Rev. 8:8 – The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (HCSB).
The second trumpet
This is the second of four trumpet judgments that affect natural objects, in this case the sea and the creatures who swim in it or sail upon it. The final three trumpet judgments, as we learned in the last lesson, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.
In this second trumpet judgment, John sees something that appears to him as a great blazing mountain plummeting into the sea, resulting in a third of the sea becoming blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea dying, and a third of the ships navigating its waters being destroyed.
Is John’s vision to be taken literally? What is this great blazing mountain? Is the sea a reference to all salty bodies of water around the world, or perhaps simply a reference to the Mediterranean Sea – or something else entirely? What are we to make of the fractional reference to “a third,” which we encountered in the first trumpet judgment? Let’s look more closely.
The second angel blew his trumpet
As a reminder, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In this case, the sound of the shofar announces the commencement of judgment. This is an important detail that should not be overlooked.
While the Day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2) and Jesus warns His followers to be ready at all times for the unknown day of His return (Matt. 25:13), the judgments God sends upon the world’s wicked are announced in advance. We are not told how much time elapses between the sounding of the shofar and the arrival of these torments, any more than we can say with certainty how much time we have to run for cover after a tornado siren blasts a warning. But it appears that God communicates to mankind through the angels that His mercy is drawing to a close and His hammer is about to fall. Perhaps in these final moments some will repent, although John’s record seems to indicate that the wicked prefer blasphemy to humility in the face of judgment (Rev. (9:21, 16:9b, 21b).
Something like a great mountain ablaze with fire
What is it that John sees? He writes that “something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea.” He doesn’t say “a great mountain,” but “something like a great mountain,” which could mean this is a hidden symbol for his first-century readers or an attempt to describe something he has never seen before – a glimpse, perhaps, into the distant future.
Commentators offer many perspectives:
- Some say this mountain is Satan, lifted up like a mountain in his pride, and burning with hatred for God and his people, who is cast down into the sea of humanity, where he does much harm.
- Others say this is a heresy that does much damage to the church – the Macedonian heresy, perhaps, leveled against the deity of the Holy Spirit, or the Arian heresy against the deity of Christ. Each of these divine persons is one-third of the triune Godhead, so John’s reference to the mountain causing damage to “a third” of the sea finds its significance here.
- Still others argue that it’s best to understand this imagery in terms of the invasion of the Roman Empire by the Goths and Vandals. Rome is fitly represented as a great mountain, as kingdoms and cities sometimes are in scripture. The “sea” in this case represents the people throughout the Roman Empire who suffer as a result of the invaders’ brutal advance on Rome. Over the course of 137 years, beginning in 410 A.D., the Goths and Vandals sack Rome five times and reportedly one-third of the people are killed.
- W.A. Criswell writes that a modern-day fulfillment could be communism, which finds its foothold among restless people. Rather than producing liberation, it brings captivity, hardship, economic depression, despair and death.
- Futurists like Hal Lindsay see this blazing mountain as John’s attempt to describe nuclear warheads.
- Others interpret these verses literally. “The mountain is probably best understood as being a literal large body that fell from heaven. Since the results are literal, it is reasonable to take the judgments as literal also” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 8:8–9).
Whatever the proper interpretation, it’s clear that this judgment impacts many people. Satan is thought by some commentators to have taken one-third of the angelic host with him in his rebellion. Heresies that undermine any of the persons of the Triune Godhead impact the church and its ability to carry the gospel to the world. Wars involving world powers like Rome generate tremendous violence and upheaval. Worldviews that deny the reality of a Creator and Judge, like communism, result in spiritual, political and economic imprisonment. And modern technology has made it possible for a single nation to wreak havoc on much of the world.
Perhaps, as we’ve addressed in previous lessons, these verses are fulfilled in John’s day, and later in church history, and finally in the last days. Jerusalem falls in 70 A.D. and with it, formal Judaism comes to a close. The Roman Empire falls a few centuries later. Heresies do great damage to the church. Warfare causes great loss of life and damage to property and the environment. And in the last days, according to futurists, the Antichrist will lead nearly the whole world astray. In every case there is a common denominator: sin. Mankind’s rebellion against God manifests itself in political leaders who deify themselves; in church leaders who trump scripture with manmade traditions or, worse, heresies; in philosophers who rail against the idea of God and His absolute truths; and in ordinary people who prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.
Maybe we would do well not to agonize over what each symbol in Revelation means, but to look within ourselves at our fallen state and to grasp the only hope we have: Jesus. Ultimately, it will take the destruction of the entire world to purge it of sin and its consequences and to make way for new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3: 10-13).
Next: Hurled into the sea (Rev. 8:8-9)
Rev. 7:9 – After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! 11All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying: Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength, be to our God forever and ever. Amen. 13Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. The One seated on the throne will shelter them: 16no longer will they hunger; no longer will they thirst; no longer will the sun strike them, or any heat. 17Because the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (HCSB).
