An elderly woman tosses aside her walker and sprints around a crowded auditorium amidst thunderous applause. Hundreds of congregants gasp as a faith healer lengthens a man’s shortened leg in the name of Jesus. Throngs of worshipers fall backward, seemingly lifeless, as an evangelist breathes the Holy Spirit on them.
These are common sights on Christian television, meant to convince us that God continues to perform signs, wonders and miracles through His anointed servants.
But are these truly miracles? Is God really at work, or is some charlatan playing on our emotions so we’ll pull out our checkbooks and “release” our faith with a generous donation?
It’s not always easy to tell. Thankfully, Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Frank Turek offer some good advice in their book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. The authors remind us that miracles are possible today – God still deals in the supernatural – but it’s important to separate the miraculous from a host of counterfeits.
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
Unleavened bread is a wonderful picture of Jesus the Messiah. The bread is without leaven, as He is without sin. It also is striped and pierced, as His body was beaten and pierced for our sins (Isa. 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). In addition, the Feast of Unleavened Bread symbolizes Jesus’ burial. His body was placed in the grave but did not see corruption as He rose on the third day (see Ps. 16:10; Isa. 53:9; Matt. 27:57-60; 28:1-10) and carried our sins away (Ps. 103:12; Heb. 9:26).
Everyone should see Jesus in the Feast of Uneavened Bread because He fulfilled the feast’s Messianic symbols in the bread:
1. Provision (Jesus is the bread of heaven).
2. Propitiation (Jesus is the sacrifice who bore God’s wrath and satisfied His justice; in so doing He brought sinful people back into favor with God).
3. Preservation (Jesus’ body did not suffer decay in the grave).
There are other symbolic markers in this feast:
Jesus referred to Himself as the bread of life (John 6:35) and chose the bread of the Passover to be the symbolic memorial of His broken body (Luke 22:19).
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”
The Lord expects believers put aside sin in our lives, as leaven is put aside in the feast (1 Cor. 5:7-8; see also Gal. 5:16-24; Eph. 4:22-24).
The seven days speak of satisfaction or fullness; believers are completely satisfied in Christ.
In summary, Passover and Unleavened Bread together picture the sacrificial, substitionary death of Jesus — the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world — and the burial of His body, which God the Father raised on the third day before it decayed. The resurrection, as we will see next week, is pictured in the Feast of Firstfruits.