (v. 7).
“In view of all that sin has done to us, it is no wonder Isaiah cries out, ‘How then can we be saved?’ The answer is in verse 8” (The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 444).
The Potter’s Hand (Isa. 64:8-12)
The final words of the righteous remnant’s prayer express trust in the Lord, who is confessed as Father and Potter and whose will is received with complete submission. The humbled believers are depicted as obedient children and soft clay, entrusting their lives and future to the sovereign hand of the Holy One of Israel. They plead with the Lord to withhold His anger, righteous though it is, and to extend mercy to them as His children. They remind Him that Judah’s cities have been destroyed – possibly the phrase “holy cities” is a reference to upper and lower Jerusalem – and the temple has been burned to the ground. They lament, “… all that was dear to us lies in ruins” (v. 11). Therefore, the people ask the Lord to break His silence and do something about their plight. Their appeal for forgiveness and restoration is based solely on God’s grace.
The people’s lament in verse 11 is double edged. The “holy and beautiful temple” is where “our fathers praised you.” Is Isaiah reminding God of Israel’s glorious past, or confessing that his own generation has fallen so deeply into sin that worship has become cold and mechanical? Perhaps a little of both. Even so, the prophet expresses trust that the Lord will be faithful to His covenant with the people and, after severely chastening them, will restore them and their place of worship. “They interest God in the cause when they plead that it was the house where he had been praised, and put him in mind too of his covenant with their fathers by taking notice of their fathers’ praising him,” notes Matthew Henry. “Observe here how God and his people have their interest twisted and interchanged; when they speak of the cities for their own habitation they call them thy holy cities, for to God they were dedicated; when they speak of the temple wherein God dwelt they call it our beautiful house and its furniture our pleasant things, for they had heartily espoused it and all the interests of it. If thus we interest God in all our concerns by devoting them to his service, and interest ourselves in all his concerns by laying them near our hearts, we may with satisfaction leave both with him, for he will perfect both” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 64:6.
We are challenged to pray as Isaiah did, with humility, candor, boldness and trust. Matthew Henry writes: “Those that would take hold of God in prayer so as to prevail with him must stir up themselves to do it; all that is within us must be employed in the duty … our thoughts fixed and our affections flaming. In order hereunto all that is within us must be engaged and summoned into the service; we must stir up the gift that is in us by an actual consideration of the importance of the work that is before us and a close application of mind to it; but how can we expect that God should come to us in ways of mercy when there are none that do this, when those that profess to be intercessors are mere triflers?” (S. Is 64:6)