They cried out in a loud voice
The redeemed cry out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v. 10). Their praise reflects at least two biblical truths. First, salvation is of God and not of man. We are bankrupt in our sins; lost and separated from God; under condemnation; deserving only of His wrath; self-sold into the slave market of sin; blinded; bound; citizens of the kingdom of darkness; spiritually dead. The redeemed know this and declare it openly before their Savior. The lost do not know their desperate state – and cannot know it unless the Holy Spirit touches their stone-cold hearts, convincing them of their unbelief, their futile self-righteousness, and their future lot with Satan (John 16:7-11). God has taken the initiative to save lost sinners and has completed the work necessary for our salvation. All that remains is for the sinner to receive the gift of eternal life by faith – and even faith is a gift of God.
The second truth in this cry of the redeemed is that salvation is the finished work of the triune Godhead. God the Father, seated on the throne, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ (Eph. 1:3). He chose us, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight (Eph. 1:4). He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself (Eph. 1:5). He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). Take note that all of these wondrous acts of the Father are accomplished through the Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
While the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the praise of the redeemed in Rev. 7:10, other scriptures make it clear that He, too, plays an active role in our redemption. He convicts lost sinners of their need for salvation (John 16:7-11); regenerates believing sinners, imparting new life into their once-dead spirits (John 3:5, 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6); seals believers, or places God’s mark of ownership upon them (Eph.. 4:3); confirms that they belong to God (Rom. 8:16); equips them for ministry through spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7); and helps them in prayer (Rom. 8:26-27).
Yes, Christ is our Savior, and His finished work on our behalf is accomplished in full cooperation with the Father and the Spirit. Just as the Bible teaches that each member of the Godhead played a role in creation, it also teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together in the “new creation” of redeemed lives and, ultimately, new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).
Next: All the angels stood around the throne
Previously: “Fall on us and hide us” — Rev. 6:12-17
Rev. 6:12 – Then I saw Him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair; the entire moon became like blood; 13 the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; 14 the sky separated like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?” (HCSB)
The great day of Their wrath has come
Why are the wicked hiding? Because “the great day of Their wrath has come” (v. 17a). The word “Their” no doubt refers to the Father and Son, although some manuscripts read “His,” likely referring to the Son since the Father has entrusted all judgment to the Son (John 5:22).
In closing out chapter 6, John quotes the wicked, who ask, “And who is able to stand?” The obvious implication is that no one is able to stand. This may be taken in one of two ways. First, who is able to withstand God’s judgment? No one. All of the wicked will be consumed. Second, who is able to stand justified before God? Again, the answer is no one. Believers already have been justified – declared righteous before God; acquitted of their sins – by faith. The wicked, who have no faith in God, who have not received God’s gracious offer of forgiveness, have no works to offer on their own behalf. If they did, God would not accept them.
As Paul declares, “He saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). God does not need our works; He delights in our faith. “Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). It’s not that the wicked have no works. Clearly they do. But when these works are examined before the great white throne, they will not determine degrees of reward but degrees of punishment (Rev. 20:11-15). “And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire,” reads verse 15. How are names entered into the book of life? By God’s grace through faith.
Drawing a parallel between God’s judgment of Israel in 70 A.D. and His judgment of the wicked at the end of time, Matthew Henry writes, “As men have their day of opportunity, and their seasons of grace, so God has his day of righteous wrath; and, when that day shall come, the most stout-hearted sinners will not be able to stand before him: all these terrors actually fell upon the sinners in Judea and Jerusalem in the day of their destruction, and they will all, in the utmost degree, fall upon impenitent sinners, at the general judgment of the last day” (Rev. 6:9-17).
The great day
Finally, what are we to make of the phrase “the great day?” Likely, this is a reference to the oft-mentioned Day of the Lord. In the Old Testament this phrase sometimes is aimed at God’s judgment of Israel for her unfaithfulness, or the promise of deliverance from evil enemies (Isa. 13:6, 9; Ezek. 30:3; Obad. 15). “The Day of the Lord is thus a point in time in which God displays His sovereign initiative to reveal His control of history, of time, of His people, and of all people,” according to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 397-98).
New Testament writers pick up this expression to point to Christ’s return and use several expressions: “day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6); “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8); “Day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 5:2); “day of Christ” (Phil. 1:10; 2:16); “day of judgment” (1 John 4:17); “this day” (1 Thess. 5:4); “that day” (2 Tim. 1:12); and “the day of wrath” (Rom. 2:5).
Futurists often interpret these New Testament terms differently, with some referring to the rapture, or the tribulation or the millennium. Others see these terms as synonymous, describing in general terms the full work of Christ in His return, judgment and establishment of His kingdom. In any event, we may be sure that one day God will exercise His sovereignty over the earth, judge all people, usher in His kingdom, and create new heavens and a new earth.
Four major views
So, how do proponents of the four major interpretations of Revelation see the sixth seal?
- Preterists – who see the seal, bowl and trumpet judgments as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age, either at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or at both the fall of Jerusalem and later at the fall of Rome in the fifth century – say this vision depicts the end of the Jewish state and the fall of its leaders. While most of the language is to be regarded figuratively, some may be taken more literally, such as the Jews’ seeking to hide in the rocks and caves. Jewish historian Josephus writes, “So now the last hope which supported the tyrants and that crew of robbers who were with them, was in the caves and caverns underground; whither, if they could once fly, they did not expect to be searched for; but endeavored, that after the whole city should be destroyed, and the Romans gone away, they might come out again and escape from them. This was no better than a dream of theirs; for they were not able to lie hid either from God or from the Romans” (Wars, 6:7:3).
- Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – say these apocalyptic signs symbolize the fall of paganism to Christianity in the Roman Empire, associated with the conversion of Constantine. Others, however, place the events later in the history of the empire, either its division into East and West or the invasions of the Goths and Vandals in the late fourth century and early fifth century. Earthquakes, they argue, are symbolic of political or spiritual revolutions. And the sun, moon and stars are metaphors for earthly dignitaries – the “pagan firmament” as some call them.
- Futurists – who argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – tend to see these events as future signs of Messiah’s imminent return. Not all futurists see these events literally; some read them figuratively or as a combination of literal and symbolic. Others, however, insist this prophecy is to be taken at face value. These catastrophic events are calculated “to strike terror into the hearts of men living on the earth…. At this point men will know assuredly that the tribulation has begun, for they recognize it as ‘the great day of his wrath’” (Henry Morris, quoted in Revelation: Four Views, p. 125). Hal Lindsey, author of The Late, Great Planet Earth and other futurist commentaries, argues that the sixth seal describes an exchange of nuclear weapons, leading to what astronomer Carl Sagan once called “nuclear winter.”
- Idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – are divided. Some say the sixth seal describes God’s final judgment upon the earth, while others contend it is too early in the book for the return of Christ; rather, they say, these calamities represent the judgment of God upon those oppressing believers in John’s day. Some point out that this seal features seven structures of creation (earth, sun, moon, stars, sky, mountains and islands) and seven classes of people (kings, nobles, military commanders, the rich, the powerful, slaves and free persons) in order to symbolize the universality of these disasters, thus spelling the end of the universe as we know it.
Next: The sealed of Israel — Rev. 7:1-8
Previously – I heard every creature: Rev. 5:13-14
Rev. 5:13 – I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them say: Blessing and honor and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever! 14The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped (HCSB).
The four-fold doxology of all creatures borrows from the previous proclamation of the church and the angels – with one exception: the “dominion” of the One seated on the throne, and of the Lamb, is added to blessing, honor and glory. The Greek word translated “dominion” is kratos, which refers to might or mighty deed. It differs from other Greek words rendered “dominion,” such as kyriotes, used elsewhere in the New Testament and meaning lordship, and exousia, which in Acts 18, referring to the believers’ transfer from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God, emphasizes freedom of choice.
So why do the creatures focus on God’s might rather than His lordship or sovereignty over human choices? Perhaps it is because all creatures necessarily display the mighty acts of God in their very beings, while His lordship requires acknowledgement, and entrance into the kingdom of God requires choice.
While God rules over all creation, He delegates authority to people. This is not an afterthought but an integral part of God’s divine design for mankind. In Gen. 1:26 God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” David declares in Ps. 8:6, “You made him (man) lord over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet.”
But when Adam falls, he forfeits his dominion over the earth and concedes it to Satan. As a result, all of creation falls with Adam. The ground is cursed, and Adam must eat from it by means of painful labor (Gen. 3:17). Even more, the whole creation groans with “labor pains” beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). Still, there is hope in the Lamb. The apostle Paul writes joyously, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Rom. 8:18-21).
Why do all creatures exalt the Lord’s dominion? Because their Creator is also their Redeemer. While the Lamb purchases man’s freedom from sin by His blood, He also sets the entire created order on a sure path to complete recovery from the corruption sin has caused. At Calvary, Jesus is consumed as a sin offering, but for the joy of what it will accomplish He endures the cross and despises its shame and today sits at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 12:2).
One day He will purge this world of sin, as Peter writes: “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 comments, “All of heaven’s praise came because the Lamb took the scroll from the Father’s hand. God’s great eternal plan would now be fulfilled and creation would be set free from the bondage of sin and death. One day the Lamb will break the seals and put in motion events that will eventually lead to His coming to earth and the establishment of His kingdom” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 5:1).
This breathtaking chapter ends with the four living creatures saying, “Amen.” The word is a transliteration of a Hebrew word signifying that something is certain, valid, truthful, or faithful. It often is used at the end of biblical songs, hymns, and prayers. The song of the elders, the proclamation of the church and the angels, and the doxology of every creature – their words of praise ring true and will be repeated throughout eternity. Where do such lofty words naturally lead? Take note of the elders, who, upon hearing the word “Amen,” fall down and worship.
Next: The first seal (Rev. 6:1-2)
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).